We continue our study of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s Apostolic Exhortation to Catholic Men, issued on the Feast of the Archangels, September 29, 2015 “as an encouragement, a challenge, and a calling forth to mission” in the battle for the family.
Last week, we outlined what it means to be a Christian man (Stand in the Breach – Part I). This week we will look at how a Catholic man is to love and why fatherhood is crucial for every man.
How is a Catholic Man to Love?
The word love has lost its meaning. We say we love sports or we love pizza. Madison Avenue hawks every conceivable product with love or a ♥. These uses of the word love typically mean that we like something a lot. However, these inanimate objects cannot love us back. So where do we find the true meaning of love? We have to look no further than the cross.
Bishop Olmsted points out that “Christ makes clear that central to his mission is love” for He says, “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). All of Christ’s teaching can be summed up in this command. “Love is not a side-job; it is the mission itself” says Bishop Olmsted. He continues , “the true love of Christ is centered on willing the good of the other, on pouring oneself out in charity for others…in Christ, we see that sacrifice is at the heart of love.”
Whether married or not, every man is called to live as a husband and father in a very real and concrete way. Pope St. John Paul II in a Catechesis on Human Love says “God assigns the dignity of every woman as a task to every man” (100:6). Ponder this statement. Man is called by God to protect the dignity of every woman, not to use women for selfish pleasures in relationships that are “shallow and purely utilitarian.” This is the high calling of every man. Bishop Olmsted says that “through spousal love, men live out a strength that endures, a strength for which the world longs, and a strength that will stabilize a crumbling society.” This is a very high calling indeed!
Moving to specifically conjugal love in marriage, Bishop Olmsted points to the beauty and dignity of the marital union that is symbolic of Christ’s love for His bride, the Church:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church… (Ephesians 5:25-32)
Bishop Olmsted stresses the critical importance of this passage: “Marriage in Christ is not merely a human endeavor. It is higher; it is a “great mystery…in a way, a longing for infinite and eternal love.”
Since marriage is an earthly image of Christ’s love for the Church, this is the epicenter of the battle between good and evil. Satan is out to destroy this image of love. The need for men to be chaste cannot be over-emphasized. Bishop Olmsted encourages men to “consider how blessed we are to be called to proclaim this truth in a time when it is most needed. In doing so, you radiate the light of Christ in an area of society so darkened by what has always threatened spousal love.”
And how has our culture moved from supporting unity, chastity and permanence in marriage just two generations ago to one that has reduced sexuality to an endless string of hookups, devoid of commitments or emotional attachments? Olmsted says the answer is the “Sexual Revolution.” The Sexual Revolution promised freedom from the shackles of long-standing ideas of masculinity and femininity. Olmsted says this about the consequences of this revolution:
What resulted was the separation of sexuality from the commitments of marriage and a widespread option for sterility (chemical and surgical sterilizations), amounting to a denial of what is most essentially masculine and feminine in the person. Worse, the Sexual Revolution ushered in the scourge of abortion, pornography, and sexual abuse so rampant in recent decades. Instead of real and authentic love, this false “liberty” offers cheap pleasures that mask a deeper loneliness and pain. Instead of the security of traditional family bonds, it leaves children longing for the stability of a mother’s and a father’s love. Instead of the freedom that comes with accepting the truth of God’s design for human love between a man and woman, the Sexual Revolution has arrogantly rebelled against human nature, a nature that will never thrive in confusion and lack of self-control. Indeed, the “love” promised by the Sexual Revolution has never been found. In its wake is wreckage, countless broken hearts bound by fear of more pain, broken lives, broken homes, broken dreams and broken belief that love is even possible. This is the rotten fruit of the Sexual Revolution.
These are very chilling words. So where do we begin? Where do we start to rebuild? What must be repaired first? Bishop Olmsted says, “My sons and brothers, we must begin with ourselves.”
Using the discipline and self-mastery of an athlete as an analogy, Bishop Olmstead describes the task of every man:
He must be a master of himself; he must possess self-mastery. For the man called to live conjugal love, this self-mastery finds its culmination in the virtue of chastity. We need to see masculine chastity for what it is, whereas too often, this virtue is seen in negative light, as something weak. Nothing could be more false! Chastity is strength and a rejection of slavery to the passions. Christians have always believed that chastity, whether in marriage or celibacy, is a freedom from the enslavement to sin and our passions.
Christ is the model of how man is to love, in total self-giving for the good of the other.
Why is Fatherhood Crucial for Every Man?
Pope St. John Paul II poignantly teaches the importance of fatherhood for the flourishing of the world:
In revealing and in reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God (cf. Eph 3:15), a man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all the members of the family: he will perform this task by exercising generous responsibility for the life conceived under the heart of the mother, by a more solicitous commitment to education, a task he shares with his wife (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 52), by work which is never a cause of division in the family but promotes its unity and stability, and by means of the witness he gives of an adult Christian life which effectively introduces the children into the living experience of Christ and the Church. (Familiaris Consortio, 25)
“In revealing and in reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God…”! What a powerful statement on the importance and supreme responsibility that every man has in living fatherhood well! Satan knows the importance of fatherhood all too well. He has succeeded in removing God the Father from our culture and fathers from their families. It has taken an unprecedented toll on the families. Bishop Olmsted summarizes the carnage:
Today’s attack on fatherhood, and by extension, motherhood, is multi-pronged and breathtakingly damaging. 41% of children are born into unmarried homes in our day, an increase of 700% from 1950, when the out-of-wedlock birthrate was a mere 6%. These children are not fatherless because of some sweeping physical conflict, like World War II, which caused many wounds of fatherlessness, but rather because, far worse, fathers’ own willed absence is happening on a massive scale. It is not hard to see how men’s fears of fatherhood find a legion of support in today’s culture of self, encouraging men to flee from this beautiful gift in pursuit of their own desires. The child is forced to ask the question: “Where is my Daddy?” What then is the impact on a child’s heart, on his or her understanding of the world, of love, and of the Heavenly Father, when the answer to this question is “He left us,” or “I don’t know,” or “From the sperm bank, and he left no contact address”?
What a sad commentary on our modern culture. World War II took the lives of many fathers in the defense of liberty across the globe. Today, many families are wounded through the “fathers’ own willed absence.” What a condemnation of our self-absorbed society! Fatherhood is no longer honored or encouraged. Fathers are portrayed as weak and moronic in media. Bishop Olmsted says James Bond epitomizes our culture’s twisted view of manhood: “He is never a father, nor does he accept responsibility for or love one woman…[his] name is the height of irony because he is a man with no bonds.” Oh how we are in need of good fatherly role models! Will you answer the call? Bishop Olmsted sums up the need for fathers with this clarion call, “Men, your presence and mission in the family is irreplaceable! Step up and lovingly, patiently take up your God-given role as protector, provider, and spiritual leader of your home.”
Pope Francis in a reflection on the role of fatherhood, said:
When a man does not have this desire [for fatherhood], something is missing in this man. Something is wrong. All of us, to exist, to become complete, in order to be mature, we need to feel the joy of fatherhood: even those of us who are celibate. Fatherhood is giving life to others, giving life, giving life.” (Homily, June 26, 2013)
“To fully live, all men must be fathers and live out their fatherhood!” stressed Bishop Olmsted. In closing, he had this to say to men:
I hope, too, that you will take what is helpful in my message, bring it to the Lord in prayer, and go forward confidently in your vocation as men. Our life in Christ is not one of “do’s and don’ts,” but an adventure in authentic freedom. Embrace that freedom in order to place your life at the service of Christ, beginning in your home and radiating into the world.
Men, go forward in the battle for families. St. Michael the Archangel will defend you and Christ will guide you. He has defeated the enemy. The victory is yours’.