In this context, it is important that Catholics, following the path of their ancestors, abandon self-indulgence and to engage in the fight mindful of the promises made at baptism and of having become soldiers of Christ by Confirmation. They need to launch forth “into the breach.”
A Vibrant Call to Battle
This is the call The Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix, makes to the men of his diocese — and by extension of the whole country — in his vibrant document, INTO THE BREACH: An Apostolic Exhortation to Catholic Men, My Spiritual Sons in the Diocese of Phoenix (September 29, 2015).1
As the illustrious bishop said with words reminiscent of the great calls for the Crusades of old, it is “A Call to Battle:”
I begin this letter with a clarion call and clear charge to you, my sons and brothers in Christ: Men, do not hesitate to engage in the battle that is raging around you, the battle that is wounding our children and families, the battle that is distorting the dignity of both women and men. This battle is often hidden, but the battle is real. It is primarily spiritual, but it is progressively killing the remaining Christian ethos in our society and culture, and even in our own homes.
The Fight as a Defense Against the Attacks of the Devil
This cultural war against the Church, Bishop Olmsted ponders, is inspired by the father of lies and “One of the key reasons that the Church is faltering under the attacks of Satan is that many Catholic men have not been willing to ‘step into the breach’ – to fill this gap that lies open and vulnerable to further attack.”
For Catholic men, ceasing to fight is devastating because they ultimately “fall away from the Church, they fall deeper and deeper into sin, breaking their bonds with God and leaving them vulnerable to the fires of Hell.”
The Fight as a Duty of Every Baptized Person
With that, “Catholic men are failing to keep the promises they made at their children’s baptisms – promises to bring them to Christ and to raise them in the faith of the Church.”
“Many fruits of our Christian heritage still exist, but the roots below the soil are under siege,” underlines the Bishop of Phoenix, and this is why the fight has a reason for being and also becomes urgent. The remnants of our Catholic heritage must be not only preserved, but restored to their fullness.
The “Joy of the Battle”
The struggle for truth and morals, for the honor of being Catholic, is not merely a sacrifice we make, but with the assistance of divine grace, this struggle gives us the joy of a warrior fighting for a just cause. According to Bishop Olmsted, “[i]n Christ’s mercy and truth, we become strong in his strength, courageous with his courage, and can actually experience the joie de guerre [joy of the battle] of being soldiers for Christ.”
This “joy of the battle” that visits the soldiers of Christ is one of the purest and most intense joys that can be enjoyed on earth.
The Church, a School of Spiritual Battle
“The Church is, and has always been,” Bishop Olmsted notes, “a school that prepares us for spiritual battle, where Christians are called to ‘fight the good fight of faith’ (1 Timothy 6), to ‘put on the armor of God’, and ‘to be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil’ (Ephesians 6:11).”
This “joy of the battle” is a powerful incentive for Catholics to engage the struggle and recover the true concept of manliness, a concept so distorted in our present-day society. There is today a crisis of manhood.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, a Model of Manliness
The true model of manliness is not the one the world offers, but Our Lord Jesus Christ:
Jesus of Nazareth – who at once is fully God and fully man, and the perfection of masculinity. Every moment of his life on earth is a revelation of the mystery of what it means to be man – that is, to be fully human and also, the model of masculinity. Nowhere else can we find the fullness of masculinity as we do in the Son of God. Only in Jesus Christ can we find the highest display of masculine virtue and strength that we need in our personal lives and in society itself.
“Gender Theories” and the Destruction of Society
The evanescence of virility greatly contributed to the so-called gender theories that destroy the complementary differences between men and women. The emasculation of man is accompanied by a masculinization of women. Unisex clothes, androgynous haircuts, replacement of family life by a career outside the home, all favor this loss of true femininity.
The Bishop of Phoenix explains:
[T]he rapid advance of a “gender ideology” has infected societies around the world. This ideology seeks to set aside the sexual difference created by God, to remove male and female as the normative way of understanding the human person, and in its place, to add various other “categories” of sexuality. This ideology is destructive for individuals and society, and it is a lie. It is harmful to the human person, and therefore, a false concept that we must oppose as Christians.
It is quite clear that no one can change sex according to mere fancy. The DNA present in every cell of the human body bears the mark of the person’s sex, male or female. This does not depend on anyone’s will but on the designs of God, and to try and force nature contrarily to these ends is a sin, a rebellion against the Creator. People can change their appearance by hormones and surgeries, but not their nature: they will always be either men or women as conceived in the womb.
The Crisis of Paternity
Confusion and the loss of masculine or feminine identity profoundly hurt the family, and therefore society, with the loss of the notions of fatherhood and motherhood, once so lively for me in Christian civilization.
The bishop comments:
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. … Catholic men also contribute far too regularly to this same scandal that devastates the heart of a child and makes too many women in our culture live as if they were widows!
The Father’s Irreplaceable Role in the Family
Bishop Olmsted exhorts Catholic men:
Men, your presence and mission in the family is irreplaceable! … We need faith like that of our fathers who defended the children of previous generations and who gave up their own lives rather than abandon their faith in Christ. My sons and brothers, men of the Diocese of Phoenix, we need you to step into the breach!
The Role of Healthy Friendship
Not only must Catholic men recover the sense of physical and spiritual parenthood but also a sense of manly friendship among men, a fellowship which helps to face the difficulties of life and is above all an aid to progress in the spiritual life. This friendship has nothing romantic or self-serving but is part and parcel of our social nature, leading men and women to the practice of friendship. Saint Thomas Aquinas says that a friend is another self; and Our Lord commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Unfortunately, in the individualistic and hedonistic society we live in, the natural sense of friendship is being lost and that which sociologists call the lonely crowd phenomenon is continually increasing.
Sexual Revolution, Unhappiness and Solitude
The proximate cause for the loss of manliness, the masculinization of women, the loss of the sense of fatherhood, motherhood and friendship, is the Sexual Revolution, a revolution which took on a violent and devastating impact in the sixties.
The bishop comments:
How did it come about that a culture so steadfast in supporting marriage and spousal commitment two generations ago became a culture that has reduced sexuality to mere pleasure and self-serving ends? The answer is the Sexual Revolution. For many, the Sexual Revolution promised “free love” and liberty from the shackles of old ideas about masculinity and femininity. 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.
Watch and Pray Not to Fall Into Temptation
Into the Breach prescribes the classical remedies presented by Catholic tradition, by authors of spiritual theology: constant custody of the eyes, control of one’s imagination, prayer, vigilance, frequenting the sacraments, especially Confession and Holy Communion, daily examination of conscience, devotion to the saints, and so forth.
Defending Chastity: the Great Manly Weapon
But above all — and this is the major contribution of this admirable Apostolic Exhortation by Bishop Thomas Olmsted — Catholic men must conceive the spiritual life as a struggle and to practice virtue as a means to prepare themselves for the struggle in defense of Christian principles and values, especially the great virtue so heavily attacked today: chastity. A manly, strong, combative chastity that is neither bashful nor apologizes for existing, but is seen as a powerful and necessary weapon in the fight against the destruction of the family, the Church, and civilization itself.
Gratitude to a Valiant Bishop
Hopefully these brief considerations on the Apostolic Exhortation INTO THE BREACH will show how extremely timely it is, and how much we owe our heartfelt thanks to the valiant Bishop of Phoenix.