Although I am not a man, nor am I married to one, I greatly enjoy reading about Catholic men’s spirituality. I’m blessed to have so many examples of strong, outwardly faithful men in my life. Honestly, one of my favorite things is hearing my male friends talk about their personal religious lives as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. It gives me hope that the Church is not yet so happy-clappy that men will steer clear forever.
I also found great joy in knowing so many men who shared the recent apostolic exhortation by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix, Into the Breach. It is timely, direct, and thoughtful, and I hope it will inspire many more men to take up arms against the sea of trouble raging upon our world, our families, and our hearts.
Bishop Olmsted begins by highlighting three questions that we must consider when examining Catholic men’s spirituality:
- What does it mean to be a Catholic man?
- How does a Catholic man love?
- Why is fatherhood, fully understood, so crucial for every man?
First, the bishop highlights the complementarity of man and woman and the reality that the sexes are not meant to be competitors. Understanding masculinity requires an understanding of femininity, and neither makes sense without the other. We are created in the image of God as man and woman. That’s why I didn’t like Captivating, and I didn’t like Wild at Heart. Both of those books demonstrated a deep lack of complementarity and a lack of appreciation of the “other.” Indeed, throughout Into the Breach, the bishop encourages men to rise up for the sake of the women in their lives as well as for themselves.
Continuing on, Bishop Olmsted describes the battle that today’s Catholic men are facing in a world that does not look kindly upon Catholic men (except Pope Francis, curiously, I would add). He offers a list of great male saints, the virtues for which they are known, and the vices those virtues oppose. You can’t find an easier plan than that.
- Struggling with sloth, laziness, and lack of motivation? Pray to St. Benedict to help you grow in prayer and devotion to God.
- Finding it hard to speak up for what’s right? Pray to St. John Paul II, “defender of the weak.”
- Need a kick in the rear to become more than just a regular dude? Pray to St. Paul, for encouragement toward excellence and “adherence to the truth.”
The pragmatism continues as he identifies specific practices to help Catholic men grow in holiness. Mass comes in pretty high on the list, of course. I was surprised and delighted to read his description of the Mass as “a refuge in the Spiritual Battle, where Catholic men meet their King, hear His commands, and become strengthened with the Bread of Life.” We should talk about the Mass like that more often!
As the letter continues, it grows more profound and almost sadder, yet “the joy of the Gospel is stronger than the sadness wrought by sin.” Bishop Olmsted describes the crucial importance of fellowship, fraternity, and brotherhood among men who are all seeking to follow Jesus. He emphasizes the need for men to proclaim the truth of the grandeur of spousal love (and not just marital love). “In doing so, you radiate the light of Christ in an area of society so darkened by what has always threatened spousal love.” He speaks to married men who face the “rotten fruit of the Sexual Revolution.” We were promised “free love,” and instead we have “countless broken hearts bound by fear of more pain, broken lives, broken homes, broken dreams and broken belief that love is even possible.”
In this time of evil’s growing boldness, each man must prepare himself for nothing less than martyrdom, whatever form this may take, and to instill in his children and grandchildren the willingness to do the same.
As I expected, the bishop also addresses the challenge of masculine chastity in a world that laughs at the idea. Yet even in the face of that scorn, he says, “masculine chastity is a ‘long and exacting work’ that we should be proud to undertake!” (CCC 2342)
He ends the letter with a discussion of fatherhood. I read plenty about spiritual motherhood, but I don’t think I’ve ever considered spiritual fatherhood to the same extent, despite my general understanding of the priesthood. He writes that “a father’s role as spiritual head of the family must never be understood or undertaken as domination over others, but only as a loving leadership and a gentle guidance for those in your care.” I can get behind that, and it does, in fact, sound like both priesthood and the kind of spiritual leadership I appreciate from my male friends.
In essence, Bishop Olmsted’s message is that the true model of man (both “man” as human and “man” as masculine) is Jesus. True strength lies in sacrifice, in giving up pleasure for the sake of the truth, in laying down one’s life for another—especially one who does not deserve it. As I read, I could tell that the bishop was not writing for me, but I was nonetheless enlightened. I’m encouraged. I know better how to spot a man who is really chasing after the heart of the Father and will carry me along for the journey. So I recommend this apostolic exhortation to both men and women, and I join in the call for men who will step forward into the breach to fight for Christ.