Bishop Olmsted Calls Men Into the Breach
by LUMA SIMMS
A father’s prodigal love and approval fill the space carved into our being by the finger of our Creator. Boy or girl, man or woman, all, and no matter the age, thirst for it. Our household knows this well.
After a period of infertility, physical deterioration, and loss, when we were told never to expect children again, God gave us two boys—two sons and future fathers. It’s not unusual in our home to hear the boys say: “Mom, you are my mommy, you are not my daddy, daddy is my daddy,” as the four year old likes to remind me. Or: “Dad, when I grow up, I’m going to be just like you,” as the 8-year-old often tells my husband. These are the articulations of boys who sense that fatherhood is just as life creating as motherhood. The boys are friends and brothers; my husband is father and friend. And when the 8-year-old plays “teacher and pupil,” with his 4-year-old brother, the life-giving prodigal love and approval he receives from my husband he in turn pours into his little brother.
Not everyone in today’s culture is so blessed. Father famine is pervasive. Sons and daughters of all ages go about their lives wounded by father famine. Here in Phoenix, a sagacious man of God is addressing these wounds. This past year, Bishop Thomas Olmsted wrote and put forth Into the Breach, an Apostolic Exhortation to the men of the Diocese of Phoenix. One of Bishop Olmsted’s primary concerns in this document is for men to become aware of how extensive the attacks on fatherhood have become.
The first attack against fatherhood was in the Garden. St. John Paul II wrote inCrossing the Threshold of Hope:
Original sin is not only the violation of a positive command of God but also, and above all, a violation of the will of God as expressed in that command. Original sin attempts; then, to abolish fatherhood … placing in doubt the truth about God who is Love and leaving man only with a sense of the master-slave relationship.
Expounding on this, Bishop Olmsted says, “in original sin, we find a primordial rebellion against God’s fatherhood, a desire to remove fatherhood itself.” Fatherhood has been under attack from the beginning. A great blow was dealt during the Sexual Revolution, expanding the rebellion against being fathers as much as it did against honoring our fathers. And as our current society bears within itself the marks of absent fathers, detached fathers, wicked fathers, and weak fathers, Bishop Olmsted has an answer which goes beyond forming yet another program aimed at rehabilitating and reenergizing men.
Bishop Olmsted himself is at the head leading a line of men out of their wounds and darkness. He lavishes his love and approval on the men and women God brings his way. What the bishop has done in Into the Breach is unique in that he stays away from categorizing men (e.g. single, married, married with children, religious, priests, elderly). All are men, all undergo trials, and all are living in a father hungry culture. This is not to say that he doesn’t address the variety of life situations men find themselves in, he does so, and well. But something happens to men when addressedqua men—the potency which comes from camaraderie described so well by C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves when he wrote about how friendships begin:
“What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”…. it is then that Friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.
Bishop Olmsted’s Into the Breach creates this type of togetherness and solidarity between men because it addresses all men equally—breaking the categories, isolation, and shame our culture uses to triangulate men.
A Call to Battle
The Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted is the bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. He was installed as the fourth bishop of Phoenix on Dec. 20, 2003, and is the spiritual leader of the diocese’s 1.1 million Catholics.
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 world is under attack by Satan, as our Lord said it would be (1 Peter 5:8-14). This battle is occurring in the Church herself, and the devastation is all too evident. Since AD 2000, 14 million Catholics have left the faith, parish religious education of children has dropped by 24%, Catholic school attendance has dropped by 19%, infant baptism has dropped by 28%, adult baptism has dropped by 31%, and sacramental Catholic marriages have dropped by 41%. This is a serious breach, a gaping hole in Christ’s battle lines. While the Diocese of Phoenix may have fared better than these national statistics, the losses are staggering.
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. A large number have left the faith, and many who remain “Catholic” practice the faith timidly and are only minimally committed to passing the faith on to their children. Recent research shows that large numbers of young Catholic men are leaving the faith to become “nones” – men who have no religious affiliation. The growing losses of young Catholic men will have a devastating impact on the Church in America in the coming decades, as older men pass away and young men fail to remain and marry in the Church, accelerating the losses that have already occurred.
These facts are devastating. As our fathers, brothers, uncles, sons, and friends 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. While we know that Christ welcomes back every repentant sinner, the truth is that large numbers of 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.
This crisis is evident in the discouragement and disengagement of Catholic men like you and me. In fact, this is precisely why I believe this Exhortation is needed, and it is also the reason for my hope, for God constantly overcomes evil with good. The joy of the Gospel is stronger than the sadness wrought by sin! A throw-away culture cannot withstand the new life and light that constantly radiates from Christ. So I call upon you to open your minds and hearts to Him, the Savior who strengthens you to step into the breach!
Purpose of this Exhortation
I offer this Exhortation as an encouragement, a challenge, and a calling forth to mission for every willing man in the Diocese of Phoenix: priests and deacons, husbands, fathers and sons, grandfathers and widowers, young men in preparation for your vocation – that is, each and every man. With this Exhortation, I want to clarify for you the nature of this mission from Christ, for which I will rely on the clear guidance of the Holy Scriptures, the Magisterium of the Church, and the example of the saints.
In this Exhortation, I will address three primary questions:
- 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?
Context #1: A New Apostolic Moment – The “New Evangelization”
Context #2: A Field Hospital and a Battle College
Context #3: Man and Woman are Complementary, not Competitors
Question 1: What does it mean to be a Catholic Man?
- Ecce Homo – Behold the Man
- Saints, our Heroes of Faith
- The Catholic Man’s Identity
- Beloved and Free Sons, Called to the Battle Within
- The Practices of a Committed Catholic Man - DAILY - MONTHLY
Question 2: How does a Catholic manlove?
- Three Masculine Loves: Friend, Husband, Father
- A Friend in Christ – Bands of Brothers
- Man as Husband – the Purpose of Masculine Erotic Love
Question 3: Why is fatherhood, fully understood, so crucial for every man?
- Fatherhood is Essential
- Grandfathers, You Are of Great Importance
- Hope in the Shadows of Lost Fatherhood
- Conclusion: Sent Forth by Christ
- Where is the Faith of our Fathers now?