When Bishop Thomas Olmsted set out to communicate with his “spiritual sons in the Diocese of Phoenix” last September, it’s hard to know if he anticipated the response that he received. In a few short months, his document, “Into the Breach: An Apostolic Exhortation to Catholic Men, my Spiritual Sons in the Diocese of Phoenix,” garnered attention around the globe for its challenge to Catholic men to become reengaged with the Church.
As the response indicates, the Church is hungering for such leadership, and Bishop Olmsted is to be commended for his clear and effective teaching. Even more impressively, the Diocese of Phoenix on Jan. 5 announced that it is continuing the conversation with the release of a short film called “A Call to Battle” — further proof of the priority and the urgency this subject has in Phoenix.
And rightly so. That a father’s spirituality is critical to a strong and faithful family life is without question. An oft-quoted Swiss study reminds us that if a father doesn’t go to church, “only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper” — regardless of the mother’s faith. At the time of the study, that meant that more than 60 percent of children of a nonpracticing father and regularly practicing mother would “be lost completely to the church.”
These numbers are played out by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, cited by Bishop Olmsted, which found in 2014 that 14 million Catholics have left the Faith since 2000. As Bishop Olmsted wrote, “This is a serious breach, a gaping hole in Christ’s battle lines.”
To help Catholic men better understand their roles as disciples of Christ and the spiritual leaders of the family, Bishop Olmsted used “Into the Breach” to outline both a daily and monthly spiritual regimen that includes regular prayer, confession, Mass attendance, Scripture reading and a daily examination of conscience. More importantly, though, he provides both a clear context and a clear catechesis about what it means to be a Catholic man in society today. In our brave new world that tiptoes around gender, Bishop Olmsted refreshingly confronts it head-on, writing that “every man, particularly today, must come to a mature acceptance and understanding of what it means to be a man. ... Each Catholic man must be prepared to give himself completely, to charge into the breach, to engage in spiritual combat, to defend women, children, and others against the wickedness and snares of the devil!”
For many Catholic men, though, reengaging with the Church is easier said than done. While many parishes have various activities that target fathers of children in the parish as part of their family outreach, single adults and senior Catholics as well as the divorced are all male groupings that can be overlooked or underserved.
Dioceses and parishes have an important role to play in meeting these needs. While more traditional options for male fraternity, like the Knights of Columbus, maintain an important presence in parish life, it is critical that parishes offer other opportunities for engaging men in all stages of their lives. Fraternity and accountability are key to attracting and retaining active Catholic men. One successful model is the diocesan men’s conferences, which are gaining in popularity around the country. These conferences typically involve an engaging combination of male fraternity, strong Catholic speakers and prayer. As with other renewal efforts, it is critical that there be a follow-up strategy to keep guys engaged after the speakers leave, but such gatherings are a great first step for getting men to take a fresh look at the Church.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor