Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Gentlemen: A Call to Arms

The following is a pastoral letter to the men of my parishes.  
I write this letter to the men of this parish, not to the exclusion of the women of this parish, but to clearly spell out what The Church and the Scriptures see as your role within this parish, your family, and our society.

I write this knowing that lay men have been long ignored.  It isn’t that some are not in positions of service with the parish.  Some are on the various committees, fundraisers, and other activities within the parish.  Some help with the various ministries within the Mass.  This is all good.  For too long, though, men have remained unchallenged and oft complained about.  Certainly our society takes a very dim view of men.  When no competing message comes from their parish, it is easy to presume that their parish thinks the same way about them as does society.

This is not the case within the church.  Sacred Scripture reminds us that the husband is the spiritual head of the home.  It says ‘is’, not ‘should be’, not ‘could be’, but ‘is’.  Every study I have ever seen on the religious practice of children finds the largest, by far, indicator of the faith of children to be the faith of the father.  If dad is disengaged from faith, the likelihood the child will follow suit is overwhelming.  Even if mom is fully engaged, the children will overwhelmingly fall away from the faith.  So, men, you are that central and important.  Your role cannot be shoved off on your wife who already has other roles to play within the faith development of the children.

Society has done a complete job of emasculating the role of men.  If we look how dads are portrayed in the media, at best it is as a self-absorbed buffoon, at worst it is as a clueless selfish man-child.  We priests do not fare any better.  We are portrayed as heartless dictators, uncaught felons, or buffoons as well.  Certainly our role within the guidance of families and parishes has been diminished.  The devil knows to get at the flock, one must strike the shepherd. This is not the fault of feminism; no can take ground that isn’t ceded.  We men have fallen into a trap of being merely nice, of being merely good.  That isn’t our call. It isn’t the call of any Catholic.  Understanding the core of our call is essential to understanding our role within the parish, the family, and our society.

What is that core?  Virtue.  The Scriptures call all of us to various qualities.  They never call us to be good or nice.  Never.  We are called to something much more bold, strong, brave, and challenging.  The virtues clue us into that.  There are 4 cardinal virtues (temperance, justice, fortitude, and prudence) and three theological virtues (faith, hope, and love).  These clue us into our roles as men within the church.

Virtue are learned disciplines that are strengthened or weakened by our choices.  They do to the soul what weights for the body or studying does to the intellect.   The virtues challenge us to be our better selves.  They are difficult at first, but become easier with practice.  I liken it to weight lifting.  The first time one weight lifts the movements can be awkward if done correctly; if the movements are not done correctly they can do great damage.  The movement must be disciplined and intentional.  So it is with the virtues.

Prudence is the virtue by which we learn to wisely decide what is good, what is to be done, what strengthens us. Justice is the virtue by which we judge what is needed by another; it teaches us to move from selfishness to selflessness.  Temperance is the virtue by which we learn restraint and right use of goods; it leads to personal strength.  Fortitude is the virtue by which we willingly engage in these virtues and stick to them regardless of the hardships, external or internal, that follow.

The three theological virtues require grace to grow; we cannot divorce the practice of the faith from these virtues.  Faith is the virtue by which we brow in the knowledge of what constitutes our faith.  Hope is the virtue by which we willingly embrace conversion trusting in God’s will for us.  Love is the greatest of all these virtues, because its selfless nature spurs us to reach for the excellence the Catholic life calls us to.  Love puts the focus where it should be and powers all of these virtues.

A good pastor has the qualities of a great coach.  Of my many tasks is to call to excellence, expect excellence, and lay out a path to it.  Christ has given us this already.  We must, if we are to be effective, boldly charge into the breach.  My expectations of myself and other men are that we give the best of who we are for the good of those placed in our care.  My expectation is we embrace whatever sacrifice and suffering is necessary to manfully accomplish the task Christ sets us to.
My brothers, we share in the shepherding role of Christ.  A man who is good at shepherding places himself in between his flock and what would harm his flock.  The time for absconding our duties and leading from behind, a time that should never have been, are long past.   Not long ago, Bishop Olmstead of Phoenix issued a pastoral exhortation the men of his diocese called, “Into the Breach.”   I would love to get the men of this parish to read, study, and rise to the challenge of this letter.  I know some men already have.  That said, a parish doesn’t need some of its men engaged or even the majority of the men engaged; it needs all of its men engaged!

We need the support of each other in this task.  We are called to use God’s grace to raise each other up.   Gentlemen, we are on a battlefield.  The devil has gained too much ground and it is high time we take it back.  The stronger a warrior we are, the more effective a warrior we are.  The devil wants access not just to you but to your wife, your fiancé, your girlfriend, your children, and all others you love.  His plan is to eternally destroy them.  He has to get through you.  Will you stand and fight.  Because if you will, as we have Christ as our head, the devil can damage but destroy.  

I have been approached already by some men of the parish to form something that would accomplish this end.  Here is my call to arms, brothers.  Let us stir up the nobility and heroism that is proper to us and get about the business of being Catholic men.  If you are interested, contact me.  If you are not: why?  I know we have schedules that are jam packed.  That said, men, we need warriors, not excuses.  Time to engage.

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