Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
It isn't often that you read an apostolic exhortation by a Catholic bishop and learn something new about James Bond, the iconic British spy with the code name 007 and (like so many other 21st century men) a penchant for gadgetry. But in his stirring, well-crafted letter, "Into the Breach: An Apostolic Exhortation to Catholic Men, My Spiritual Sons in the Diocese of Phoenix", Bishop Thomas Olmsted seeks to bring his flock back to earth, back to the sure foundation of healthy masculinity: Jesus Christ. This is a wake up call for men in his diocese, and he pokes holes in the counterfeit masculine identities that populate the culture and risk colonizing our imagination.
"James Bond's name," writes Bishop Olmsted, "is the height of irony because he is a man with no bonds."
Men who yearn to be Bond forget or ignore this inconvenient truth — no surprise, given the widespread confusion in our culture about what it means to be a man.
"What the secular world holds up as 'manly' is in fact to look at shadows," the bishop writes.
"Into the Breach" was released on Sept. 29, the Feast of the Archangels, at 3:00 p.m., the Hour of Mercy, explained Bishop Olmsted. The letter comes with its own website and video.
This remarkable document is designed to guide men and boys, fathers and husbands, grandfathers and uncles, out of the shadows and into the light of the truth about what it means to be a man who chooses love, not pleasure; sacrifice, rather than comfort; and service, not dominance. There is a spiritual battle underway, and Bishop Olmsted wants his flock fully prepared to engage Satan
He directs men to match their physical fitness regime with spiritual practices that build virtue by emulating a favorite saint and taking time to pray and receive the sacraments. But Christ, not some faddish guru, is at the heart of his message. Here is a passage that offers a taste of the document's tone and message:
"At one striking moment of Jesus’ trial, Pontius Pilate, with all his worldly power, presented Jesus to the crowd with the words, Ecce homo – Latin meaning “Here is the man!” Thinking he was merely pointing to a man from Nazareth, he failed to recognize that he was pointing to God made man – the Word made flesh, 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. What was visible in Christ’s earthly life leads to the invisible mystery of his divine Sonship and redemptive mission. The Father sent his Son to reveal what it means to be a man, and the fullness of this revelation becomes evident on the Cross. He tells us that it was for this reason that He came into the world, that it is his earnest desire to give himself totally to us. Herein lies the fullness of masculinity; 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!
"Looking to what the secular world holds up as 'manly' is in fact to look at shadows – or even at outright counterfeits – of masculinity. No athlete, no matter how many awards; no political leader, no matter the power he wields; no performer, business man, or celebrity, no matter how much adored; no physical attribute or muscle mass; no intelligence or talent; no prizes or achievements can bestow masculinity on a man. The idolatry of celebrities at this time is a particular temptation, but to build one’s masculine identity on such fleeting models is to build an identity on sand. My Catholic sons and brothers, we can only build a certain foundation for masculinity on the rock, Jesus Christ. We look to our Savior to be transformed in Him, to be the men we are called to be, and to let others see Him in us."
An astute, loving pastor, Bishop Olmsted knows that many men are profoundly discouraged, and some have failed to be the husbands, fathers or sons they were meant to be. But he is the first to admit that he, too, has stumbled.
"Will the Lord not continue to inspire men? Of course He will, and He continues to do so! Our concern is not if the Lord will give us the required strength, but how He is doing so right now. How is His Spirit moving us to rise up and reject passivity in a culture of fatherlessness? How is He now giving us interior strength in a culture of pornography? How is He now inspiring us to look beyond ourselves and our technology to the peripheries where Christ is needed? How is the Lord inspiring you and me, right now, to cast aside concerns for our own comfort, to serve our fellow man, to put out into the deep, to step into the breach?"
Read this letter yourself, and share it with the men you know, young and old, who need the healing guidance of a wise pastor.