It’s time for prayerful discernment and action, say parish and ministry leaders throughout the Diocese of Phoenix in light of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s apostolic exhortation to the men of the diocese, “Into the Breach.”
With the publication of the bishop’s exhortation, men throughout the diocese are now entering a phase of discernment in how they can live their calling as Catholic men.
“It’s a strong call for us to return to the vision of God for men — to lead with love and truth,” said Darren Handy, coordinator of men’s ministry at St. Timothy Parish in Mesa.
Published on the Feast of the Archangels, Sept. 29, it fell after the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ historic visit to the U.S. and before the Synod on the Family being held in Rome. “May the Holy Spirit help us to understand our role as men in protecting and guiding those we love, particularly our families,” said Bishop Olmsted in a press release.
Mike Phelan, diocesan director of marriage and respect life, said the process for drafting the exhortation began last year when renown bioethics attorney Dorinda Bordlee explained in a presentation on the Catholic feminine genius the need for men to have clear direction from their bishops about how to be men.
“When men figure out their own calling, women will be able to go to the next level — we need men to embrace their own genius,” Phelan recalled her saying.
Phelan said he hopes the movement that springs from the exhortation goes deep, then wide “in that order.”
“Men read the document, pray about it, and these men are the ones that are called, through their own gifts and vocations, to mentor and lead other men,” he said.
Phelan said he’s already received requests for resources from throughout the country and globe. A group in Australia invited Bishop Olmsted to speak, and even though he can’t be physically present, the bishop is sending members a message of encouragement.
To assist this initial group of leaders, Bishop Olmsted designated diocesan Vocations Director Fr. Paul Sullivan to serve as the chaplain for men of the diocese. In this capacity, Fr. Sullivan will serve as a guide for men’s ministry leaders in the diocese.
“I’ve sensed a lot of men have always wanted to be guided as men,” said Fr. Sullivan. “In our culture that says there’s no difference between men and women, it’s refreshing for men to be spoken to and challenged as men.”
Paul Mulligan, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Community Services, said “Into the Breach” accurately describes the crisis of fatherhood in society.
“So much of what we deal with is the aftermath of fatherless families, or the failure of men to be good fathers,” he said. “Part of the crisis of fatherhood, as men fail in their roles as fathers, it perpetuates to their families and leaves women and children vulnerable.”
As examples, Mulligan described how children are placed in the foster care system “effectively because of family breakdown.” He also noted how October is “Domestic Violence Awareness Month,” and while domestic violence isn’t exclusively women abused by men, the majority of cases are. Mulligan also shared how the agency is tackling the issue at the front-end by engaging the community and providing mentorship to young men through various programs.
Catholic blogger Leila Miller said that women she interacts with hope that, when reading the document, their husbands will be inspired to fulfill their vocations as “providers, protectors and spiritual leaders of their families.”
“God made us to be complementary and not the same — I don’t know any woman who believes that,” said Miller. “We want our men to be men so we can be built up as women.”
Steven Pettit, co-director of Catholic Men’s Fellowship of Phoenix — which sponsors the annual Catholic Men’s Conferences, said he expects the next conference, scheduled for Feb. 6, to be themed around “Into the Breach.”
“I’ve known, working with Bishop Olmsted, that fatherhood is at the forefront for him, but him making a statement like this is great.”
The “That Man Is You” program, which facilitates small group discussion, is one way to answer the bishop’s call for Catholic men to find a “band of brothers,” said Bill O’Connell from St. Paul Parish’s program. These discussions “draw us out and into deeply meaningful conversations,” he said, which is “one of the ways the Holy Spirit is working to steer men’s hearts to take action — like the 12 Apostles.”
Noting how social ills such as the global sex trade and pornography industry are driven by men, Fr. Sullivan said it’s time for men to fight these ills and reclaim masculinity.
“We’re calling on men to not ask Bishop what to do, but to look around themselves to ask, ‘Where am I called to be in the breach — in relationships, families, the parish, in my own spiritual life and relationship with the Lord?’”