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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.
On Tuesday Bishop Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix released his new apostolic exhortation directed at the men of his diocese, and the men of America, titled “Into the Breach: An Apostolic Exhortation to Catholic Men, my Spiritual Sons in the Diocese of Phoenix.”
Men in general should read this 23 page letter, but most especially Catholic men. In August I wrote about my own preparations for battle and I’m encouraged to see the same (but much weightier) exhortation coming from a man such as Bishop Olmsted.
Last night I printed the entire 23 pages and sat down in a chair with pen in hand to read, highlight and scribble notes. I could, and may in the future, pull quotes from this document for use in future blogs as there is much to digest. This letter must not be allowed to go the way of so many things in our short attention span world and be forgotten within a few days.
Again: if you are a Catholic man you simply must read this. I also encourage any Christian men who are not Catholic but who recognize in our culture today the need for such a clarion call to action to read it as well.
Since the Church as “field hospital” after battle is an appropriate analogy, then another complementary image is appropriate for our day: the Spiritual Battle College. The Church is, and has always been, a school that prepares us for spiritual battle, where Christians are called to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6), to “put on the armor of God”, and “to be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).
Ever since Jesus chose the Twelve Apostles, formed them in his presence, and sent them out in his Name, He has continued to choose and form men through his Church and to send them out to the wounded. This is the meaning of the word apostle – men who are sent. With this letter, then, my sons and brothers, I urge you to heed Jesus’ call and to let him form your mind and heart with the light of the Gospel for the purpose of being sent. That is why this letter is an apostolic exhortation. I am hereby exhorting you to step into the breach – to do the work of Christ’s soldiers in the world today.
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I admit that during my high school years I subscribed to Rolling Stone magazine. I haven’t read it in decades as my values changed while the magazine’s values ebbed ever downward. Rarely do I read online articles from it anymore. But now and then they feature something about an older artist that I listened to at one time (or still listen to) and so I found myself reading this article by perhaps my favorite singer/songwriter Don Henley. Henley just released Cass County his first solo album in fifteen years and has been making the usual publicity circuit. I even saw him interviewed on CBS Sunday Morning last week.
Anyhow, in this interview there were many statements made by Henley that I found myself nodding with in complete agreement. Here are a few:
Though he’s well-known for delivering songs with pointed social commentary, he says that isn’t his intent on Cass County. “It’s songs about the circular nature of life and how life is one big circle with a lot of smaller circles inside of it,” says the 68-year-old. “I’m at an age now where I’m thinking about mortality, what kind of world my kids are going to inherit when they grow up, and how I can prepare them to be resilient of that in the face of that because, let’s face it, the world has gone batshit crazy.”
“The politics in this country are really messed up right now,” he continues. “It’s just ridiculous, the things we focus on, how shallow our culture has become, how you can get famous now for not really accomplishing anything. Fame, at one time, was associated with accomplishment, but in this day and age fame and notoriety have become confused. A lot of people who we call famous, should not be famous. They should be notorious because if you can build a multi-million-dollar empire just by taking your clothes off and going on the Internet, there’s something very wrong with our values.”
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One day, if I feel it’s still worth the effort, I plan to write about something I’ve been outlining since last week. It concerns the bizarre Pharisitical split I’ve seen open wide during Pope Francis’ papacy among Catholics, most especially Catholic commentators and social media officianados. It reached a ridiculously high pitch during his trip to America last week. Many American Catholics have become products of their American culture and now find themselves viewing everything through a cynical political lens. I’ve documented some of it to write about later but I am finding the entire exercise just too depressing.
It’s not only Catholics that have embraced Phariseeism, but Christians in general. On Sunday popular blogger/writer Matt Walsh simply posted the gospel reading from Mass (Mark 9:33-48) with no commentary. The very first comment was from a woman who identified herself as a bible-believing Christian (I guess we Catholics are not) and posted the same passage from the King James Version, because “it’s the authentic translation.” What happened next was predictable and sad to watch. Hundreds of comments followed involving Christians fighting amongst themselves over scripture translations. You could almost hear satan cackling with glee over it all. Walsh’s response was simply this:
I posted a simple Bible verse to Facebook. No commentary. No opinion. Nothing but the Word of God on a Sunday. Not only that, but it’s a Bible verse specifically about finding unity and not competing amongst ourselves. What happens? Almost immediately, a few smug individuals decide to “correct” the translation I used (because apparently it’s not “right” unless it uses “sayeth” instead of “say” and “ye” instead of “you”) and next thing you know a simple Bible verse has turned into a reason to bicker amongst ourselves. I am so disgusted, disappointed, and grieved by this — especially after a week of hearing people tell me I’m not a Christian because I’m a Catholic, and after years of reading comments on this page about how I’m not a good representative of Christ because I have tattoos or I like to drink sometimes, etc — that I really don’t know what to say. I heard this passage in church today and it spoke to me. I thought I should share it. The fact that ANY Christian would find ANY reason to take issue or criticize is beyond inexcusable. God help us in this country. I’m tired of this crap. Now, yes, please tell me I’m not a Christian because I said crap. Pharisees. The church in America is overrun by Pharisees.
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Ok…last point to this long Friday Five. Thank you for staying with me.
To one Catholic who took to her very public blog to commit out-and-out defamation of character against Pope Francis in a very politically American hysterical way I commented:
I have always enjoyed your articles and look forward to them. But this was an almost unreadable mess much like the majority of the live tweets, blogs and social commentary of last week. I’m a conservative for the most part but a Catholic Christian first, and what I read coming from the conservative side of the aisle as events were still unfolding was embarrassing. Most would do well to pray first and then write.
At the risk of appearing to give too much credit to myself I highlight this point:
Most would do well to pray first and then write.
Too many, it would seem, who consider themselves orthodox Catholics or conservative Christians have not cultivated an interior life of any sort. They may walk the walk and look good on the outside, but inside they are dead. They may have even had a strong interior life at one point but it got swept away in the torrent of instant social media commentary. Jesus spoke of just such a person when he said:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matthew 23:27-28)
To that end I’ll wrap with something written by Dan Burke. In his article Burke begins by saying how difficult it is for us to extend mercy when we are not intimately familiar with our own failures.
Most don’t realize that the Pharisees were stalwart orthodox. They were deeply committed to their faith. However, they had strayed interiorly. Their faith was one of external adherence and they thought that this was the entirety of the life in God. Jesus’ rebukes of this problem were not new and were echoed throughout the Old Testament. … Here’s the hard part: external orthodoxy is a distorted orthodoxy when it is not accompanied by a properly oriented interior life.
Burke then asks: How do we know if we who consider ourselves “vehemently orthodox” (as so many of those writing about the pope no doubt do) would be rebuked or embraced by Christ? He then presents a list of questions to ask ourselves:
- Are we deeply aware of our own sins and frailty or are we more aware of the sins, mistakes, and errors of others?
- When others fail or seem to demonstrate a lesser commitment than ours, or seem to live outside of the boundaries of orthodoxy, are we quick to throttle them as the wicked servant did in the gospels?
- Do we fail to see that conversion is a process and that each person is somewhere on the path and that not all actually know the path and how they should proceed; or do we always attribute negative motives or weak commitment and then criticize or condemn on that basis?
- Are we patient, kind, gentle, and respectful with others as the Holy Spirit has clearly instructed us to be in scripture, or are we impatient, harsh, critical, unkind, or disrespectful as we engage those with whom we disagree?
- Do we spend much of our time arguing and debating with others on the internet or are we actually giving our lives to the tangible service of our communities, our parishes, and those in need both of the works of corporal and spiritual mercy?
- Do we fail to see the providential hand of God active in redemption and the leading of His Church and thus do we only see and constantly complain about the human failure and frailty in the Church?
- Do we demonstrate the joy of the presence of God within us that is fostered by daily mental prayer and frequent participation in the sacraments and that reflects a peace and love that dominates our hearts even in the most challenging of times? If we do have that joy, does it show on our faces or are we always dour, sour, and downtrodden?
I invite you to examine your conscience, answer these questions truthfully, and read Bishop Olmsted’s apostolic exhortation.
And join me in the breach.