“Into the Breach” is the marvelous letter written by Phoenix’ Bishop Thomas Olmsted to Catholic men, shot through with martial imagery as he alerts them to be more aware of the battle for the family, which they are charged to protect. He is not exaggerating the threats, given that fatherhood and motherhood—and sexual identity itself—have been under siege for many decades now, and moral chaos has followed.
The bishop cites alarming statistics that document the decline of the Church in America, showing that the number of those attending Holy Mass and receiving life-giving sacraments—including Holy Matrimony—is plummeting. It is the word “matrimony” that should concern us here. While dictionaries define that word as simply “the state of being married,” one can easily see that its root is in the word, mater (Latin for “mother”).
Despite the conventional wisdom that marriage is simply a lifestyle choice and how those who opt to enter it is irrelevant, the fact is that naturally and supernaturally speaking, marriage is primarily ordered to children. The Second Vatican Council echoed the ancient teaching, noting: “Children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to the good of the parents themselves. ... true married love and the whole structure of family life which results from it, without diminishment of the other ends of marriage, are directed to disposing the spouses to cooperate valiantly with the love of the Creator and Savior, who through them will increase and enrich his family from day to day” (GS, 50).
Increase and enrich. That is what we are called to do—and a man and woman’s burning desire to embrace each other is the inborn drive to do what God intended from the start. The primary goal is to increase, and the family setting is intended to enrich all its members—but primarily the children. It’s so simple, and yet most young people shy away from this truth as though it’s an obstacle to happiness. The irony is that when we avoid God’s will for our lives, we reject the happiness that comes with it—and for what? Our own short-sighted ill-conceived ideas that attempt an end-run around a fundamental truth.
Amidst the chaos in the wider culture about all the different ideas on what marriage is, or should be, or isn’t, or used to be, the Marriage Reality Movement has shifted the discussion in a very refreshing way—a way that reflects more closely the primary purpose of the institution. Rather than beginning with the husband and wife—who often spend an inordinate amount of time naval-gazing about all the choices open to them—MRM begins with the child and his dignity. When we think about it, not only were we all once children, but consider the stunning fact that marriage is the only institution that firmly ties a child to his biological parents.
If a young woman's search for a spouse is understood as choosing her children's father, would that change the way she looks for him? The venues she’s using? The criteria she holds in her heart? And for the parents of sons, will an emphasis on their future fatherhood change the way they are being raised? Bishop Olmsted implores all men to embrace their call: “If you do not embrace the spousal and fatherly vocation God has planned for you, you will be stuck in the impotence of the ‘seed’ that refuses to die and refuses to give life. Don’t settle for this half-life! The question for every man is not, ‘Am I called to be a father?’ but rather, ‘What kind of father am I called to be?’” We all have a stake in the response—none more so than the next generation. Fatherhood is neither optional nor an obstacle, but the answer. Women need to embrace that fact.