Wanted: faithful men of virtue

Archbishop Aquila

On Friday, March 2, something happened at the Colorado state capitol that hasn’t happened in over 100 years. Lawmakers in the state House of Representatives voted to expel one of their own over allegations of sexual harassment, and this was just one of several cases being investigated.

The vast majority of the cases brought to light by the MeToo social media campaign involve men harassing women, a fact that highlights the urgent need our society has for virtuous men – men of integrity and faith.

That men tend to pursue their appetites is nothing new; it’s as old as Adam giving in to the temptation to eat from the Tree of Good and Evil. But what has changed recently is the scale at which women are treated as sexual objects, rather than being respected as daughters of God, whose complimentary gifts are indispensable for a flourishing society.

I have written in my recent pastoral letter, “The Splendor of Love,” about how contraception has contributed to this dramatic shift from partnership to objectification. But another important factor that cannot be overlooked is the loss or abandonment of virtue by men.

Those men who have engaged in harassment, whether they are from Hollywood, the business world, politics or elsewhere, have fallen into the trap of being men for themselves, instead of being men for others.

Changing one’s inner orientation from self-centeredness to living for the sake of others requires a radical change that is only possible through God’s grace.

My good friend and predecessor Archbishop Charles Chaput recently underscored this point in a talk he gave at the “Into the Breach Conference” in Phoenix. He said, “A man’s actions and words change only when his heart changes for the better. And his heart only changes for the better when he discovers something to believe in that transforms and gives meaning to his life; something that directs all of his reasoning and desires.”

That something is really someone, Jesus Christ, who reveals the eternal love of the Father for every human being. The God-Man Jesus, when he is encountered, changes everything in a person’s life. It is God and God alone who satisfies the longing for an eternal, lasting purpose that each of us has in his heart. Only he can move us beyond our fallen human nature and help us grow in the virtues of purity, self-control and sacrifice for the good of others.

One man who we can look to as example of what is possible with God’s grace is Saint Joseph, the foster father of Jesus and the husband of Mary, whose solemn feast day the Church will celebrate on March 19.

The Scriptures tell us that Saint Joseph was a “righteous man” (Mt. 1:19). This phrase meant that he was both just in his dealings with others and that he was a man of prayer who faithfully kept the commandments.

Saint Joseph is also notable for being a man who was careful with his words. In fact, he never speaks in the Gospels. Reflecting on his namesake in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI – whose birth name is Joseph – said, “His is a silence permeated by contemplation of the mystery of God, in an attitude of total availability to his divine wishes. Let us allow ourselves to be ‘infected’ by the silence of St. Joseph! We have much need of it in a world which is often too noisy, which does not encourage reflection and listening to the voice of God.”

By being attentive to God’s voice and remaining ready to follow his direction, men fulfill their God-given role as protectors of the family. We first see this role in Genesis, where God commands Adam to cultivate and protect the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15).

Likewise, we see that Saint Joseph protected Mary and Jesus: first, by not divorcing Mary, taking her for his wife, and second, by quickly obeying God’s direction and fleeing into Egypt to preserve the lives of Jesus and Mary.

The extensive damage inflicted by unvirtuous men who disregard God’s guidance and pursue the satisfaction of their desires at the expense of others is made painfully clear by the recent headlines and stories that continue to surface.

Fellow men, I urge you to seek the Father’s mercy and help and bring your struggles to him in Confession. Follow the example of Saint Joseph, whose relationship with God allowed him to protect, treasure and raise the Son of God. Joseph put his trust and confidence in the Father and not in the world. He put his family, Mary and Jesus, first because he knew in his heart that the Father could be trusted.

I join my voice to my brother bishops, especially Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix, whose pastoral letter “Into the Breach” has strongly challenged men to rise to the occasion and pursue holiness. To quote Bishop Olmsted: “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.”

May God give all men and women the courage to seek his forgiveness and healing, so that we can become a virtuous and holy people!

COMING UP: Getting ready for Synod-2018

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The headline on the March 3 story at the CRUX website was certainly arresting — “Cardinal on charges of rigged synods: ‘There was no maneuvering!’” The cardinal in question was Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, and not only were his voluble comments striking, they were also a bit disconcerting. Did I simply imagine the uproar on the floor of the Synod on October 16, 2014, as bishop after bishop protested an interim report generated by Baldisseri and his colleague, Archbishop Bruno Forte, that did not reflect the discussions of the previous two weeks? Were the complaints about the suffocating Synod procedures Cardinal Baldisseri outlined prior to Synod-2015 an illusion? Didn’t thirteen cardinals write Pope Francis in the most respectful terms, suggesting alterations in those procedures to ensure the open discussion the Pope insisted he wanted?

But, hey, memory is a tricky thing, and this is the season of mercy, so let’s let bygones be bygones and concentrate now on Synod-2018, which will discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment. Those are very important topics. The Church in the United States has had some success addressing them, despite challenging cultural circumstances; so perhaps some American leaders in youth ministry and vocational discernment could be invited to Synod-2018 to enrich its discussion, on the Synod floor and off it (where is where most of the interesting conversations at these affairs take place).

Curtis Martin is the founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), which is arguably the most creative campus ministry initiative in the post-Vatican II Church. FOCUS sends recent college graduates back to campuses as missionaries and has had such success in the U.S. that FOCUS missionaries are now working in Europe. There’s a lot the bishops at Synod-2018 could learn from Mr. Martin’s experience.

Then there’s Anna Halpine, president of the World Youth Alliance: a network of pro-life young people all over the world, who witness to the joy of the Gospel and the Gospel of life in an extraordinary variety of social and cultural settings. WYA has also designed and deployed innovative educational programs and women’s health centers that, building out from the Church’s teaching on the inalienable dignity of the human person, offer life-affirming alternatives to the moral emptiness of too many elementary school curricula and the death-dealing work of Planned Parenthood on campuses. Surely there’s something to be shared at the Synod from this remarkable enterprise.

Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa was the director of campus ministry at Texas A&M for eleven years, where St. Mary’s Catholic Center has set the gold standard in traditional campus ministry and created a model for others to emulate. Over the past twenty years, Konderla and his predecessors have fostered more vocations to the priesthood and religious life than that school with the golden dome in northwest Indiana, while helping many Aggie men and women prepare for fruitful and faithful Catholic marriages. Bishop Konderla would make a very apt papal nominee to Synod-2018.

Msgr. James Shea, president of the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, has taken up the mantle of the late Dr. Don Briel in creating a robust, integrated Catholic Studies program on his growing campus. Shea’s goal, like Briel’s, is to form mature young men and women intellectually, spiritually, and liturgically, so that they can be, in the twenty-first century, Pope Francis’s “Church permanently in mission.” He has things to say about how to do this, and Synod-2018 should hear them.

Then there is Father Thomas Joseph White, OP, a banjo-playing, bourbon-appreciating theologian of distinction who (with his Dominican brother, Father Dominic Legge) has created the Thomistic Institute, to bring serious Catholic ideas to prestigious universities across the U.S. The Institute’s lectures and seminars fill the intellectual vacuum evident on so many campuses today — the vacuum where thought about the deep truths inscribed in the world and in us used to be. Father White is being redeployed by his community to Rome this Fall, so he’ll be a #64 bus ride away from the Vatican. The Synod fathers should meet him, and perhaps he and Cardinal Baldisseri, an accomplished pianist, could jam.  

So by all means, let’s have “no maneuvering” at Synod-2018. But let’s also have some American expertise there, for the good of the whole Church.