Saturday, October 03, 2015

Bishop Olmstead addresses men

St Joseph
Bishop Thomas Olmstead of Phoenix, Arizona, has issued a pastoral letter specifically addressed to men. It is an encouraging sign that the efforts to highlight the problem of alienation and lapsation by men in the Church are finally being faced.

You can read the letter here. It encourages men to take up their responsibilities as Catholics, as members of society, and as husbands and fathers.

There is a paragraph about fathers as heads of their families; I do not believe I have seen any (living) diocesan bishop mention this aspect of the Church's teaching before. This is what he says.

There are those in our culture today, however, who do not want us to see fatherlessness as unnatural or lamentable. Do not be fooled by those voices wishing to erase all distinctions between mothers and fathers, ignoring the complementarity that is inherent in creation itself. Men, your presence and mission in the family is irreplaceable! Step up and lovingly, patiently take up your God-given role as protector, provider, and spiritual leader of your home. A father’s role as spiritual head of the family must never be understood or undertaken as domination over others, but only as a loving leadership and a gentle guidance for those in your care. Your fatherhood, my fatherhood, in its hidden, humble way, reflects imperfectly but surely the Fatherhood of God, the Father to those whom the Lord has given us to father.

I think that 'loving leadership and a gentle guidance' is inadequate as a description of the role; this is the only reference to it in the document, the word 'authority' does not appear anywhere, and the word 'obedience' only appears in relation to God. However, credit where it is due: this is an awful lot better than nothing, and 'nothing' is what we have been getting for a very long time.

There is a telling paragraph on the problem of men in Pope St John Paul II's Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici, on the laity, issued in 1988:

52. Many voices were raised in the Synod Hall expressing the fear that excessive insistence given to the status and role of women would lead to an unacceptable omission, that, in point, regarding men. In reality, various sectors in the Church must lament the absence or the scarcity of the presence of men, some of whom abdicate their proper Church responsibilities, allowing them to be fulfilled only by women. Such instances are participation in the liturgical prayer of the Church, education and, in particular, catechesis of their own sons and daughters and other children, presence at religious and cultural meetings, and collaboration in charitable and missionary initiatives.

Since 1988, we have waited in vain for this issue to be addressed, at least until now.

The danger with Bishop Olmstead's letter, well-meaning as it is, is that the message coming over to men is simply 'man up!' This can very easily turn into a game of actually blaming men for the problems of society. The problem of fatherlessness, for example: isn't that, obviously, a problem caused by feckless men? This message is heard a good deal among Evangelical Protestants, and to an extent in the press and in popular culture. Why can't men just get on with the job of being hard working and dependable? Well, it must be a moral failing.

This gets us nowhere, any more than lambasting single mothers for their moral failings. The failings are real enough, certainly, but the important question is why so many people are failing in this particular way, when a couple of generations ago they did not, and what we can do, as a community (within the Church), and as a society overall, to address the situation. This is something which Bishop Olmstead does not address much more than men-bashing newspaper columnists.

It derives, however, from quite easily identifiable social changes which the Church ought to be opposing tooth and nail, but which we have come to accept. As I have blogged about in some detail before, men have no incentive to commit themselves to a family, to invest heavily in it, if three things are missing: the prospect of domestic happiness enjoyed by former generations of men; the prospect of appreciation and respect given to him as head of the household enjoyed by former generations of men; and the security of the investment, in the sense that, like former generations of men, it is very unlikely to be destroyed by divorce. If those things are missing, investing in a family ceases to be a sensible thing for a provident, conscientious, ambitious young man to do, and becomes a romantic gamble at best.

Lots of people will defend the social changes which have had this result, but we can't embrace these and simultaneously decry the disapearance of provident, concientious, and ambitious young husbands and fathers. You get what you pay for.

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  1. I am fortunate in that although my parish is Novus Ordo, I also have access, from time to time, to a Gregorian Mass. The differences are interesting.

    The Novus Ordo Mass is now quite feminised. From porter, the choir, altar servers, prayer bidders readers, lay distributors, sacred vessels cleaners, you name it, they are at least 80 % , and probably 90%, female.

    Young un-attached women are rare, but young un-attached men, say 20 upwards, are exceedingly rare. I am pretty sure that were I in my 20s now, I simply would not go to such a Mass, whatever else I would do.

    Things are different at the Gregorian Mass. Oldies including me yes, but increasingly young males and females.

    I personally have no doubt as to where the future if the Catholic Church lies.

    Bishop Olmstead is right. Catholicism must be not so much re-masculinised as the roles re-established. And the masculine role will become increasingly important in another way as the inevitable threat from aggressive Islam grows.

  2. Mr. Shaw, thank you for your analysis here and at your other blog entry you link to. In that entry you say:

    Notice what's happening here? If women want something they can't have, the world needs to be changed so they can have it. If men want something they can't have, the men need to change so they don't want it any more.

    I'm not making a judgement here, just an observation. There's something a little odd going on. Of course it might all make sense if the desires of the women were
    right, and those of the men were wrong.

    I've thought for some time that what you are poking here is humanity's protest against what it claims to be the unfairness and oppressiveness of God, using woman as the representative of humanity and man as the representative of God.

    But maybe I'm just jumping to conclusions and spiritualizing what could easily be explained by our natures. However, it otherwise seems arbitrary (and therefore unlikely) that the narrative *always* points to man as oppressor and woman as oppressed, suppressed in realizing her leonine potential, with both men and women seeming to be making a concerted effort to trumpet this narrative.