It began with “a clarion call” to men in the Diocese of Phoenix: “Men, do not hesitate to engage in the battle that is raging around you.” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s apostolic exhortation, titled “Into the Breach,” urged Catholic men to embrace their essential roles as protectors and as defenders of the faith. In 2017, the Knights of Columbus adopted the document into a spiritual formation program, providing the text to members around the world with a study guide to encourage prayer, discussion and action.
Now, the document’s powerful insights are reaching even more people through a complementary new video series produced by the Knights. Twelve episodes of Into the Breach, averaging about 12 minutes in length, were released on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 26. Each episode features interviews with various Catholic leaders and authors, men as well as women, who explore themes of Bishop Olmsted’s letter, such as masculinity, fatherhood, suffering and leadership.
Knights are encouraged to share the videos with friends and family, and councils are encouraged to show the videos in small group settings, before parish gatherings of men and their families, or as part of a day of reflection, retreat or similar event. The series, which has received very positive reviews, can be viewed at kofc.org/intothebreach.
Columbia recently spoke with Supreme Knight Carl Anderson about the new series and what he hopes it will accomplish.
COLUMBIA: What inspired Bishop Olmsted’s apostolic exhortation to Catholic men and its title “Into the Breach”? Why is its message so urgent today?
SUPREME KNIGHT: Bishop Olmsted begins the document by taking stock of the Church and family life today, and he sees what we all see — a large drop-off in attendance at Mass, people leaving the Church, especially youth, and a society that is confused about some of the most basic questions of identity and the nature of the family.
As I have said elsewhere, it is really a crisis of evangelization, a failure to evangelize, especially within the family. And in the face of this crisis, the Church needs Catholic men to take responsibility and to act. This is what Bishop Olmsted means by stepping into the breach.
According to some projections, fewer than 1 in 10 Catholics under the age of 21 will continue to practice the faith as adults. What are we going to do about that? Sociologists tell us that the single most important factor in determining whether children who are raised Catholic will practice the faith as adults is the faith life of their father.
To call men to step into the breach means to call them to live their faith deeply and to be heroic as husbands and fathers. This is also central to the mission and identity of the Knights of Columbus. Practicing our principles of charity, unity and fraternity is fundamentally about growing in holiness.
COLUMBIA: How did the Knights of Columbus come to adopt “Into the Breach” as a Faith in Action program and develop a study guide? What has been the response?
SUPREME KNIGHT: Less than two months after Bishop Olmsted promulgated “Into the Breach” in September 2015, I announced an Orderwide initiative — Building the Domestic Church While Strengthening Our Parish. And this initiative led to the new Faith in Action program model in 2018. Both relate to the key role that the Knights of Columbus can play in the renewal of parish and family life.
When “Into the Breach” was first published, I saw it as providential. It was as if it were directed at the Knights, who strive to respond to the very same challenges addressed in the document. Working with the Diocese of Phoenix, we decided to reprint it as a Catholic Information Service booklet, and because of the nature of the content, we felt a study guide was necessary as well.
Many of the issues raised in the document require some formation and explanation. What is true masculinity as the Catholic tradition understands it? What does it mean for a man to really lead in his home and in his community? Or, as Bishop Olmsted put it, “How does a man love?” These questions require deep reflection, and our hope is that the study guide encourages that reflection.
I say “hope,” but in fact, we have already seen it. Where study guides are being used as part of the Into the Breach Faith in Action program, we are getting great feedback. This and related Faith in Action programs are changing the lives of brother Knights and their families — and they are also attracting men to the Order.
I see the hand of God in the timing of this. There is a great need, and this program is helping us provide an answer.
COLUMBIA: What was the vision for the new Into the Breach video series? How does it complement the document?
SUPREME KNIGHT: The series closely follows the themes of the document, and Bishop Olmsted’s own voice comes through in interviews. That said, the videos also enhance the message of the document in a few ways. The series closely follows the themes of the document, and Bishop Olmsted’s own voice comes through in interviews. That said, the videos also enhance the message of the document in a few ways.
First, as videos, they can do things that a document cannot, with visuals and sound and additional voices, elaborating on different insights. Second, we wanted to make the document come alive by sharing inspirational stories of individual Catholic men — men who are pursuing Christ with all their heart.
The men who are featured in the videos are not perfect men; like all of us, they have weaknesses. At the same time, they admit failures and testify to God’s goodness and the power of forgiveness and redemption. In other words, they are men we can relate to.
The net result is powerful teaching and a vision of true manhood that can touch every man.
COLUMBIA: What is distinctive about men’s spirituality? How does the Into the Breach series address or appeal to those qualities?
SUPREME KNIGHT: One key point is fatherhood. Whether it is spiritual or biological fatherhood, it means taking responsibility for the lives of those around us, as well as the environment we create in our homes and communities. Protecting others first requires self-mastery, which is something many men are struggling with right now. It is easy to be passive and lazy in the modern world — to focus on making things as comfortable as possible, avoiding responsibility and the hardships that come with it. In this climate, it was essential that we emphasized in the videos not only the need for leadership but also for selfcontrol and a mature understanding of the role of suffering in our lives — not for its own sake, but for the sake of others.
I hope the series serves as a wake-up call for men to remember that they were born into a battle — a spiritual battle, yes, but nonetheless very real warfare. It is a battle for their souls and those of their wives and children and the whole world. Once a man sees this, his whole perspective on life changes. In my experience, this realization makes many men take their own formation more seriously. It gives them a clear vision for their God-given mission in life. This mental shift is fundamental and has to occur if Christian men are going to take their place in the great battle and step into the breach where the Lord is calling them.
The teaching presented in the videos is a challenge, because the Gospel is a challenge. I think many men will walk away with a deep sense of commitment to make changes in their lives.
COLUMBIA: Can you say more about the decision-making behind the production? For instance, what went into choosing the particular topics and interview subjects?
SUPREME KNIGHT: Well, a project like this takes many minds to be done well, so we consulted widely. The themes themselves are driven by the text, but other decisions were the product of many conversations and a fair bit of trial and error. I spent more hours than I can count reviewing versions of the videos and discussing them with others. I am happy with the final product, especially with the way various elements came together. They have many dimensions and, more importantly, they tell a story.
One of the most personally gratifying elements of this whole process was identifying the men to feature. These include unknown heroes who have been through incredible suffering and yet model hope and strength for the rest of us. They point to the fact that evangelization is not an abstract idea. It is a personal reality of individuals, families and communities being transformed by Jesus Christ.
There are so many men out there who are carrying their crosses daily, living lives of virtue and being a light for the world. This gives me great hope for our Church.
COLUMBIA: Who is the target audience of the video series, and what role will it play in the Faith in Action program?
SUPREME KNIGHT: Originally, our target audience was members of the Knights of Columbus. But we designed the videos to be watched by anyone, in any number of settings — individually or in groups, for presentations or retreats. Some of the most positive comments we have received have come from priests. And the series is not only for men. Many women have shared with us how helpful they found the videos, especially as something they can watch with their husbands or other loved ones.
In the upcoming fraternal year, the Into the Breach videos, with new study guides, will be part of an official Faith in Action program that councils may choose as part of their yearly plan.
COLUMBIA: Are there any current plans to further develop Into the Breach and related spirituality initiatives of the Knights of Columbus?
SUPREME KNIGHT: Yes. We are in a conversation about a project that will make these videos even more widely known and further develop the themes. We are also in the process of developing another video series based on a second document by Bishop Olmsted, titled “Complete My Joy.” Written to husbands and wives, it is a kind of sequel to “Into the Breach” and is also available as a CIS booklet.
Marriage and the family are in crisis — there is major breach there, and we want to offer very practical guidance and inspiration for Catholic men and women to live out the mission of the domestic church in their homes.
The Knights of Columbus has a special obligation in this moment of crisis. As the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world, founded with a mission to protect Catholic families, we can and must make a difference. We will continue to do more. This is simply who we are.
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