Men who have engaged in combat know the drill: They receive their orders. They deploy into the battlefield. They fight to win.
But they also need rest and nourishment to bolster their strength so they can continue the fight. And they need to heal from the wounds they inevitably sustain in battle.
The spiritual life is much the same. Our marching orders come from Christ and his Church. The battlefield is the world, where evil and temptation threaten us and our families in ways both blatant and subtle. And our source of nourishment and healing is Christ, who dispenses his grace primarily through the sacraments of his Church.
Powerhouses of Grace
“This world is a battleground between heaven and hell, between good and evil — so we need to put on, as Scripture says, the full armor of God,” said Jim Burnham, director of the New Mexico Roman Catholic Apologetics Group. “And that includes these incredibly powerful channels of grace called the sacraments. All the sacraments are gifts from Jesus, powerhouses of grace that Jesus gives us to fortify us in the spiritual battle.”
The seven sacraments of the Church are visible signs instituted by Christ to give us grace, which is a share in God’s own divine life. Grace heals us and strengthens us to live virtuously and advance in holiness.
Baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist initiate us into communion with the Church. Penance and the anointing of the sick provide us healing through forgiveness of sins. Matrimony and holy orders empower us to serve God within the state of life to which he has called us.
For Catholic men committed to the spiritual battle, the “go-to” source of spiritual nourishment should be regular reception of the Eucharist and frequent confession. In the Eucharist, we are strengthened by receiving the true body and blood of Christ; in the sacrament of penance, we confess our sins and receive Christ’s absolution, along with the grace to go forth and resist temptation more effectively.
“The goal of our moral life is to know the good, and to choose the good, and to do good acts to build virtue,” explained Father Burke Masters, director of adult formation for the Diocese of Joliet and chaplain for the Chicago Cubs. “[Grace] illumines the mind so that we know the good, and it strengthens our will so that we can choose the good. And so the goal of the spiritual life is to live a life of grace, through the power of the sacraments and through developing virtue.”
Burnham and Father Masters are among the experts interviewed for “Sacramental Life,” an episode of Into the Breach, a 12-part video series produced by the Knights of Columbus. The series is inspired by a 2015 apostolic exhortation by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix in which he calls upon Catholic men to live out their faith and vocation more fully so as to help revitalize families, communities and the Church.
Called Into Battle
Even men who attend Mass weekly and receive the Eucharist regularly may struggle with the sacrament of confession, participating in it rarely, if ever.
As a result, they miss out on one of the Church’s great treasures.
“Think of confession as a field hospital. When you’re out in the battle, the spiritual battle, confession is the place where you go in to be healed of the wounds of sin,” said Paul Thigpen, a Catholic historian and author of Manual for Spiritual Warfare. “So that’s why the Church says it’s essential. You can’t just make confession optional.”
Why are some men reluctant about confession? It’s a humbling experience for a man to admit faults and failures, to acknowledge that he needs help and can’t go it alone. If a man has those fears, he’s looking at confession the wrong way, said Jared Zimmerer, director of the Word on Fire Institute.
“What the sacraments do is invite you into the spiritual warfare that Christ accomplished on the cross,” Zimmerer said. “Whenever we’re dealing with struggles, like fear of failure, fear of inadequacy, a lot of that tends to go by the wayside when you have a very clear expectation of ‘Here's the fight you're supposed to be in.’ The sacraments call you into that battle.”
He compared the Eucharist, confession and other aspects of a man’s spiritual life to strength training for bodybuilding: It takes consistent practice.
“The desired outcome of going to Mass and receiving the sacraments is to become a saint,” said Zimmerer, so a man must “recognize that sometimes repetition is a good thing.”
To view episodes of the Into the Breach video series and to access the study guide and other resources for promoting the series in your parish, visit kofc.org/intothebreach.