Marriage and family are the foundation of a strong, healthy society. Where marriages break up and families collapse, communities suffer the effects of instability through maladies such as crime, poverty, drug use and malaise.
Marriage and family are also good for us as humans. For the vast majority of men, it is our vocation — God’s calling — to enter into holy matrimony with a woman in a faithful lifelong covenant of love and to raise children together, forming them to become virtuous, faith-filled and responsible adults. Because leading a family is a man’s vocation, it is also his pathway to holiness and his sacred mission.
“The ultimate purpose of marriage is summed up in two words: love and children,” said Douglas Bushman, theology professor at the Augustine Institute based in Denver. “Marriage is a mission for populating the kingdom of God, as a team, husband and wife, mother and father.”
However, it’s not just a numbers game. Openness to conceiving and bearing children is essential to the Catholic understanding of matrimony as the couple cooperates with God in creating new life. Yet parents are also responsible for educating their children and training them in how to love, how to pray, how to make moral decisions and how to live in fruitful relationships with others.
That’s where the father’s pivotal role as provider, protector and spiritual leader for his family really kicks in. Marriage and family are part of God’s plan for redeeming the world. That’s why St. Paul compares the relationship between husband and wife to that of Christ’s sacrificial love for his Church (see Ephesians 5). It’s also why the family is compared to the Blessed Trinity as a “communion of persons.” It’s worth noting that Jesus, God’s own son, was born of a woman and raised in a human family.
Since strong families are such a necessary good in our world, it’s no wonder that the forces of evil are at work trying to destroy families and family values. Men, as husbands and fathers, need to step in and protect their families against these evils.
“God continues his work of redemption through holy families. That’s why the family’s so much under attack,” said Jason Evert, a Catholic author and speaker. “The battle that we’re facing is really a battle for the very soul of the family. And I think the way that we need to engage that as men is through our presence, through rejecting that temptation to retreat from the battlefield altogether.”
Evert and other experts on men’s spirituality appear in the “Family” episode of the Into the Breach video series, produced by the Knights of Columbus. The series and its accompanying study guide are inspired by the 2015 apostolic exhortation of the same name by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, which challenges Catholic men to step up and fulfill their God-given roles in the family, the community and the Church.
The statistics are telling. There are fewer baptisms and sacramental marriages. Large numbers of Catholics leave the faith for a variety of reasons. Polls reveal that less than half of all Catholics believe in Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist. How much different would these trends look if Catholic men would stand up as brothers, live out their faith heroically and lead their wives and children to do the same?
Strong families begin with strong marriages. Biblical scholar Jeff Cavins stated the more that married couples build a strong union and work together to form a holy family, the healthier the family becomes. However, when couples lose sight of that vision of marriage and family it often leads to sin.
That was the experience of Gregory and Julie Alexander, who fell in love while attending college in Texas and married without really having a vision of the sacredness of marriage and family. Lacking an understanding of the sacrificial self-giving that married love requires, they experienced serious obstacles in communication and problem solving. Pornography entered the picture, and Greg had a vasectomy. With a growing chasm between them, they decide to divorce.
But a wise priest counseled them to seek some answers: “What is God’s plan for marriage? What does the Church teach about marriage?”
Reading St. Paul and what the Church had to say in Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae was an eye-opening experience. “It really began to dawn on me that just maybe some of my own selfishness was contributing to the breakup of our marriage,” Greg said. He and Julie began to talk openly, to pray together and even quit their high-powered jobs so that they could work on their marriage.
Greg realized his vasectomy “was something totally contrary to what God had intended marriage to be,” and that contraception was a means to “usurp God’s power.” He had the procedure reversed, and the Alexanders have since been blessed with five children.
From near-disastrous marriage to blissful family life, Julie Alexander marvels at the change made by authentically living their Catholic faith. “Everything was transformed because [Greg] became a man after God’s own heart,” she said.
Greg agreed. “We can’t imagine what life would be like without any of those kids,” he said, adding that he believed these blessings are “God rewarding us for turning back to him in the fullest and living life the way that he intended.”
The sacramental grace of matrimony is a powerful force that can guide a couple through the ups and downs of marriage and family life in very practical ways. A family needs the gifts of both a father and a mother, who through that grace can complement each other in child-raising just as they do in the marriage relationship. It’s necessary ammunition for the spiritual battles they face as a family.
That’s why men are called to stand “in the breach” and lead their families as God would have them lead.
“The role of the father in the Catholic family is decisive — it’s indispensable, it’s irreplaceable,” said Scott Hahn, theology professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. The success of the new evangelization, he added, requires that “men of God rise up and accept the grace and the challenge to be faithful husbands, to be loving fathers, to be sacrificial servant leaders.”
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.