Sompaul Vorapanich enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after 9/11 and has served his country faithfully ever since. A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, he knows the camaraderie and mutual trust that a platoon of soldiers must share to carry out a successful mission.
“From my military experience, standing in the breach is the most dangerous part of any mission,” said Vorapanich, a master sergeant with the Special Forces. “There have been multiple times that I was in a firefight, knowing that the person to my ‘twelve’ and the person to my ‘six’ was a brother that I could rely on.”
Having that kind of support and protection — men who will put their lives on the line for one another — enables a military unit to complete its task and tend to those who have fallen. “When someone stumbles, we need to be able to carry them,” Vorapanich explained. “We never leave a man behind.”
Vorapanich and several experts on men’s spirituality are featured in the “Brotherhood” episode of the Knights of Columbus’ Into the Breach video series. The series and its accompanying reflection guide are based on the 2015 apostolic exhortation of the same name by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, which challenges Catholic men to step up and fulfill their roles for the sake of their families, parishes and communities.
A founding member of St. Michael the Archangel Council 14773 in Fort Bragg, N.C., Vorapanich likened the military idea of a “band of brothers” to the mutual support and accountability every Catholic man needs in his life.
“A great Catholic friend is someone who is not afraid to tell you when you’re wrong, when you’re doing something that’s not aligned with your faith, or when you’re doing something that’s unethical,” he said. “They’re the ones that are going to pick you up when you fall. … They’re the ones that are going to push you to move past your limits when you need [it].”
Men need other men to become stronger. A verse from Proverbs states this well: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (27:17). Men of similar ideals will challenge one another to greater heights than any one of them could achieve on his own.
What’s more, being part of a “band of brothers” means having true friends who support one another when times get tough.
“A true friend is going to be there for you when you need them the most — when you’re suffering, when you're going through trials,” said Mark Houck, chastity educator and founder of a lay apostolate called The King’s Men. “Men have a special bond. When they go through adversity, it means a lot [to have a friend say], ‘Hey, brother, I’m here for you. I’m praying for you.’”
Many Catholic men, however, lack those kinds of relationships. Without brothers in the faith, they are missing a vital means of support.
This lack of personal connection is partly a cultural problem in an age when people might have many social media “friends” but few, if any, they can count on in “real life.” It’s also partly the rugged “lone ranger” attitude of many men who believe they can handle things on their own. But what men really need is close friendship with other men — friends with whom they can be open, honest and vulnerable, friends for whom they are willing to sacrifice.
According to Scott Hahn, popular author and theology professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Christ empowers us through his sacrifice and his gift of the Eucharist to “die to ourselves, die to the world, and live for each other.”
This, Hahn said, “is what makes us a band of brothers. This is what really fosters fraternal solidarity.”
Christ formed his own “band of brothers,” the Twelve Apostles. They became the foundation of the Church, and they were the first to go out and preach the Gospel on the first Pentecost. That’s how evangelization happens best — through the witness of individuals, but individuals who are bonded through fraternities of faith.
For Vorapanich, a program leader for the Order’s Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage that brings wounded veterans and others to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, the marching orders for men come through the Eucharist and the Mass.
“The Eucharist is the body of Christ,” he said. “When we finish Mass, we’re told to be that Eucharist to the world. We must act like Christ, and if we can do that, together, as a group of brothers, that’s where we can make a true difference.”
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.