By David Kilby | Correspondent
Most of the hundreds of men who attended the Catholic Men for Jesus Christ rally Feb. 25 in St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, have gone into the breach before. If the breach is the culture of death that has permeated the defenses of everything that is known to be good, yes, these men have been there.
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They’ve marched for life in the dead of winter; they’ve prayed before abortion clinics, they’ve stood up for God and morals in the public square. Many of them are among the most active members of your parish.
Every now and then though, they need a recharge, and that’s what the morale-boosting speakers provided during the rally in Donovan Catholic High School, Toms River including Catholic apologist Tim Staples, Legacy of Life director Marie Joseph, Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ, 4th District), and Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., who celebrated Mass for the men in St. Joseph Church, Toms River.
Bishop O’Connell Offers Encouragement
In his homily, Bishop O’Connell reflected on the inspiring story of William Shakespeare’s King Henry V to encourage men to charge “once more into the breach,” which was the battle cry of the king in the play. He described the many “breaches” Catholic men encounter every day and empowered them to not give up, no matter how many times they have gone into the breach in the past.
“We don’t need to be scholars of Shakespeare or Scripture to know that we’re confronted with evil in this world,” he said. “Evil is always there. God created the world good, yet for some inconceivable reason evil has this allure.”
He continued, “Our war isn’t like King Henry’s. Our war is a more subtle conflict. It’s a war for our minds, for our hearts, and for our souls.”
The enemies in this war, he described, are blindness from seeing what’s right, from seeing the beauty of our wives, and the like.
“If you notice yourselves on any of these battlegrounds, I say, ‘once more into the breach, Catholic men for Jesus Christ. If you stumble, get up. Look to the left, look to the right, see your brothers with you. Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more.”
Bishop O’Connell told the men of how their presence at the conference was “such an inspiration to us priests who try our best to serve you in our parishes.”
A Crisis in Society
Staples’ morning talk covered a wide range of cultural issues, and gave a view of 10 important Supreme Court decisions that occurred within the past 70 years. He showed how these decisions directly reflect the slow decay of the culture of life in America, yet he also gave the men hope that they can change this cultural climate.
“We are battling for the survival of Western Civilization and you guys are on the front lines,” he said. “I don’t think we understand because if we understood, it would affect every moment of our lives ... You men in this room are the hope of Western civilization.”
Explaining how culture began to change after the Second World War, Staples said, “In 1943, everyone went to church. There’s no such thing as a golden era as long as there’s original sin, but that’s the closest we can get. It was right then that devil slipped a seed into our culture.”
The Supreme Court decision that started it the moral demise, he said, was the 1947 decision in Everson v. the Board of Education in which the state of New Jersey upheld its decision to allot public funds to help transport inner-city kids to suburban private schools, most of them Catholic. The case was later passed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided “the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between Church and State.’” It was the first time the Supreme Court used the term “separation between Church and State” in a decision, but it was interpreted as separation of God and state, Staples explained, adding that the decision provided the groundwork for several other Supreme Court decisions, including Roe v. Wade in 1973 and the legalization of gay marriage in 2015.
Staples told the men not to be persuaded by those who say that religion should not be discussed in the public square. “When the government starts taking children in the womb and starts redefining marriage, they’re in our territory now … The greatest sin a nation can commit is to reject God and refuse to acknowledge him as God, because our human rights come from God,” he continued, adding that the role of government is to protect our God-given rights.
Witness to Life
Joseph told several stories she witnessed through the Legacy of Life Foundation, including those of healing and young mothers choosing life. Joseph also gave her own testimony, sharing how she turned to God in her greatest time of crisis and received the grace to serve him through the Legacy of Life Foundation.
Joseph was abandoned by her husband after he chose to embrace a homosexual lifestyle, and she was left to raise their children on her own. She began a spiritual journey that led her back to the Catholic Church, and into the ministry she leads today.
Joseph recounted several experiences about those women who chose life despite how difficult a decision it was for them including that of a 16 year-old girl named Chelsea who didn’t want to tell her estranged father she was pregnant. When the Legacy of Life Foundation finally managed to talk to her father about the child, he reconciled with his daughter and worked toward helping her and rebuilding their family.
Joseph emphasized how the Legacy of Life Foundation encourages men to speak up about their concerns regarding the pregnancy of their partner or daughter, because oftentimes a man can provide a refreshing, practical and resolute point of view.
Quoting the apostolic exhortation by Bishop Thomas J. Olmstead of Phoenix, Into the Breach, which inspired the name and theme of this year’s rally, Joseph said the tendency for men to avoid fatherhood is “creating a gaping breach” that the devil comes right through.
Congressman shares his mission
Congressman Smith shared the many heart-wrenching human rights issues he is fighting in the U.S. Congress and around the world, including abortion, human trafficking, the harsh living conditions of Christian refugees and other products of cultures of death.
At the rally, Smith was given the Champion of Faith Award for his fight for life in the public square. In receiving the award he said, “I accept it on behalf of my family and staff.”
During his tenure as a representative, he has experienced a great deal of opposition from those who do not agree with the pro-life movement. He told the men that it is important to stand up to our opposition, “but do not hate them.”
Smith told several experiences about those who persevered in their faith despite all sorts of worse opposition throughout the world. For instance, he recently visited Christian families in refugee camps in Iraq. Despite being told by the U.S. government that it would be too dangerous for him to travel, he visited the families and found them to be peaceful and joyful despite their troubled circumstances.
While giving ample attention to other human rights issues, he emphasized how imperative it is to fight abortion. “We are a part of the greatest human rights struggle on earth,” he said, adding that he recently wrote a bill that would ban dismemberment abortion.
He also mentioned how the Affordable Health Care Act has “well over 1,000 plans that fund abortion on demand,” even though now former President Barack Obama promised the act would provide no public funding for abortions.
He shared the fact that 62 million girls are missing in China because of gender selection abortions, and asked, “Where are the radical feminists on that horrible agenda?”
Proving the Truths of Catholicism
Staples offered persuasive arguments for several Catholic beliefs that Catholics often find difficult to explain, while telling the men how a friend in the Marines impressed him and directed him to the truth of Catholicism.
“When I converted to the Catholic faith, my family thought I was crazy,” Staples, a former Southern Baptist and former Pentecostal, said. “There are millions and millions of our Protestant brethren who think you are all are crazy. I was one of them,” he added.
When it came to giving his reasons for why he noted one major reason was the authority of the Church Magisterium.
“Twenty-five major denominations say abortion is A OK,” he mentioned. “Eighteen of them say homosexual marriage is A-OK. That’s what happens when you don’t have the magisterium.”
Another reason for his conversion was the Bible, which he earnestly believed he understood better than Catholics thanks to his Southern Baptist and Pentecostal background. “We joke about how we Catholics don’t know the Bible. That’s not a joke. That’s our book,” he said.
Staples went on to tell the story of his conversion, which his friend, Matt, had a great deal to do with while they were in the Marines. Upon learning Matt was Catholic, Staples cited to Matt “Old Faithful, Matthew 23:9, which says ‘call no man on earth your father.’”
Matt cautioned Staples that he could make the Bible say anything he wanted if he took verses out of context, which was what Staples was doing with Matthew 23:9. Matt said to his fellow Marine, “We Catholics believe that verse just like it’s written,” and then started citing verses like Ephesians 6:1-2, Luke 16:24, verses in John’s letters and many others wherein Scripture gives the title “Father” to people on earth, whether in reference to a spiritual or earthly father.
“He then said to me, ‘Tim, you’re misunderstanding one verse, and you wind up contradicting 25.” Now, thanks to Matt, he understands Jesus was condemning the usurpation of the fatherhood of God in Matthew 23:9.
After this exchange with his friend, Staples resolved to read as many Catholic books as possible in order to learn how to disprove Catholicism. “That’s how I became Catholic,” he said.
Staples explained that people don’t have to become expert apologetics to evangelize. All they need to do is understand the faith in a way they can share it.
“We have the right and duty to evangelize. Jesus gave authority to the Church to speak for him.”
Perspectives of Catholic Men
Participants eagerly shared why they wanted to attend the CMFJC rally.
“Men are the leaders of the household,” said Tom Large of St. Mary Parish, Middletown, and coordinator of CMFJC in Monmouth County. “We need them to take this day to recharge, to get back into our working lives, to be able to guide our family and friends back to Jesus.”
Commenting on this year’s rally, Bill Maher, CMFJC chairman, extended appreciation to Bishop O’Connell for his presence that day and his leadership over the Diocese of Trenton, saying, “Thank you, every day, for picking up your cross and leading us.”
Maher then reflected on how this year’s rally had more of a focus on life, and noted that Staples was responsible for his own decision to become Catholic. “He is a tour-de-force in Catholic apologetics,” Maher said of Staples.
Father Scott Shaffer, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, reflected on the 20-year-history of the CMFJC rallies. It was Father Shaffer who had encouraged CMFJC founder Jim Manhardt to begin the conferences when both realized the need for men of faith to come together to support one another. Every year, the rally has attracted between 600-1,000 men from all around the state, and some of the most powerful speakers in the Church in the present day.
“When we began this 20 years ago, we realized there was a need for men to come together to learn more about their relationship with Christ. That need is still very real today,” said Father Shaffer. “This conference has become an event that so many men look forward to. In a society that confuses what true manhood is, it’s important that we identify ourselves with Jesus Christ.”
Genesius Jaromsky of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square said the rally helps him re-center on his Catholic faith.
“It’s more than just a Christian revival celebration,” he said. “It’s more about asking, ‘Now what do we do with our families, now what do we do with our communities? Now what do we do with pro-life and other issues. It’s just very uplifting.”
Gary Gellman of Assumption Parish, New Egypt, who has been attending the rallies since their inception, stated that “Events like these help us build up our faith and grow in love for our family.
“We come together only once a year, but it’s a great time,” Gellman said.