Doug Barry encourages a predominantly male audience at St. Joseph Church, Rice Lake, to prepare themselves to be “Battle Ready” in body, mind and soul. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Speaker Doug Barry started his “Battle Ready” presentation March 1 at St. Joseph, Rice Lake, quoting Pope Benedict: “The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.”

Promoted statewide by the Knights of Columbus, Barry spoke in each diocese within Wisconsin, as well as Catholic men’s conferences in Appleton and Milwaukee.

The founder of Radix and its Battle Ready initiative also hosts an EWTN show of the same name and travels around the country speaking on the basics of faith.

A no-nonsense, power-packing presenter, Barry spoke of the discipline needed for the spiritual life. “When we’re constantly told it’s not that hard to get to Heaven, then we start getting soft when it comes to working out our salvation,” he said.

The speaker shared his own journey from “clock in, clock out” Catholic, going through the motions, to the convicted and demanding catechist he is today.

At 18, he experienced the lack of faith formation happening in the homes of the fourth- and fifth-graders in his mother’s catechism class. He later taught classes himself to middle-schoolers and saw their hunger for challenge, humanly and spiritually.

Then as a newly married couple, Barry and his wife continued to work with high school youth, a work that became Radix – named from the Latin word for root – with the goal of helping young people get to the root of the faith, of a relationship with God. The ministry grew to include families, but Barry’s sights were always set particularly on the youth.

Barry was not timid in singling out a teenage couple (15 and 17 years old) in the audience who attended with the girl’s father. With a healthy dose of humor and tempered teasing, Barry asked the boy if he knew the most important thing about her. He drew out the answer, “her soul.”

Then reflecting on the Ten Commandments and God’s covenant with Moses, Barry hit hard – at times physically pounding the air with his fist – on the need to remove anything that interferes with one’s relationship with God.

He asked a few members of the military in the crowd how well they know their weapons. One man responded that they would disassemble and reassemble, learn every part of the firearm, blindfolded, over and over and over again.

“We need to know the basics of the faith, like a soldier needs to know his weapons,” Barry said.

Drilling again at the importance of basic faith formation and disciplined discipleship, Barry iterated what’s at stake. He shared that “Battle Ready” came about from a conversation he had with his son on the need to “wake up the fighting spirit in men,” something he perceived during his last few years hosting EWTN’s “Life on the Rock.”

Raised by an alcoholic father who rarely spoke about God and a mother who was the spiritual leader in the home, Barry decided on a different dynamic with his own family.

“Spiritually speaking, by God’s design, [men] are the spiritual head of the home – and the devil knows it.” He continued, “A lot of men have relinquished that role, knowingly or unknowingly.”

Barry’s “Battle Ready” rallies are designed to fight against what he called “this tragedy that is destroying families.” He acknowledged the particular intuition that women have regarding spirituality, yet challenged men not to retreat with the excuse that faith is private and personal.

Commenting on St. Francis of Assisi’s famed phrase, “Preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words,” Barry raised his voice and pointedly asked, “When is it not necessary to use words if you’re a father in the house?”

He rattled off statistics regarding the effect of spiritual leadership in the home on the practice of faith as adults. He cited that 25 to 30 percent practice when the mother takes the spiritual leader role; when the father takes his role as such seriously, the percentage goes up to 85 to 90 percent.

“It doesn’t mean you have to be the soapbox guy,” Barry affirmed. He shared everyday examples: leading meal prayers and spontaneous prayer in a moment of need, carrying a rosary, encouraging practice of the sacraments, witnessing by example, bringing up faith in conversation with children.

Barry addressed the need to be aware of, prepare for and engage in spiritual battle; and of prayer, the sacraments and sacramentals as primary means, along with fasting and sacrifice as tried and true weapons.

Speaking of the moral complacency and cultural apathy towards religion, Barry recounted Church-approved Marian apparitions to illustrate the need to read the signs of the times and be proactive as the first line of defense in families and church communities.

“Men cannot lose the willingness to engage in the fight,” Barry said, and added – highlighting the number of men who joined the military after the Pearl Harbor bombing – “men are built for defending.”

He believes Jesus continues to send his mother, Mary, because “We’re not listening … we’ve been warned from Heaven about the consequences of turning our backs on God.”

Barry again motivated, particularly the men – who were a majority in the pews – to action: “If you believe in Mary’s messages, how hard will you work? What will you do to step up evangelization?”

Using the image of being in the trenches, he repeated his spiritual call to arms: “In the foxhole, I don’t want emotion, I want duty. Someone dedicated to their duty, the mission. What’s the mission? The mission is souls.”

Barry’s demeanor was intense throughout the talk. Clarifying he was not trying to be dramatic, he gave Scripture, tradition and Church teaching as the context within which he was responding to what deeply concerns him: “Call me tactless. I’m not trying to pushy; I’m pleading you to stop making excuses.”

He spoke with conviction on praying the rosary daily, iterating that it is the one practice Mary continually calls the faithful to in the apparitions the Church has declared authentic:

“What’s your excuse for not praying it today? …If she’s asking, why are we not praying the rosary? … Then we have to have confidence that she hears us; she does.”

Referencing the Captain America wallet in his pocket – a reminder of his call to be a superhero for his family – Barry stated, “We men dream of saving the world … our wives and families are our world.”

Barry’s last story was of a priest who challenged him to bless his wife nightly with holy water. He walked the audience through the resistance he felt toward carrying it out, of how his wife beamed when she realized the active role he was taking to bless and protect her, and of how it has become an essential practice – continuing as his children are becoming adults.

Before breaking for fellowship in the downstairs hall, Barry took a question from the crowd. A single mother asked how the father’s spiritual role should be lived out where a male is not present in the home. The speaker assured her, “God understands the situation, and He will accompany you with the same authority.”