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Imagine 950 men gathered in a large room.
Their time together would include conversations about business, politics and sports, wouldn’t it?
Not on this Saturday.
Instead, picture those same men listening intently, later joining hands and praying, then recommitting their lives to their family and faith.
That scene came to life on Sept. 23 at the first Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference held at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (See more photos)
“Thank you, gentlemen, for giving God a chance,” Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein told those in attendance at the beginning of the daylong program.
“I hope today you are encouraged and affirmed in your desire to see Jesus.”
Sponsored by the Marian Center in Indianapolis, the title of the conference was “Lions Breathing Fire: Why Be Catholic?” Taken from a homily of St. John Chrysostom, a fourth-century saint, it describes what people should be like after receiving Communion.
The event included Mass with Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, vicar general, and the opportunity for confession as well as exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction.
While several speakers addressed the group throughout the day, there was a single theme: Men are called to be people of prayer, and holy, dedicated individuals who must bring Christian values to everything they do.
That is challenging in today’s society, several speakers noted.
“God is looking for a few good men,” said Tim Staples, an ex-Marine and former Assembly of God minister who now serves as a staff apologist for the San Diego-based Catholic Answers.
To engage the challenges in today’s culture, men need to understand the nature of their call, understand their mission and have the tools to fulfill that mission, Staples said.
“Women are the keepers of civilization, but a culture is only as strong as its men,” he said.
Society is involved in a spiritual war, and men are performing a disservice “by not proclaiming the Gospel as it should” be proclaimed, Staples added.
“If you do not have beliefs you are willing to die for, then you are not alive,” he added.
He said men must lead in their households and teach their children the faith.
“I go to daily Mass, and I don’t see a lot of men,” Staples said.
“We need to look at the mission and rise up like men,” he added.
It all begins with prayer, Staples noted.
“We need to pray with our kids, and pray with our wives.”
The evil of pornography is another challenge that many men struggle with today, said the Rev. Jerry Kirk of Cincinnati, founder and chairman of the board of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families.
Through the Internet, television and other forms of communication, the average adult male is exposed to 14,000 sexual messages a year, Rev. Kirk told those in attendance.
Today’s generation of young people is not immune, he added. Nearly 75 percent of boys and girls ages 12 to 19 watch more than six hours of TV a week, and thanks to MTV, VH1 and even network television, they are deluged with sexual messages.
“These are the sexual attitudes our children believe is the norm,” said Rev. Kirk, who has been a Presbyterian minister for 50 years.
“Who are the heroes who will lead their children by example [showing them this is wrong]? Example is the only way to lead people.”
For individuals struggling with pornography, Rev. Kirk said there is hope and healing available by seeking help from others and turning their life over to God.
“Jesus loves sinners. If he didn’t love sinners, he couldn’t love anybody.”
While today’s culture continues to try and sexualize people, men must be strong and not get caught up in the onslaught of pornography that is assaulting them from every direction, Rev. Kirk said.
“It is time for men to be men, to be men of God,” he added.
“We must start in our lives, in our families, to move on the offensive.”
Thanks to Pope John Paul II’s work, Theology of the Body, men can better understand “the mystery of what it truly means to be a man,” said Father Jonathan Meyer, a conference speaker.
“Our body is a theology within itself. Our bodies alone are capable of revealing the inner mystery of God,” said Father Meyer, who is associate pastor of St. Luke Parish in Indianapolis and archdiocesan director of youth and young adult ministry.
Men are similar to women, Father Meyer noted, because they are called into communion, and called to be in the image of God.
Males are called to be like Christ, and females are called to be like the Church, Father Meyer said.
“Our body proclaims the fact that we are called to give ourselves away,” he added.
Christ loves the Church by giving himself away to her, Father Meyer noted.
“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church. … If we don’t treat women as we would the Blessed Mother, we have failed,” he added.
Following Jesus involves the whole person, and we are called to be stewards of all the gifts that God has given us. That was the message Father Daniel Mahan shared with participants.
We are also called to be stewards of the gift of family, said Father Mahan, executive director of the Marian College Center for Catholic Stewardship in Indianapolis.
“The family is the building block of Church and civilization.”
Signs of being a good steward of family, Father Mahan noted, include listening, being present, being a man of dedication and standing up for what is right.
Being good stewards of the Catholic faith “means we have to know something about the Church,” he added.
That means understanding why the Church is against embryonic stem-cell research and being able to talk about the untruths in The Da Vinci Code, among other things, Father Mahan noted.
While many men of today’s generation received poor catechesis or no catechetical formation as a youth, there is now a renewal in catechesis.
“If we are to breathe fire, we must have fire within,” he said. “It takes good, solid fuel [catechesis].”
It is our responsibility to love our faith and pass it on to others, Father Mahan noted.
While the world is “marked by rampant individualism,” that is not the solidarity the Lord calls us to.
“We are called to engage the culture, take it head-on, and bring the Gospel of Jesus to it,” Father Mahan said.
Another speaker, Franciscan Father Francis Mary Stone, told the audience he is energized by the fact that, “I see more men coming out and willing to share their faith.”
But as a “recovering narcissist,” Father Francis warned those in attendance about this disease of the soul that “plagues men of the world.”
“I thought the world was about me, myself and I,” said Father Francis, the host of the Eternal Word Television Network show “Life on the Rock.” But the priest has since learned, through transforming his life, that is not the case.
His message to men? Jesus Christ has “to become real to you. We have to experience him in a real, true, personal manner.”
One way of doing that, Father Francis said, is through the Eucharist. “Heaven is the Mass. That’s what heaven is. … We need to develop a hunger for it.”
Father Francis also recommended developing a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. “You have to have Our Lady in your life. You’ve got to cultivate that relationship. … Cultivate that devotion. It will change your life.”
Although he was unable to attend due to illness, conference speaker Bowie Kuhn told the men via a taped audio message that each of them must take up their respective mission in society.
“He [God] made us his children. We need to reflect on that every day. If we are God’s children, I am the brother of Jesus Christ,” said Kuhn, former commissioner of Major League Baseball.
Our role as members of the Catholic laity, he added, is to complete creation as God wants it to be.
“It is our task to change the world,” Kuhn said.
Participant Tim Elshire said he attended the conference to grow in his relationship with his wife and five children.
“I want to share my faith with them, and I need some renewal,” said Elshire, who attends St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Carmel, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.
John Brennan, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, said the first Catholic men’s conference helped him strengthen his faith. It also reminded him that the covenant with his wife is a marriage of three people that includes Jesus Christ.
As a father of four, Brennan said one theme from the speakers that will stick with him is that he must continually “put Christ first” in his life and “be strong for my kids.”†
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