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The tears still flow for Rich Donnelly.
They come, too, for Mark Hart.
And both husbands and fathers are not afraid to wear their emotions on their sleeves as they discuss what the Catholic faith means to them.
Donnelly’s love for his late daughter, Amy, is apparent as he talks about her impact on his life years after she has gone home to the Lord.
Hart fights back tears as he talks about being able to break open the Scriptures with his father, a cradle Catholic who, until a few years ago, showed no interest in such a thing.
“The greatest gift you can give to your sons and daughters is the gift of faith,” Donnelly said. “All the other stuff is temporary.”
“Grace is God’s life in us. Our faith teaches us it is God’s very life within us,” Hart said.
The men, along with Ken Ogorek, Father Christopher Weldon and Marian of the Immaculate Conception Father Donald Calloway, were among the speakers at the third annual Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference on Sept. 27 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Click here to read story on Father Calloway’s address was published in the Oct. 3 issue of The Criterion.)
Sponsored by the Marian Center in Indianapolis, the title of the conference was “Lions Breathing Fire: Christ Our Hope.” Taken from a homily of St. John Chrysostom, it describes what people should be like after receiving Communion.
The event attended by nearly 900 men included Mass and the opportunity for confession as well as exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction.
When his 17-year-old daughter, Amy, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1992, Rich Donnelly and his family were devastated.
The Major League Baseball coach, who attended Catholic schools through college, also learned an important lesson that he says applies to both baseball and life. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are humble and those who are about to be humbled.
“Nobody could get my attention. God couldn’t get my attention. My daughter [and her illness] got my attention,” he said.
Donnelly said he had heard people say that there is nothing worse for a parent than losing a child, but he didn’t think that he would have to experience that heartache firsthand.
“Until you have to walk in that [hospital] room and the doctor tells you [that] your daughter is in a coma and she’s not going to make it. … You want to talk about feeling small, you want to talk about feeling nothing,” Donnelly said as he choked back tears. “I hope everybody in here doesn’t have to have that kind of sign to get their attention.”
The father of eight children, Donnelly said he believes Amy’s witness of living courageously with her illness was meant to wake him up, and spur him on to share his message of living as a parent who has lost a child.
“That’s why I go around [speaking],” Donnelly said. “When Amy passed away, I said, ‘I can put my head in the sand or maybe I can help people.’ ”
His daughter and her witness of faith changed him, Donnelly said.
“I needed to be humbled,” he said. “I was as bullheaded as they come.”
Amy changed him by the example she set, he added. “She showed me by the way she lived.”
Amy, who wanted to be a teacher, “became the greatest teacher I ever had,” Donnelly added.
“She taught me how to live,” Donnelly said as tears streamed down his face, “and she taught me how to die.”
Amy spent her final days at Children’s Hospital in Dallas, where she was the oldest child in the terminally ill unit. The teenager especially liked seeing the younger children being led by their parents in a red wagon they shared.
After she died, her parents found a note and a check for $250 that Amy had left for Children’s Hospital. In the note, Amy wrote, “Dad, make sure all the kids have their own wagon.”
She knew how much that wagon meant to each one of the children, Donnelly said.
“It was all because of her faith,” Donnelly said, with emotion in his voice.
Donnelly told the men in attendance not to be afraid to share their faith with others, including their families.
“We are the leaders. We are the ones that take our families by the hand,” he said. “Show them the right way, show them faith.”
The goal of a Catholic is to become a saint, and Mark Hart hopes to lead people down that road.
As executive director of Life Teen International, a youth ministry program used by parishes throughout the nation, Hart is committed to sharing God’s Word.
Also known as the Bible Geek for his online ministry of breaking open Scripture and answering questions about the Bible, Hart said virtue only happens in people’s lives when there is “constant and consistent exposure to God’s grace, most specifically through the sacraments of the Catholic Church.”
Every time that we suffer and die here on Earth, every time we are humbled, every time we go before the Lord in the sacraments and he pours out grace, “there might not be applause on Earth, but my God, there is applause in heaven,” he added.
Becoming a saint is not about hoisting a trophy on this Earth, Hart continued. It is about getting up every day and seeking God’s grace.
True Christianity, Hart explained, “is about learning how to die to yourself. … It’s about me being so amazingly appreciative of Christ, and his unwavering love for me, that I now offer my body back to him as a living sacrifice.”
We are all called to lives of virtue, Hart said. The speaker said he painfully learned a few years ago that he was failing in that regard when he returned home to Arizona after being a speaker at a conference for several days.
The father of three daughters, Hart said his wife let him know that he was lacking in communication skills at home and wasn’t being present to his family.
“She called me to true, authentic presence,” he said.
When it comes to faith, it is not just about our physical presence, but our emotional presence, too, Hart noted.
We need to have the “humility that you want to go to God as often as possible, to want to avail yourself of his grace as often as possible, to be so emotionally present to God, to be so filled with grace, that you can’t help but be emotionally present to those around you,” he said.
Living that way can help you on the path to becoming a saint, Hart added.
“The truth is that [saints] can inhabit every suburb, on every cul de sac, in every parish,” he said.
It all comes through being a hero of virtue, Hart noted.
“All it takes is one heroic life—one—to save a family’s soul,” he added. “All it takes is one heroic life to change a parish, all it takes is one heroic life to change a culture.”
In his presentation, Ogorek shared the themes of loyalty, leadership and life when discussing faith and catechetical resources.
Where loyalty is concerned, the director of catechesis said part of his job entails reviewing new books, new speakers and new Web sites.
While doing that, Ogorek is “looking for a very open loyalty to the magesterium, a genuine enthusiasm for the Church of today.”
Just because something says it is “Catholic” does not mean it is good enough to use as a catechetical resource, he added.
“We need to be loyal to God, and one main way to show that loyalty to God during our earthly journey is loyalty to his Church, to the teachings of the Church,” Ogorek said.
If you see good catechesis going on, affirm it, Ogorek said. But if you believe something is off base, don’t be afraid to ask questions.
“When we’re loyal to God, and we show that loyalty … we are leading in a significant way.”
In terms of leadership, Ogorek used the words of Pope John Paul II to share how good leaders need to have a clear idea of where they are headed. In the process, they have to bring as many people along with them as they can.
That is the way that the late Holy Father ministered, Ogorek said.
“He knew exactly where he wanted to go, he knew exactly where he wanted to lead the Church, and he just kept forging ahead patiently, positively, affirming the good, and bringing as many people along with him as possible,” Ogorek said.
Fathers need to be leaders in their families, Ogorek said. “When dad takes his faith seriously, when dad has [his] priorities in order, the positive impact on a household is really immeasurable.”
Men need to get involved at their parish, too, he said.
“We need to be leaders in our parish. As faithful men and faith-filled Catholic leaders, part of that leadership should be in our parishes,” Ogorek said.
In discussing the life theme, Ogorek shared one of his favorite quotations of Pope John Paul II from a vespers service that the Holy Father celebrated while visiting St. Louis in 1999.
“If you want peace, work for justice. If you want justice, defend life. If you want life, embrace the truth, the truth revealed by God,” Pope John Paul II said.
To embrace what the Church teaches about life and life issues, the director of catechesis encouraged those in attendance to obtain a copy of the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults.
“You need to read that book,” Ogorek said.
“We need to know what the Church teaches about life, and we need to revisit those teachings often,” he added.
The more that Father Christopher Weldon heard the pattern that had developed during the sacrament of reconciliation, the more enraged he became.
The associate pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Carmel, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, could not believe how the sins of pornography and masturbation were commonplace as he listened to the confessions from young boys, teenagers and men.
And after hearing the same sins present themselves while administering the sacrament of reconciliation, the priest was ready to do something about it.
“This combination of pornography and masturbation is one that has to be fought on the front lines,” Father Weldon told the men in attendance.
He started fasting to fight against pornography, but Father Weldon said he knew God wanted him to do more.
The answer came when he turned on his radio and heard a preacher talking about how prayer and fasting can drive demons out of people’s lives.
Father Weldon fasts every Tuesday for his brothers throughout the world “that they would be able to be set free” from the evils of pornography and masturbation.
The statistics the priest shared are staggering: The average age of children exposed to pornography on the Internet is 11. The largest consumer Internet group viewing pornography is men ages 35 to 49. Eighty percent of teenagers ages 15 to 17 have viewed hardcore pornography multiple times. Of children ages 8 to 16, 90 percent of them have viewed pornography online, he said.
“This is a multi-generational, multi-gender addiction,” Father Weldon said.
What makes Internet pornography so addictive to many people, he said, is its anonymity, affordability and easy accessibility.
“It drives us further into despair. It separates us from our families, it separates us from our friends and it separates us from our work environment,” he said.
Masturbation goes hand in hand with pornography, Father Weldon added. “The devil uses the mind and body to lure us away from God.”
Fasting leads to spiritual strength, Father Weldon said. “Fasting is all about self-sacrifice, for myself and for the other.
“All of this is intended for the good of the other, and I get nothing out it,” he added. “By fasting, what I am doing is completely focusing on the other, and I’m learning to sacrifice for the other. Why? Out of love. Simply, out of love.” †