November 13, 2015

Speaker helps Catholic men live their faith, enter into Holy Year of Mercy

Theologian and Catholic author Edward Sri gives a presentation on Oct. 31 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis during the annual Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Theologian and Catholic author Edward Sri gives a presentation on Oct. 31 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis during the annual Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Ron Pohl sat in a large conference room with about 500 men, soaking in the messages of humility and mercy that were shared during the Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference in Indianapolis on Oct. 31.

The fact that Pohl began his trip to the conference at 4 a.m. from his home in Evansville, Ind., suggests that humility and mercy were already deeply rooted in his heart. If he were more self-assured, he might not have made such a sacrifice.

But, in humility, Pohl knew he needed help and that the annual conference that draws hundreds of Catholic men from across the state would help him live out his faith more effectively.

“It has such great speakers,” said Pohl, a member of Good Shepherd Parish in Evansville in the Evansville Diocese. “Everybody needs a boost in their faith and in their walk. It’s just a great experience being around all these great men. It’s just a good day.”

That good day started with a presentation on challenges in the culture to the Catholic faith by Dr. Edward Sri, professor of theology and vice president of mission and outreach at the Augustine Institute in Denver who has written several books on the Catholic faith and makes frequent appearances on the Eternal Word Television Network.

One of these challenges is the culture’s overly sentimentalized and ultimately self-centered understanding of love.

The Catholic faith invites people to appreciate and live out love as God does in the Blessed Trinity where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are eternally bound in a love that wholly flows out of one divine person to the others, he said.

“We are made in the image of that God, the God who is love, whose inner life is all about total self-giving,” Sri said. “We’re only going to find our happiness when we live for others, for God and the people God has placed in our lives.

“The sad fact of the matter is that the modern world views love more about what I get out of the other person—what feelings, what good times, what advantages, what the other person does for me.”

The second challenge Sri reflected on is the “culture of relativism” in which an objective morality is rejected.

“A culture like that ends up closing in on itself,” Sri said. “It’s all based on a very false view of freedom.

“That doesn’t lead to freedom. It leads to slavery. If I’m always doing what I want, when I want, however I want, if I make up my own morality all of the time, … I train myself in selfishness. I train myself to live for myself. It’s not going to be easy for me to make sacrifices and serve others.”

Sri next spoke about the indifferent attitude that many in society have toward religion, holding that one faith tradition is as good as another.

In contrast to this view, Sri invited his listeners to consider the distinctive goodness of the Christian faith.

“We believe in a God that loves us,” he said. “He seeks us out and wants a relationship with us. That’s why he revealed himself to us through the prophets, the events of the Old Testament and, ultimately, he became one of us in Jesus and offered his life for us on the cross.”

Sri also noted that the prevailing culture delivers a pervasive message that we have to save ourselves through hard work—which differs from the Christian faith that emphasizes how it is God who ultimately saves us through his grace.

“God’s grace, gradually, over time, wants to change our fallen, fearful, wounded self-centered hearts and transform them so that we can take on the heart of Christ and begin to love like he did,” Sri said.

The final challenge to the faith that Sri spoke about was the growing number of people who say they want to be spiritual but not belong to a church.

He noted, though, that this view is often motivated by people simply wanting to live according to their own preferences, “not for what’s best in my relationship with God or what’s best for the people around me.”

“When I do that, I end up with the Church of Me and I’m my own pope,” Sri said. “That Church of Me is going to be based on my own preferences, my interests and my own comfort zones.”

In a presentation later in the morning during the conference, Sri described four steps that would help attendees enter more deeply into the Church’s upcoming Holy Year of Mercy, which will begin on Dec. 8.

The first step is to “encounter Christ with humility” by being accountable for one’s sinfulness.

“It’s time to stop our self-deception,” Sri said. “It’s time to stop making excuses for ourselves, blaming other people, rationalizing our sins. It’s time to take an honest look at our lives and say, ‘Lord, this is who I am. I’ve messed up.’

“But, the good news is that, when we do that, then we can actually experience God’s mercy.”

The second step he described is to experience God’s mercy. Sri invited his listeners to recognize that God “still loves me, even in the midst of my mess, even though I didn’t get it right. I’m not going to get a job performance review from God. If I take stock of myself and I go before him and say, ‘I’m sorry’—especially in confession—he’s there with mercy.”

The third step Sri explained is to be compassionate with other people and their shortcomings.

To illustrate this step, he told a story about St. Catherine of Siena, who believed that she was particularly good at analyzing people and their failings. God told her in prayer, however, that it was the devil who was suggesting her judgments.

“The next time you notice your wife stumble, think about that,” Sri said. “The next time you notice someone in your life [committing a] sin, think about that. The devil may be allowing you to see it, so instead of going out with help and compassion, he’ll get you to critique, get frustrated, angry and to judge.”

The last step that Sri spoke about was the call by Pope Francis to all Catholics to go out and care for people in need, to have personal encounters with them and not just give money to them.

But Sri also noted that poverty in society includes “a poverty of relationships.”

“There are people all around us that don’t know Christ, that don’t know love, that aren’t welcomed by their own family,” he said. “Could we give of ourselves better in our own family life?”

He encouraged his listeners to take to heart Pope Francis’ advice to parents to “waste time” with their children.

“Do we actually give of ourselves to our kids, or are we just driving them around to things, putting them in the right activities?” Sri asked. “Do we just leisurely waste time with them?”

Kevin Capes spent the day at the conference with his three young adult sons—Adam, Dan and Matt. They are all members of St. Anne Parish in Jennings County.

“I’m glad that I could bring my sons with me to help further their faith and reinforce mine,” said Kevin. “It helps prove to me that they’re growing in their faith. They’re willing to come and spend the day with me at an event like this. What more could a father ask for than to be with his sons?”

Dan came to this year’s conference in part because he attended one previously and knew the influence it had in his life of faith.

“It was kind of an awakening for me,” he said. “It really showed me what it meant to be a man in our faith, and the knowledge and the skills that we need to have as sons, fathers and husbands.” †

 

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