What does it mean to be a truly Catholic man? On my slow and steady walk on this narrow road toward the righteous realms of heaven, I have often encountered men of faith who have helped to answer that question. Some have been gifted apologists and teachers; others, men of deep conviction and commitment to the cause of Christ. There have been talented speakers, holy pastors, solid spiritual directors, and faithful friends. Each man I met offered something unique to the understanding of my faith and strengthened my steps along the journey of salvation.
For the past several years I have been blessed to help plan and carry out the annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference. It has been an honor to join the team of dedicated Catholic men who by the grace of God put together the extraordinary events that take place every year in the fall. In 2018 on October 20th a group of over 600 men met at St. Paul Catholic High School in Bristol, CT to hear great speakers, fellowship with one another, and celebrate the Eucharist together in faith. The theme for the conference was, Go Into the Whole World, a continuation of an ongoing call to Catholic men to discover the apostolate and carry it out in their lives.
The downside to my involvement with the conference is that I often miss seeing the main speakers; but I have absolutely no regrets about it. In my wanderings around our venue, I have experienced even greater blessings in meeting so many incredible believers who embody most fully what it means to live as a Catholic witness in today’s world. I would like to share the stories of five such godly individuals I have met over my time with the CCMC. Their simple and infectious faith has revealed to me the character at the heart of every man who is sincerely walking the way of Christ in the world. It is important for you to know these believers because they are truly the 5 men you will meet at every Catholic men’s conference.
A Dream Fulfilled in Founding Faith – Meeting Robert Marcarelli
It takes a certain fortitude to recognize the need men have to encounter Christ, and an even deeper determination and courageous heart to answer the call to turn that dream into a tangible reality. The man who started the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference 10 years ago, Robert Marcarelli is just such a man. Bob said he had no idea God was going to call him to start a men’s conference. In fact he remembered that when Tom Wehner, a colleague at the National Catholic Register, suggested the idea, Bob’s response was, “Tom, we can’t get people to go to church; never mind doing a men’s conference!” But then Bob had the opportunity to meet with Kevin O’Brien from Lake County Catholic in Wisconsin and pick his brain about what planning a men’s conference would entail. Afterward, Bob said to himself, “Maybe we can do this.” He got together with a group of men and began planning the first Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference.
As I spoke with Bob about his experience I soon realized that he had a rock-solid trust in the God who could move mountains to accomplish the impossible. Bob watched an initial poor online showing of ticket sales give way to an overwhelming walk-in response as an unexpected rainstorm gently nudged men away from their golf games and garden chores and into the doors of the Hartford Convention Center. It was a spirit-strengthening experience for Bob who said, “It helped me faith-wise, because really, to put this thing together from nothing and to see – to trust God, even though it looked like everything was going to fall apart – it helped my faith and my trust in the Lord.”
To the one who dared to dream that Catholic men could be more than what this broken world dictates, the true essence of manhood was quite clear: “To me being a man is to be faithful – to be faithful in all circumstances of what’s happening or what’s going on in your life, what’s going on in your family – to be faithful, to be strong, to be hopeful, to present that witness to your wife, your children, to let them know that no matter what’s going on it’s going to be all right. We’re going to be able to get through it. God is going to help us with this. And to me that’s the essence of it. It’s not how much weight you can lift, it’s not how fast you can run, it’s not how many bad words you can say. It’s when the times are tough and difficult, where do you turn? What do you do? That you have that internal intestinal fortitude to keep going on and trusting – to me that’s a definition of being a man.”
To Bob, it has all been about keeping an open mind and listening to the Lord, the One who places a dream of what can be within men’s hearts, even though we have no idea what is around the next corner. As I listened to him share a deeply personal story of inviting a fallen-away Catholic brother to that first conference, I was moved by the love that motivated his faithful heart to wait upon God to do the work in his friend’s life. This strong man of God was moved to tears as he recalled the conversation with his friend after the conference and learned that he had returned to the Confessional and the Communion table after a 20-year absence. In the light of those dreams fulfilled, both large and small, Bob had a simple message to Catholic men who might know brothers in similar circumstances: “Take the chance and invite them. Invite them. The worst that can happen is they say no. And the best that can happen is their lives are transformed!”
The Power and Presence of Christ – Meeting Marty Rotella
The Master of Ceremonies for the Conference was Mr. Marty Rotella of Spirit Power Ministries. I was blessed to sit down with him for a few moments during the keynote speaker’s address. While Tim Staples was challenging the crowd of men in the auditorium, Marty shared his powerful testimony and incredible insights into the power and presence of Christ in the lives of Catholic men. Marty described his ministry simply: “What I do is I go around the world and I try to give talks and music to help to bring the Catholic faith to people’s awareness; and then also to go on the streets and bring this great truth to the world.”
When he first discovered his gift for songwriting Marty found the money and the fame had become his god; yet they could not provide what was missing in his life. He heard the call to reconnect to his Catholic faith and it is there that he discovered the power and presence of Christ in his life: “So I became a daily Communicant and received Jesus every morning. And that becomes the basis of what’s been built up in Spirit Power Music, my ministry. And what’s awesome about that is that I’m not in charge. It’s really God – from writing songs, to singing them, to going out to perform – I never ask to go anywhere; it’s only when someone asks me that I know it’s from God.”
The secret of Marty’s success has come from his intimate, no-nonsense relationship to his Savior. “I call Him Big Guy. It’s Jesus and I bow my head, but I say, ‘Yo – Big Guy! You know, help me. I want to know more about you – every day. I want to find out more. And I want to know about me.’ So that’s a great connection. ‘And I want to love more. I want to love like you…so Amen!’” Because he experiences Christ in such a deeply personal way, he can respond to the call to plant the seeds of faith in the lives of other men. His humility has allowed him to grasp so fully the awesome truth that it is Christ who directs his life as he ministers to others through his music.
But just as important to Marty is how he looks for the presence of Christ in other men who inspire him. In a deeply profound statement he said: “The key here is that I’ve noticed that there’s a man who inspires me every day of my life. We’ve just got to be aware of it. We have to be aware of who comes across. We have to be aware of what God is trying to teach us through that person, and to just be there and listen, and then try to apply it to your own life and then add it to your own journey and your own joy.”
To Marty, it all comes down to simplifying our faith. He believes that God wants us to keep things simple. How simple? In Marty’s words: “Simple as a host – a Eucharist – where God is present and he gives His love to you and He flies out of heaven and squeezes Himself into bread to love you. Wow! What a God! It’s awesome!” That simple message is reflected in one of his favorite songs, “Whisper in the Wind.” Like Elijah in the cave, Marty sings that we can witness the presence of God in these simple yet profound signs and hear His voice like a whisper in the wind...
To Be Continued...
Look for Part 2 and meet more great Catholic men...