As I have served on the planning committee for the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference, I have met some incredible men who love the Lord and their Catholic faith unashamedly. During these conferences, I find I rarely get to see the main speakers. But it is in my wanderings around the venue that I have developed some amazing relationships with these extraordinary ordinary men of God.
In Part 1 we met two of the five men you will meet at a Catholic men’s conference. These are the men who impressed me with their sold out lives, the total dedication to the cause of Christ. Each man I met offered something unique to the understanding of my faith and strengthened my steps along the journey of salvation. Let us continue with two more of these incredible men who represent the best in every Catholic man.
Music, Ministry, and Manhood – Meeting Father Joseph Gill
The musician for the conference was Father Joseph Gill, a faithful priest of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, who uses his gift for song to spread the Gospel wherever he goes. As he shared his story of God’s call upon his life, I could sense his deep love for the Church and his passion for making his faith a serious undertaking, especially in how he uses his music to draw people to a deeper experience of their Catholic faith. Father Joseph shared one of the most important experiences in his journey to the priesthood: “When I was 14 I got a chance to go with my local youth group to Rome on a pilgrimage. I can remember being in Rome and just looking at the floor of the Coliseum and thinking 10,000 people shed their blood for Jesus Christ on that spot. Why do I not take my faith more seriously? You know, if these people are willing to build these cathedrals, St. Peter’s Basilica, and paint the Sistine Chapel, and they’re willing to do all this for the glory of God, why am I not taking my faith more seriously in my own life? What can I do in my own life to glorify God?”
Whether it has been through singing with his musical family at Mass, writing songs, or kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, Father Joseph has come to see that there are moments of profound truth that break through into our lives and light a fire in our heart for living out our faith as God has called us. There is a passion that burns in his heart that longs to help others discover what true love is all about, and how it is found in God alone. Its deepest expression has come through writing and producing a collection of beautiful Christian songs, songs that speak to the needs in our heart and tear down the walls that we build to keep us safe. In Father’s words: “I think beauty has a way to bring down defenses. We can argue against truth, we can put up walls and defenses against logical arguments, but when we’re encountering beauty we tend to be very receptive; and when beauty can be expressed through music, that can be a way in which God can really reach our hearts – maybe in a way that arguments can’t.”
What Father Joseph considers a hobby has blossomed into a number of CDs and music videos, which he uses to share the Gospel with others, especially young people. Father believes whole-heartedly that his music can help to build bridges between Catholics and other denominations. He recalled playing at a local Christian coffeehouse and having an organizer remark, “I didn’t know Catholics sing about Jesus.” Father saw that as a kind of indictment of Catholics but he also saw it as a great opportunity to testify to his own Catholic faith: “Hey – we Catholics believe in Jesus Christ. We have a relationship with the Lord. And the thing that you misunderstand about Catholicism is based on this fundamental thing. Do we love the Lord? We do – yeah, absolutely! We can have a relationship with Jesus. So I want to use it ecumenically too in being that bridge so other people can come to the Catholic faith.”
What came shining through so clearly in Father Joseph’s testimony is that Catholic men need to tap into this same beauty and not shy away from loving Jesus with our whole heart: “A true man needs God! A true man – a true hero – recognizes God’s power. And that’s why I think these men’s conferences can be so powerful, to say it’s manly to holy. It’s manly to love the Lord and to sing to Him, to praise Him, to worship Him, to come to Mass, and to have a relationship with Jesus. It’s not something that’s just for women. It’s not something that’s just for the weak; it’s for strong men who recognize that their strength comes from God.”
“Meating” Men Where They Are – Meeting Sam Todzia
If ever there was a champion of letting men be men, it would be Sam Todzia, the founder of Red Barn Ministries, a real “rubber meets the road” outreach to teens and young men in Higganum, CT. A former teacher at the very school where the conference was being held, Sam said he left teaching so he could look for new ways to reach out to teens. “I had this other ministry that my brother and I and some friends started that we call, “Meat & Greet” – M-E-A-T; the intention being that we want to build up the men around here in the faith, and hoping that as we provide opportunities for them to become better men – and to show them that there are other opportunities – it would influence the whole culture.”
Sam believes that the problems in our current society come from a lack of good men, meaning men living as men are supposed to live. His solution? To draw them in to his venue with a couple hundred pounds of meat and a series of fun and formidable challenges to give men an experience of being men. For Sam, modern culture has stifled and suppressed a man’s need to compete, to struggle to achieve, and to fight for what he believes in. Once those needs are addressed at his events, the men begin to develop a deeper intimacy with one another. In Sam’s words: “All of that that culminates in a pretty intimate time in the barn where we gather together for a spiritual component: to hear a speaker or some sort of discussion – something that gets started off and we just let the Spirit move. If anybody feels like they have something to say they can offer it at that point. But just to give everybody that opportunity to hang with men – even at that base level, that silly kind of thing that gets pushed out of our culture – we give them that opportunity. This is okay. This IS what it means to be a man. You can do this. And then we tie in the spiritual component. And I think it works pretty well.”
Sam is not afraid to challenge current, more politically-correct thinking that says a man must be weak and submissive. While recognizing the need for men to be more in touch with themselves, Sam, through his unique outreach, has discovered a more effective approach to true manliness: “The idea that men are supposed to be strong – I think that that’s something to celebrate. And in some ways we say, ‘Oh no, it’s okay. We’ve entered into a softer age.’ or something like that. Well, let’s go back! Men and women are different. Praise God! You know? We can celebrate that rather than having to fight it always. I think there’s more to this. So let’s build up men in every component because a full man is all of those things. There’s the spiritual, there’s a softness, but there’s also a roughness. There’re also these other components to bring to men, to build up a full man. And how we find that balance? I’m not sure but it’s a fun thing to work on.”
To Be Continued...
Look for part 3 and more great Catholic men...