I would like to conclude my series on the five men you'll meet at a Catholic men's conference, but looking at a man who is totally on fire for Jesus Christ, a man who came to the endge of himself, looked down that dark path and turned to find his Savior standing there, calling out his name.
Of all the men who attend the Connecticut Catholic Men's Conference - or any Catholic men's conference, for that matter - this type of man moves my heart the most. For I know that many come to these conferences seeking restoration, comfort, and truth. I see the long lines to confession each year and know that these men - indeed all Catholic men - have a deep need for the forgiveness of Christ.
As I have served on the planning committee for the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference, I have met some extraordinary 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. Let us look at our final man and some concluding thoughts about the five men you'll meet.
Conversion and the Journey to Joy – Meeting Bryan Mercier
The moment I sat down with Bryan Mercier I was immediately struck with the intensity of his love for the lost and the great joy that shone forth from his heart as he shared his powerful testimony. As we spoke his thoughts flowed out so freely and with such passion that it almost seemed hard for him to keep up. Bryan said that as a young man he had a great deal of anger, confusion, and darkness. But because his mother sent him to Franciscan University, he had conversionary experience not unlike Saint Paul’s: a powerful, roundhouse-kick-off-the-horse, falling-to-the-ground, wondering-what-hit-him experience of God’s great love. He expressed it this way: “It literally transformed me from the inside out – took away all my pain and gave me joy, took away all my confusion and gave me peace – life-changing!”
Following that experience Bryan said he walked out into the world and now began to see all those who were broken and hurting: the angry, suicidal, self-harming young people in need of the same love he had experienced. “I just looked out and the whole world’s dying around me. I just had this urge to want to help them and help as many people as possible to have a life-transforming encounter with Christ like I did because I know that’s the answer and that’s the way to happiness, peace, and joy that they’re looking for.”
Bryan is one who embodies the man who has been set on fire by Christ and cannot rest until he shares that fire with everyone he meets. God took his storms, calmed them, and then turned them into an inexpressible, unimaginable wave of joy with a passion for the lost. He is now a walking, talking miracle who has seen the lives of so many young people changed by their own life-transforming encounters with Jesus. What is so striking about Bryan’s ministry is that it focuses on exposing others to the love of Christ in the Eucharist and prayer. Bryan has made it his mission to teach others, especially men, how to pray. Men are seeking fulfillment, but cannot find it because they see God as too distant. The way Bryan teaches them to pray is simple: “I teach them how to know God instead of knowing of God – to have that connection with God. And when they find that, that’s really what they’re looking for. All these other things, all the anger, everything else, that’s just masking our own insecurities, it’s masking our own worries and fears; but what we really want is God, and when He fills us, it takes away all those fears. And when He takes away all those fears we find fulfillment and we don’t need to pretend to be a man; we can actually be one!”
To Bryan prayer is absolutely foundational. It involves listening to God and allowing Him to guide our lives. But it also involves patience rather than panic. Instead of worrying about what God will call us to do we need to develop a waiting attitude. “It’s like throwing rocks in the water,” Bryan says. “It just creates ripples and you can’t even see the bottom anymore. But when we’re at peace and we trust God, we trust that God’s in control, we trust that God’s going to lead us, we trust that He knows what’s best for us, we’re just at peace and we listen and we pray and we try to walk with God – we’re going to know what He wants from us in our life.” Essentially the key is placing every moment-by-moment decision in the hands of God and allowing Him to transform our wills so that we grow in virtue and understanding of what we are called to be.
Years of ministry and godly living have taught Bryan that men need more than platitudes and lukewarm theology. They need to be addressed as men: “Men need to be challenged. They don’t like flowery, marshmallow theology or everything watered down. Let’s just have fun and make religion nice. No! We don’t like that. We’re warriors. We’re fighters. We want it raw! We want it real! We want to be convicted…tell us how we’re wrong! Tell us what we need to fix! Tell us what we need to do! Tell us how we can change the world! Tell us how we can make a difference! That’s what we want! We’re not meant to sit around and do nothing. We’re world-changers. We want to make a difference. And we need to be challenged to do so.”
Bryan’s God is a powerful God, the Lord of Hosts, the God who calls us to give our whole selves to Him – all our weakness, all our pain, and all our darkness – so that He can show us the strength of His great love. “God loves to take dirt – a lot of dirt, mounds of dirt – and turn it into gold, turn it into pure, white snow, turn it into something that’s going to go change the world! That’s what God does. That’s what He’s in the business of doing. And we have to get out of ourselves. That’s the hardest part – to get outside your fears. It’s really difficult and that’s the grace of the Holy Spirit, which again, comes through prayer.”
Our lives are like puzzles, and Bryan sees the journey to transformation like the process of putting that puzzle together. Though it starts off like a thousand confusing pieces, by learning, living, and loving our faith, we slowly put the pieces together until see the big picture – and that picture is how God wants to turn us into strong, joyful, passionate men of prayer and action: “I challenge men to pray, to know their faith, to live their faith, and to love their faith. And that starts with prayer, it starts with the sacraments, but it also continues by doing, by serving: by serving your family, by serving at soup kitchens, by doing stuff for others – taking a part in being manly. Being manly isn’t sitting back and doing nothing. It’s serving and changing the world in some way.”
The Five Men in All of Us…
The 2018 Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference was a great success. The participants were inspired by the speakers, enriched by the venders, and overwhelmed by the worship. There were hundreds of men who poured out their sins to the visiting priests in Confession. The fellowship, food, and fun made for a great experience that is sure to last. And in all the depth of what was shared within the walls of St. Paul Catholic High School, the truth that speaks so clearly to me is the awesome grace of God that pours itself into the hearts of every man who longs to be filled: the men who are willing to dream of better things, get close and personal with their Savior, discover the song that God has given them to sing, accept their unique role as men, and allow the love of Christ to spill out in passion and power to all those looking for the answers to the deepest needs in their lives. That is what it means to be a witness. That is what it means to answer the call to live as a disciple of Christ.
I am so grateful for the time I spent with these five amazing men and for all they taught me about my own call to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. I challenge you to make your way to the next Catholic men’s conference in your area, and to meet these five men. They may have different names and faces, but I promise you, they will be there, waiting to share their story and to join with you in the fellowship you share together as Catholic men, walking the journey of faith in this broken world.