What does it mean to be a Catholic man? Is it about being loyal to the Church or living out our faith through worship, service, and prayer? Maybe it has more to do with how we relate to others according to the standards spelled out in the Scriptures and Tradition. We are told to be men of God, heads of our households, partners with our spouses, providers, and proper fathers to our children. When I consider all this, I find myself feeling very inadequate indeed; for there certainly seem to be more checks in the “Failures” column in the ledger of my life. But thanks be to God for His grace and loving care that works all things to the good for the manly messes I have made in this world.
I have a feeling I am not alone when it comes to doubts about who I am as a Catholic man. Fortunately, I have found a wonderful place where I can bring my sputtering Catholic male identity for an annual tune up. For the past six years, I have had the privilege and pleasure of attending the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference; and each year, I have found new purpose, a renewed spirit, and strength for the journey of faith. These incredible one-day events have meant so much to me that I thought I would share my top five reasons why every Catholic man in Connecticut should put aside that one special day a year to attend this awesome experience.
Reason # 1: Sinners and saints are welcome! This is a place where followers of Jesus come together in solidarity around a common theme and a shared goal. Here in this place, we come as we are, sinner saints, or more properly, saints who sin. There is no fear of being who we are or sharing our gifts and failures, joys and struggles – we all come together to form a body of men open enough to listen to the Spirit’s leadings, humble enough to leave our burdens before the throne of grace, and strong enough to go forth to our families, our parishes, our workplaces, and the world, as men set on fire by the message of the Gospel and the call of our Savior to be men of God.
Reason # 2: Manly wisdom from mature Christian men who have been there! The speakers have been and continue to be grace-filled men who share not just their Spirit-inspired teachings but their very lives as well. There is no room for flowery language or churchy platitudes; these men take God’s truth and lay it out in no-nonsense terms. They tell it like it is, with strength and humility, passion and gentle power. These men have the knowledge and experience to back up what they say. They have been in the trenches and have lived to tell the tale. They share their stories, sins and all; and their stories touch our lives because they speak to the same fears and longings that burn in every man’s heart.
Reason # 3: The food, the fellowship, and the failure management! Some of the most memorable times take place after the speakers have left the stage, when the men get together to share a meal, converse with one another, and come before Christ’s representatives for Confession. This is the real one-on-one time, where the men in the pews get to hash things out with the speakers, encourage and challenge one another, and pour out their weaknesses and failings before the throne of heaven. This is the cleansing part of the day, when the substance of the talks is fleshed out in real time with other men who are ready to lift up their brothers as together we share our burdens with honesty and humility.
Reason # 4: The blessing of brothers who bring their strength and their struggles to bear on the Body of Christ! Because we are willing to share who we are, we become blessings to one another and that blessing grows in way we never thought possible. In our shared experience, we become more than the sum of our parts, more than individuals struggling against a wicked world. Together, as a Body of believers, we manifest the life of the Holy Spirit and find new strength of purpose to return to our everyday worlds renewed and ready to take on the challenges spelled out at the conference. We can do this because we know there are beloved brothers who are holding us in prayer and living out the same Spirit call that has energized our lives.
Reason # 5: This is as real as it gets! Our homes, our parishes, and our jobs can become mundane, meaningless places where boredom and routine can kill the fire within us and make us believe that we are trapped in an endless loop of unexciting days. But once we experience the Spirit that speaks through our presenters and lives in the fellowship with share with one another, we become men on a mission, ready to take charge of our lives and do all things as unto the Lord! As we lift our voices and our prayers to the Savior in the Eucharist, we know that we are celebrating who we are as disciples of the One who calls us to be His witnesses to the world. We experience the power of faith, the flesh and blood reality of what it means to be Catholic men, and we are never the same!
The 11th Annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference is coming up fast and this year’s conference looks to be as dynamic and life-changing as ever. The conference will be held on Saturday, October 20, 2018, at Saint Paul Catholic High School in Bristol, CT. The theme for this year’s conference is, “Go Into All the World,” a continuation of last year’s focus on the apostolate of the laity. This year’s speakers include Jason Calvi from EWTN News, Father Bill Casey from the Fathers of Mercy, and Bob Kroll, With All Your Heart Apostolate Founder. Special guests joining us for this year are Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of the Hartford Archdiocese, and Deacon Doug Hoffman. Master of Ceremonies for this year is Sam Todzia, Founder of “Meat & Greet Ministries.” All of these men have hearts that are open to the needs of Catholic men and the knowledge and passion to lift men up to that place where Christ can speak to their needs.
Last year’s crowd almost filled the St. Paul School auditorium and we are hoping to do better this year. I hope many men – those who have experienced the event and those who are searching for something more in their lives – will join us for the 2018 Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference. I hope too that wherever Catholic men are, they will seek out opportunities for growth and healing by coming together with their brothers in the faith!