March 18, 2016

‘Put on the armor of God’: Catholic men encouraged in their faith at conference

Hundreds of Catholic men kneel in prayer on March 5 at East Central High School in St. Leon while principal celebrant Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin and several concelebrating priests pray the eucharistic prayer during a Mass. The liturgy was part of the first “E6 Catholic Men’s Conference,” which was organized by men who are parishioners of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County. (Photos by Sean Gallagher)

Hundreds of Catholic men kneel in prayer on March 5 at East Central High School in St. Leon while principal celebrant Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin and several concelebrating priests pray the eucharistic prayer during a Mass. The liturgy was part of the first “E6 Catholic Men’s Conference,” which was organized by men who are parishioners of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County. (Photos by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

ST. LEON—“Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil” (Eph 6:11).

More than 500 Catholic men from across the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and beyond gathered on March 5 at East Central High School in St. Leon to learn how to put into actions these words from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.

(Related: See a photo gallery from this event)

They gathered from the tri-state area of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio and from as far away as Tennessee and Wisconsin for the aptly named “E6 Catholic Men’s Conference,” whose theme was “Putting on the Armor of God.”

It was organized by a group of men who are parishioners of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County.

It featured presentations by Father John Hollowell, pastor of Annunciation Parish in Brazil and St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle; Christopher West, an internationally known speaker and author on the theology of the body; and Mark Houck, co-founder and president of The King’s Men, an organization that seeks to help form men to be leaders, protectors and providers and advocates against pornography.

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin was the principal celebrant of a Mass during the conference. Several other priests were available throughout the conference for the sacrament of penance. And the day concluded with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction.

‘Go on the attack in your spiritual life’

In his opening presentation at the conference, Father Hollowell recalled a story from the time when he served as wide receivers coach for the football team at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis.

He wanted to get his players to use all their effort on every play, and show such determination to their opponents from the start.

So, during pre-game warmups, Father Hollowell had one of his players take a sledgehammer and lay it on the sideline where the opposing team would stand.

“We put a sledgehammer out at the 50-yard line to remind ourselves we are bringing our sledge, we are going on the attack, we’re doing everything possible on every play,” he said. “You’re going to get a sledge from us. We are bringing it.”

Father Hollowell told the men at the conference that St. Paul in the sixth chapter of his Letter to the Ephesians advocates the same approach to the spiritual life.

“Go on the attack. Go on the offensive. You have the ability to go on the attack in your spiritual life,” said Father Hollowell, who later placed a sledgehammer in the middle of the stage in East Central’s auditorium where the conference was held.

He went on to note that a tactic of the devil to keep men from going on the attack is to discourage them by reminding them of their past sins.

“There’s a really easy solution to that,” Father Hollowell said. “Confess them. You go to confession and they’re gone, they’re obliterated. And we get new strength to go forward in a new way, with new grace and new abilities.”

He also noted that the culture’s current images of masculinity—either lazy and indifferent like Homer Simpson or a party animal like Charlie Sheen—are “counterfeit.”

“We’re told that these things are manhood when, in fact, they’re not,” Father Hollowell said. “We have to be on the attack. We have to go out to the middle of the spiritual battle field, put our sledge down and say, ‘I’m bringing my best in everything that I do.’ ”

And men can do this, he said, when they share a bond of solidarity.

“It’s much better to take the field in a football game as a team, when you have brothers next to you,” Father Hollowell said. “That’s what it also takes in the spiritual warfare that we’re engaged in. There’s a great accountability that comes with that.”

Don’t ‘man up,’ ‘man down’

West reminded conference participants that the spiritual battle against the devil described in Ephesians 6 is preceded by Paul’s wondrous description of the profound theological meaning of human marriage in Ephesians 5.

“You can summarize the whole Bible in five words: God wants to marry us,” West said. “God wants to marry the human race. And he wanted this eternal marital plan to be so plain to us that he stamped an image of it right in our bodies by making us male and female and calling the two to an intimate union. Our bodies tell God’s story.”

The challenge facing Catholics wanting to share the good news of marriage today and to enter into spiritual battle to defend it, he said, is that our culture is addicted to a de-spiritualized sexuality, describing this warped view as taking “our yearning for the infinite to something finite.”

West said that the Church’s theology of the body, which was laid out by St. John Paul II in a series of general audience presentations over several years in the early 1980s, is “the cure for the world’s cancer,” a “lifeline … in the sexual chaos of our world.”

Living out this spiritual vision of marriage and sexuality and being an advocate of it in the world requires much humility, West said.

“We all want to know as men, ‘Do I have what it takes to be a man?’ ” he said. “And here’s the paradox, guys. We don’t have what it takes to be a real man. But admitting that is exactly what it takes to be a man.

“We like expressions like, ‘Man up.’ No. ‘Man down,’ because he who exalts himself will be humbled. But he who mans down, he’ll man up.”

‘The hardest labor of all’

Archbishop Tobin continued West’s call to humility in his homily during the Mass celebrated during the conference.

In the Gospel reading for the day (Lk 18:9-14), Jesus praised the humble attitude of a publican in his prayer when he wouldn’t raise his eyes to heaven and only said, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk 18:13).

Archbishop Tobin encouraged his listeners to take up the “hardest labor of all, which is to be honest with ourselves, to realize our shortcomings, yes, to realize our sin, to say, ‘Yeah, I’ve screwed it up, Lord. I haven’t lived the gift of my life, the gift of my faith, with the freedom and fidelity that you called me to. And I don’t know what to do about it.’ ”

He also reminded them that the sin of pride can show itself at times in the way they express their faith.

“In our secularizing western culture, it can be easy for Christians to react against the culture that surrounds us by seeking a way of being religious for religiosity’s own sake,” Archbishop Tobin said. “But religion does not save us. God does. Over and over, the prophets and the Gospels remind us that the human problem is not so much no religion but false religion. When my religious devotion becomes more about me than God, it’s false.

“When my religious devotion separates me from the needs of my brothers and sisters and the world, I fall into false religion. When my religious devotion puffs me up, I’m far from the kingdom of God.”

While being honest with oneself about one’s shortcomings is hard work, God showers it with compassion, Archbishop Tobin said.

“May we not shirk from the hard labor of recognizing our own sinfulness and then turning confidently to God, whose name is mercy.”

‘Go deeper … go further’

Houck, co-founder and president of The King’s Men, gave the final presentation at the conference, which was organized by members of a chapter of The King’s Men at All Saints Parish.

Houck continued the theme of humility by quoting St. Augustine who said “ ‘put on Christ and you will be truthful, for every man is a liar.’ ”

One way for a father to be truthful with himself is for him to live up to his vocation and follow Pope Francis’ advice to “ ‘have the courage to waste time with you children.’ ”

“This is how we put on Christ in order to be truthful,” Houck said. “Who are you? I’m a man, yes. But I’m also a husband, a father—not some CEO. That’s an activity. I’m a man, a husband and a father.”

Houck warned men not to waste time on their smart phones.

“Kids are going to grow up with dads who are checked out with this device,” said Houck, holding up his own smart phone. “I’m sharing this with you because this is a major obstacle to fulfilling your role as a man to be a leader, protector and provider, to putting on Christ, to putting on the full armor of God.”

He also warned fathers in the audience about the way in which they allow their children to have or use such devices.

“This is the number one way kids are accessing porn today,” Houck said. “This is it. Are you giving your kids these things?”

With the end of the conference in sight, Houck exhorted its participants to allow it to have an ongoing effect in their lives.

“You’ve got to go deeper,” he said. “Don’t let this be just a nice day. You’ve got to do something with this day. Go deeper. Go further.

“Remember that the measure of success is not all of these numbers that are produced financially in worldly terms. It’s measured by the lives and the souls that are touched that will only be revealed to you at the end of your time when you are judged. That’s what truly matters.”

Jason and Josh Orndorff, a father and son who are members of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Parish in Bright, attended the conference.

“It’s encouraging to be with so many men of a common mindset, sharing the same strength in their faith,” said Jason.

Josh, 22, was especially happy to be at the conference with his father.

“I would have enjoyed all of the talks and the Mass personally, but I think I enjoyed it even more being able to share it with my dad,” he said.

The organizers of the conference felt it was such a success that they are starting to make plans for a similar event next year, which is scheduled for March 4, 2017, at East Central High School in St. Leon. †

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