March 24, 2017

Men’s conference gives early Lenten boost in faith to participants

Kyle Vollmer, left, and his brother Will Vollmer laugh during a presentation by Dr. Ray Guarendi on March 4. Kyle is a member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Harrison, Ohio, in the Cincinnati Archdiocese. Will is a member of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County, which organized the conference. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Kyle Vollmer, left, and his brother Will Vollmer laugh during a presentation by Dr. Ray Guarendi on March 4. Kyle is a member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Harrison, Ohio, in the Cincinnati Archdiocese. Will is a member of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County, which organized the conference. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

ST. LEON—Some 800 Catholic men from Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio got a good spiritual boost at the start of Lent by participating in the second annual E6 Catholic Men’s Conference held on March 4 at East Central High School in St. Leon.

The title of the conference, organized by All Saints Parish in Dearborn County and its King’s Men men’s faith formation group, refers to the sixth chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians in which the Apostle exhorts believers to “put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil” (Eph 6:11).

This year’s conference featured presentations by Catholic apologist and author Patrick Madrid; clinical psychologist, Catholic author and radio host Dr. Ray Guarendi; and Pro Football Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, who played left tackle for the National Football League’s Cincinnati Bengals from 1980-92.

Opportunities for prayer and the sacraments during the conference included Mass, praying of the rosary, the sacrament of penance, eucharistic adoration and Benediction.

Madrid recalled a time during a summer in the 1970s when he was a high school student in California and dated a girl whose father was opposed to the Catholic faith and challenged him frequently about it.

During that summer, Madrid, with the help of his father and Catholic books that his father shared with him, learned about the faith and was able to answer those challenges.

“He actually, without intending to, made me a stronger Catholic,” said Madrid of his girlfriend’s father. “By the end of the summer, I had learned my Catholic faith under pressure so that I actually began to believe it for myself. It was no longer, ‘I’m Catholic because that’s how I was raised.’ ”

Madrid encouraged the men at the conference, especially fathers and grandfathers, to be leaders in the faith for the young people in their lives like his father was for him.

“Unless we know why we believe what we believe, we are unable, I believe, to lead or encourage or teach,” Madrid said. “If we really want to be those leaders, we have to know what we believe.”

This leadership, he said, is important today because the numbers of Catholics and Christians in the U.S. is declining while those who adhere to no faith is increasing.

“I would argue that the only way that we can stop that from happening is for you and me as Catholic men to not only know what we believe, why we believe it,” Madrid said, “but also have the gumption to share those beliefs with other people at work, in your social circles and certainly in your families.”

In the conference’s second presentation, Guarendi noted with many humorous asides that leadership for fathers must involve discipline in a cultural climate that is increasingly difficult for people of faith.

“You’re the best parent those kids are going to have,” he said. “Do you know that? If you don’t do it, for whatever reason, it’s going to be done. Those folks out there will discipline that child. A judge, a landlord, an army sergeant, a police officer, an employer—I shudder to say the next one—a wife. Somebody’s going to teach them, and the world hurts. The world will hurt our kids.”

“Discipline without love may be harsh,” Guarendi continued. “Love without discipline is child abuse, because ultimately that kid is going to be crushed by those folks out there.”

In his homily during the conference’s Mass, Father Jonathan Meyer exhorted his listeners to invite young men to consider if God is calling them to be priests.

“That’s the role of every man in this auditorium,” said Father Meyer, pastor of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County. “There are men in this room today that God is calling to be priests. Who is going to invite them? Who’s going to encourage them? And who’s going to pray for them?”

During a break in the conference, All Saints parishioner Will Vollmer, a father of three children, said the day was a way for him to be renewed in his vocation.

“It’s nice to recharge like this,” he said. “I’m excited to go back home. Sometimes, you get complacent. I’ve got some things to go and work on with my kids, appreciate them more, talking with them more instead of just throwing them in a time out. There’s a nurturing opportunity there.”

In the afternoon, Munoz shared his story of being raised in poverty by a single mother, enduring many injuries in college football, and becoming one of the best offensive linemen in the history of pro football.

“The tough times that we go through refine us and make us the people that God wants us to be,” Munoz said.

He encouraged conference participants to focus on their faith and relationship with God in their everyday lives.

“What you do every day should be [a] way of worshipping God and thanking him for the opportunities you have,” Munoz said. “God will continue to open doors for each and every one of us. We’ve just got to be willing to be used by him. We all have opportunities to be mentors, to have an impact in our communities, if we’re willing to be used.”

In the conference’s final presentation, Madrid reflected on three kinds of conversion—spiritual, moral and intellectual.

He recalled a conversation he once had with a woman who had an abortion and subsequently abandoned the Catholic faith in which she had been raised. After hearing her story, Madrid counselled her to go to confession, only to see her appalled by his advice.

At the time, he thought that his approach was a total failure. But some time later, the woman spoke to Madrid again, telling him that she had eventually taken his advice, experienced a conversion and had returned to the Church.

“Let’s be available to God for the spiritual conversion of people around us,” Madrid reflected. “Don’t forget how God works through our weaknesses. The spiritual conversion of your own, as well as people around you, may very well happen because of your availability.”

In speaking about moral conversion, Madrid reflected on the challenge of living what one believes, especially in a culture where pornography is so widely available, particularly online.

“The great saints of the Latin Rite Church, at least since St. Dominic, will all tell you that the rosary is the most powerful weapon against sin and vice, outside the Mass and the sacraments,” he said. “You will see tremendous moral conversion. Whatever it may be in life, you’ll begin to see correction and improvement in all the little things that are keeping you from God.”

The challenges to the faith coming today, especially from popular views on scientific and medical developments, requires Catholics to increase their knowledge of the faith in an intellectual conversion, Madrid noted.

“You’re not prepared if you don’t have an intellectual conversion,” he said. “We all have to be constantly learning. It doesn’t take much.”

In fact, he said that reading the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church for 10 minutes a day can be like a “Bowflex for your mind.”

A period of eucharistic adoration and Benediction ended the conference. Father Meyer encouraged the attendees to take their renewed faith and put it into action in the world.

“What a blessing to be with you men, to be with our Lord, to be united in strength, to put on the armor of God, that we may go out and battle in a world that longs for truth, meaning and purpose,” he said. “I invite you to join me in this battle, the battle to reclaim our faith, our souls, to fight against the principalities and powers of the world that are all against us.

“But Christ is victorious, and thus so are we.” †

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