March 9, 2018

‘Full of hope’: Men at conference challenged, encouraged to go forth, transform others through faith

Dr. Ray Guarendi speaks on Feb. 24 before more than 1,200 men at the third annual E6 Catholic Men’s Conference at East Central High School in St. Leon. The conference was organized by All Saints Parish in Dearborn County in the Batesville Deanery. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Dr. Ray Guarendi speaks on Feb. 24 before more than 1,200 men at the third annual E6 Catholic Men’s Conference at East Central High School in St. Leon. The conference was organized by All Saints Parish in Dearborn County in the Batesville Deanery. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

ST. LEON—A challenge rang out in the cavernous auditorium of East Central High School in St. Leon on Feb. 24.

The more than 1,200 men who filled it on that day were told to be “men who have been transformed, who are willing to go forth and transform the lives of other men.”

Father Jonathan Meyer, pastor of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County, gave this parting message to the men who attended the third annual E6 Catholic Men’s Conference, organized by the Batesville Deanery faith community.

“E6” refers to the sixth chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians in which the Apostle calls his audience 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).

“You’re here today for hope,” said Father Meyer in a reflection during a period of eucharistic adoration that concluded the daylong conference. “Our world needs hope. Our world needs men full of hope who are willing to bring hope and change and life into our world.”

Most of the attendees came from Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. They ranged in age from teenagers to men old enough to be their great-grandfathers.

Lucas McFee, 17, attended the conference for the second time. A member of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Parish in Bright and a junior at the Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception in Oldenburg, Lucas came with his younger brother Dominic.

“There’s something about a big group of guys coming together that’s pretty powerful,” Lucas said. “You can talk about some important and serious topics with guys.”

Conference speakers Dr. Ray Guarendi and Father Larry Richards addressed serious topics, often in humorous ways, in their presentations and in a question-and-answer session. So did Archbishop Charles C. Thompson in a homily during a Mass celebrated during the conference.

Father Meyer welcomed the men at the start of the conference. He told them that the most effective “game changer” in their relationships with their spouses, children and God is their “availability.”

“Make the commitment today to say for the rest of your life that my best ability is my availability, and that I’ll commit to that every day to my wife, to my employer, to my children and, most importantly, to my God,” Father Meyer said. “It is through availability that we become the men that God is radically calling us to be.”

In his presentation, Guarendi, a clinical psychologist, author and Catholic radio host, spoke about how he came back to the full communion of the Church after living as an evangelical Christian for eight years.

He explained how learning about the Church’s teaching convinced him of its truth and led him back to the Church.

“There’s only reason to be Catholic, one reason alone,” he said. “Because it’s true.”

But Guarendi recognized that many of the men attending the conference blamed themselves for the choice made by some of their children to leave the Church.

He humorously reminded them that Jesus, though divine, had difficulty leading people to follow him.

“Oh, so let me see if I understand this,” Guarendi said. “You think that you’re better than the God-man at this. Our Lord himself couldn’t get most people to follow him. You can’t perform miracles. You can’t even do a crumby card trick.

“ … We did the best we could with these kids. There’s a culture that’s toxic out there, and there’s such a thing called free will still floating around. Your one factor: you did the very best that you could.”

Father Richards, a priest of the Erie, Pa., Diocese, and an author and retreat master, challenged the men to put a priority on daily prayer so that they become saints, “the greatest of all goals.”

“Everyone here can pray,” he said. “Don’t you dare leave this place today without committing yourself to praying at least five minutes a day. And don’t tell me you can’t do it. If you can’t pray five minutes a day, it’s because God is not a priority in your life.”

Father Richards then suggested that God isn’t a priority for some men because they’re weighed down by their sins and think they’re not worthy of God’s love.

“We must humble ourselves before God,” he said. “We must acknowledge our sins. That’s the first part of prayer. But then we don’t stay there.

“After we say, ‘God, I am sorry for what I have done,’ then the Father looks at you and embraces you and forgives you. He says, ‘You are my beloved son. And I’m pleased with you.’ ”

One of the reasons Father Richards encouraged the men to pray daily was to do so in defense of their families.

“The world, the flesh and the devil are going after your wife and kids every day,” he said. “But if you’re not a man of prayer, you leave them unprotected.

“ … When you become a man of prayer, you look at the world, the flesh and the devil and you say, ‘You’ve got to go through me to get to my wife and my kids.’ ”

Father Richards also called his listeners to be men who love others, especially their families, by giving of themselves as Christ did on the cross.

“Look at that crucifix,” he said, pointing to a large crucifix at the back of the auditorium’s stage. “That is what a follower of Jesus does. You do this for your wife. You do this for your kids. You give up your life for them. Nobody’s here to serve you. You’re here to serve them. And you’ll be judged by God on how you served your family.”

Archbishop Thompson continued this challenge to live and die as Christ did during the Mass as he reflected on the Gospel reading in which Jesus called his disciples to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44).

“We can never stop being Christ-like to our families, our co-workers, our neighbors, but also not only to those whom we find difficult to get along with, [and] also those who are a challenge to us, even those who maybe dislike us to the point of wanting to do us harm,” Archbishop Thompson said. “I’m not saying that we shouldn’t defend ourselves. I’m saying that we have to be able to work through those challenges with the grace that God alone can provide.”

Taking up this challenge to love enemies is “the way of the cross,” Archbishop Thompson said.

“It is only through suffering that we share in the victory over sin and death,” he said. “As we gather here today, we gather to remember that it is through the grace of God that all things are possible for us. It provides us with the courage, wisdom, humility, generosity to be Christ-like to others, to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ with joy in transforming the world.”

In addition to the speakers and Mass, grace was made available to the men at the conference through the sacrament of penance, the praying of the rosary, solemn Benediction and fellowship with other Catholic men throughout the day.

And that fellowship has grown over the first three years of the E6 conference. It had 500 attendees its first year, about 800 last year and this year more than 1,200.

Joe Yunger, an All Saints parishioner who helped organize the conference, said that the growth is in part due to effective marketing of the conference, especially through social media, but also its location right off of Interstate 74, the food provided and its comfortable setting.

“We try to make it as convenient and accommodating as possible,” Yunger said. “The convenience of it, alongside high quality speakers and authentic Catholic substance really helps sell it. It is great that, honestly, we’re just a small group of guys running this, with a desire to engage disengaged men.

“I know I was like that for way too long. Events like this can really light a fire in men they did not know they had.”

Looking at the men who filled East Central’s auditorium amazed All Saints parishioner Jeff Weckenbrock, who also helped organize the conference.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s more than our parish. It’s not us. It’s God working through it, blessing us with so many volunteers to help put this on. It’s amazing what a small group of people can do with God’s help.” †

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