March 15, 2019

Conference speakers challenge listeners to share the faith, renew the Church during difficult times

Father Jonathan Meyer, pastor of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County, gives a reflection during a time of eucharistic adoration during the fourth annual E6 Catholic Men’s Conference on Feb. 23 at East Central High School in St. Leon. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father Jonathan Meyer, pastor of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County, gives a reflection during a time of eucharistic adoration during the fourth annual E6 Catholic Men’s Conference on Feb. 23 at East Central High School in St. Leon. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

ST. LEON—Men with a mission. Men loved by God as his beloved sons. Men chosen by God to help renew the Church in a time of crisis.

These were the descriptions given by speakers on Feb. 23 of the more than 1,200 men who attended the fourth annual E6 Catholic Men’s Conference at East Central High School in St. Leon.

All Saints Parish in Dearborn County organized the conference. “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).

Popular Catholic speaker and writer Mark Hart opened the conference by telling his listeners that God “has a plan for your future, a plan for the people he wants to touch through you, by you and in you.”

But to carry out that plan, Hart said, men need to realize that the words God the Father spoke after Jesus’ baptism—“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11)—also applies to each of them.

“You can’t be a man of God until you acknowledge the fact that you are a son of God,” said Hart, executive vice president of Life Teen International, “until you and I both take ownership of our sonship. The challenge for each and every one of us, especially as men, is to ask yourself, ‘Do you believe that God’s talking about you?’ ”

God loves them as his sons, Hart said, even though they fail and sin often in their lives.

“That’s why we go to confession,” he said. “You’re going to need to press reset a lot.”

But this truth should also move them in gratitude to give of themselves even more to their families and parish.

That’s what Andrew Schneider, 42, an All Saints parishioner, has been trying to do over the past few years. Before that time, he had been away from the Church for about 20 years.

Then his father brought him to the second E6 conference and his faith was reignited.

“It’s changed my life and brought me back to the Church,” Schneider said. “I’ve never been as happy as I am now.”

Conferences like E6 can move participants to go forth to share their faith with others. But sometimes it’s still a challenge because many people feel that they might not be able to explain the faith effectively.

Trent Horn, a staff apologist at the El Cajon, Calif.‑based Catholic Answers, encouraged his listeners who felt that way.

“You don’t need to have all of the right answers,” Horn said during his presentation. “When you want to stand up for our Catholic faith and make a defense of the truth, goodness and beauty of the Catholic faith, you do not need to have all of the right answers. You just need to have the right questions.”

These questions, asked in a friendly way, might point out the inconsistency in the other person’s position.

“It should be done with a genuine sense of wanting to yearn for the truth,” Horn said.

Such encounters with those who disagree with us should not be seen as a fight, Horn said.

“We should not be standing toe-to-toe in a fight,” he said. “Instead, it’s shoulder-to-shoulder and we’re walking together. We’re giving them these ideas and asking them questions to get them to rethink issues.”

Staying calm in the face of opposition can be hard, Horn said, but it’s what God has called believers to do in order to allow the Holy Spirit to work through them to draw others closer to him.

Horn pointed out a group of students from Covington Catholic High School in Covington, Ky., who were attending the conference as good examples of this important principle in sharing the faith.

The students had been in Washington on Jan. 18 for the annual March for Life. Afterward, they stood between groups representing different causes and were confronted by a Native American tribal leader. Videos of the encounter soon went viral, along with accusations that the students were yelling racial epithets and showing disrespect in other ways.

Singled out for criticism was student Nick Sandmann, who is seen in videos smiling while standing inches away from the Native American leader, Nathan Phillips, who faced him as he chanted and beat a drum.

An independent investigation into the incident later cleared Sandmann and all Covington students of wrongdoing.

“I’m very proud of how they handled themselves,” Horn said at the conference. “A lot of times, we get lulled into a false sense of security, that we can have our faith as just a normal part of our lives. Our faith is not normal to many people.”

While many people outside the Church are ready to attack it and Catholics should be ready to stand up to defend it, Father Jonathan Meyer reflected during the conference on the difficult situation the Church finds itself in because of the terrible sins of clergy who have sexually abused children and the poor response to it in the past by its leaders.

During a time of eucharistic adoration during the conference, Father Meyer, pastor of All Saints Parish, noted that the event took place on the memorial of St. Polycarp, a second-century bishop who was martyred. On the day of his death, Father Meyer explained, St. Polycarp prayed, “ ‘I bless you, Lord, for judging me worthy of this day and this hour.’ ”

“God has judged every single one of you to be worthy to be a member of the Church right now, to endure these sufferings, embarrassments, struggles and challenges right now,” Father Meyer said. “In God’s divine providence, you are called to be the fathers, husbands and men of this Church. You are called to offer your sacrifices and prayers.

“He has called you at this moment, at this hour, to remember what the Church is truly all about. The Church is not about her bishops and priests. The Church is truly about our Lord Jesus Christ present before us.”

Paul Rhodes, a member of St. John Paul II Parish in Sellersburg who attended the conference, agreed that the Church is in a difficult crisis at present. But he was encouraged by the conference and seeing so many men on fire for their faith.

“Coming to this has helped me realize that we have so many things to be thankful for in the Catholic faith,” Rhodes said. “What has happened—this, too, shall pass by prayer and change in the Church.”

After lunch, speaker Justin Fatica gave a rousing exhortation to attendees, pleading with them, often at the top of his voice, to realize God’s love for them, and to love those around them more concretely.

One simple way to do that is to write notes of love and encouragement to children or grandchildren on post-it notes, which Fatica says he does often for his five children.

“When I go into my kids’ rooms, they’re all over the place, because they don’t want to throw them away,” said Fatica, founder of Hard as Nails Ministries, which he serves as executive director.

Giving themselves to the mission God has given them—even if it’s in such seemingly small gestures—has great meaning, Fatica said.

“Your ‘yes’ today matters, more than you realize,” he said. “St. Ignatius says that few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to him, if they were to allow the love of the Father, his grace, to mold them accordingly.”

Hart ended the conference by inviting his listeners to reach out to men they know who weren’t at the conference who might be struggling with their faith or with various kinds of sin, just as they might be themselves.

“God looks at you and looks at me,” Hart said. “He knows our sin, our weakness, our shame, our guilt—those things that handicap us, keep us frozen and trap us in fear. But he says, ‘I can still work with him. With my grace, I can still work with him.’

“What’s great is that you’re here. You have a lot of other guys who need to be but aren’t. Then the question becomes, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ Are you bold enough to invite somebody next year? Are you bold enough to share your faith in a new way?” †

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