“What does it mean to truly live your Catholic Faith as a man in every area of life?”

That crucial, all-encompassing question was posed to some 10,000 men across the country – and by extension, the men in their lives – who attended the first National Catholic Men for Jesus Christ conference held virtually Feb. 19-21. And it was tackled through keynote presentations, a Mass celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., and more than 40 on-demand presentations featuring faith leaders, scholars and other notable speakers and professionals.

“It’s always good to hear men on fire for their faith,” said George Rose, CMJC treasurer, one of the conference organizers and a member of St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton. He noted the need for organizers to pivot to a virtual model given pandemic health restrictions.

“We normally get 700-plus men at our men’s conference [held in the Diocese], but it’s just not possible to do that right now. So the national virtual men’s conference was the next best thing,” he said. “The energy of in-person presenters and a church filled with hundreds of men praising and worshiping God can never be replaced, but there are some unique advantages to a virtual conference.”

The conference theme, “Living in View of Eternity,” was something Bishop O’Connell spoke about in his homily.

“As Catholic Christian men, we are blessed to know and to follow the Lord Jesus. He draws us through his Gospel to see life through his eyes, ‘living a view of eternity,’” the Bishop said. “Gentlemen, if you want your life to ‘be different,’ you have to start reacting to life differently. It starts now.”

Bishop O’Connell offered St. Joseph as a model. Pope Francis declared this year to be “The Year of St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church.”

“He was an ordinary man, like you and me – a working man. History would probably have taken little, if any, notice of him if God had not noticed him first,” said Bishop O’Connell. “God put a good young woman in his path. Things changed in his life because of her. Mary gave him ‘a view of eternity’ by saying ‘yes’ to God and inviting him to be part of her ‘yes,’ her yes to eternity.”

Bishop O’Connell went on to note that Joseph also answered “yes” to God’s call – and that changed the world forever: “Joseph’s life would never be the same. Nazareth would never be the same. The world would never be the same. The rest is history, ‘salvation history’ which history, in turn, has become our ‘view of eternity,’ a view of eternity that has made us Catholic Men for Jesus Christ. A view of eternity that has changed our lives. Mary and Jesus and Joseph have changed our lives.”

Reliance on God vs. Self

In addition to the Diocese of Trenton, a number of diocesan communities from across the United States participated in the conference, which included live content as well as dozens of pre-recorded, on-demand sessions focused on a range of topics related to how men can live their faith in every aspect of their lives – as fathers, husbands, sons and disciples.

Presentations tackled topics like rites of passage and maturity for men; toxic masculinity; combatting common threats to healthy marriages; devotion to Mary, and more.

The virtual conference also included a live interview with Major League Baseball star Mark Teixeira, whose career included time playing for the Texas Rangers, the Atlanta Braves, the Anaheim Angels and the New York Yankees – as well as winning the World Series in 2009.

In the interview with Rose and fellow organizer and CMJC president Bill Maher, Teixeira spoke candidly about setting his faith aside as he focused on his athletic career.

“When I was younger, I was singularly focused on baseball,” he said, noting that he was raised Catholic, went to an all-boys Catholic high school and had figures in his life – including an uncle who is a Catholic priest – to help guide him in the faith. “When we had our first son, and I realized how hard fatherhood is, how selfish I am, how difficult it is putting it all together, I realized I couldn’t put God off to the side.”

Teixeira also reflected on the time he spent on the road, and the importance of maintaining a connection and partnership with family as well as taking time to devote to faith. He spoke about attending, and later leading, a Bible study group while traveling, something he found invaluable.

“Life is way too hard to try to go through it by yourself,” he said. “To have Christian brothers around you is super important.”

Marriage and Family

Other presentations focused on topics like marriage, and ways that men can strengthen their connection with their spouses.

“Whether it is learning, living or loving, we have lots to do in every stage of our marriage,” said Damon Owens, an international speaker and evangelist who leads the nonprofit Joyful Ever After. He was also the first executive director of the Theology of the Body Institute in Philadelphia.

Owens spoke about the concept of “romantic marriage” that is so prevalent in today’s society, emphasizing that marriage is about so much more.

“Our whole concept of what marriage is, is wrapped around the assumption that we fall in love, that there is a physical attraction, there is a connection,” he said. “Marriage is not just a private endeavor. It is literally at the heart of God’s salvation plan for all of mankind.”

Dr. Ryan Hanning, a professor who teaches theology, philosophy and Church history, spoke about fatherhood and how men can be the fathers their sons and daughters need. He also confronted the concept of toxic masculinity.

“The problem is not masculinity, the problem is the distortion of masculinity. All sin is a distortion of what is good, beautiful and true,” he said. “We don’t want to erase the masculinity, we want to liberate it to become what it truly is.”

Rose and Maher said that the virtual nature of the conference allowed for more speakers – including high-profile presenters – and that it also had an effect on attendance.

“It definitely allowed more men to participate,” Rose said.