2/28/2013 Real Men Love Jesus Annual men's conference illustrates how faith is real and powerful
Sharing God’s Gifts - Damon Owens, founder of Joy-filled Marriage New Jersey, speaks with enthusiasmabout God’s gifts of sexuality and matrimony at the CMFJC Conference. Jeff Bruno photos
Lenten Transformation - Many men took time to pray and contemplate their call to be genuine men of faith at the CMFJC conference, entitled “Real Men, Real Catholic Faith”.
By David Kilby | Correspondent
Genuine faith was shown to lead to perseverance time and again in the testimonies shared at the 16th annual Catholic Men for Jesus Christ Conference in the church and school complex of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, Feb. 23.
The conference, entitled “Real men, real Catholic faith” brought together the diocese’s chief shepherd, a former megachurch pastor, a New York Jets legend, a national speaker on the sanctity of marriage and more than 600 men and boys from the diocese and beyond.
Jesus leads by example
In his homily, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., principal celebrant of the day’s Mass, linked the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert to everyone’s personal Lenten journey. He spoke of how the “triple crown of prayer, fasting and almsgiving” is to be used to fight the temptations of the devil, and reminded those present that they’re never alone since they go through the Lenten journey with not only Jesus but also his Church – adding that all Catholics are one Body by nature of their baptismal calling.
Bishop O’Connell stressed that the importance of Lent is that it is a time to grow stronger in faith and spirituality. The bishop also emphasized the importance of fraternity and Confession, and mentioned that these gifts not only make us feel better, but also make us do and be better.
In his talk, Joe Klecko, one of the best known and admired former players for the Jets, said God is constantly trying to reach out to us through Scripture and miracles, but oftentimes we think we know better.
“God isn’t going to leave us standing here by ourselves to figure it out for ourselves,” he said, adding that sometimes we try to figure things out on our own anyway.
He shared how he and his family wound up bankrupt several years after his NFL career in the mid-’90s, but this also was the time he turned to God, started reading Catholic books, praying the Rosary, and became a daily communicant.
“I attribute that to my wife (Debbie),” he said. When he started praying more, he said God made things happen in his life. For example, he and his wife, after wanting to have a family for many years, were able to have three children when his wife was in her early 40s .
“We always wanted a lot of children, but it didn’t happen. Then God stepped into our life,” he said. “Most people would say we can’t have that third child, but my wife said ‘God gifted us. We’re going forward.’ And along with the children came blessings.”
A considerable number of young New York Jets fans came out to meet Klecko at the conference, and some shared how the athlete has been a role model for them.
“He never gave up. That’s what I liked best about him,” said Brent Tucker, a 15year-old freshman at Monsignor Donovan High School, Toms River, and a member of St. Theresa Parish, Little Egg Harbor.
God chooses the humble
Allen Hunt shared his conversion story from a life as a third-generation Methodist minister of a mega-church to the host of a Catholic radio show, which airs on 750 AM and 95.5 FM WSB talk radio in Georgia. In his afternoon talk he shared the story of Gideon in the Book of Judges to convey how God chooses the weak to humble the strong.
He also shared how St. Peter the Apostle, despite all of his shortcomings, was still chosen to be the head of Christ’s universal Church, because Peter believed in God’s promise.
Hunt shared one of the moments that caused a deeper conversion in him, when he visited the Tomb of Peter located directly underneath the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He explained how God can use us for greater good, despite ourselves, and told the men to remember that “Faith conquers fears, healing conquers hurts, and God’s promise is greater than my past.”
Nelson Abreu of Sacred Heart Parish Trenton, said he was inspired by Hunt’s journey. “Most of us struggle to keep the faith as Catholics,” he said. “But that (conversion) must have turned his life around. After coming from generations of Methodist pastors, then to say ‘I’m living for Catholicism,’ that’s amazing.”
Patrick Muka, a seminarian at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Overbrook, Pa., said it’s easy to take for granted the hidden treasures we have.
“To hear about them from someone who has converted, it’s good to have that perspective,” he said.
The true mark of manhood Damon Owens, executive director of the Theology of the Body Institute, spoke of how manhood requires a self sacrifice similar to that of Christ, and explained how human beings are created to give of themselves. He said the sacrament of marriage is a demonstration of the gift of self, and said a man’s entire life can be put into two categories; how much he gives of himself and how much he looks out for his own interests.
Speaking on sexuality, he shared how real men don’t hold back their sexual passions, but rather see women in the image and likeness of God, which enables them to channel their passions, and see and love women more fully.
“You don’t choose the passions of the heart,” he said to the teens during a track in the conference designed for just them. “If I feel a certain way is it okay to act that way? How do you live with this sexual desire and passion? It’s about your becoming the man you were created to be.”
When asked how he makes his message so effective, he said “It’s a matter of understanding what the (popular) culture is really saying,” then understanding what Catholic culture teaches, and “drawing what’s true from both of them.
“I look at what people are seeking,” he said, adding that when a man and woman choose to move in together before marriage, “there’s probably something good in that desire being expressed in the wrong way. There’s commitment in that desire. My approach is to show them what real commitment is.”
Being Christ’s witnesses
There was no shortage of young men at the conference, and stories about their witness often portrayed the hope in their generation. A strong example of faith was demonstrated by conference attendee Drew Heidel Baugh, 13, of Camp Hill, Pa. when he took a pro-life stance in his Cumberland Valley school social studies class about a month ago.
At the beginning of a class debate on abortion, Drew stood alone against eight pro-choice opponents.
But he persuaded four classmates and by the end of the debate the pro-life supporters had a 5-4 majority.
When his story was told at the conference to the crowd of men gathered in St. Joseph Church, Drew received a standing ovation.
“It made me angry when (my classmates) said it’s a woman’s choice (to abort her baby),” he said later that day in an interview with The Monitor, “because it’s really the same as murder. Their whole argument comes from whether the child in the womb is living or not. I said that doesn’t matter because you’re stopping them from being able to live.”
Those who attended the conference continued to reflect on the experience afterwards, and many took home with them a deeper sense of the relevance and reality of their faith.
“Between the bishop’s talk and the speakers, everything tied together,” said Anthony Innocenzi of St. Raphael- Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton, “in regards to the Lenten journey, the Eucharist, the sacraments, and the fact that we have to evangelize. We’re in a generation of Godlessness, so in this Year of Faith it’s about really getting back to the basics, the sacraments. That is the general information that everyone knows but we tend to forget about it and not think it’s important.”