Hundreds of Catholic men were commissioned to leave behind childish ways, stand side by side, or step aside, at the Catholic Men for Jesus Christ Conference held Feb. 25 at St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton.
The daylong conference included Mass celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., who was also among the featured speakers, along with witnesses, prayer and exhibitors from the diocese and outside organizations.
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Catholic Men for Jesus Christ was founded in 1997 by Jim Manhardt who resides in Spring Lake, and was built on the premise that no one is meant to answer Jesus’ call to “follow me” alone. CMJC strives to bring men together to build each other up, support one another, and challenge one another on their spiritual journeys to become the men they are created and called to be.
The CMJC conferences attract motivational speakers who encourage men to be "Champions of Faith." This year’s conference of that title easily attracted nearly 700 men, more than doubling last year’s number.
In addition to Bishop O’Connell, the list of speakers for this year’s conference included former Major League Baseball player Darrell Miller, Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid, and news commentator, Father Jonathan Morris.
Learning from the Master
In his homily, Bishop O’Connell demonstrated how in the Gospels the scribes, Pharisees and elders, looked down upon all other Jews and didn’t really acknowledge their own sin. In addition, he noted that the Pharisees and scribes were always observing Jesus from the outside, never participating in the life he called his followers to live.
“If you notice in the great Gospel stories, when Jesus is preaching or teaching or healing or working miracles, the Pharisees and the scribes, the elders and the orthodox are always somewhere in the crowd,” he said. “They were fixated upon Jesus although they didn’t think they needed Jesus.”
The bishop added, “Their motives are always suspect. Their criticism is always spoken against him. They have nothing to learn from the Master! But, the fact of the matter is they are mixed in the crowd, too. He’s giving them a shot at salvation, too.”
Bishop O’Connell then commissioned the men, asking them, “To which of these groups do you belong? Are you among those who need Jesus or those who prefer to stand on the outside and watch and not get involved?”
At the close of Mass the bishop observed the many fathers who brought their sons to the rally.
“Sons, love your dads,” he then said. “They’re such a priceless gift to you. And fathers, love your sons. They are a part of you.”
Voices of Experience
Miller, who is the director of Major League Baseball’s Urban Youth Academy, a youth baseball academy located in Compton, Calif., grew up in a Baptist home where he was forced to go to church.
At about age 16 he started going to the nearby Calvary chapel instead. At this church he gave his heart to Christ through an altar call one Sunday, and he kept going up to the altar and giving his heart to Christ Sunday after Sunday, but kept thinking there must be something more.
“I really meant it,” he said. “I felt I had to give more. That’s one reason I became Catholic. I wanted to receive Christ fully every Sunday.”
Then he met his wife, Kelly, who was also Catholic, and he spent a few years trying to convert her, but he was the one who wound up converting. “We have the Eucharist and we act like we have nothing. We’re like spoiled kids,” he said.
Then he explained the importance of Confession. “I had done things I had hoped God forgave me for,” he said as he began to cry. “God had mercy on me. I’ll never forget what God does for me when I go to Confession. I knew for the first time that I was forgiven.”
He continued, “We’ve got to wake up. You’re in the true Church. Now you have to act like it. We receive the Eucharist but then we don’t become the Eucharist to other people. God wants you to just commit. He wants you. He’s been looking for you. ”
Patrick Madrid, unlike Miller, is a cradle Catholic. He has conducted more than 1,000 seminars and has written 16 books on Scripture, Church history, apologetics and evangelization, and is a father of 11. But he did have a crisis of faith in his mid-20s which caused him to quit his job, he said. “I just needed to see what God had in store for me.”
The following Monday he got a call from his friend, Karl Keating, who invited Madrid to join him in starting a new apostolate called Catholic Answers. Through this job Madrid said he was able to witness to many people. He told a few stories about how his simple, humble but unwavering professions of faith, and those of his wife Nancy, have either converted people or led them to end certain habits like using contraceptives.
“It’s the simple, quiet things that do the good that needs to be done,” he said. “And we have to be willing to suffer for the truth. We have a culture to rescue, holiness to strive for, but we’ll never do that until we turn away from childish things.
With his experience as a Fox News commentator, Father Morris offered his perspective on America’s crisis of culture. “The two sides are not Democrat and Republican, Christian and non-Christian,” he said. “It’s a fight between those who want to abolish the name and voice of God from your mind and from the public forum, and on the other hand those who want God to be in society and in your heart.”
He demonstrated the decline of morality over the past 50 years, citing a study that said the main discipline problems in schools in 1948 were talking out of line and chewing gum; and the main problems in 1998 were drug abuse, alcohol and pregnancy. “Where is the battle being fought right now?” he questioned. “We could all give examples. Whether it’s an atheistic agenda, confusion of separation between church and state…they’re all jut parts of a bigger battle.”
“Out of every instance of suffering and evil in your life, God says to us ‘I promise you that I will bring out from it a greater good… if you let me’,” Father Morris said. “The devil is able to sow his lies into our soul. In moments of weakness, he tells you you’re nothing and because you’re weak you’re going to believe him. If the father of lies is able to sow those lies, then the Holy Spirit, the God of power and might, is able to sow grace – the invisible and intangible gift – and unglue those lies sown by the devil.”
During the conference, Dan Rossi of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, was presented with the Champion of Faith Award. Rossi is the state deputy for the Knights of Columbus.
“We need each other,” he said upon receiving the award. “We need to support one another. It’s good to be able to talk to brothers in Christ to charge you. Knights of Columbus does that. All Christians have a serious obligation to evangelize. We do so more through actions than words.”
Bill Maher, board president of Catholic Men for Jesus Christ, pointed out that an exceptionally low percentage of the diocese’s Catholics go to Mass on Sundays, and the percentage of men is even lower.
“Men really need to see other men come together and express their faith,” said Father Joe Jakub, chaplain of Rider University and Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville. “They feel like an island in the world. It strengthens them to see other men live their faith and encourages them to go back out into the world to do the same.”
“Men don’t talk to each other much but we have so many of the same issues,” said Mike DiLonardo of St. Justin Parish, Toms River. “Talking is how we survive. I don’t know how guys survive without talking to each other. I’m so glad to be here with just a bunch of guys. We can be ourselves.”
“It’s in hard times like this when people find their faith,” said Anthony Innocenzi of St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish. “I think the men here are people who’ve been living in their faith and have been reignited. It’s everybody’s prayers. That’s why these men are here.”
“In a time in our American history when our rights as Americans have been called into question, this is really an opportunity for men to rally under the banner of faith,” said Kevin Coleman, also of St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish. “When our society has questioned us, we’re confirmed in faith once again, called to live out our faith. The strength to do that comes only from community.”[[In-content Ad]]