LOUISVILLE – The goal for the day-long men’s conference was simple, at least on paper – to support and challenge one another to grow in faith and become beacons of light to the world.
Easier said – or written – than done.
Men from across the diocese gathered at St. Thomas Aquinas Middle and High School here for fellowship, reflection and prayer at the March 4 diocesan Men’s Conference sponsored by the Catholic Men’s Fellowship of the diocese. The theme was “Rise Up, O Men of God: Walk in Love and Mercy.”
The conference took a year’s hiatus in 2016 in an effort to come back stronger, with more organization and focus and to offer a conference around specific topics of interest to men in the diocese, organizers said. Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., concelebrated the closing Mass.
Keynote speakers were Jon Leonetti, a nationally known Catholic speaker, best-selling author and radio host, and Dr. Philip Mango, a former New York City police officer and now a licensed therapist, who spoke on healing from an addiction to Internet pornography. There were also three break-out sessions led by diocesan deacons.
Deacon Randy Smith of Massillon St. Joseph Parish presented “Why have my grown children left the Church and how can I get them back?”
Deacon Greg Wood of Canton St. Peter Parish, addressed “Did Jesus consider himself to be God? An answer for non-believers.”
Deacon Greg Laubacher, who serves North Canton St. Paul Parish, spoke to “Who are you? A man’s search for identity in Christ.”
“We have two mission statements with the Catholic Men’s Fellowship,” said Frank Greiner, president, and a member of Maximo St. Joseph Parish.
“The one mission is to put on this conference. The other is to start small men’s groups throughout the diocese to foster fellowship. Right now we have 25 small men’s groups [in] the diocese.”
Attendees and the planning team included men from a variety of organizations across the diocese including the Catholic Men’s Fellowship, Knights of Columbus and various Bible studies and men’s groups.
In his keynoter, Leonetti spoke on lasting fulfillment in Jesus Christ, addressing the question: “Who is God and why does He matter?”
“The reason the whole world exists is the sheer result of God’s love,” Leonetti said. “It’s why you and I are here. Do you want proof of that? Take your next breath. It wouldn’t happen if God didn’t will it, if God didn’t love you.
“He wills and sets everything into motion, giving Himself to us as the one answer that we have to find and take into our lives. He’s the only one who can give us what we are looking for, that greatest gift of all, which is Himself.”
“And all of that sounds good – we can theorize that to death – but at the end of the day it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t cooperate with it,” Leonetti continued. “That’s what grace is. God wants us to actually participate in that love.”
“If we want to come after Him, and love Him and be His disciples,” Leonetti continued, then “we need to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him. Don’t come at me. I didn’t say it. He did.
“We need to die to ourselves and follow Him. I wish there was another way. I really do. Because this way of death isn’t comfortable to me. Jesus says, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ How has He loved us? Right here, on a cross. The most excruciating form of execution,” he said, gesturing as if he were on a cross. “Why would He go there?”
Our time here on Earth, Leonetti continued, is really about learning how to die.
“What we participate in, now as disciples, is really about letting go,” Leonetti said. “Letting go of what? Ego, selfishness, greed. All the things that inevitably make us miserable. That what’s Jesus came to save us from. He saved us from ourselves by showing us the meaning of life and how to die to ourselves.
“As men, that’s what we have to be – men of the cross. Nothing about Christianity is comfortable. And if it is, we’re doing it wrong. Look to the cross, look to the instructions God gives us…. So few of us are willing to say yes to that.”
“In all of this rich Catholic faith that we have, we will find who we are supposed to be,” Leonetti added, “but it’s not just going to happen with one or two talks or a daylong conference. It’s going to happen if we are willing – no matter how young or how old – to be committed to it. And it starts here first.”