‘Men of life’ must be men of joy, mercy, conference speaker says

Categories: Around the Diocese

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Dan Kremers, from St. Martin Parish in St. Martin, right, and his brother Dino Kremers, from Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Rockville, prayed the rosary with other men gathered in the lower church after lunch.


The Visitor

In the midst of a “culture of death” and a throwaway society, Catholic men can help to build a culture of life and strengthen their families by getting to know God better as a God of joy and mercy, Msgr. James Shea told approximately 500 men gathered at St. John’s University in Collegeville.

“Knowing God as a God of life means also knowing God as a God of joy,” said Msgr. Shea, president of the University of Mary in Bismarck and keynote speaker at the 18th annual Catholic Men’s Conference Feb. 21.

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Msgr. James Shea, president of the University of Mary in Bismarck, presented the morning keynote sessions.

“All throughout the teaching of the Catholic faith through the ages, joy and God go together,” he said. “Pope Francis has been emphasizing this again and again — in his apostolic exhortation, ‘The Gospel of Joy,’ in his homilies, in his audiences, in interviews.”

Msgr. Shea challenged his audience: “Do you want to be a man of joy, which is necessary to be a man of life? Do you want to assist others in a meaningful way by the life you live? Do you really want to be there for your wives, your children, your friends and your community? Then, we have to let go of ourselves,” using our God-given talents and gifts to serve others in love.

The daylong gathering, with its theme “Men of Life,” included workshops on topics ranging from how to be better husbands and fathers to a session on prayer and a presentation from Bishop Donald Kettler on this fall’s synod on the family in Rome.

There was also a track for Spanish speakers, opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation and praying the rosary, and Mass with the bishop. And, for the first time, a conference Twitter feed was created for participants to share photos and observations (#stcmen15).

‘Simple act of love’

In two morning talks, Msgr. Shea shared insights about joy and mercy and how men could integrate them into their lives, including during this Lenten season. Among his observations and reflections:

  • “The first step toward joy is to find a way to perform a simple act of love for someone else.”
  • “Mercy is divine love poured out on human misery. … We have to allow ourselves to be patients in the field hospital of the church, receiving healing and mercy. God never gets tired of offering us that mercy.”
  • “God does not love us in spite of our weaknesses; he loves us because of them. Our weaknesses open our lives to a dependence on God. Our weaknesses are a meeting point where he is best able to come and assist us.”
  • A devotion to Mary as Untier (Undoer) of Knots, a favorite of Pope Francis, can help us experience God’s mercy. Sin, self-concern, broken relationships, old resentments and grudges — “these things tie knots in our hearts that choke out grace. … Mary can help take those knots out.”
  • “Lent is about doing death to the deadly — about putting to death anything in us which blocks God’s grace and mercy and movement in life. … That can be done through fasting and penance. It can be done through experiences of beauty and joy and love, too.”

During his homily at the conference’s closing Mass, Bishop Kettler talked about Lent as a time for Christians to listen attentively for what God is asking us to do. It’s a time, he said, “to take stock of anything in our lives that is preventing us from following Jesus’ example of doing the Father’s will.”

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Bishop Donald Kettler celebrated the Mass to close the conference. Concelebrating were Father Tom Knoblach, left, and Father Scott Pogatchnik.


The bishop encouraged the men to spend more time this Lent in prayer and fasting, to participate in the sacrament of reconciliation, change a bad habit in their lives or forgive someone “who is hard to forgive.”

Renew and refocus

Richard Cash of St. John Parish in Foley said this was his 10th or 11th conference, and it gives him an opportunity to renew his faith and refocus on priorities. The husband and father of nine children ages 3 to 19 said he usually learns something that helps him as a husband or father.

“I’ve been told before that I am the image of God, the Father to my children,” he said. “Those are the two areas of my life that are most lacking as a father: joy and mercy. To hear that talk, it was as if God brought me here and said, ‘You need to listen and work on this.’”

Jonathan Rydberg, a sophomore at St. Cloud State University, said Msgr. Shea’s reference to Mary as the untier of knots “really hit home for me.”

“I’ve never really connected with Mary that much in any special way. I feel like this might be an opportunity,” he said.

Rydberg, who lives at the Marmion House on the SCSU campus where he is discerning God’s call in his life, said he was attending his fifth men’s conference because he loves the camaraderie he experiences.

“If [the gatherings] weren’t happening, there would be such a void,” he said. “For me, brotherhood is a huge thing. … Especially here, I can learn each year from the older guys.”

Alex Lopez also comes for the camaraderie. A member of St. Joseph Parish in Waite Park, he attended the conference’s Spanish track, which included a morning talk about the importance of family values.

While in biblical times, men would take responsibility for their families’ spiritual lives, “today men are more reluctant to do that,” he said, often leaving it to women to nurture faith and family life.

“We are being encouraged today to focus more of our time and attention to provide a religious base for our whole family,” said Lopez, who was attending his third men’s conference. “I have four grandkids, so I try to instill in them our culture and traditions and then also try to keep the family together.”

Seeking answers

For many men, the men’s conference is a traditional way to start Lent and attendance was strong once again this year, said Chris Codden, director of the diocesan Office of Marriage and Family, which co-sponsored the gathering with the diocesan Office of Multicultural Ministries.

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Benedictine Father Michael Naughton hears confessions in the lower level of the Abbey Church. About 20 priests were on hand for confessions during the conference.

Over the years, Codden has observed the group getting younger. In many cases, teens and young adults are being invited to attend with their fathers, grandfathers or brothers.

“We’re all struggling with where the culture is going, and I think they are seeking answers for how to live their lives in a world that often goes off in directions you don’t think it should being going,” she said. “How do we teach our kids? How do we teach our young adults? I think that’s why there’s been more fathers bringing sons.”

And the conference’s impact, she believes, goes far beyond the day itself and the Lenten season.

“After having it so many years, I see these men at more places than just the men’s conference,” she said. “I see them at other functions that we’ve had, whether it’s Fortnight for Freedom, Vespers for Life or Honoring Marriage Day. We’re starting to see that continuity. And, where else do men get this? That’s why it’s a priority for us.”