Men’s Conference helpful for living the faith
By Mike O’Connell
WORCESTER – On the lacrosse field, Westborough High School student Nathaniel Ricardi, 17, needs to navigate his way through all kinds of mayhem, dodging stick checks and wayward shots. Off the field, he deals with other, more subtle kinds of challenges.
“It’s a constant struggle,” Ricardi said. “There’s so much out there to steer you away from being Catholic. It’s tough to stick with it.”
But Ricardi perseveres. He goes to church every Sunday, does charity work at local food outlets and attends occasional youth events as far away as Steubenville, Ohio. And on Saturday, March 12, he joined two brothers and a friend for a day of fellowship at the 16th Annual Worcester Diocesan Catholic Men’s Conference.
Many of the other nearly 1,000 attendees at Worcester’s DCU Center talked about their own challenges being a Catholic and their efforts to contribute to the faith.
Edwin Aldarondo, 45, of New Bedford, said he believes a lack of commitment among men is hampering the Catholic cause.
“It’s been a challenge for us the way things are nowadays – especially for men,” he said. “Women are more apt to go to church. Us men, we have to pick it up. Plus, you’re seeing more freedoms (in society), where people are struggling to understand the difference between right and wrong. We have to change that culture, and the men have to take the lead.”
Aldarondo said he has tried to do his part by attending conferences like the one in Worcester and serving as a youth coordinator at his local parish.
“We need to instill the importance of being part of the church,” he said. “If we are going to change things, it has to start with the young people.”
Some in the audience on this pleasant March day said they felt society is discouraging people from expressing their love for the Catholic faith.
“Everything is geared toward being politically correct – and being a Catholic is something people don’t want to talk about,” said Unile Guido, 41, of Westerly, R.I.
“It’s more challenging these days because of all the changes in the church,” added Rob Chesties, 72, of Oxford. “You’ve got the government taking away our freedom of religion. A lot of times, it’s like religion doesn’t exist in politics.”
But few in the audience seemed discouraged. A number of attendees seemed to draw inspiration from just being at the event with so many fellow Catholics.
“Something like this, where we can get together with like-minded men, gives us the energy to really commit to the faith,” said Steve Fiedler, 56, of Leominster. “Men need other men to inspire them, and events like this are great ways to do that.”
The 2017 Worcester Diocesan Men’s Conference will be held April 1 at Assumption College, according to Msgr. Thomas J. Sullivan, one of the founders of the conference. The conference has outgrown the DCU Center where they were limited to 1,000 men, he said. Confirmed speakers for next year include Shawn Carney, founder of 40 Days for Life; Chris Stewart and Tony Brandt from Casting Nets; Joe Dittmar, a 9-11 Twin Towers Survivor and Jeff Cavins, a convert and author of Catholic Bible Study.
Advice: Turn to the sacraments
By Mike O’Connell
WORCESTER – Kicking off this year’s Worcester Diocesan Catholic Men’s Conference, Msgr. Thomas J. Sullivan said he and the other conference planners hoped men in the audience would take what they learn and use it to engage more fully with the Church.
It’s our hope that every man will become more involved in
the church and more involved in Christ personally during this extraordinary day ahead,” Sullivan told the crowd of about 950 men.
Closing out the morning session, a pair of speakers related their own stories of engagement with the Church. Evangelist Mike Cumbie, from the Deep South, talked about his journey as a Protestant pastor to the Catholic faith. And Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers spoke about how penance restores and strengthens one’s relationship to God.
Cumbie, of Alabama, said he spent 23 years as a Protestant pastor but always felt he was missing “true worship.”
“I tell people it’s like taking a shower with your socks on — somethin’ didn’t feel right,” he said, delivering his talk in a rapid-fire, comedic style. “All this preaching in America seems to be rejecting God more and more. Instead of getting closer to God, we’re running away. So, I started looking for the truth.”
Cumbie said he started to look more closely at the Protestant faith and was discouraged to learn that there are an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 denominations, all with their own particular slant on the faith. Within those denominations, he identified five different “types” of churches – what he called “the lecture hall group,” “the evangelistic tent meeting,” “the psychiatric couch church,” “the TV set entertainers,” and “the possibility thinkers.”
“They’re all substitutes for worship,” he said. “Why do we need to substitute anything?”
True worship, he concluded, is based on the sacrament of the Eucharist. “What we had before, in the Old Testament, we have now: True worship,” Cumbie said.
Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, a best-selling author who hosts and co-hosts several EWTN TV programs, called to the men in the audience to turn away from sin and become the “men that God calls us to be.”
“The very first line in my book says ‘The Catholic man is an endangered species,’” he said, starting his talk. “Now why would I say that? Because unlike other endangered species, which can trace the cause of their extinction to something outside of themselves – overhunting, overfishing, pollution – we Catholic men are destroying ourselves by our own free choice.”
By choosing sins such as pornography and abortion, he said, we are hastening our own extinction.
“We are called to greatness,” the deacon said, “but instead we choose to be mediocre.”
God, he said, wants to absolve us for our sins, but “He can’t create life in us unless we want his life in us more than we want sin in our life.”
“Turn and live,” Deacon Harold told the crowd. “Men of God, let’s turn back to God and truly live and be the men that God calls us to be.”
Movies have the power to lift the soul
By Tanya Connor
“Hollywood is in trouble and it’s up to you to save it … because it’s up to you to save everything in this world,” Jim Morlino told men’s conference participants.
A husband and father of six who lives in Connecticut, he spent 30 years as an actor, musician and video producer, and in 2010 started Navis Pictures.
“We are exploring a new genre – children’s cinema,” with acting done by children who are not professionals, Mr. Morlino says on the website navispictures.com. “I believe a child doesn’t need to be taught how to put on a costume and pretend – it just comes naturally.” He writes about emphasizing the purpose of art – glorifying God.
Motion pictures have the power to lift up the soul or drag it down, and with power comes responsibility, he told conference-goers.
He talked about efforts to influence the industry in the U.S., with Catholics getting involved in the late-1920s and early-1930s. Jesuit Father Daniel Lord created moral guidelines that were applied to movies for a couple decades.
Those movies captured human experiences without vulgarity and indecency, Mr. Morlino said. In “It’s a Wonderful Life” George Bailey expresses rage without “a string of four-letter words.” He yells and grits his teeth, “then you see the effect it has on his family.” He realizes his error and asks for forgiveness.
Earlier, the movie showed he was in love – through a passionate kiss, not a “cut to the bedroom.” The kiss represents the “violence of our Lord’s love,” Mr. Morlino said, adding, “Our love for our wives can be all consuming.”
Now, a child can watch a movie rated PG-13 unattended, and find vulgarity, seduction, rape and violence, he said.
It is important to protect one’s own soul as well as children’s souls, he said, and recounted Scriptures.
“How do we usher in a new golden era?” he asked. He suggested previewing films before showing them to children, writing letters to the editor and donating to a “talented Catholic filmmaker,” the last suggestion eliciting laughter.
Fathers and children
Bob Kroll talked about a father’s effects on his children. He is a husband, father, salesman for Lighthouse Catholic Media and founder of “With All Your Heart,” an apostolate to help people move past hurts and toward forgiveness.
He told of having an alcoholic mother and a cruel father, of learning about “father-wounds” as an adult, and reconciling with his father. His parents attended a marriage retreat and now lead retreats for people in troubled marriages.
Mr. Kroll said he defines father-wounds as something a father says or does, or fails to do, that causes his child long-term pain, summed up in the word “abandonment.” This causes the child to feel toxic shame, as if “I am a mistake.” It makes the child want to hide, to protect himself or herself, but that keeps him or her from being free. God, the divine Father, formed human beings and has a future full of hope for them.
Mr. Kroll used examples of ways fathers can wound their children. A boy wonders, “Am I good enough for my dad?” and wants to help fix the car. But when he brings the wrong tool, his father calls him stupid. A girl appears in a pretty dress, wondering, “Daddy, am I worth fighting for? Am I beautiful?” Her father merely asks why she’s up so late.
Fathers are the first and most important men in girls’ lives; if girls don’t receive their father’s attention, their need for attention is bottomless, Mr. Kroll said. He said a girl, whether she’s 3 or 17, needs her father’s hugs and kisses, even if he’s uncomfortable with that.
Fathers can affirm their children, showing support and building self esteem, Mr. Kroll said.
He also encouraged fathers to affirm their children’s emotions, even if they’re illogical. For example, if your son fears there’s a monster in his closet, you can shine a flashlight in there to show him there isn’t, note that he probably heard the furnace, and invite him to wake you up if he feels afraid again, and promise you will protect him.
Mr. Kroll told listeners they may be holding bitterness against someone and should ask, “Do I want to be healed?”
If so, they need to forgive the person. They can seek a friend’s help for the forgiveness process or write a letter to their father, whether he’s alive or deceased.
He said he received help on a men’s retreat, through a Catholic family therapist and a priest in confession. He wrote to his father, telling how he felt, and his father apologized. He told his father God would bring a greater good out of what transpired. Now he says, “I love my dad.”
Bishop McManus celebrated the closing Mass where he preached about God’s mercy as illustrated in the day’s reading about the woman caught in adultery. He noted that Jesus said to the woman “I do not condemn you but, leave this place and sin no more.” The bishop said we must acknowledge our sins. No matter how serious they are, if we even have a hint of remorse, God will forgive us. But we too must hear the words of Jesus, “go your way and sin no more,” he said.
He said, “The greatest and most definitive act of mercy that God has shown his creation is sending his son Jesus into the world to save us from sin and death. And the greatest act of mercy Jesus did for us …. was when he went to the Cross for our salvation.”