Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Apr
  • 10

Revitalizing spirit

Posted By April 10, 2014 | 1:04 pm | Lead Story #1

By Michael O’Connnell

WORCESTER – Tim Greene, 55, of Acushnet, had been to two other Catholic men’s conferences in Boston, but hadn’t tried out the annual conference in Worcester. This seemed like a good year to try it out, so he gathered up a small group and headed up Interstate-495.
“I hadn’t been to one in a long time. I figured it was high time,” Greene said with a laugh, sitting in the crowd at the 14th annual Worcester Diocesan Men’s Conference at the DCU Center on April 5. “It’s a renewal. You can get into a situation where once a week, you go (to church) on Sundays, it gets mechanical. I needed something where you get kicked up a bit – revitalize the spiritual side.”
Overall, more than 1,200 packed the downtown Worcester hall here on a chilly April Saturday. Like Greene, they came to revitalize their spiritual sides – to hear speakers, browse through the many vendor tables selling religious items, and connect with like-minded Catholic men. Some were veterans of the conference. Others were new to the tradition. And some came from far away.
Charles “Chuck” Hamilton, of Sacred Heart-St. Catherine of Sweden Parish in Worcester, said a man he met on Cursillo came in from Virginia.
“We just mentioned on Facebook about this men’s conference,” he said. “He flew up just for this.”
Peter Lando, a lawyer from Chelmsford, stopped in for his first Catholic men’s conference. Lando was a regular listener of a Catholic station on Sirius XM Radio, so he was familiar with one of the speakers, talk show host Gus Lloyd. That was enough to get Lando thinking about the benefits the conference would have for him.
“I think it’s the community that’s here,” Lando said. “It builds something within us – having so many men in one place. It helps you get closer to the faith. I want my children to see this is what their father thinks is important on a free day. I’m an attorney, and I don’t get many free days.”
One of the attractions of the event was a chance to shake hands with some of the magnetic speakers the conference draws. Bob Roy, a 58-year-old welder from Ashland, took his opportunity to buy a video from evangelist Steve Ray in the vendor area after Ray’s speech. After he purchased the video, he said his next stop was to chat with one of the other morning speakers, Father Francis “Rocky” Hoffman, about a point the priest made about the last rites.
Todd Becotte, 48, of Voluntown, Conn., said his father told him about the Worcester conference after hearing about it during a trip to the area. Why did he come?
“I would say to help me grow,” Becotte said. “Life can be so hard, and something like this can help you live your everyday life. So often you find that life is telling you you’re doing the wrong things. I try to live a virtuous life. What you hear from the speakers, you can take some of that with you.”
Although it was Becotte’s first trip to the Worcester conference, his family is no stranger to Catholic conferences in general. His wife and mother-in-law were at a Catholic women’s conference that same day in Uncasville, Conn.
“It’s nice that we’ll be able to talk about it all later – what you got out of that, what I got out of this,” he said.
Erick Morris, 44, a business intelligence technology architect from North Attleboro, said he first attended the Worcester conference two years ago with a group of 15. This year, he came back with a smaller group.
“I’m kind of an introspective guy. This is an opportunity to get some things recharged and hopefully take those forward in my everyday life,” Morris said. “I’ll try to share these things with family and friends. I’m inspired to do that here.”
Joseph Patchett, of Newburyport, has been to five Worcester conferences. He said he keeps coming back because likes the whole package.
“It’s the greatest,” he said, stepping away from a vendor table, preparing to re-enter the seating area for the afternoon speakers.
Former linebacker rises through nightmare to faith

By Michael O’Connell

WORCESTER – Kevin Reilly lived a dream, playing four years in the National Football League, starting with his hometown Philadelphia Eagles and finishing up with the New England Patriots.
Then he lived through a nightmare. Shortly after the former linebacker’s playing days ended, in 1976, Reilly was diagnosed with a rare cancer of the scar tissue, and doctors had to amputate his arm, shoulder and five ribs. Well-meaning counselors and everyday contacts tried to prepare him for all of the things he wouldn’t be able to do, and Reilly slipped into a depression.
“I fell really far,” he told an audience of about 1,200 at the Worcester Diocesan Men’s Conference.
“I wasn’t the average guy on the street. I fell really far from being a professional athlete who was really proud of his body, being in shape, now missing most of the left side of my body. I started having some really negative thoughts.”
The difference between Reilly and  some others in difficult health situations is that he rebounded from his depression, gathered his faith in God and surprised many people along with way. He not only embraced successful careers in business and in broadcasting, with the same hometown Eagles; he also has gone on to break 90 on the golf course twice – something he’d never done before, when he had two arms – and run five half-marathons.
“I’m 34 years out from the amputation,” he told the crowd, “and there are three things I can’t do: I cannot play the banjo, I cannot jump rope by myself and I cannot give the ‘number one sign’ to angry drivers on I-95.”
The Worcester Diocesan Men’s Conference, celebrating its 14th year, has made a tradition of scheduling speakers from the world of sports. NFL players, past and present, such as Joe Klecko and Kellen Clemens, along with retired NHL hockey referee Kerry Fraser and Tom Brady Sr., father of the current Patriot quarterback, all have galvanized male crowds with their tales of perseverance and faith.
But none of the speakers faced the kind of adversity Reilly did. Doctors gave him a 50-50 chance of living. The idea of doing simple things like tying a tie seemed insurmountable.
As he spoke to the Worcester crowd, Reilly showed physically how far he’d come from those dark days in the hospital. Without breaking from his story, he niftily untied and tied his yellow tie with his one hand. The crowd cheered.
Reilly’s talk was titled “Overcoming adversity with faith and persistence.” He described how he summoned his faith and he urged conference attendees to enlist God’s help in overcoming their own personal challenges.
“I say that to you because the human spirit is tougher than anything that can happen to it,” Reilly said. “And that human spirit for this crowd is the Holy Spirit. There’s a part of God in every one of us that’s special. He has given us more strength and more power than we would ever know. Why do we wait for a crisis to find out how tough we are, how deep we can go, how much we love and how many good things we’d like to do if we come out of this dilemma?”
Reilly challenged the men in the crowd to help others and stand up for their faith – essentially to “man up” in the face of adversity.
“I’ve heard some people say that Jesus was a sissy. He was not,” the former NFL player said. “He was a passionate rebel who took his Father’s word and never took a back step, no matter what the consequences are. Don’t be a sissy. Stand up for our morals. Don’t be silent. Silence is the same thing as telling a lie.
“Make sure we’re willing to stand tall like Jesus did,” he concluded. “And don’t take any back steps when somebody’s pushing us.”

Early Christians set example for modern day response

By Michael O’Connell
And Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – Gus Lloyd, Steve Ray and Father Francis J. Hoffman all know their way around a radio studio. Lloyd hosts a Catholic program on Sirius XM Radio; Ray, a well-known evangelist, frequently appears on Catholic radio and TV; and Father Hoffman is executive director of Relevant Radio.
Lloyd and Ray, the first two speakers on this year’s Worcester Diocesan Catholic Men’s Conference program, also share another common bond: a belief that the men in the crowd can succeed in a life of faith – if they follow a simple blueprint.
Kicking off the April 5 conference on the first floor of the DCU Center, Ray implored the crowd to follow the example set by the early Christians. He urged the men to stand up and resist what he called a slow but steady slippage of society back into the pagan ideals of the days of the Roman Empire.

“I’m thinking to myself, the whole Western world is going back into paganism in my lifetime,” Ray said, discussing how issues ranging from abortion to indecent content on radio and TV are eroding our culture. “I’m watching it happen.”
Ray said society tells Catholics – and, in particular, Catholic men – to keep their beliefs “under your hat.”
What Catholic men have to do, he said, is to proclaim their beliefs, talk about Jesus and stand up for the church’s ideals. He urged them to be “martyrs” in the face of adversity – like the early Christians were.
“We don’t need to reinvent the blueprint,” he said. “It’s already been done – how we change from a pagan culture. It’s already been done very successfully. All we have to do is pull that blueprint out and read it again and begin to practice it.”
Lloyd took a different approach. Calling himself a “revert” – a fallen-away Catholic who returned to the church and now evangelizes for a living – Lloyd urged men in the audience to take inspiration from their own lives to reignite their faith in Jesus.
Lloyd himself looks back at a scare he experienced early in his life, when his 2 1/2-year-old daughter nearly drowned.
“I told God right then and there, give me my daughter back, and take my life,” he said. “Now, let me tell you,” he added, “be careful when you make deals with God, because he will take you up on the deal.”
In his spiritual journey, Lloyd came up with a list of attributes people should display to successfully transform themselves into “magnetic Christians.” The attributes are chronicled in a book he sold at the conference. He went through some of them in his talk.
Attributes include positivity, enthusiasm, friendliness, confidence, humility, honesty, generosity and kindness. He closed with a plea for “encouragement.”
“We must be men of encouragement,” Lloyd told the crowd. “God has given us courage. I want you to be cheerleaders for people in your life and cheerleaders for Jesus. These little things are what’s going to build the kingdom up.”
Besides the line-up of speakers, attendees had the opportunity for confession at mid-day and Mass concelebrated by Bishop McManus at the end of the conference.
Father Hoffman said, in the conference’s pre-confession talk, that Pope Francis has not only taught about the importance of confession but has been seen making his own confession.
“No one’s ever seen the pope go to confession,” the executive director of Relevant Radio said. “To me that’s the most important thing Pope Francis has done in his entire pontificate, because it starts at the top.”
He told listeners they would be happy after making their confession, and that would last awhile.
“Where will we be in 40 days?” he asked. “Will we be as enthused?” He recalled how Moses returned to the Israelites after 40 days with God and found them worshipping a golden calf, forgetful of God. (Ex 24-32)
That’s why Catholics attend Mass each week, Father Hoffman said of the need for reminders. Frequent confession allows them to get more out of the Eucharist, he said.
“No matter what you’ve done, Jesus is on your side, because you’re his son,” he said. He said Jesus called Zacchaeus’ name with a love unfamiliar to the despised man (Lk 19:1-10) and did not condemn the woman caught in adultery.
Father Hoffman told of being asked to visit a hospitalized man who thought it his fault that he needed a liver and considered himself unworthy. He’d been baptized but hadn’t attended church. Father Hoffman heard his confession and gave him Communion, which he received piously. He told the man he was in God’s hands.
“What good hands those are,” the man responded with faith, peace and conviction. Within 20 minutes he’d been transformed. That’s what the grace of the sacraments does, Father Hoffman said.
He led an examination of conscience and encouraged listeners to go to confession monthly, remembering what happened to the Israelites.
At the Mass, Bishop McManus preached about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.     “Untie him and let him go free,” Jesus told onlookers.
“Faith is the key to true freedom – freedom to love God with everything we have,” to stand up for what is true, right and beautiful, the bishop said.
Even when Christians die physically, they can live with Christ forever, he said, asking whether anything can be more hopeful.
“Do you believe this?” he asked, echoing Jesus’ words to Lazarus’ sister Martha. He answered with another biblical character’s response to Jesus: “Yes Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Christopher West on Theology of  Body

By Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – The popular belief that the spirit is good and the body is bad was countered in a talk about sexuality Saturday.
Christopher West, a leading educator in Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, a way of explaining the faith, spoke Saturday at the Men’s Conference and later at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish.
We are in need of “sexual redemption,” he told the men. The two words aren’t usually put together, he said. People equate redemption with religion but often divorce sexuality from religion.
Mr. West illustrated what he meant by sexual redemption with a story from C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce.” In the story, to enter heaven, humans had to relinquish their vices. One man didn’t want the angel to kill the “lizard of lust” on his shoulder. Once he agreed, he was resurrected and the lizard was transformed into a white stallion which helped him in the climb up.
Sexual redemption does not mean human desires get suffocated; they get resurrected, Mr. West said.
The lizard (or vice) becomes the stallion (or eros – an upward impulse toward everything good, true and beautiful). Blessed John Paul II, he said, defines eros as the desire in us that seeks God. But because of sin, this erotic longing became the base desire we commonly associate with the term.
Mr. West said most Christians were fed, what he calls the “starvation diet,” which says: “Your desires are bad, but follow all these rules and you’ll be a good, upstanding Christian citizen.”
One handles these desires by being a stoic, who represses desires that will eventually explode; an addict, who overindulges, or a mystic, who is learning to open that desire to God, he said. He said the addict is closer to the mystic than the stoic is, because he feels the desire, and that’s the first step.
The only way to satisfy eros – the yearning for the Infinite – is to have access to the Infinite which we get through Christ’s Incarnation and ongoing presence in the Eucharist, he said.
He spoke further about God’s interaction with human beings by looking at Scripture.
In Genesis God calls Adam and Eve to become one flesh. Throughout the Old Testament God speaks of his love for his people as a husband’s love for his bride. In Revelation, Christ and the Church marry.
Mr. West said Blessed John Paul II said Eph. 5:31-32 sums up the Bible: “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.”
Christ left his Father in Heaven and the home of his Mother on earth to give up his body for his bride, Mr. West said. Christians become one flesh with him in the Eucharist.         He explained how human marriage points to this spiritual reality.
Displaying a paper, he imagined it was an icon of Adam and Eve naked without shame.
“It’s nakedness that reveals God’s design,” he said. Men and women are made for holy communion so powerful it brings new life. This is the image of God, who is a communion of life-giving love. There’s no shame in loving as God loves.
But Adam and Eve sinned, and shame and clothing entered the picture, he said, crumpling the paper. The couple feared being used and eros was separated from agape.
Two 20th-century men pulled this icon from the trash, Mr. West said. He said Hugh Hefner left it crumpled, starting Playboy Magazine in what he said was a response to the hypocrisy of Puritanism and a lack of affection shown him as a child. But he said he never found the love he sought, despite countless lovers.
Those fed a “starvation diet” sought Hefner’s offerings to feed their hunger, and now many are addicted to internet pornography, Mr. West said. He suggested combating lust by standing in the shape of a cross and telling Christ to kill the “lizard.”
“Right on the other side of that crucifixion is resurrection,” he said.
Mr. West told how Pope John Paul II said the icon mustn’t be thrown away and uncrumpled it, offering the Theology of the Body.
Listeners were encouraged to live and share this by signing up for The Cor Project, through which they’ll receive monthly Christopher West audio downloads and the license to share them, question and answer webinars, and other resources.