Approximately 1,500 men heard a call to profound conversion at the May 7 Rocky Mountain Catholic Men's Conference. The World Arena in Colorado Springs hosted the event, which featured Father Benedict Groeschel, Fr. Larry Richards, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, and Patrick Madrid.
Stages of the spiritual life
Fr. Benedict Groeschel, from the Franciscan Friars of the renewal, discussed spiritual growth. The 78-year-old priest spoke with contemplative wisdom and dry wit, as he explained its basic pattern: first, turning from sin, then trusting in God, and finally living in his presence.
“Don't say that you trust God completely – only a saint does that,” the Franciscan priest said. “We all trust a bit, and send some requests: 'Please, can we pay off our mortgage!'”
But this piecemeal trust in God must grow up. “There comes a point of spiritual maturity – when a person puts everything, in trust, in God,” he explained. “Mature faith accepts the mysteries of God.
Fr. Groeschel remembered the religious sisters he knew as a child, who showed him the spiritual life's goal: “to live in the presence of God,” finding peace and strength in any situation.
One of those sisters cared for an elderly woman whose appearance frightened the future priest when he was an eight-year-old boy. But the sister was perfectly at peace.
“How come 'the witch' didn't bother Sister Teresa?” he recalled wondering, as he knelt in prayer.
As he was praying for an answer to his question, an surprising inspiration hit the young boy – a thought that would lead him to discover the sister's source of peace for himself.
“Something said: 'Be a priest.'” Fr. Groeschel placed his own trust in God, and has now followed that call for 50 years.
A wake-up call for 'spiritual wimps'
Fr. Larry Richards, who heads the Reason For Our Hope Foundation and published “Be A Man!: Becoming the Man God Created You to Be” in 2009, followed Fr. Groeschel.
In a talk intended to help men prepare for confession, Fr. Richards discussed their spiritual responsibilities and common failings.
“Men have become spiritual wimps,” he said. “We sit there and we say stuff like, 'Oh, women are more spiritual.' Gentlemen, that's garbage! Muslim men are willing to pray publicly in front of everybody!”
“God's always speaking to you,” he asserted. “What's the problem? You're not listening!” He ridiculed the notion that men should “try” to make time for daily prayer, joking that no one would “try” to eat or go to work every day.
Fr. Richards went on to discuss the fundamentals of confession.
“Some of you have never made a good confession, because you've been afraid,” he said. The deliberate omission of serious sins, he explained, results in an invalid confession. He compared sin to cancer, and
said confession – like chemotherapy – must “get rid of it all.”
Fr. Richards drove home his points about sin's seriousness, but emphasized that the love of God should be the main reason to repent.
“If the only reason you follow Jesus is so you don't go to hell, who do you love? Yourself.” he observed.
“You want to go to heaven, so that you can be with the one you love more than anybody.”
Sin's social reality
The hour-long lines for confession during lunch indicated that Fr. Richards struck a nerve. Afterward, Fr. Mitch Pacwa took the stage to give a more analytical reflection on the subject of sin, drawing on history and Biblical scholarship.
Fr. Pacwa, a Jesuit priest and host of EWTN Live, observed that ancient cultures had a sense of sin's universality and seriousness.
But today, this acknowledgment of original sin becomes an excuse for doing wrong. Meanwhile, in the Church, “there's very poor catechesis on sin.”
Fr. Pacwa told a story from the life of Bl. John Paul II to illustrate the point. A group of bishops, he recalled, had gone to meet with the Pope as all bishops must every five years.
“One of the bishops, from out east, was at the luncheon that they always have with the Pope – telling him, 'Holy Father, you have to realize that many of our young people in America do not even know that having sex before marriage is the sin of fornication! They don't even know that it's a mortal sin!'”
“And the Pope said back: 'For the young people who do not know, this is not their fault. But for the bishop who does not tell them this is sin – this is his fault!”
Fr. Pacwa told the men that they, too, had a responsibility to call sin by its proper name, first in their personal lives and then in the world.
“We are going to be a great help to our society, by the way we call people to repentance and forgiveness,” he promised.
Putting away 'childish things'
This message of outreach continued in a presentation by the lay apologist Patrick Madrid. The former vice president of Catholic Answers and current publisher of Envoy magazine took St. Paul's discussion of “putting away childish things” as his theme for addressing the men's conference.
“We are all Catholic men, called by the Lord,” he reflected. “To be soldiers, to be fathers and husbands. Boys can't accomplish those missions. Men have to do that.”
He described how his own faith matured through different stages. As a five-year-old child, he assumed every family was Catholic. During adolescence, he was peppered with questions by an anti-Catholic girlfriend's father. As a musician in local rock bands, he watched his generation succumb to a reckless lifestyle.
Madrid said these experiences made him grow in appreciation and knowledge of his faith, so that he could transmit it to others. He told the story of encountering a woman who said she “hated the Catholic Church,” which she had left after having an abortion as a teenager.
“I'm sitting there wondering, what in the world can I possibly say to this lady?” he explained. “The only thing I could think of to say was, 'You need to go to confession.'” The woman replied that it was unthinkable.
“I said, 'Well, just know that the door is open if you ever want to go' … I didn't know what else to do.”
“Six or seven weeks later, I got an email from her,” Madrid continued. “She said: 'Dear Patrick, you were right, I needed to go to confession.'”
“She came back to the Catholic Church,” Madrid concluded. “All I really needed to do was keep my mouth closed. And when the moment came, God would provide the words that needed to be said.”
The 'privileged place' of the Eucharist
After a day of talks that focused heavily on confession and repentance, Colorado Springs Bishop Michael J. Sheridan celebrated the closing Mass. He offered a homily on the Eucharist as the center of Christian life.
“What we are doing now, what you do every Sunday – this is the heart of what it means to be a Catholic,” he explained.
“This is the privileged place where we recognize Jesus, in the breaking of the bread,” he taught. “Never, ever miss Sunday Mass.”