In a society plagued by moral relativism, secularism, the destruction of the family, “cancel culture,” and attacks on religious freedom, speakers at the Diocese’s annual Men’s Conference armed attendees with the spiritual tools necessary to defend the faith and defeat the Evil One.
The March 20 conference was a virtual event, featuring six presenters, praise and worship music, and a Holy Hour of Adoration streamed from both the Diocesan Center and from the presenters’ individual locations.
The day began with Dr. William Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, who presented on “The Catholic Advantage” – the benefits we have as Catholics as we pursue health, happiness and heaven, and also the title of one of his books.
Donohue wrote the book out of his curiosity to understand why people of faith seem to have better mental and physical health than secularists – particularly intellectuals and Hollywood celebrities.
“I looked at the three Hs – health, happiness and heaven – and I determined that if you follow the three Bs – beliefs, boundaries and bonds – you’re going to have a better chance of reaching the three Hs,” Donohue said, citing numerous studies to support his claims.
Addressing the first B – beliefs – he remarked: “People who pray live longer and have better mental health than people who don’t pray at all…. This is also true for intercessory prayer. There have been a number of double-blind studies of people who suffer from a malady. The people being prayed for by strangers who don’t know them actually do better in their physical health.”
On the subject of boundaries, Donohue pointed to the inverse relationship between religion and problems that plague society.
“Who are the people who are the most likely to be involved in drugs and alcohol in our society? The people who have no faith at all. Who are the people who are least likely to be burdened with drug and alcohol problems? People of faith,” Donohue said.
The same applies to incidences of criminal behavior and promiscuity, he said, “because Catholics understand what the value of self-denial is. God gave us brakes, and if you don’t tap them, you’re going to wind up with problems.”
Bonds are also critical to achieving health, happiness and heaven, Donohue offered. He pointed to recent studies of physical and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic which reveal that people who have strong bonds with others fare better than those who don’t.
“Are you solidified with another person, or a group of people? Is the family intact? What is your network of friends and family? …. Take a look at the indices of mental health, loneliness, depression, suicide. Who are the people most likely to suffer from them? The religious people? No. The secularists? Yes,” he said.
“When people go to church on Sunday, we go there to pray and for the Eucharist. But we also get to meet people and to socialize. That kind of bonding is what counts…. It is easier for us as people of faith, especially us as Catholics. That’s why I call it the Catholic advantage,” Donohue said.
Among the studies Donohue referenced in his presentation was one by Dr. Harold Koenig, which summarized that there is a great deal of research indicating religion’s impact on better coping, mental health and physical health.
“Is it true that all Catholics are equally likely to live longer, to be happier, have better mental health, physical health? Is it likely that you won’t be involved in drugs and alcohol and promiscuous sex? It’s practicing Catholics,” Donohue pointed out. Those who no longer practice, or who come to Mass only at Easter and Christmas are not the ones Koenig and others reference in their studies, he pointed out.
“If you’re going to live the faith seriously, if you’re going to be a serious Catholic, you will have a better chance of being happy,” Donohue said. “You will have a better chance of mental and physical health.”
A Message of Encouragement
Taking the podium in front of a handful of men gathered at the Diocesan Center in Harrisburg, Bishop Ronald Gainer offered a message of affirmation and encouragement found in 1 Peter, in his presentation, “The Genuineness of Your Faith: Reflections on 1 Peter.”
The letter, addressed to Christians in Asia Minor at the time of its writing, is one of encouragement that Catholics need today, especially given the past year, Bishop Gainer said.
“The original recipients of this epistle had come to faith in Christ through baptism. So have we. In the words of 1 Peter 1:3, they were given a new birth to the living hope through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. So were we. This being born anew removed them from their former behaviors and values. …. This new birth made the Christians unpopular; objects of suspicion, ridicule, hostilities in their ambient pagan culture. Does that sound familiar to our experience?” the bishop asked.
Even as life becomes agonizing, 1 Peter “tells us to keep our eyes focused on the prize, on the greatest good that awaits us, despite the trials that we must undergo,” Bishop Gainer said. “This letter of encouragement is an exhortation to Christians to trust that by God’s grace, we can resist anything that comes our way, and that in the end, a glorious and imperishable reward – a prize – of unending life with God awaits those who persevere in faith and hope.”
Just as the Christians of the time faced mockery, rejection and hostility, so do those in Africa, India, the Middle East and China today, the bishop remarked. “Increasingly, our own society has no sympathy for our faith and for our moral values. Freedom of religion has been attacked, restricted, even denied. Rather than circle the wagons and disengage, 1 Peter urges us to be good citizens, but Christians first, by participating in the conversion of society while persevering and strengthen our loyalty to Christ and to one another in the Church.”
“1 Peter not only frames our contemporary problems in maintaining our Christian commitment in a hostile society, but also catechizes us on how to do it,” he said. “We need to maintain an awareness of the Gospel’s profound vision of human destiny and the beauty of the believing community, the Church. We must hold fast to the unshakable, living hope that is ours because of the Risen Jesus Christ. Whenever we do suffer in any way for our faith, we become an icon of Christ before the world and an affirmation of the life that Christ alone has given us.”
Men of Mary
Speakers throughout the balance of the conference offered concrete tools to the 600 men registered for the event. These tools included the Holy Eucharist, the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, among others.
Father Frederick Miller, STD, of the Archdiocese of Newark, focused on the intercession of Mary in his presentation, “Men of Mary.”
An author, frequent presenter and former Executive Director of the World Apostolate of Fatima, Father Miller opened his presentation by reading the passage of the Wedding Feast at Cana from John’s Gospel, where Jesus performs his first miracle.
When Mary approaches Jesus about the wine having run out, He addresses her as “woman” – a reference to Mary as the New Eve, Father Miller remarked. “In calling His Mother ‘woman,’ Jesus tells us that Mary is also His partner and His closest associate in the work of redemption,” he said.
The passage “shows us Mary beginning her great work of intercession, a work she continues at this moment from her place in heaven,” Father Miller said. “Because Mary is the Mother of Jesus, who is God, and because she is the mother of all His disciples, Mary has the right to bring all human needs into the radius of Jesus’ Messianic power. She brought Him the needs of the young bride and groom. She brought Him the needs of the disciples, who needed the gift of faith.
“What Mary began at Cana – her intercession – she continues in our lives,” Father Miller remarked. “We all have human needs; we all have spiritual needs. Jesus wants us to go to her and place our needs in her hands, so that she might bring them to Him and He might reveal His power in our lives. We may have financial problems, problems with relationships in the family. Bring those needs to Mary. She’ll bring the needs, in the most powerful way, to Jesus.”
The Big Picture in Spiritual Warfare
Father John Szada, Diocesan exorcist, addressed the devil’s attacks on humanity and the role we play in spiritual warfare in his presentation.
“The problem that we have in the world today is the fact that so many people are focusing in on the little details because they don’t believe there actually is a bigger picture. It’s all simply a matter of ‘my opinion,’ ‘where I am at this moment,’ ‘what I think and what I want,’” he said. “There is no bigger reality, no bigger truth, no bigger picture; it’s all simply a matter of ‘where I am and my own subjective perspective.’”
It’s a dangerous attitude, Father Szada cautioned, because it ignores God and allows Satan to step in.
“Our God is a God who works in and through human history. He’s not something out there somewhere. He works in human history, through all eternity. God knows all of history; Satan does not,” he said. “God works in human history, and you can almost bet that since Satan knows that’s the way God works, he’s going to try to do exactly the same thing. But all he can do is plant certain seeds and do things in certain ways to see how they pan out and how things play out.”
He cautioned against being cut off from the sacraments and losing a sense of community. Without them, we become easily manipulated and unable to withstand the attacks from the Evil One, he said.
“People who are confused and frightened are easily controlled,” Father Szada said. “Satan is about power; Satan is about control.”
He encouraged conference attendees to read the book “Immortal Combat” by Father Dwight Longenecker, which points to the toxic culture and how to overcome it with a return to the sacraments, a simplicity of life, steadfastness and sacrifice, among others.
“If we don’t pay attention to that bigger picture out there, the little picture down here is going to get worse and worse – and in fact, that’s exactly what is happening,” Father Szada said.
Average Joe with an Extraordinary Job
In an insightful examination of the life of St. Joseph, Anthony Devlin of St. Joseph Parish in Mechanicsburg held up Jesus’s foster father as a man that all men can easily emulate.
“My analytic conclusion is that St. Joseph was a guy, not especially different from you or me,” said Devlin, an Army investigator and analyst.
“He was a guy who did his best for his family and his God, and that gives me hope, because if you want me to be a great saint, well I’ll try. But if you want me to be a man who loves his wife and that little boy above all things, I can do that,” Devlin said. “If you want me to get up in the middle of the night to walk to Egypt to keep them safe, I can do that too. And if you want me to give up my plans for a day off because that little boy looks up and asks me to teach him how to build a birdhouse, I can do that. If you want me to give up my plans for a career…to spend my life instead teaching that young man to be a good man and to decrease so that he may increase – that one’s tough, but I can do that.”
Devlin argued that St. Joseph is the patron of the Church because he was a father who loved his family unconditionally. “From there, now I can see why St. Joseph is the Terror of the Demons, and it’s not because of his cool ninja skills or because he carries an ax. It’s because when you love unconditionally, Satan can’t touch that,” he said.
St. Joseph shows us how to do the will of God, even when we don’t understand it, Devlin said.
“That gives me hope. I can do that,” he said.
Four Graces to Defend the Faith
The Men’s Conference concluded with a presentation from Robert Spitzer, SJ, on “Four Graces to Defend the Faith”: the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Magisterial teaching of the Church, and the Communion of Saints.
The Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, is the food that literally feeds us, and is necessary in our fight to defend the faith, said Father Spitzer, President of the Magis Center, which provides comprehensive information to restore virtue, the dignity of the human person, and belief in God and the Real Presence of Jesus.
“The Eucharist is the instrument through which spiritual healing occurs. If you come to Mass and you’ve been agitated by something that’s going on or somebody is attacking you, and you receive the Holy Eucharist in a very pious way, you get a kind of peace beyond all understanding that transforms you,” Father Spitzer remarked.
“The devil hates the Holy Eucharist because it is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ,” he said. “When we receive it, it’s almost like a shield that protects us and helps us.”
Speaking on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he spoke of its graces of spiritual healing, absolution from mortal sin, and of breaking the grip of Satan. “What a benefit this is for our salvation, and to work for the Kingdom of God against the Evil Spirit. It is indispensable,” Father Spitzer said.
The third grace on which he presented was the teaching office of the Catholic Church, which is necessary for believers to know the truth about how to interpret Scripture.
“If I didn’t have Jesus Christ in my life and I didn’t have the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, I would interpret Scripture in ways that are utterly bizarre, to my benefit,” Father Spitzer said, pointing out the dangers of false interpretation. “If you want to stay on the road to salvation, if you’re looking for the truth instead of your own opinion and to follow Christ into the light, you need a pope, you need a person who has been designated” to follow in the lineage of what Jesus established when he said “on this rock, I will build my Church.”
On the Communion of Saints, Father Spitzer reveled in his friendship with the saints, who he said are his spiritual directors who accompany him throughout the liturgical year.
“My friendship with all of those saints is so utterly important to me. I cannot imagine having a religious experience without having that dimension of Catholicism, without being surrounded and helped by the saints,” he said.
“This is my view of the benefits of the Catholic Church. Are they needed for spiritual warfare? Absolutely,” Father Spitzer concluded. “It is our truth, our way, our life; it is Jesus Christ. It is the fundamental power of the Holy Spirit to forgive sins through human beings. It is the Communion of Saints, it is the teaching Magisterium that has kept us unified. It is, of course, the love of Christ.”
The Men’s Conference, and the annual Women’s Conference held in October, is organized and hosted by the Diocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness