Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Conference Calls Men to Step Forward as Champions for Christ

The keynote speaker at the Diocese’s annual Men’s Conference used the metaphor of a burning house to underscore the significance of evangelization to save souls.

Just as you would warn people inside that house of the mortal danger they were in, so too should you work for the salvation of souls by sharing the Gospel, said Adam Janke. He is the COO of St. Paul Street Evangelization, a national grassroots organization that provides Catholics with resources to engage people in prayer and the faith.

“We live in a culture that is on fire, where people are dying and desperate for the Gospel. We are called to share that message in the circumstances of our own life,” Janke said, underscoring the Church’s mission of evangelization.

“And yet, we’re so afraid to share, afraid that we don’t know enough, or because we don’t want to be mocked or feel weird,” he said. “Serious Christians believe there is nothing more important than God, but we have difficulty sharing that with others.”

As a solution, Janke offered six concrete ways to engage in evangelization in our everyday lives, in his keynote address, “The Battle for Souls.”

The first two are inward: develop a prayer life and be docile to the workings of the Holy Spirit. This includes prayer, reception of the Sacraments, Bible study, fasting and following the promptings of the Spirit.

“We can’t evangelize if we ourselves have not encountered the living Lord,” Janke said.

The remaining four steps call us to step forward and build relationships with others, by listening, engaging, proclaiming and inviting.

“Listen attentively to the person you’re encountering, and find common ground,” Janke said. He shared several stories of how family members and fallen-away Catholics were brought back to the Church through relationships.

Engage in the Works of Mercy by taking someone to lunch, praying for them, or offering to drive them to an appointment, Janke suggested.

Proclaiming the Gospel, he said, does not mean standing on the street corner and reading the Bible out loud. Rather, it’s about speaking the truth in charity, offering a sacramental like a Rosary or Miraculous Medal, or witnessing to the impact of a life in Christ.

The final step is invitation. Invite them to join you for Mass or Adoration, Janke said.

The four steps of listening, engaging, proclaiming and inviting can happen gradually over a period of time, or within one encounter, he said. “I could stand here all day and tell you stories of how even a two-minute conversation can change somebody’s life forever,” he said of his experiences with St. Paul Street Evangelization.

“The battle for souls is the work of the Church,” Janke told the men. The Church’s mission is this great battle against the powers of the devil. Our great mission is to go out and proclaim that Gospel,” he said.

Assembling Champions

For the first time since the 2019 Men’s Conference, the Diocesan Conference Center was filled with in-person attendees, as more 250 men packed the main hall for the event on April 2. Another 100 tuned in via the livestream, some gathering as parish communities.

Put on by the Diocesan Office for Evangelization and Catechesis, the conference, “Becoming Champions for Christ,” included seven presentations, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, Holy Mass, lunch, vendors and an opportunity for men to socialize and share their faith.

Attendees offered standing ovations during presentations by Bishop Ronald Gainer of the Diocese of Harrisburg and Bishop William Waltersheid, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

In a presentation on gender dysphoria through the lens of Catholic teaching, Bishop Gainer encouraged the men to stand up for the truth about Christian anthropology. Transgender ideology, he said, is based on a false anthropology and it distorts the truth that men and women are created in the image and likeness of God.

“Under transgender ideology, the human person is encouraged to look at themselves not wonderfully made but as a mistake to be corrected,” the bishop said. “Decisions are made not based on objective truths, but on subjective situations.”

“The gift of human sexuality is given to us; it’s not ours to control,” he stressed. “Masculinity and femininity are not conditions to be overcome, but are gifts to be lived and shared.”

The bishop quoted Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation “The Joy of Love,” saying: “Beyond the understandable difficulties which individuals may experience, the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created, for ‘thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation… An appreciation of our body as male or female is also necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves.”

“We need to be champions for this teaching, for this anthropology, for this understanding of the human person in our society and culture,” Bishop Gainer stressed. “My brothers, let us be courageous and stand up for the truth about one another, about femininity, about masculinity, and be witnesses to Christian anthropology based on the revelation that God has given to us.”

In a presentation on Mary at the heart of the Mystery of Christ, Bishop William Waltersheid, ordained a priest in the Diocese of Harrisburg in 1992, encouraged the men to turn to the Blessed Mother as they work to be champions for Christ.

“We are fighting a spiritual battle. We are fighting a battle so that the forces of good, of peace, of love, of brotherhood can vanquish the forces that want to divide and destroy, and especially want to destroy marriage and the family and our identity and Catholic culture,” he said.

“In our work as bearers of Jesus Christ into a world that does not want to hear about Him, Our Lady stands as the one who leads us. In the strength and vitality of a woman who knows who she is, she leads us to do battle – not with missiles and bullets and bombs, but with prayer, with works of charity, with courageous witness to her Son, Jesus,” he said.

Citing Scripture, Church teaching and papal documents on the Blessed Mother, Bishop Waltersheid spoke of her role in salvation, her divine motherhood, and her role as intercessor.

“We honor her because she received the vocation of being the woman who would bring God into the world in her humility and by her fiat,” he said. “From the very beginning, the Church has recognized her to be standing at the very center of the Mystery of God becoming one of us.”

“The Church so needs us today, dear brothers, to go forth and to proclaim the Gospel to a world that has grown dark and cold in many ways,” he told the men, reminding them that it is a world “filled with people who are hungering and thirsting for the truth and needing to be healed by the love of Christ. Our Lady shows us the way…and holds us ever closer to her Immaculate Heart.”

‘Part of the Army’

“Men in particular always do better when they’re part of the army and they feel part of a group, so this conference is truly a shot in the arm, especially when I see some of my fellow parishioners and men throughout the Diocese,” said attendee Dr. Greg Burke.

He said Janke’s keynote presentation on practical ways to evangelize “was something we men needed to hear.”

“It was very powerful and made a lot of sense, and it just makes me more energetic about meeting people, to befriend them and share the Gospel in a non-judgmental way. That really brings them in and excites them, and, in the end wins their souls. That’s pretty exciting,” he said.

Additional presentations on various faith topics filled out the day.

Patrick Reilly, founder of the Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes faithful Catholic education, promoted ways of ensuring every child is formed in faith, truth and wisdom, whether through Catholic schools, religious education programs or homeschooling.

“Catholic education is of great importance to every Catholic family, and it up to us as laypeople to find the means to support it,” Reilly told conference attendees in his talk, “The Education Your Child Deserves.”

In a presentation on Mary and Joseph as models of celibate chastity, Father Frederick Miller, STD, examined how celibacy was understood at the time of Christ as a means of doing penance for the infidelity of God’s people, and how Mary’s vow of virginity hastened the coming of the Messiah.

As Mary’s husband and Jesus’ earthly father, “Joseph can help us as men to be chaste in our own marriages,” said Father Miller, the spiritual director of the College Seminary of the Immaculate Conception at Seton Hall University. “Joseph can also help you understand that the children God gives you are not yours, they’re His. You raise them and confirm them on the path of Christ, and you let them go.”

Dr. John Rossi, a member of St. Theresa Parish in New Cumberland and a local leader for the “That Man is You” apostolate, presented “In His image He created them, male and female He created them.”

His talk examined authentic masculinity and femininity and the complementarity of the sexes. Citing Scripture and lessons on St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, Rossi illustrated that gender “is not a social construct; it is written into who we are.”

“Masculinity means being selfless. We have to give ourselves away,” Dr. Rossi told the men. “We can’t do that without the Holy Spirit.”

In a presentation on angels and demons, Father Edward Connolly, pastor emeritus of St. Joseph and St. Vincent de Paul parishes in the Diocese of Allentown, addressed misconceptions about the two.

“Angels are holy ones, and they are also watchers. They watch us, and they watch the face of God,” he said.

Where angels love order, demons love the opposite: chaos. Demons are former angels who were cast out of the Divine Presence for disobedience to God, Father Connolly explained.

“Demons do exist,” he said. “But why would they be after us? Revenge. They resent God, and because they can’t get after Him, they attack those who are vulnerable whom He loves, to undo the work of salvation.”

Virtues of Champions

Bishop Ronald Gainer was the principal celebrant and the homilist during Holy Mass, which closed the conference.

In his homily, he spoke on four virtues that are typical of a champion in any endeavor.

“Every champion must love what he’s endeavoring to do. Every champion must have the courage to do it is as best as he can. Every champion must persevere in pursuing the goal. Every champion must be a person of sacrifice,” he said.

The first and fourth qualities – love and sacrifice – are inseparable, the bishop said.

“When we truly love someone or something, we’re willing to give up other things to express and nurture that love. Love separated from sacrifice becomes self-indulgence…. Love and sacrifice are inseparable,” he said.

“If we love Jesus Christ, if we love his Mystical Body, the Church, then we must be willing to sacrifice to express that love,” the bishop told the men.

Gathering with more than 250 men in-person for this conference for the first time since 2019 was a spiritual boost, reflected Dr. Burke, who has attended the conference for multiple years.

“It’s so good to have fellowship with fellow Catholic men…and the witness of your fellow Catholic men,” he told The Catholic Witness. “It builds your faith and makes you feel a little bit more courageous in standing up for the faith.”

“The boost I get is just seeing and interacting with my fellow Catholics,” he said. “You feel the energy in that fellowship, and then hearing the message. The fact that we gather in prayer, gather around our bishop and gather in truth and faith, it’s a gift to me. It’s a shot in the arm for me, and I think for everybody who is here. We walk a little bit higher and a little bit prouder and a little bit more evangelized every time we come together.

(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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