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BY JOHN MOOREHOUSERegister Correspondent
BOSTON — “Lent is about coming
home, like the prodigal son.”
These words, delivered by Cardinal
Sean O’Malley of Boston in his homily at the closing Mass of the Boston
Catholic Men’s Conference March 4 captured the spirit of a phenomenon that is
growing by leaps and bounds across the country. The Catholic men’s movement
and, more specifically, Catholic men’s conferences, are drawing thousands of
Catholic men together in prayer and fellowship.
Many of the men attending the
conferences are already active parishioners. But many others, like the prodigal
son, are returning to their spiritual home for the first time in years.
According to Maurice Blumberg, executive director of the National Fellowship of
Catholic Men (www.catholicmensresources.org), which
provides support and resources for Catholic men’s groups and conference
organizers, more than 40 conferences have been or will be held throughout the
United States in 2006. There are confabs slated for Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Peoria,
Ill.; Saginaw, Mich., and other places.
Asked if the Catholic men’s
movement was influenced by Pope John Paul II’s call
for a New Evangelization, the early success of the Protestant Promise Keepers’
movement or simply the recognition that Catholic men needed to be drawn back to
an active practice of the faith, he laughed and said, “All of the above.”
Blumberg noted the success of the Promise
Keepers’ “funnel approach,” where large groups of men would hear the Gospel at
a major event and listen to talks on issues important to men. It was then
expected or hoped that the men would “go down the funnel” and return to their
local areas with an understanding that they needed to get together with other,
smaller groups of men on a regular basis.
Father Gary Dailey, director of
vocations and men’s ministry for the Diocese of Springfield, Mass., agreed that
the movement in Massachusetts was “driven initially by Promise Keepers.” He
noted a concern on the part of then-archbishop of Boston Cardinal Bernard Law
that men were leaving the Catholic faith as a result of their attendance at the
huge evangelical events. Catholic men’s events were organized for all of New
England and, later, by the individual bishops in their own dioceses.
According to Father Dailey, the
spiritual fruits of the conferences have been inspiring. “There is a growing
desire among men to be spiritually fed,” he said. “It’s really remarkable to
see them engage in prayer with one another.”
Among the most important aspects
of a large men’s conference is that it provides a place where men, especially
those who have been away from Church for some time, can in the words of Blumberg, “hide” among so many others.
While one among many, however,
they are exposed to sound preaching and encouraged by those numbers as well.
And, for many, their attendance at a conference may mark their first return to
the sacrament of reconciliation in many years.
According to Father Dailey, the
priests to whom he has spoken have said they have heard the most beautiful
confessions at these events from men who have not confessed their sins in 20,
30 or 40 years.
One remarkable success story has
taken place in the Archdiocese of Boston, which this year hosted more than
5,200 men in only their second conference. With a slate of international
speakers, including Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Father John Corapi, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, author Scott
Hahn and youth leader/musician Sean Forrest, the attendance more than doubled
that of the previous year. As Father Corapi noted in
his keynote address, Boston was “ground zero” for the clergy sexual abuse
The Church in a city once
considered the most Catholic of American cities has been buffeted by scandal
and includes a population that, at times, seems more formed by the
editorializing of the anti-Catholic local press than the Catechism of the Catholic
Obstacles notwithstanding, the
event attracted nearly twice as many men as were initially expected. More than
2,000 men went to confession.
One effect of these conferences is
that they encourage men just through the sheer numbers involved. This was
certainly the case in Boston.
According to Scot Landry, one of
the organizers of the Boston Conference, a common reaction of attendees is “how
awesome it is that over 5,200 Catholic brothers came together to celebrate our
Catholic faith and to grow closer to Jesus. Sometimes I feel isolated in my
work and community. This shows me how many Catholic men feel exactly the way I
do. It gives me a huge boost.”
That “boost” and common feeling
was reflected in the convention center as the statements by the speakers which
most directly challenged “the world” on any number of topics were those which
drew the loudest and most sustained applause.
The conference also drew men from
all over the state and beyond. One relatively recent convert to Catholicism,
Lonny Ricketts of Wendell, Mass., in the western part of the state, said, “It
changed the way I think. It changed my life.” Ricketts said that he listens to
Father Corapi’s tapes and prays the Rosary on his
drive to and from work.
The topics addressed at the conferences
vary from the spiritual life to exhortations to assume their roles as men in
society and leaders of their families. The latter topic has, at times,
generated some controversy. What is often missed by critics is that the
leadership men are called to at these conferences is a leadership of service.
According to Father Dailey, the
goal of these conferences is to challenge men to follow Christ. He said it is
the man’s job to “lead his wife and his children to Christ, and they can’t do
so unless they know Christ. It sounds chauvinistic or domineering, but it’s
not. What wife would not want her husband to be involved in something like
Cardinal O’Malley, in his closing
homily, touched on one reason these conferences are so important in modern society.
“Belief in God for many people
today is more like a hangover,” he said. “They feel the effects of the
religious activities of the past, but their own consciousness borders on
agnosticism. They still make space for God in our churches, but He is given
very little space everywhere else.”
The sprouting of Catholic men’s
conferences across the country is one indication that, for more and more men,
the effects of that “hangover” are wearing off.
John Moorehouse is editor of
Catholic Men’s Quarterly and is based in Bernardston, Massachusetts.