Every year, I help to plan the annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference. The 2019 event on October 19th was a great success, with inspiring speakers, wonderful fellowship, heartfelt worship, and plenty of spiritual growth for the men who came. The Conference Planning Committee put their all into making this event one of the best. The entire day, the men attending were called to a more authentic faith, challenged to take up their apostolate, and grow in holiness as Catholic men.
As a member of the committee, I spent the day tending to any issues that arose; and so, I heard very little of the speakers. But as one who was both on the “inside” as a planner, and on the “outside” as one engaged in taking care of the men who were attending, I would like to share my sense of what it means for a Catholic man to live out theme of this year’s conference: “Forge Your Path to Holiness.”
The Character of Holy Men
It has been a privilege to work alongside the men on the CCMC Planning Committee, to witness their deep love for the Catholic faith, their bond to their brothers, and their impassioned desire to see other men grow in holiness along the path to salvation. These servants of God certainly have a greater devotion to the cause of Christ than I, and I am blessed to know them. To these godly men, the conference is not some spiritual exercise — it is at the heart of what it means to be a Catholic man. Their dedication and sacrifice make it possible for hundreds of men throughout Connecticut to connect with each other and with Christ. Their love for the Savior and their Catholic brothers is evident in all they do. No task is too large or too small, so long as it helps to lead other men closer to Christ.
The humility and concern these men have for their Catholic brothers demonstrate just what the Holy Spirit can accomplish when men yield to his still small voice. True holy manhood means getting out of God’s way and yet taking up the soldier’s call to go into the daily battlefield to fight the good fight of faith. As our character grows through how we engage the world and its trials, we discover a deeper intimacy with the hope we find in Jesus alone.
Holiness and Empathetic Understanding
As I walked around St. Paul Catholic High School in Bristol, CT that day, I met so many wonderful brothers in Christ – and a few beautiful sisters as well. I had the opportunity to spend some time with Fr. John Bartunek, one of the conference speakers, as well as Lucy Honner, Director of the Regnum Christi Spirituality Center.
I was struck by the bond of friendship and the gentle spirit these two gifted spiritual directors shared. It was evident in how they related to each other and to every individual who came to them during the conference. They truly engaged in each conversation, listening well, sharing themselves freely, and witnessing the Spirit of Christ with every word. They were truly authentic, empathetic, and grace-filled spiritual directors with a deep love for the people they served.
Personal encounters like these help us to see that growth in holiness requires not only study and prayer and time spent listening to great teaching, but those one-on-one experiences where brothers and sisters as well. As we share ideas and testimonies, we experience how iron sharpens iron and we build one another up in the faith. Such fellowship in Christ is crucial if we are to discover who we are as Catholic Christians. The more we open our hearts and truly listen to and support one another, the more the lessons we learn through teaching and worship can have a lasting impact on our everyday lives.
Salvation is both a goal and a journey, a going forth and a coming home. We cannot separate the race from the prize that awaits, for we run the path looking forward to the vision to come, even as that vision reveals itself in our lives day by precious day.
The Little Conversations That Mean So Much
I spoke with many of the vendors, some of whom were volunteers, but all of whom expressed a love for the individual apostolates they had joined. They shared their stories and listened to mine, pleased to be networking for the glory of God. I learned about retreat houses and Catholic newspapers, t-shirt makers and ministries to the poor and lost. I even met a member of the “Sons of Abraham” — a ministry of bikers to fellow bikers who traveled the roads of life on two wheels. It was truly humbling to meet and speak with people who were pouring themselves out to humanity in the service of Christ.
Growing in holiness means engaging the world with the gifts and the calling we have received from Christ. God indeed uses who we are and what we have experienced to help shape his kingdom. He can take our weakness and turn it into his strength. He can transform our pride into productivity, our selfishness into service, and our anger and anxiety into courage and conviction. Whatever our unique situation, our heavenly Father can refashion it into a godly apostolate for his glory and our good.
The Faces of Those Behind the Scenes
So much of what goes on at a conference like this often goes unrecognized. We may fail to take notice of those who video the speakers; set up for lunch; organize Confession, Adoration, and Mass; and handle a hundred large and small crises that arise during the day. We may breeze by the men and women registering the attendees, keeping watch throughout the building, or standing faithfully at their tables without considering their dedication to making the conference a success. And yet they carry out their tasks without worrying about whether they receive a “Thank you!” or a “Good job!”
The Conference would not have been a success had it not been for the efforts of Cary Dupont and Al Wallace, our representatives from St. Paul High School. They and their team of wonderful student volunteers worked tirelessly setting up the school for the conference, handing out programs, getting the lunches ready, serving coffee and pastries, and directing attendees to the Cafeteria and Confession — always with a smile and great love for their school. No matter where I went in my travels throughout the building, I could always count on seeing these super school servants helping to keep the conference running smoothly all day.
Our path to holiness often entails those mundane moments where we keep to our calling and carry out the assignments God has given to us. The world may not always acknowledge our efforts, but the One who sees all things knows just how important is the work we do for the kingdom. In accepting our place in the Body of Christ, especially when there is little glamour or glory, we allow the light of Christ to come shining through to the world.
Glitches and Glory
Each year, following the conference, the CCMC Planning Committee takes time to debrief and consider what went right — and also, what went wrong. There are always little glitches in the event: A good talk goes a little too long, there is an error in the printed program, or we fail to order the right amount of lunches. Such hiccups in the day only make us more determined to improve on next year’s conference. We cherish the feedback we receive from the attendees because it helps us to reevaluate the program and determine ways we can make it better. It helps us too, to remember that we are humble, imperfect servants, and that, in the end, the glory belongs to God alone.
With each conference, we find that we must accept our missteps and mistakes, and press on with the knowledge that we and the attendees are being led to deeper and deeper levels of holiness with each event. It is truly an honor to share in the process of becoming perfect in the sight of God. Will there ever be a perfect conference? Most likely, the answer is no. But in God’s economy, each conference is a part of the perfect unfolding of our journey to holiness as individuals and as a Church. That is something every member of the Planning Committee can live with.
And Most of All, the Men
Perhaps my biggest takeaway from the 2019 Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference was in seeing so many Catholic men choosing to give up a Saturday to come together so that they could together grow in what it means to be holy. The world may look at that kind of devotion and find it fruitless; but the reality of the lives that are changed, the friendships that are forged, and the spiritual growth that takes place tells a different story. I am most of all inspired by our attendees and the joy they bring to the conference. Each conversation I have convinces me that all our efforts are worth it. The comments I hear throughout the day bring conviction that such times of personal spiritual renewal are critical for men if they are to lead their families and serve the Church well.
It was good to be the “Inside-Outside Man” and to see the work God was doing on the day of the conference. I continue to hear wonderful feedback on the takeaways of those who attended, and I value the dedication of so many men of God who are living out the theme and forging their paths to holiness, not just at the conference, but at every moment of their lives. Together, we are answering God’s call to become the best Catholic men we can be. Together, we are helping to shape the Church, even as the Church continues to shape us.