Recently, I asked a non-Catholic friend to come with me to the Men of Christ Conference in Milwaukee. I wasn’t entirely sure of the proposition at first. After all, how normal is it to say, “Hey, would you like to hang out with about 3,000 Catholic men next Saturday?” I was expecting, at best, a ho-hum response. Instead, the reply:
“Would love to.”
So, while my 8-year-old son and his mom attended a first Communion retreat, and the other children spent the day with Grandma and Grandpa, I listened to John Pridmore discuss how he went from “Gangland to promise land.” Once heavily involved in London’s organized crime scene, John underwent a radical conversion experience.
Before his conversion, he couldn’t string three words together speaking in public. Today, he travels the world giving his testimony. At World Youth Day in 2007, he spoke to more than a half million people.
God’s grace: 1, man’s feebleness: 0.
For lunch, my friend and I picked up our Panera boxes at the front of the conference. The walls and stairs were lined with people talking and eating so we milled around for a while trying to find a little space to sit down and enjoy our turkey sandwiches. Upstairs we found a bench next to two friendly nuns. We asked if we could sit down and, to sweeten the pot, I promised them we’d consider a vocation. The chuckling aided digestion.
After lunch, Fr. Larry Richards, a priest since 1989 for the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania, and host of “Changed Forever with Fr. Larry Richards” on Relevant Radio, spoke a second time. He packed enough charisma and dynamism to fill the theater, despite, as he revealed, not getting any sleep the night before.
At one point in the afternoon, we were invited to get out our phones and participate in a poll. I had forgotten to bring my smart phone, primarily because I don’t own one. The question posed to the crowd: “How would you describe your faith life?”
I was expecting to forgo the question, when my friend turned to me, “I can submit your answer.” “Um, I hope my answer is D, Christ-centered,” I replied. Nothing like a little spiritual accountability to jumpstart the afternoon. I looked at the jumbo screen up front to see how everyone else answered.
Then, my friend nudged me. He explained that if the older gentleman without a smart phone on my other side would like to pass his faith journey answer down, he would text that in also. I found this situation a tad awkward. I was tempted to just make up a faith journey answer for my neighbor, though I resisted.
Fortunately, the older gentleman to my left was engaged in another conversation.
“He’s good, thanks,” I replied to my friend.
Devin Schadt, one of the afternoon speakers, gave an empowering talk to the fathers in the audience. At one point he shared the story of how St. John Paul II remembered waking up in the middle of the night to see his father kneeling and praying in darkness. His father’s silent witness left an indelible mark.
I thought, what would my children remember? How often do they see me pray in earnest? Occasionally the boys will walk quietly down the stairs at night to check out what Teresa and I have on the television. If it’s my choice, it’s perhaps some random documentary. They most certainly don’t catch me on my knees in prayer. Perhaps, that should change.
The Men of Christ Conference was powerful. I made it back in time to catch up with my family at Mass. Joseph, my 8-year-old, had on his special blazer.
Since the conference, I have thought about how important Christian role models are, whether they be dads, moms, friends or well-known Christian witnesses. We are called to reach out to one another, build each other up, and hold each other accountable by our words and actions. I read St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us.”
As we enter the Easter season, how can we better model Christ to those around us?
(Joe is married to Teresa. They have four children and run a joyful home in Plymouth. Opportunities for heavenly inspired humor abound. Joe, a librarian and Teresa, a physical therapist, are parishioners at St. John the Baptist, Plymouth.)