When you got your driver’s license, do you remember the test for color blindness? You look at a crowded field of dots and the difference in colors should form a visible number or letter.
An art teacher once told me that this is akin to the artistic style called pointillism. Discrete dots of different colors which, when we stand back, form a picture as vivid as any brush stroke could create. The artistry, or the accomplishment of the test, lay in the attentive grouping of the variously colored dots.
This Saturday will be the ninth annual Men of Christ Conference (MOC). It will be a day of faith and prayer; friendship and fraternity; holiness and hope. I am honored to have a small role in the event.
I am not sure whether I should be surprised about the random comments I hear which criticize a “men only” event, or fear a new kind of a “boys’ club.”
My first response is to point out that MOC is no country club locker room, nor a cabin at deer camp. In fact, even the incredible pictures of thousands of men, of all ages, gathered in faith may cause us to miss the true power of the event.
A gathering as large as MOC, with all its success, tends to cause some to look at the pictures and ask what is missing. But getting caught there prevents us from looking more closely at the dots, the men, who are intentionally grouped together to create the picture.
To look upon MOC as some sort of exclusive men’s club is a type of color blindness. Undeniably, MOC is about life and faith experiences unique to men. But MOC is about realization and appreciation of those experiences, not isolation of them to one place, for one day each year.
There will be a grandfather who shares recollections of struggling to start, and provide for, a family when the expectation was that he would dutifully carry the mantle of “the greatest generation.” He will look around and be comforted by memories of when he joined the Knights of Columbus or when the Holy Name Society built the first playground equipment at their new parish school.
There will be a father who wrestles with the idea of going to confession for the first time in years. There are so many priests available, and there seems to be so much willingness among the other men. The positive peer pressure he feels is surprising and startling.
He thinks about the kind of father, husband and son he has been. Whether he musters the courage to go to confession or not, he starts a mental list of improvements that need to be made in his life and in his relationships.
There will be a young professional who meets seminarians for the first time, and encounters more priests in one place and one time than ever before. He will be struck that they are all happy, healthy, and holy. His mind harkens to some thoughts he had when he was confirmed. He remembers having more than just passing thoughts about whether or not he might make a good priest.
There will be a college student who knows he was not forced to come, but is not entirely sure why he came. At school, he usually feels a little out of place because he does not mind going to Mass on Sundays (so long as it is in the evening and he can sleep in).
He knows he wants to meet girls; he knows he wants to have fun; but he also knows that things are not so simple, even during the relatively safe years of college.
There will be a high-schooler who, early in the day, looks around to reassure himself that none of his classmates are there to see him. By late morning, he looks around to see if any classmates are there just to talk to.
By the time Mass is celebrated, he stands next to his dad more engaged than he ever is at the parish. At the sign of peace, he extends his hand to the man from whom, when he was 6 or 7 years old, he pulled his hand away when they were about to cross the street. When they start to shake hands his dad pulls him in for that classic “guy hug.” For as long as the hug lasts, even a teenager doesn’t seem to mind.
In a few days we will see pictures of men gathered for MOC. The pictures will seem to convey that it was a “no girls allowed” event. But as an onlooker leans in to see the distinct dots, with their colors and places, the picture takes on a different meaning.
The prophet Isaiah wrote that God is a potter and we are the clay. When we see the pictures of MOC we can believe that God is a pointillist painter, and each man is a distinct point of life placed there by Christ. We should not ask what is there, but rather what about the picture can make us heralds of hope!