Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki speaking during the Men of Christ Conference on Saturday, March 20.

Though the format of the 15th annual Men of Christ conference was a little different than usual, the message was the same as it has been for the last decade and a half: this world needs men who are bold, courageous and proud in their Catholic faith.

Instead of gathering en masse at the Milwaukee Theater downtown, groups formed at more than 40 parishes throughout Wisconsin to hear live talks delivered both virtually and in-person for this year’s conference on Saturday, March 20.

The morning began with Mass, broadcast from St. Leonard’s Parish in Muskego on the Men of Christ website, and concluded with an address from Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, who has been a long-time supporter of the mission of Men of Christ.

“In today’s environment, Men of Christ is needed more than ever,” said the archbishop as he began his remarks, which were delivered via YouTube to the conference’s satellite locations. “Our religious liberty is being challenged. Our voices are muffled and our moral teaching discredited. We must hold firm to our beliefs, for they are the source of our strength in the pathway to our salvation.”

The archbishop’s speech began on a somber note, as he alluded to widespread cultural unrest and legislative attacks on religious freedom, saying, “We cannot underestimate our situation.” He urged men to put their trust neither in “ideological promises of utopia or the socialistic promises of cultural equality” but rather in the happiness that can be found in the love of God and the surety of his word.

“We must understand the nature of the attacks on our freedoms and, like our predecessors, we must be willing to accept the challenges to conform the forces that would have us surrender or compromise our beliefs,” he said.

The archbishop’s patriotism is frequently a topic interwoven into his preaching, and this address was no exception — but he warned men to never prioritize anything, even patriotism, over God. “There’s a formula that is simple and I know resonates with any man: God, family, and country.”

“All creation bows before God in Heaven,” he said. “He is the ultimate source of our allegiance. God is the ultimate source of who we are and everything we do.”

Archbishop Listecki went on to lament the loss of regard for objective truth in modern culture, saying, “Somehow in our questioning of everything, we have embraced the sense that there is no objective truth.”

“Think of what that means,” he said. “There is no right or wrong. Everything becomes a matter of personal choice, and that personal choice means conforming objectivity to whatever fits our likes or dislikes or our wants and desires.”

Reflecting on the origin of the United States, the archbishop referenced the Founding Fathers and said that although “they weren’t perfect … they did envision a society that should respect the national liberties endowed by our creator.”

Recalling that, among the Founding Fathers, George Washington has been dubbed “the indispensable man” by scholars, not because of his military genius or his intellect but because of his “honor,” “constancy” and “steady determination,” the archbishop beseeched the conference attendees to “be the indispensable men of this generation.”

“I believe that your love for God, family and country will lead us through these difficult moments in our history,” he said.

Acknowledging “we are in a period where criticism of our history is fashionable, even popular,” Archbishop Listecki was fierce in his defense of the republic: “I continue to maintain that, even with its foibles, our system of government is still the best in the world.”

But the loss of objective truth has resulted in decisions handed down from the Supreme Court that the archbishop said “violate the freedoms our Founding Fathers sought to protect,” — in particular, Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. “Could anything be more obvious than the truth that the unborn is life that needs to be protected? I share this belief with you that we’ll not get back on track as a society until we recognize the right to life and protect that life.”

He went on to point to St. Joseph as a model for all men of today, noting the foster father of Christ was an ordinary man who was made a father not by biology but by choosing to assume the yoke of responsibility handed to him by God.

“Joseph was a hidden figure who merely followed the will of God and did so with a father’s manly characteristic,” said the archbishop. “Joseph is a father in the shadows. Pope Francis states that fathers are not born, but made. He states a man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child. Whenever a man accepts responsibility for the life of another in some way, he becomes a father to that person. Children today need a father. You men of Christ are called to fulfill the role of St. Joseph and form and fashion our young with the powerful examples that you bring to them with your lives.”

The archbishop urged men to live out that example by “using the instruments necessary to form us into the men that support God, family and country” — namely, Mass, the sacraments, prayer, and leadership in family and in community.

“Fr. Joe Walijewski from La Crosse, whose cause for sanctity is being promoted, would have us say: I am but a pencil in the hand of God,” he said. “Men of Christ, let God write his story through you. I need you to place yourselves at the disposal of God’s plan. Through being men of Christ, you will give glory to God, give witness to your families and challenge our society. Do not be afraid. Remember, the war has been won. Jesus’ sacrificial love has saved us. It has given us eternal life. We are just fighting the battles, and I lock arms with you in the battle for God, family and country.”