More than 400 men gathered on Sat., Feb. 25, for the 4th annual Catholic Men’s Conference in the gymnasium of Springfield Catholic High School. The grassroots effort is designed to build holiness and community at a personal and parish level.
The Eucharist: An exciting encounter with Christ
In light of the National Eucharistic Revival, Bishop Edward M. Rice began the day by offering Mass, Adoration, and an impassioned message about the underappreciated value of the Eucharist.
“How could anybody say they are bored when they go to Mass?” he said. “Because it’s not about the music. It’s not about the homily. It’s not about any of that stuff. At the altar is the passion, the death, and the resurrection of Christ. How could anyone, if they truly understood the Mass, walk away and say ‘that was boring?’”
Deacon Kevin Carroll of Immaculate Conception Parish, Springfield, also spoke of Eucharist miracles that help bolster devotion to the real presence of Christ.
“Gentlemen, this is the source and summit of our faith. It should define who we are,” Deacon Carroll said. “Christ willed to bring himself in union with every one of us so he could be a part of every joy and every trial in our lives. Knowing that should give us strength and encouragement.”
The Mass unites us with Christ and one another, Bishop Rice explained. Due to the eternal nature of the Mass, he said, we are united to Catholics of every generation as well as the entire population of Heaven.
“The same Mass that was offered in the catacombs, that’s the same Mass that is celebrated here today,” he said. “The priest is never alone when he celebrates the Mass. It is only due to our limited ability to comprehend that we don’t see the angels cry out, ‘Holy, holy, holy!’”
Prayer & holiness key to evangelism
Keynote speaker Matthew Leonard challenged every man to work toward sainthood—which can sound daunting. But he noted Christ’s encouragement: “For human beings, this is impossible, but for God, all things are possible.”
“Saints are game changers,” Leonard said, mentioning the decline in society’s moral culture, “and the game is in need of change.”
By living a life of extreme holiness, Leonard explained, we will fulfill our evangelistic goals both at home and throughout the diocese.
He encouraged men to grow in holiness by building a personal relationship with God through a commitment to consistent prayer.
“Prayer is like a ladder you climb to get closer to God,” Leonard said.
Leonard—who is a convert to Catholicism and the son of an Evangelical pastor—taught about three traditional types of prayer: vocal, meditative, and contemplative.
“Holiness is the bonfire that draws people in from the cold, dark night of sin,” he said. “Want your kids to come back to the faith? Get holy! … When you do, you become a magnet. They want what you’ve got, and they will come to you. That’s how conversion happens.”
Focus on small groups
This year’s men’s conference also delivered a special focus on grassroots community building.
“Life is a team sport,” Leonard said, referencing social isolation which often hurts men. “We need each other. Too many of us think we can do this alone and we can’t. We [can] [need] help.”
Leonard joined conference organizers in encouraging attendees to meet regularly with other Catholic men to provide each other with encouragement, shared knowledge, and accountability.
Men had the chance to practice open, honest dialogue with pre-written discussion questions during a lunchtime break-out session. After lunch, some men even volunteered to hold one of these “small group” faith-sharing meetings in front of the entire audience to demonstrate the concept. During the unscripted session, five men from various demographics and backgrounds spoke candidly about their hopes and struggles as Catholic men.
The goal of this year’s conference is that all attendees begin meeting weekly with a small group of like-minded men to form sincere, trusted, and faithful friendships. Meetings can follow a structured “small group” program such as those provided by authors like Leonard. Men could also develop their own activities such as Scripture study, group prayer, or simply discussing daily life through the lens of faith.
“I know everybody here is struggling with some kind of issue,” Leonard said, “and what you don’t realize is the guy next to you is probably dealing with something very similar.”
See articles and resources about “small groups.”
Looking forward to 2024
The Catholic Men’s Conference of Southwest Missouri is organized by a group of lay volunteers, with the help of diocesan staff, and is completely funded by donations.
Attendance at the annual event grew at a faster rate this year, due largely to the recruitment of volunteers at the parish level called “champions.”
“We provide them with marketing materials, fliers, pulpit talk scripts, and other opportunities to tell parishioners about the men’s conference,” explained MC Craig Henley. “And they did a fantastic job, because last year we had about 360 men registered and this year we had near 450.”
Feedback collected from this year’s attendees was very positive, with men expressing how they felt energized and renewed. “Overall, this was the best conference so far!” one man said, and another added, “I think it’s getting better each time.”
Leonard, who speaks at many events throughout the year, also offered his feedback. “You guys ran one of the smoothest conferences I’ve seen. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
SIDEBAR with his mugshot (from the Catholic Men’s Conf promo ad)
Who is Matthew Leonard?
A Catholic author, speaker, filmmaker, and Founder of the Science of Sainthood (scienceofsainthood.com), an Online platform where he helps Catholics radically transform their spiritual lives and grow toward sainthood.
He has a Podcast is titled, “The Art of Catholic” (https://matthewsleonard.com/podcast/) and it’s quite possible you’ll hear him on one of the many radio and television interviews done regularly on outlets such as EWTN, Relevant Radio, CBS, the Covenant Network, and SiriusXM, to name a few.