Detroit Catholic Men's Conference focuses on sacramental living, prayer and purity as cornerstones for a virtuous man’s life
SHELBY TOWNSHIP — “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
The oft-quoted passage from Proverbs was present Sept. 23 during the Detroit Catholic Men’s Conference at St. John Vianney Parish in Shelby Township, where more than 300 men gathered for a morning conference to be spiritually fed.
The conference featured talks from Fr. Stephen Pullis, director of pastoral formation at Sacred Heart Major Seminary and weekend associate at St. John Vianney, Peter Herbeck of Renewal Ministries and Fr. Athanasius Fornwalt, FHS, of St. Mary of Redford Parish in Detroit. Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron celebrated Mass for the men in attendance.
The conference focused on three themes: sacramental men, prayerful men and men of purity, three areas of emphasis for Catholic men to fulfill their roles in their families, their community and the church.
“These three topics were on my heart and in my own prayer and are crucial areas for men right now,” Fr. Pullis, the organizer of the conference, told Detroit Catholic. “Making Mass and confession an integral part of their lives is so deeply needed, and helping men know how to pray and commit themselves to prayer is crucial. Also, our world throws all sorts of temptations against purity, and so men need to have pure hearts, as Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.’”
Fr. Pullis encouraged those in attendance to reclaim their masculinity by living as men of self-sacrifice and not self-gratification. If they did so, Fr. Pullis said, it would transform both themselves and the people around them.
“People noticed (that the early Christians) lived differently than the pagan culture around them, and that is what we would see if men embraced their roles as Christian men,” Fr. Pullis said: “Men who live differently than the culture around them; men who truly understand what it means to be a man, to have all the power and gifts men have, but not used to crush others or satisfy themselves, but used in the service of others.”
In his talk, Herbeck reminded the men of what St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, reminding the faithful who they are, so they know what God expects of them.
“St. Paul says we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, you are loved by the Lord,” Herbeck said. “Say, ‘I am beloved.’ Turn to the man next to you and say, ‘You are beloved.’ How weird is that? Paul says you are beloved because God chose you. Turn next to someone and say, ‘You are chosen.’ Two things I know about, even if we just met: I know that God knows you more than you know yourself and that God delights in you. God loves you.”
Herbeck encouraged the men to delve into Scripture to better learn what God thinks of His creation and the depths He has gone to be known and loved by His children. Further study of the Scripture will not only reveal a man’s identity, but also his destiny, Herbeck said.
“Here is your destiny,” Herbeck said: “You are going to glory if you die in the Lord. Say this to someone next to you, ‘I’m going to glory, and you’re going to glory.’ And the best news is it's coming soon, because you’re going to be dead soon. The Bible is clear: life is breath — it’s a passing shadow. That’s a fact. We don’t have to be afraid of death. Think often about your death. Two things are for sure going to happen soon: you’re going to die and there is a meeting in your future with a Man. That’s your future; that is your destiny.”
Fr. Pullis gave the second talk on the importance of prayer and building a life of prayer before inviting Scott Gordon, a member of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Lake Orion, to testify on what he learned about prayer from his dad.
“I absolutely love my dad; he since has passed,” Gordon said. “He was a great, loving, Christian man. I pray that I can live up to him. As a kid, I would always see my dad in prayer, never out of reach from a Bible or a prayer book. Once a year we’d get the Fatima statue from the parish for a week and he’d lead us in prayer.”
Gordon told how his father suffered a stroke that hindered the use of the right side of his body. He trained himself to write using his left hand with impeccable penmanship.
Late one night, while he was at his parents' house, helping his mother care for his father, Gordon noticed a yellow legal pad next to his father while he was asleep. The legal pad was filled with names — names of family, friends, even people whom Gordon didn’t recognize. He asked his mother about the list, and his mother reported that Gordon’s father would write down the names of people he knew and would pray for them every night.
There was one name not on the list — Gordon’s father neglected to write his own.
“He would read this list every morning, bedridden, needing to rely on people to change him, clean him, and he never prayed for himself,” Gordon said. “But think about the power those prayers had. Every day, whether it’s the rosary, the Magnificat, evening prayer or Bible study, I think about the devotion my dad had. Daily prayer is a habitual part of my life and should be the focus of every man.”
Fr. Fornwalt gave the final talk of the conference on purity of heart, focusing in on the dangers of pornography and the real harm it causes in men, hindering them from being able to show true love toward others and giving their full selves to their families.
Archbishop Vigneron celebrated Mass with the men to conclude the conference, emphasizing in his homily the Mass wasn’t an “add on” to the conference because “this is what Catholics do,” but rather a means to consummate the lessons and wisdom learned from the conference.
“I’ve come to point out something often overlooked: how pleased the heart of Jesus Christ is that you have taken time out of a busy day to be here,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “You could be playing golf, you could be cleaning the gutters — maybe that’s why you came — but you came here to make a sacrifice to be disciples. Never underestimate that our Lord appreciates it.”
The Gospel reading from Matthew was the Parable of the Sower, which Archbishop Vigneron said shows how much of a privilege it is to receive the Gospel message of Jesus.
“Jesus says in the parable how the word is addressed to a lot of different people,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “Some words fell to stony ground, some of it fell among thistles, and some went to soil that was ready to bear good fruit. That’s what this day has been about. The talks about prayer, the sacraments, your own purity and chastity, it’s about bearing good fruit, good soil where the word of Jesus Christ blossoms.
“Pray, go to the sacraments, live lives of virtue and holiness, and you will bear good fruit, and you will make a sacrifice of yourself,” Archbishop Vigneron added. “You won’t be like Adam and Eve, closed up in selfishness and rebellion, but you will be like Jesus, who gave himself up to the end."