Xavier High School hosts 20th annual event March 12
By Dan Russo
CEDAR RAPIDS — “You’re more important than a bird!” exclaimed Father Scott Courtney, his penetrating voice echoing in the minds of the participants in the 20th annual Archdiocesan Men’s Conference.
When those words first came out of the priest’s mouth, many in the audience at Xavier Catholic High School’s gym in Cedar Rapids laughed out loud. The keynote speaker connected the phrase quickly to a serious truth in the Gospel. According to Matthew 6:26, Jesus said, “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they?”
Dependence on God, getting to know Scripture and prayer, were major themes of Father Courtney’s morning and afternoon addresses to the approximately 250 men who attended the daylong event March 12, which was organized by the Archdiocesan Catholic Men’s Fellowship.
“This is the best book,” said the priest, holding up the Bible. “It has dust on it for most people. Start reading this book. It’s not brain surgery. You’ll have the fire of Jesus in your heart.”
Father Courtney, who serves as a pastor in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, energetically peppered his two speeches with Scripture references as he mixed personal stories and jokes with theology.
“Study Scripture and what’s going to happen, you’re going to convert people to Catholicism,” he said. “I’m in a church with 90 families. We’ve had 30 conversions in three years.”
The priest impressed on the audience the need to develop a personal relationship with God through study, prayer and receiving the sacraments. He recommended prayer each morning and daily Scripture reading.
“There’s two ways to get grace — sacramental grace and actual grace. God gives actual grace all the time, but we close our heart to it,” said Father Courtney.
After the morning keynote, participants split up for smaller breakout sessions on a myriad of topics, such as Theology of the Body, Keeping the Faith Through Divorce, and Apologetics.
“A situation like divorce, where someone is feeling really alone, God’s grace can break through in those situations,” Msgr. Tom Zinkula told attendees at the breakout on divorce. “The church wants to be there for people in those situations.”
Msgr. Zinkula, a canon lawyer who serves with the Metropolitan Tribunal, the local court of church law in the archdiocese, covered the annulment process, re-marriage situations and support programs for the divorced.
Deacon Mark Sandersfeld of St. Ludmila Parish, Cedar Rapids, led a session titled “Men as Family Leaders,” where he covered ways to pass on values to children and maintaining a good partnership with one’s wife.
“The more we strive to be closer to God, the better our life is,” said the deacon. “The thing in relationship to a spouse, a lot of opposites attract. God didn’t put you together to compete, but to complete.”
Justin Fatica, a nationally known lay Catholic evangelist, who is executive director of “Hard As Nails” ministry led two larger breakout sessions. His powerful, sometimes emotional presentation about his own faith and reaching out to others provided a call to action.
“We’re looking for our meaning in what we’re doing, when our meaning is in who we are,” Fatica said. “Right now if you’re a dad, I want us to pray for our kids who are away from the church or even in the church … When’s the last time you cried with them? When’s the last time you poured your heart out to them? When’s the last time you said, ‘I love you’ with all your heart?”
Fatica challenged the men to support and evangelize people who they normally wouldn’t, whether in their families or beyond.
“We have the answer for all the suffering in the world, and we’re keeping it quiet because we’re afraid,” he said.
Participants socialized during breaks and lunch, often discussing topics presenters were delving into on stages and in breakout sessions.
“One of the things that I liked (about the speakers) is their fervor and their passion,” said Kymson Brazee of St. John XXIII Parish, Cedar Rapids. “Obviously, these guys actually live what they’re talking about.”
Brazee came with a friend from his parish, Stephen Fuller.
“I wanted to come to the conference because I enjoy the fellowship,” Fuller added.
Archbishop Michael Jackels celebrated Mass with the participants and some of their wives and children to close the day. In his homily, he reflected on the Gospel reading, which told of Jesus and the woman accused of adultery. He emphasized that law is important, but should not overshadow other aspects of our faith, especially God’s mercy.
“Those who taught that obeying the law makes for righteousness, well, they tried to force Jesus’ hand,” said the archbishop. “Either to agree with them and so order a stoning of the adulteress or disagree and be considered a religious outlaw. How did Jesus get out of this trap? He responded by saying, ‘No one can make himself right with God by observing laws, because no one is without sin.’”
At the Mass, a men’s musical group with members from multiple parishes provided music. One of the musicians, Loren Manternach of St. Peter Parish, Temple Hill, said the conference helped him evaluate his priorities and his stewardship as a member of the church.
He and some others are founding a Catholic musical group, based out of the St. Thomas Aquinas Pastorate. “(Music) is a way of prayer, trying to use your talents for God,” he said. Catholic Men’s Fellowship President Mike Schulte said he was happy with the way this year’s conference unfolded. “Having Justin Fatica here with Father Courtney was like a powder keg,” said Schulte “I wanted the guys to get fired up. We have so much richness to our faith. We have so much to get fired up about.”
Videos of the talks from the conference will be posted online. For more information, visit www.catholicmenonline.org.
Photos: A young man gets a glimpse of the joy of the Gospel while reading the Bible during one of Father Scott Courtney’s talks March 12 at the 20th annual Archdiocesan Catholic Men’s Fellowship Conference; Photo 2: Catholic lay evangelist Justin Fatica (left) and Father Scott Courtney, keynote speaker at the conference. (Photos by Doug Hoeger)