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How real men can be real Catholics

By Brian T. Olszewski
March 4th, 2008
Catholic Herald (www.chnonline.org)

WEST ALLIS, WI (Milwaukee Catholic Herald) - A facility known for showcasing super knives and magic mops for potential consumers during the Wisconsin State Fair was, on Feb. 23, a place in which Catholicism was showcased for more than 3,000 men.

The second annual Men of Christ conference attracted men from throughout the state to the Wisconsin Expo Center for a day based upon the theme "Building a Bridge to Bring Men Home." Between two celebrations of Mass, participants heard speakers link manhood and Catholicism with a call to live both.

"To be holy is to be real," Fr. Larry Richards told the gathering. "We don't need any more pansies following Jesus; we need men!"

In imploring men to work on their relationships with God, Fr. Richards, a priest of the Diocese of Erie, Pa., and host of "Changed Forever" on Relevant Radio, presented a theme that was echoed by other speakers during the event.

"If you don't eat, you die; if you don't pray, you die," he said, reminding them to spend time reading the Bible every day.

Besides worshipping, listening, and receiving the sacrament of reconciliation - an opportunity taken by many of the participants who waited for more than 45 minutes in a line that wound its way around the center - men reflected on the role of Christ in their lives.

Projecting love

Joseph Treptow, a member of St. Martin de Porres and St. Francis of Assisi parishes in Milwaukee, wears a bracelet on which "Col 3:10" ("You have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator") is printed.

"People ask me about it. I try to set a good example, not by telling people what to do but by letting my light shine. I hope people will follow," he said.

Treptow, 47, a buyer for an automotive tool and equipment warehouse, has put Christ at the center of his life.

"Everything I do is from Christ," he said. "He tells me what to do to serve others. What I do for others I do for him. If someone is in need, I am doing acts of mercy every day whenever possible."

An audit student in the Br. Booker Ashe ministry program, Treptow added, "God is love, and that love is projected through us onto others."

Jim Moore, vice president of finance for Aurora Health Care, said he feels the impact of Christ in his personal and professional lives.

"(His presence) makes me try and make my decisions Christ-like," he said.

Moore, a member of St. Francis Borgia Parish, Cedarburg, where he has been a parish trustee and served on the school board, said he doesn't "wear my religion on my sleeve," but he keeps reminders of the faith he professes close at hand.

"I keep a rosary in the ash tray in my car and a crucifix in my desk at work," he said.

Moore spoke positively about his relationship with God and the impact it has had on people in his life.

"I like the relationship I have with God," he said.

Aaron Schoofs, 17, gives much credit to his parents for the relationship he has with God.

"It's how they brought me up," said the junior at Hartford Union High School.

A confirmation candidate at St. Gabriel Parish, Hubertus, Schoofs said he doesn't feel pressure from peers to get into trouble because he is surrounded by friends whose faith is similar to his.

"God keeps me away from that stuff," he said.

Centering on Christ

One of the questions Fr. Richards asked of participants was, "Will you serve God when it's hard?"

Tom Henke, a member of St. Mary Parish, Menomonee Falls, knows how difficult it can be to answer that question. The head of his own construction company, Henke, 46, said it is a matter of reminding himself of Christ's presence in his life.

"I know that without him, I'd have nothing. I remember that every day," he said. "I sense (Christ's presence) when I see people do things they wouldn't normally do - do things out of the ordinary. Something bigger is involved."

Modeling Christ for others is something that is integral to Henke's professional life.

"In the daily work-a-day world, (modeling Christ) is when you remember everything you do is centered on Christ, and you remember that you treat people as you would want them to treat you," he said. "When you run a business, you're more in control of that. There is more opportunity to be fair with somebody than there is if you're down the ladder."

While Nate Wolfe described his relationship with God as "maturing," the 28-year-old husband and father of one child, with one on the way, said Christ has had a "profound impact" upon him, which he attributes to the Bible study he did while in college.

"I hadn't really studied the Bible for myself," he said. "Without having my dad say, 'You have to go to church,' I went on my own. What had been my dad's religion became mine."

Wolfe, a member of St. Frances Cabrini Parish, West Bend, said that through Bible study he came to understand God's grace.

"I deserved to die but Jesus paid the price for my sins. It was all through God's grace. Grace is a free gift that God is putting out there for me to accept. That had a lot of impact. It finally hit me. That was fantastic," he said.

An engineer, Wolfe said he works with "Godly people" who speak openly about their faith, and that his family - "My wife is a fantastic Christian" - provides "a very supportive environment." He attended the conference with his father, brother, several cousins, and "six or seven uncles."

The call to get involved

As for living faith on a daily basis, Wolfe said it is a matter of priorities.

"There shouldn't be any reason it shouldn't be easy," he said. "It's not dedicating time to it. We get caught up in other things. So much stuff seems so much more immediate that we don't have time for God."

Kevin O'Brien, one of the conference organizers, said the planning team was "flying high" after the event. He said that his initial read of conference evaluations indicated a "lot of conversion stories" had occurred.

"Men really felt the call to get involved (in their faith)," he told your Catholic Herald Feb. 25. "We're going to follow up with the guys who want to be involved."

By design, priesthood was emphasized during the conference.

"We really wanted to give a shot in the arm to our priests," O'Brien said. "We wanted to lift them up."

Following Fr. Richards' presentation, participants viewed "Fishers of Men," an 18-minute video produced for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation."

"We wanted to give young men who have the calling in their heart a visual of how difficult it is to be a priest," O'Brien said. "We also wanted to give laymen an appreciation for priesthood, showing them what priesthood is about."

O'Brien noted that after Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan celebrated the closing Mass, the men were asked if any had felt the call to priesthood during the event.

"Fifteen to 20 stood up," he said.

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