EAST HARTFORD – Marian Brother Robert K. (Bob) Moriarty wanted to know what some 400 Catholic men would have been doing on a sunny Saturday in October if they were not attending the seventh annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference.
“Cutting grass and paying bills,” one man shouted. “Honey-do list,” another man said. “Laundry and running errands.” “Leaves.” “Yard work.”
As kick-off speaker at the Oct. 25 conference at Goodwin College, Brother Bob then said, “There’s probably only a few people who would say, ‘Nothing. I’d just be lolling around the house.’” In the digital age, he said, we all try to do too much too fast, and that leaves us little time to connect with God, our source.
“The busyness and noisiness of contemporary life so often cuts us off from ourselves, from those we love, from our sense of the presence of God in our lives,” he said.
Brother Bob, director of the Pastoral Department for Small Christian Communities in the Archdiocese of Hartford, was one of five speakers at the conference. Its theme was “I Thirst!,” a reference to Christ’s lament from the cross.
“It was a good introduction,” said Frank Warecke Sr. of Southbury, a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Oxford. “Brother Bob did a good job talking about the pace of life. Our lives are just so rapid-paced that we forget about what it’s really all about and how we should reflect.”
Keynote speaker Jon Leonetti, an author and radio host, spoke about thirsting for wisdom, searching for an understanding of God. He said Saint Augustine tells us we can’t love what we don’t know.
“We don’t know the who and we don’t know the why and the whatness of God,” Mr. Leonetti said. He told a story about Saint Thomas Aquinas as a boy sitting in the back of the classroom. When the schoolmaster asked young Thomas to comment on the religion lesson, Thomas said, “What is God?”
“The only way in which we can understand who God is, is because he himself has revealed himself to us,” Mr. Leonetti said. From the burning bush in Exodus 3, God revealed his name to Moses: Yahweh, or “I am who I am.” God does not simply exist, Mr. Leonetti said; he is existence itself.
Jimmy Hines, a parishioner at Our Lady of Mercy in Plainville, said Mr. Leonetti’s talk was dynamic and informative. “I’ve got the fact that we should evangelize in some way and we should be doing more than we do,” he said. “It’s more than just church and we have a responsibility, and if we want to spend eternity with this God that we love so much, we should get to know him.”
National speaker and retreat leader Bryan Mercier was the emcee and spoke about the importance of forgiveness and the need to take advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation.
Peter Freissle, owner of Polydeck Screen Corp., based in South Carolina, shared his bold decision to promote the company’s Christian-based core values of “honesty, integrity, respect, kindness and a sense of social responsibility” in all company literature – a risky move that nonetheless helped his business grow even among non-Christian clients.
A highlight of the conference was a question-and-answer session led by Archbishop Leonard P. Blair.
Here is a sampling of Archbishop Blair’s remarks:
On practicing the faith: “It’s not just a matter of knowing. You could know the Catholic faith inside-out… But it’s a matter of being converted to Jesus Christ.”
On the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome: “As the Pope himself said at the end of the synod, [we] have to balance the doctrinal truths with the call to conversion that is part of the church’s mission for the world.”
On assisted suicide: “We know that it will be presented again for the legislature in January, so already we’re organizing ourselves to try to oppose this legislation… You have to look at the consequences of these kinds of actions in society, that this is not a wise course of action.”
On catechesis of young people by men: “You know, you’re not teaching Saint Thomas Aquinas in these catechism classes; you’re teaching young people who need to hear, to make a decision for their faith. They need to hear the basics.”
On the priest shortage: “We do have a shortage of priests, so let’s make that clear.... [but] God always lets you get by by the skin of your teeth. We don’t have enough priests to say Mass for 100 people at 8 o’clock and 200 people at 10 o’clock in a church that seats 500 ... but we do have enough to meet our needs, and I would say this, that if those pews were full in that church, I’m convinced that God would provide more priests for us.”
On the specter of potential parish closings: “In 1967, there were 250,000 more Catholics in the Archdiocese of Hartford than there are today....I was told that there are a number of our parishes that are surviving by spending down their savings, that they don’t have the wherewithal to continue, and I would be irresponsible as archbishop if I, together with the priests and people, did not take a hard look at this.”
Ken Santopietro, who once again organized the event, told the Transcript, “The Holy Spirit has captured the men; they are entertained and they are spiritually connecting with the speakers and they are fulfilling the purpose of the conference.… It’s almost like a Holy Spirit booster shot… When the men leave here I think they are going to find that their mood is better, their families will enjoy their company a little more and I think it will be good for all of them.”