EAST HARTFORD – A rainy Oct. 22 at Goodwin College did not dampen the hearts of nearly 500 men at the ninth annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference. Instead, speaker after speaker filled the reservoirs in their hearts with impassioned calls to lead lives of mercy.
“God is calling you,” sang Marty Rotella, last year’s keynoter and this year’s emcee. “He lifts you up, invites you in,” he continued, as the men clapped in time and sang along.
Deacon Arthur Miller, of St. Mary Parish in Simsbury, banished all traces of Saturday morning lethargy from the men with audience-participation, Bible-themed skits, acting out two of Jesus’ miracles: blind Bartimaeus’s faith-inspired healing and Lazarus’s rise from the dead.
“When you reach out in those 2 o’clock in the morning times, when you’re wondering where God is, Jesus stops and hears you,” Deacon Miller assured them.
“He’s so natural,” said Dick Fournier, of Holy Family Parish in Enfield, about Deacon Miller. “He doesn’t seem to worry about the audience. He just does what he feels needs doing. The guy is cool.”
“It was very rewarding,” said Warren Edwards, of St. Patrick Parish in East Hampton. “I congratulated him after. Every speaker was great. Everyone was just the perfect match.”
Keynote speaker Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio – he goes by “Dr. Italy” for easy pronunciation – said that people should think twice before asking God for what they deserve.
“God is just and merciful at the same time,” he said. Without his mercy, we cannot hope for heaven, he said.
Jesus came because sin filled all humans, he said. “Some human being had to do something perfectly just…. Only a man should, and only God could, save the world. Jesus was both,” he said.
“He hit it home for me,” said Mr. Fournier. “The kinds of things he said, I felt the same way.”
Jesuit Father Anthony Ciorra, a leading expert on Catholic spirituality and assistant vice president for mission and Catholic identity at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, touched on this year’s theme, the Year of Mercy.
“The journey from the head to the heart is where God is,” he said. He quipped that a young boy once said he didn’t like Santa Claus because he keeps a naughty-and-nice list. “With God, there is no list,” Father Ciorra said; “God is ‘mercying’ all the time,” a word he said was coined by Saint Francis of Assisi.
Bruce Beutler of Sherman said of Father Ciorra’s talk, “His stories were very entertaining. They all had a very clear, defined message that stays with you: forgiveness and mercy. He kept stressing about Pope Francis’ message and also that God is ever merciful. It’s a reminder to us that we have to have more mercy to those around us.”
Deacon Michael Puscas, director of permanent deacon personnel for the Diocese of Norwich, debunked moral relativism, the notion that everyone may decide for himself or herself what is right and what is wrong. “Moral relativism tells us that there is no reason to love God and our neighbor because it’s all about me,” he said.
Father Peter Towsley, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Danbury, said, “We are called to be men of mercy, men of prayer.” He said we must “rediscover mercy; you cannot give what you do not have.” Mercy, he said, is the rudder in our lives.
Father Daniel Renaud, a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate at Immaculata Retreat House in Willimantic, said, “God’s love is not earned; it is a free gift that lets us lead good moral lives.”
The parable of the prodigal son should be called the parable of the prodigal father, he said, because the father willingly gave half his wealth to his younger son who left home. When the son returned, the father lavished even more wealth on him, throwing a huge party for him at great expense. Father Renaud said the father in the parable could be likened to God, our father who lavishes love and mercy on us.
In the afternoon, Archbishop Leonard P. Blair joined Dr. D’Ambrosio and Mr. Rotella in answering questions about the faith from men in attendance.
In his homily at the vigil Mass that ended the conference, Archbishop Blair called on the men to imitate Christ by practicing humility. Echoing the words of Saint Paul in the reading from 2 Timothy (“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”), Archbishop Blair concluded, “May we run the race for the cause of righteousness.”
Jerusalem Road, a Christian folk rock ensemble, returned for a second year and kept the men’s spirits up with inspiring music and songs.
Ken Santopietro, director of the conference, thanked Goodwin College for hosting the event for several years and announced that the 2017 conference will take place at St. Paul Catholic High School in Bristol on Oct. 21. Bishops from all three Connecticut dioceses are scheduled to take part in that conference, he said. For updates, follow www.ctcatholicmen.org.