By Claudia Mathis
“As iron sharpens iron, so man sharpens his fellow man.” (Proverbs 27:17)
The strength of a man’s faith has a direct impact on his life, his family and his community.
In 1994, a survey was conducted in Switzerland to determine whether a person’s religion carried through to the next generation, and if so, how.
The results pointed to one critical factor: it was the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determined his children’s future attendance at, or absence from, church.
The empowerment of men’s faith was the theme of Msgr. Jim Lisante’s presentation at the third annual IGNITE Catholic Men’s Conference on April 2 at the OnCenter in Syracuse.
Msgr. Lisante, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Massapequa Park, N.Y., addressed more than 800 men from throughout the diocese and from as far away as Florida. “I hope we can use this day to empower our faith to help change our families, our personal lives, as well as the world,” Msgr. Lisante said.
Msgr. Lisante previously served as director of the Office of Family Ministry for the Diocese of Rockville Centre. He has authored four books: Of Life and Love, Let’s Talk, Personally Speaking and The Power of One. He has also hosted several national television programs and is currently launching a new television show, “Close Encounter,” which will appear nationally on PBS in the near future. Msgr. Lisante is the host of a weekly radio program called “Personally Speaking.” His columns have appeared in over 300 newspapers.
The idea of offering an annual conference for men originated from a meeting between Father Larry Richards, pastor at St. Joseph’s Church/Bread of Life Community in Erie, Pa., Father Richard Prior, pastor at Holy Family Church in Fairmount, and Father Joseph O’Connor, diocesan director of the Office of Vocation Promotion. Father Richards was presenting at a mission at Holy Family at the time. The three men brainstormed ways to stimulate men to get them more involved with their faith. Father Richards suggested holding a men’s conference. Father Prior and Father O’Connor formed a committee of laity to determine if there might be an interest.
The committee members have learned some things from the execution of the previous conferences. “We’ve found that it’s good to have a good organization of the event within the parish,” said Ed Kirk, chairman of the
IGNITE planning committee.
“It helps to have a parish captain to fire the men up and to also have the pastor promote it. And it’s helpful to have the men who have gone to the previous conferences issue a personal invitation to the other men within the parish.” The parish captain helps coordinate the promotion and registration of the event.
This year, the conference’s theme was “Seek the Faith. Discover the Truth. Light the Fire.”
Kirk thought that Msgr. Lisante would inspire the men at this year’s conference when he heard him speak at a Catholic men’s conference in Long Island in 2009. “He gave such a dynamic talk, I thought it would be fantastic if he came here to Syracuse,” said Kirk.
Those in attendance thoroughly enjoyed Msgr. Lisante’s humorous presentation entitled “Discover the Truth.” By sharing a number of his personal experiences, Msgr. Lisante explained how the men could transform their lives by living in certain ways or “truths.”
“If you and I can get in touch with these truths today,” he said, “you can leave here better men.”
The first truth Msgr. Lisante mentioned was the importance of being spiritually nourished. He recommended spending one hour each week with the Eucharist. “Our relationship with Jesus has to be as intimate, as important as our relationship with our wives and our families,” he said. “If we don’t make time, it will die spiritually.”
He then stressed the importance of verbalization as the second truth. He asked the men if they were communicating their feelings of love, sorrow and forgiveness to the people that matter the most in their lives. He said that we, as humans, need to speak words and we need to hear words. “We need to have the words that affirm, the words that encourage, the words that challenge,” Msgr. Lisante said. “We need to speak the words that matter.”
The third truth was Msgr. Lisente’s suggestion for the men to be people who love unconditionally. He said that pride, for many men, keeps them from loving as they should. “The time to show our love for our families is now,” advised Msgr. Lisante.
Msgr. Lisante then discussed the issue of sexuality. He said that he views sex as an experience of the divine. “It should be an experience of God’s presence,” he said. “It’s a gift from God.” He encouraged the men to feel comfortable about sex and to talk about it freely with their children and grandchildren.
“For us to be the good, Catholic men we want to be, we need to talk about it openly and honestly without apology, without any shame,” said Msgr. Lisante.
Msgr. Lisante also talked about the sin of compartmentalization, the tendency of leaving the spiritual life in church and not carrying it out in one’s interactions with people outside of church.
He listed the importance of being consistent in practicing what one preaches as the sixth truth.
Msgr. Lisante concluded his presentation by stressing the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He urged the men to confess their sins. “No matter what sin you have committed,” he said, “there is nothing beyond the mercy of God.”
“We can take all these truths and hopefully bring them home and make them real, especially in the context of family, work and neighborhood,” said Msgr. Lisante. “You and I can transform our lives if we take what we do today and walk out of here and live it, not within different compartments, but in one simple truth — the love and mercy of God lived with conviction.”
Dean Humphreys, a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Baldwinsville, is someone who does just that. As a nurse practitioner at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Syracuse, he said he has the opportunity to live his faith and to touch people’s lives every day. “I have to make a difference in their lives,” said Humphreys. “Learning your faith and making a difference is a life-long process.”
Humphreys has attended the last two conferences and said that he looks forward to coming back to the conference every year.
“The speakers are wonderful,” said Humphreys. “Msgr. Lisante was very open and honest. It’s refreshing to hear a priest talk like a man.”
The conference opened with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert Cunningham. After Msgr. Lisante’s talk, the men broke for lunch and many participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Humphreys said that he finds the conferences very inspiring, especially the Mass. “I was very moved when I heard the deep-toned voices of close to 1,000 men speaking the prayers in unison,” he said. “It made the hair stand up on my arms.”
After Msgr. Lisante’s presentation, Chuck Conklin, a parishioner at St. Mary’s in Baldwinsville, waited his turn to partake in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Contemplating what he had just heard, he felt determined to apply his faith to everyday life. He said he planned to work on strengthening his marriage due to his children gradually leaving home for college and he also intended to talk to his daughter about the issue of sex. “I liked hearing about the truth that sex is a gift,” Conklin said. “And I’m looking forward to hearing the next two speakers today.”
After lunch, the men were inspired by presentations from Darrell Miller, director of major league baseball’s Urban Youth Academy, and Gus Lloyd, morning host of the Catholic channel on Sirius Satellite Radio.
The conference ended with Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction.
Kirk is certain that the conference made a lasting impression on the lives of the men who attended. “It’s important for men to see other men who are living their Catholic faith and to feel their support,” said Kirk.