By John Heuertz
Special to the Catholic Key
OVERLAND PARK — “I am sick and tired of the wimpiness of Catholic men.”
Fr. Larry Richards is not a man to mince words. But they produced a standing ovation for the keynote speaker at the “Men Under Construction XVI” conference last weekend in Overland Park.
The conference was about strengthening Catholic men spiritually by teaching them how to have better relations with God and with one another, especially so they can become better husbands and fathers. St. Joseph was mentioned several times by several speakers in several contexts during the day.
“We had a record number of 1,035 people who took a beautiful Saturday to learn how to be better Catholics and better men,” said Dan Spencer during the event at the Catholic Church of the Ascension.
Because, as Spencer said, “There are certain days when you have to be a man for the sake of your wife and children.”
Spencer is president of the National Fellowship of Catholic Men, which hosted the event. It was attended mostly by middle-aged men, many with their sons and a few with their wives.
“It’s wonderful to see this many men who are willing to put their selfish pride away and be true men of God,” said Joe Zagar of Our Lady of the Presentation parish in Lee’s Summit.
Indicating his son Taylor, Zagar added that “We have to lead by example.”
“Gentlemen, God wants you to change the world. We don’t have to be wimpy,” Fr. Richards said. “God isn’t here to judge you men. He’s here to set you free.”
He reminded them that while fear is useless, “There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). “The reality is that God is love.”
Fr. Richards offered pastoral advice to help Catholic men prepare for the future. “Start every day with a Bible verse or two and watch how your life changes.”
“I’m thankful to God for the straight talk we’ve heard today, especially from Fr. Larry,” said John Kreipe of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in St. Joseph.
“We’re in a situation in the West that we haven’t been in for 1,700 years,” said speaker Steve Ray in an address rich in St. Paul and church history.
He pointed out that early Christians successfully evangelized a pagan culture against overwhelming odds by applying a very direct approach for 300 years.
“They knew the truth and they taught it. But most of all they were willing to die for it,” he said.
Ray, a Baptist convert, challenged his Catholic brothers to be willing to do the same.
“You and I are no longer part of the culture of the world,” he said. “We need to re-evangelize it, but it will be more difficult this time around because the culture thinks it already knows what Christianity is all about.”
“How will you and I live? It’s going to take great courage to be a Catholic in coming years.”
Saturday’s conference was sponsored locally by the Kansas City Catholic Men’s Fellowship. Only two local groups in the country – Kansas City and Cincinnati – are older than the national organization.
One would expect national speakers, breakout sessions and workshops at a conference. But this conference took 65 local volunteers six months to prepare and had Mass and dozens of Archdiocesan priests to hear Confessions – plus Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann to deliver the closing address.
Ascension pastor Fr. Thomas Tank celebrated the Mass that launched Saturday’s event. By coincidence, he also helped to found the first men’s group in the KCK Archdiocese in the 1990s.
“I worked on it with five or six laymen at Savior of the World seminary 16 years ago,” he said. “It was in the time when Promise Keepers was going strong.”
“We didn’t want to compete with them, but rather to do something similar in an authentic retreat day with Mass and Confession for Catholic men.”
The 17th annual “Men Under Construction” conference for the Kansas City area will be held February 16, 2013 at Ascension parish. Later this year, the NFCM might host a how-to conference for local parishes that want a “Men Under Construction” group of their own, Spencer said.