I spent Saturday morning at the Boston Catholic Men’s Conference in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in the South End. No, that’s not me at left. That’s Danny Abramowicz, former NFL tight end for the New Orleans Saints, author of Spiritual Workout of a Former Saint, and creator of the EWTN show “Crossing the Goal.” “Coach Danny” and his “teammates” were the featured speakers at the conference. What follows are my notes from their talks.
First speaker was Peter Herbeck, Vice President and Director of Missions for Renewal Ministries. On the topic of “Conversion,” he spoke of Easter readings in the Acts of the Apostles and asked how Paul was changed from a man affected by the circumstances of everyday life to one who was contented everywhere. Paul realized that the problems of life do not arise from circumstances but from sin. That, Herbeck said, is the message of Jesus on the Cross: “I came to put away sin.”
Sin, he said, is the drive to push God to the margins of our life. The martyrs, by contrast, went to their deaths in joy, refusing to bend to the powers that be. Their freedom of spirit “blew people’s minds.” Today, by contrast, the vast majority of Catholics live a sort of “Christian minimalism,” asking, “What’s the least I need to do to get to Heaven (or Purgatory)?” Mass once a week, confession once a year? This is putting Christianity at risk. Herbeck quoted Pope Benedict as saying that in vast areas today, the light of faith is in danger of going out.
John Paul II called us to lives of “Gospel radicalism,” to believe in our hearts that Jesus Christ is acting in us today. To have a “total and radical” faith, Herbeck said, is like playing no-limit Texas hold’em with Jesus Christ and going “all in.” But we don’t do this, we bet a chip or two, because we are seduced by our culture. Look at the Archdiocese of Boston, with 1.8 million registered Catholics of whom only one-sixth (300,000 people) go to Mass on Sundays!
Abramowicz was next, speaking on “Transformation.” He began by talking of living the fast life of an NFL star and seeing his marriage and his own soul in peril. He entered Alcoholics Anonymous in 1981 and began to practice his faith more seriously.
“Coach Danny” said there are three types of people, represented by three circles. The first type has no Cross in the circle. The second type has the Cross just inside the circle, but not at the center. In the third type, the Cross is at the center of the circle. Then he described the “Spiritual Workout” needed to place the Cross at the center of our lives. This includes (1) having a serious prayer life, “stretching out in prayer,” making a daily appointment with the Lord; (2) running away from temptation which, he said, “stops fifteen minutes after you are in the grave”; (3) going to daily Mass for spiritual nutrition, the Word and the Eucharist; (4) quieting the chatter of daily lives so that we can be like Elijah, who heard the word of God “in a whisper”; and (5) gathering together as men.
Abramowicz ended by describing a heart attack he suffered in 2007. On the operating table, about to go under anesthesia, he prayed, “Lord, the timing’s not right here. I want to help raise my four grandchildren. But if it’s your will, I accept it.” He said that at that moment “a perfect calm” came over him. Then he asked the men in the Cathedral: “If that was you on that table, would you be ready?”
Final speaker of the morning was Curtis Martin (above), who took the theme of “Evangelization.” Martin is the founder of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), which evangelizes on campuses across the country. He spoke of the “dark cold spiritual winter” that Boston has survived and of the “new springtime” into which we are moving. He challenged men to take responsibility for this: “Do you think there’s another group of men like this in Boston, a group of men that God is calling? [Pause] You’re it.” Then Martin asked each man to ask, “What is God’s deep personal plan for me?” Martin asked us, “Do you believe that God’s plan for you is better than your plan for you? If Jesus Christ is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.“
Pope Benedict, he said, has taught that the purpose of evangelization is to address poverty in all its forms. “Lord, what form of poverty do you want me to address?”
Martin quoted Catherine of Siena, who told the Pope, “If you are what you were meant to be, you would set the world on fire.” The problem, Martin said, is that men are basically, essentially lazy. “The devil is counting on this one thing…. Many of us are paralyzed by fear of failure. If a man thinks something might make him look weak, he won’t do it.”
Martin noted that Hall of Fame baseball players fail seven out of ten times (batting .300). Those who succeed just have “the highest FQ” (failure quotient): They fall just as many times as the rest of us, but they get up one more time.
Martin ended with a quote from Benedict’s first homily as Pope: “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.”
It was a great morning.