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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Men, Faith, Family and Time...

A beautiful setting for a conference...
"Do you spend time with your family?  Cause a man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man."

Those were the fitting words of Don Vito Carleone to Johnny Fontane in The Godfather.  And, while his son, Michael, went off the reservation in the movie sequel by kicking his wife out of the house, leaving his sister widowed, by having her husband killed, and ordering the murder of his own brother, family was a big deal to Don Carleone, and his astute statement could have well been the motto for the 4th Annual Archdiocese of Miami Men's Conference I attended a couple of weekends ago.

In other words, being a real man is all about family.  The time we spend with them and the love we share is the legacy that a man leaves after he's gone. 

In his book, Before I Go, author, Peter Kreeft, writes, "There are two kinds of time.  Abstract time is a scientific concept, a way of measuring matter moving through space.  Concrete time is lived time.  We call it our 'lifetime.'  Time is life.  So to give someone your time is to give him your life.  Our families are the ones we give our lives to and the ones who give their lives to us."

It's funny because I'm sure most people, as they lay dying, are not concerned so much about having spent too much time with their families and not enough time at work.  The regret is usually the opposite.  Yet, many of us are so caught up with the fast-paced lifestyle of the rat race society we live in that our families usually get the short end of the stick.

That was the purpose of the men's conference at St. Mark's Catholic Church in Southwest Ranches earlier this month; to refocus on what is truly important in life.

We got a chance to hear from two nationally known and passionate speakers, Fr. Larry Richards, who is hilarious and played a huge impact in my spiritual growth when I returned to the faith over seven years ago, and Jesse Romero, who has nothing to envy even the most gifted and fiery Protestant evangelist on TV.

Aside from the outstanding guest speakers, we partook in the Holy Mass celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Wenski, got a chance to go to Confession and shared in the camaraderie of more than five hundred like-minded, mostly Catholic, men, from all walks of life, who are committed to growing closer to God, loving their families and living and sharing their faith to the best of their abilities. 

With Jesse Romero...
It may sound bit odd in today's skeptical world, where truth is often distorted and relegated to personal preferences and opinions, but there are more men like us, who are interested in learning and growing closer to God, than the media gives credit to.

So what is a real man?  Fr. Richards put it bluntly, "A real man is one who lays down his life every day for his wife and kids."  That is because, as he says, the world of flesh and evil is coming after our families from every angle each and every day.  To echo the words of Romero, we are "like David having to fight off many Goliaths." 

We need courage.  Courage to stand up for what we believe and for those we love because, if we are distracted, like Adam was, while the serpent was tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden, we will fail to fulfill one of our most important reasons for living, aside from personal holiness; leading our family to heaven.

Of course, this is easier for me to write about than do, since I often find myself distracted on many things other than my family (i.e. work, sports, TV, blogging, social media, reading, etc.).  As my wife often reminds me, "That's why you miss everything I and the kids say, because you're too busy watching TV!" 

I do realize my faults and often get dejected by my own self-centeredness and failures as a husband and father.  It's part of my nature but Romero made a great point, "We are all sinners.  But, do you know which sinners are going to get into heaven?  Repentant sinners!"  Repentance is not as much of a problem for me, as much as doing something to overcome my sinful tendencies.     

Yet, in those moments of despondence, it is encouraging to know that I'm not alone.  Like all the men at the conference, we all fail in one way or another.  Even the great Catholic author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series, J.R.R. Tolkien, who was as devoted to God and his faith, as any layman I've read, once stated in a letter to his children, "I have brought you all up ill and talked to you too little...  I failed as a father.  Now I pray for you all, unceasingly, that the Healer shall heal my defects."

In the aforementioned Kreeft book, the author writes, "The good in our kids is due 1% to us, 2% to them and 97% to God's grace."  He continues, "There is only one perfect Father.  And even His kids mess up.  All of them."

If there was an underlined theme of the conference, it was that we need to be men of prayer and love; not judgment.

As Romero stated, "God's Mercy is greater than His Judgment."  Thank heaven for that, but we need to try to follow His example and the only way to do that is to understand God's love for us.  

Fr. Richards signing copies of his book...
Fr. Richards tells a heart-wrenching story about a police officer he knew from his childhood in Pittsburgh, who had a drinking problem.  The man left his wife and children, got remarried and went off to Nevada to seek fame and fortune but his drinking problem continued.  He then moved to Houston to start anew and continue his search for greater glory but his drinking problem persisted.   

By the time, he was 43, the then retired cop had cirrhosis of the liver and was dying.  Fr. Richards was attending seminary at the time and got a call from the man's wife asking him to come and comfort her husband.  Fr. Richards went and spent a week by the man's bedside, praying, telling stories and joking to lift his spirits.  He says the man was so consumed by the illness that he looked more like he was ninety than forty and couldn't speak.  Then came the time for him to go back to the seminary and he told the ex-cop, "Look I have to go back.  I would really like it if you attended my ordination in a few months," both knowing well the man was not going to live to see the day.

The seminarian started walking away and took a final look back and noticed that the man was desperately making hand signals for him to return.  Fr. Richards says he knelt down beside the bed, hugged him and said in his ear, "I love you too Dad."  And, that was the last time he saw his father alive.

The priest says he waited until his father was on his deathbed to tell him he loved him because he says he wasn't the kind of dad that he wanted him to be.  He says he spent his whole life judging his father instead of loving him.     

We are all on barrowed time in this world.  One minute we are dropping off our children at school and the next minute an out-of-control maniac plows his car into ours and our life is over, as it did for a woman in Broward County several months ago.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien wrote, "I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.  "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."...


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