By JOANNE FOX
LE MARS – In keeping with April Fools Day, Bishop Walker Nickless put a different spin on the U.S. Marine’s slogan of “looking for a few good men.”
Bishop Nickless told participants at the Diocesan Men’s Conference, the church needs “many men who are fools for Christ.”
He paused for the emphasis and stated, “And proud of it.”
Nearly 200 men spent the bulk of April 1 at All Saints Parish, St. Joseph Church, to sharpen their faith at the fourth annual event.
The conference continued to build on last year’s theme from Proverbs 27:15: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
Keynote speaker Marcel LeJeune, who has worked for the last 15 years in campus ministry, reflected on how being “Catholic” has changed over the centuries.
“We don’t have a Catholic culture,” he insisted. “The bar was set long ago: To be a good Catholic, you had to go to Mass and be active in your church.”
The Catholic author and columnist asked, “What’s wrong with that?” and replied, “Nothing, except Jesus never said anything about those two things and it’s not what he wanted.”
LeJeune referenced Pope Paul VI in explaining the “purpose” of the church.
“The Catholic Church exists in order to evangelize. It is her deepest identity,” he quoted. “Even Pope St. John Paul II talked about the ‘new evangelization.’”
LeJeune emphasized, embracing a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” was the answer; the lie of the devil was a Catholic man doesn’t need that.
“Before God and the Eucharist, 25 years ago at a retreat, I realized God loves me and nothing I can do will make him stop loving me,” he said. “All he wants from me is a simple, ‘Yes.’”
In his second presentation, “Get Out of that Boat,” LeJeune focused on the Gospel story from Matthew of how Jesus walked on water.
“Like the apostles, are you afraid? Are you comfortable? Would you stay in the boat?” he queried. “You were made to walk on water.”
“A week ago I asked God to help get me out of my comfort zone and be uncomfortable,” Groth said. “I don’t like being in front of people and I was literally shaking, but I made up my mind I was going to do it.”
It was the first men’s conference for Matt Perry of Sheldon, who appreciated LeJeune’s insights on what it meant to be a Catholic man.
“My dad encouraged me to attend and I thought it was a good idea to help build my faith,” he said.
Matt’s father, Doug, has participated in all the men’s conferences.
“It’s just a good day to help recharge your faith,” he said.
Tyler Smith of Sioux City decided to attend because his uncle, Deacon Kevin Poss, invited him.
“I thought it was a good opportunity – outside of going to church – to learn more about my faith,” the 20-year-old said. “The big thing I took away from this was the No. 1 reason there are not a lot of our brothers out there practicing their faith is not sharing it with others.”
Participants had the opportunity to attend two of eight breakout sessions on a variety of topics. One of the breakouts with the highest attendance was on “What to do when your loved one leaves the Church.” Father Shane Deman of Sioux City facilitated that session.
“Just don’t assume you can change a loved one who has fallen away,” he said. “There are certain things you can control and certain things you cannot control.”
Father Deman recommended those who were struggling with this situation to “pray, fast and sacrifice” for their loved ones.
“Oh, boy, I can see it in your faces,” he said in response to the nervous giggles. “But even Pope Paul VI pointed out that modern man is persuaded more by witness than facts.”
A breakout presented by Rob Heller and Nick Roth of Sioux City on starting a men’s group in a parish was attended by Stephen Kesten of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Webster City.
“I’m here with my dad, Fred of Holy Trinity Parish in Fort Dodge,” he explained. “I was interested in forging friendships with other Catholic men and feeling comfortable talking about my faith and personal struggles.”
The diocese’s own Deacon Tom Henrich of Le Mars took over the second keynote spot. Originally, Deacon Alex Jones of the Archdiocese of Detroit was to be one of the speakers, but he died unexpectedly Jan. 14.
Deacon Henrich’s presentation, “Be Greater than You,” focused on being the person God created you to be.
“The church teaches us how to have a spectacular life,” he said. “You are probably here today because you knew you needed to do something.”
Deacon Henrich, a marriage and family therapist, said men need to reclaim their lives and their unique role in society – a role based on what God has planned for them.
“The secret to that role is we just have to keep trying,” he said. “Make the decision to be better than you are.”
Fred Shellabarger, diocesan director of evangelization, catechesis and family life, expressed his thanks for all those who helped make the conference a success.
“In Mat. 5:16, Jesus tells us, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,’” he said. “It is clear that All Saints Parish in Le Mars, takes this passage to heart. This parish, in many ways, has become the heart of the men’s conference. Their light shines bright in our diocese and is a reminder to us all of the example we are to be in terms hospitality, mission and discipleship.”