By Lou Baldwin
Special to the CS&T
PHILADELPHIA – The theme was “Be Reconciled with the Lord,” and the Men’s Spirituality Conference held March 13 drew more than 1,500 Catholic men of all ages, some even bringing young sons, to Archbishop Ryan High School on a very stormy Saturday.
It was a full day of instruction, worship and sacramental healing, with 60 priests hearing confessions, culminating with the celebration of the Eucharist by Cardinal Justin Rigali.
This was the second of what is intended to be an annual event. “Last year we had 1,200; that was a strong response,” said Dominic Lombardi, director of the archdiocesan Family Life Office. “This year is even better.”
Cardinal Rigali complimented the throng at his liturgy, telling the men, “each one of you, despite the terrible weather, in your resolution you came here and opened your hearts.”
The Mass readings, those for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, could be summed up in two words, Cardinal Rigali said, they are “mercy and reconciliation.”
The readings culminating with the Gospel parable of the prodigal son were especially fitting for the conference theme of reconciliation. “It is such a magnificent presentation,” Cardinal Rigali said. “Beyond the prodigal son it is the presentation of the merciful Father.”
The day began with prayers offered by Auxiliary Bishop Robert P. Maginnis, who headed the planning committee. It continued with a keynote address by Norristown-born and Phoenixville-raised former Los Angeles Dodgers star Mike Piazza, who is now married with two daughters and living in Florida.
Piazza spoke of his own Catholic upbringing and of later temptations that come with fame and money. He experimented with the lifestyle that goes with stardom, dating the hottest models, living the good life and having fun, but very quickly found it wasn’t fulfilling his real needs.
“I started going to Mass regularly and reading the Bible,” he said. “True power is harnessing power not exploiting it. You have to have faith. Faith is the rudder that keeps us on the straight and narrow.”
Because he was not succumbing to the hedonism that so often goes with fame, he had to contend with printed rumors that he was homosexual, which he attributes to the devil’s response to his trying to live a Christian life.
In spite of his fame, Piazza does not consider himself a better man than anyone else. It doesn’t matter where one’s talents lie, “we are all equal in God’s eyes,” he said. “The real sin is not developing your talents to the fullest. I was an all-star, but that doesn’t me make a better man than you.”
While Piazza was speaking, California lay evangelist Jesse Romero was giving another keynote to Spanish-speaking men. His afternoon reprise in English proved dynamic preaching is dynamic preaching no matter the language.
“The power of confession keeps us humble, it keeps us dependent on the Lord,” he said. “The difference between the believing Christian and the secular humanist is, I worship the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The secular humanist worships an unholy trinity – me, myself and I.”
Other speakers for the day included Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, Father Daniel Mackle, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Philadelphia, Edward Lis, archdiocesan Catholic Social Services’ director of Catholic Mission Integration, Mark Houck, founder of the lay group “The King’s Men,” Augustinian Recollect Father Luis Calderon, businessman Eustace Mita and former Philadelphia Flyer Don Saleski.
Mita, who also served as MC through the day, commented on the success of the conference. “(It is) a great testament to the need and the thirst of men out there to be together in the Lord. People know they are going to get a quality day,” he said.
This is something those in the audience would second.
Joe Griffiths of St. Timothy Parish in Philadelphia observed, “It was excellent and very organized. The guest speakers were so honest and sincere. They really knew what they were talking about, and there were so many ordinary, good people there – it was special.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.