Catholic Watchmen movement launches at men’s conference

| Sam Patet | March 1, 2016 | 4 Comments
Mens Conference

Men listen to Bishop Andrew Cozzens deliver his keynote address. At the end of the conference, Bishop Cozzens invited the men to be Catholic Watchmen. All 1,700 men in attendance stood up and made the commitment. Ted Brakob/For The Catholic Spirit

About 1,700 men gathered for a morning of training Feb. 27 at the University of St. Thomas’ Anderson Fieldhouse in St. Paul. Leading them were some of the best coaches in the Twin Cities.

But these men wouldn’t be competing for a medal. They were attending the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Catholic Men’s Conference, and their goal was simple: learn how to lead themselves and their families to the ultimate victory — salvation.

“We really believe that it is time to call Catholic men to be who God created you to be,” said Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens at the beginning of the event.

“We’re here not to be entertained, we’re here not to watch some kind of sporting event,” Jeff Cavins told attendees later in the morning. “We’re here because we have a desire for God in our own lives.”

New initiative

Unlike previous archdiocesan men’s conference, this year’s event didn’t bring a nationally known speaker from outside the archdiocese.

That was intentional. Bishop Cozzens and Cavins wanted the conference to be the launching pad for an archdiocesan-wide initiative — the Catholic Watchmen — whose goal is to  train men to protect, provide for and lead their families in the faith.

The Catholic Watchmen is a parish-based movement that is meant to enhance — not replace — existing men’s groups, Cavins said. It draws its name from the Book of Ezekiel, where the prophet laments at finding no one to “stand in the breach” and protect God’s people from the enemy.

A breach was a hole or opening in a wall that surrounded an ancient city, explained Cavins, director of the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, which oversees the event. To make sure the enemy didn’t enter the city through those breaches, he said, watchmen were assigned to stand guard and sound the alarm if needed.

“When God calls men to stand in the breach, he’s saying, ‘I need somebody to protect my people here and somebody to stand in the breach,’” Cavins said.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens addresses men during the archdiocese’s annual Men’s Conference Feb. 27 at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. Ted Brakob/For The Catholic Spirit

Bishop Andrew Cozzens addresses men during the archdiocese’s annual Men’s Conference Feb. 27 at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. Ted Brakob/For The Catholic Spirit

Put another way, a man who stands in the breach is one who sacrifices his life for the good of others.

“We know that in the heart of every person — and especially every man — is a much deeper desire, and it’s a desire to make a gift of my life,” Bishop Cozzens said during his keynote presentation. “In fact, I’ll only truly be happy when I discover how to make a gift of my life.”

That attitude appealed to 28-year-old Eric Flaherty, a parishioner at Maternity of Mary in St. Paul. He’s a St. Paul police officer and a member of the Minnesota Army National Guard.

“I’m married and I have two kids, and it’s always been my hope to be that leader of the family,” he said. A man, he added, is “somebody who’s willing to put [in] the effort and the time and the sacrifice, and to bring his family . . . to heaven.”

First-time attendee Mark Meuer, 50, a parishioner at St. Paul in Ham Lake, also was struck by Bishop Cozzens’ challenge. “The most important thing for me is being a husband and being a father and doing that in a way that is faithful to the Lord,” he said.

Needing the Lord for success

One of the movement’s most important components is establishing groups of men who will implement it at their parishes. These groups — called “vanguards” — should consist of 10 to 12 men, Cavins said. Bishop Cozzens has met twice with a vanguard of 30 men — priests, deacons and laymen — to pray for and brainstorm ways to reach men of the archdiocese.

At the heart of the vanguards’ work will be inviting men to adopt seven spiritual disciplines. These are basic practices of the spiritual life, Cavins said, and include praying daily, going to confession monthly and fraternizing with other Catholic men.

As Bishop Cozzens explained, though, if these practices are to bear fruit, they have to be coupled with a fundamental humility: Men have to realize how much they need God.

“If I try even to follow God without depending on his strength, I’ll never be able to do it,” Bishop Cozzens said. “I need him. And I need to find ways to allow myself to depend on him.”

Men can’t do it on their own because of original sin, Bishop Cozzens said. “We live in a world that is painfully wounded by sin,” he said. “And it’s God’s mercy that changes us — it heals us, it strengthens us, and it allows us to be the person that we’re called to be.”

God’s mercy, Bishop Cozzens said, is at the heart of every true encounter Jesus had with someone in Scripture. The woman caught in adultery, the tax collector Zacchaeus, St. Peter — all of them realized two things when they encountered Jesus. First, that they were sinners, and second, that they were sinners who were infinitely loved by God.

“When we experience it [God’s mercy], it changes us. It allows us to begin to follow him in a new way,” Bishop Cozzens said.

Catholic Watchmen’s seven spiritual disciplinesDaily

1. Pray with persistence and devotion to Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
2. Encounter Jesus in sacred Scripture.
3. Strive to be a spiritual father like St. Joseph.

Weekly

4. Engage fully in Sunday Mass.
5. Serve and be a witness to family and community.

Monthly

6. Go to confession.
7. Build fraternity and evangelize men in monthly parish gatherings.

Looking ahead

By conference’s end, the men had gone through an intense spiritual workout in preparation to become Catholic Watchmen. When Bishop Cozzens invited them to make the commitment, all 1,600 of them stood up.

Among them was 30-year-old Mitch Milless of Holy Family in St. Louis Park. While the father of two knows he won’t live out the seven practices perfectly, that didn’t deter him from giving his yes.

“It’s a nice way to remind myself to be committed to something specific and know that other people are going to be committed to it as well,” he said.

The induction ceremony was simple: The men prayed together with the bishop and then received a pin.

In his closing remarks, Cavins outlined the steps the archdiocese wants to see take place over the next seven months.

From March through August, men should establish vanguards at their parishes and begin to plan with their pastors. Starting in September, they should hold monthly meetings for all men. These meetings should include adoration, confession, a meal, a discussion on one of the seven disciplines, and a personal invitation to become Catholic Watchmen.

For its part, Cavins’ office will provide parishes with planning materials, as well as host a number of archdiocesan events.

Bishop Cozzens and Cavins hope all men of the archdiocese commit to be Catholic Watchmen. When that happens, however, they won’t be able to train in the Anderson Fieldhouse; it will be too small.

“I see a day, and I think many of you would say the same thing,” Cavins said, “when that new football stadium [that] was built for the Vikings — I see a day when it’s filled with Catholic men.”

For more information about the Catholic Watchmen movement, visit TheCatholicWatchmen.com.

 

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  • Joe Thornton

    It was a great event. Humbled to have been able to participate. Strengthened by the fact I was surrounded by well over 1,000 men – all with a shared purpose. Bishop Cozzens and the team from the archdiocese did a great job putting this concept together and launching it.

  • Justin Stroh

    Jeff gave a vision of the Vikings stadium filled with men in praise of God.

    This vision was given to me back in 1996 at a “Promise Keepers” convention. The KC Royals stadium was 70% full of men singing praise to God. As the opening hymn began, I experienced a deep desire to see our Eucharistic Lord in the center of the stadium. I looked to the Catholic men on either side of me and after the convention I shared this vision with them and they affirmed the truth in it.

    Then, about 18 months ago my son and I were near the construction site of the new Vike’s stadium and the memory of that vision came to me. Jeff called it out last Saturday. Now it is in the hearts and minds of over 1600 men. It is from the Lord! I believe he wants it!

    Come Lord Jesus. We will open wide the doors and speak the truth. We desire as many men as possible will encounter the rays of your Divine Mercy.

    Come Holy Spirit! Come!

  • Listen to Mary

    Did the Bishop forget to tell every man in attendance that our Blessed Mother told us all to pray the Holy Rosary daily and have devotion to her Immaculate Heart? She did this at Fatima, Portugal in 1917. How quickly we all forget. How can we be Watchmen when we forget to bring along the Ark of the New Covenant? What happened to the walls of Jericho when the Ark was paraded around the city? So sad that Catholic leadership casts off a powerful weapon and advocate Jesus gave us.

    • Gerry Lagasca

      I believe, although not specific, it is included in the first Daily Discipline – Devotion to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.