In game of life, faith, forgiveness and love are key

| March 17, 2011 | 0 Comments

Archbishop John Nienstedt greets Jack McGinty, left, a junior at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley and member of St. Vincent de Paul in Brooklyn Park, and Thomas Dzurik, a sophomore at Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in St. Louis Park and member of St. Thomas the Apostle in Corcoran, during the Archdiocesan Men’s Conference March 12 at the Cathedral of St. Paul. Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Archbishop Nienstedt, former hockey player among those addressing 1,000 men at conference

With state high school champions to be crowned that day, St. Paul was abuzz with hockey on March 12. But hours before the Xcel Energy Center would fill to near capacity for the Class A and AA title games, the Cathedral of St. Paul was jammed with nearly 1,000 men doing some cheering of their own.

Father Bill Baer, pastor of Transfigu­ration in Oakdale, acknowledged puck fever as he addressed the men gathered for the Archdiocesan Men’s  Conference right after the event’s kickoff Mass.

“There are two groups of people in Minnesota,” he said, “those who know about hockey and those who know a lot about hockey.”

Fighting for our faith

With an archbishop who likes the sport and a former Minnesota Wild player in attendance, it would have been tough to ignore the crown jewel of high school sports tournaments in the state.

Yet, puck talk was kept to a minimum by the conference’s main speakers, which included Archbishop John Nienstedt, who, the day before, took a short break to go watch eventual-state champion St. Thomas Academy play in the Class A semifinals.

Even Wes Walz, who played for the Wild from 2000 to 2007, talked less about hockey and more about his faith life, which he said has greatly deepened since retiring from the game.

He centered his talk on a Scripture verse, Luke 12:8-9, in which Jesus says,  “I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. But, whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.”

“I read that passage and it spoke volumes to me and really reached out to me,” said Walz, a member of St. Ambrose in Woodbury with his wife, Kerry-Anne, and their five children. “We need to fight for our faith, we need to be loyal to our faith. It’s important to get it right.”

He noted that this is an important time in our culture for men to practice and stand up for their faith. He even compared its importance to the playoff games he played in with the Wild.

“The best players always step up and play their best in big games,” said Walz, whose son, Kelvin, a senior at East Ridge High School in Woodbury, came with him to the conference. “We need to do that right now. This is a Game Seven.”

United in faith

Echoing Walz’ sense of urgency was Archbishop Nienstedt, whose talk came at the end of the conference. He commended the men for coming together, then offered some challenges.

“Like any leader, the archbishop needs his men marching alongside him,” he said. “And, for this we have come here today; we rally together, united as a community of believers standing under the banner of our Catholic faith.”

He encouraged the men to be a blessing to their family, their church and the broader community. Part of that role calls for them to be “agents of God’s forgiveness.”

“We all need forgiveness, we all need mercy — no exceptions,” he said. “This is one of the underlying themes that marks the season of Lent.”

The archbishop stressed the need for the sacraments of penance and Eucharist, exhorting the men to receive both regularly. Further, he called the men to spend time in eucharistic adoration.

“By spending time with the Master in silent adoration,” he said, “we slowly begin to learn the lessons of his life, a life of service and silent listening to the voice of the Father.”

As one of the speakers, Dave Rinaldi of NET Ministries, noted, it is these types of things that bring men the ultimate in satisfaction and freedom. He learned this during college, after he had chased after worldly pursuits without gaining the freedom he was looking for. Then, he was invited to a Catholic retreat and had a personal experience with God. In his talk, he described the richness of his life of faith, and invited the men to taste the same thing.

“Nothing will bring you the freedom you are looking for except Jesus Christ, who said, ‘I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly,’” Rinaldi said. “Do you want that life? Men, we need to die to ourselves to receive the freedom we’re longing for.”

Serving one’s spouse

John Buri, psychology professor at the University of St. Thomas and marriage expert, gave the men advice for how to apply the concept of self-denial to their marriages.

Author of a book called “How to Love Your Wife,” he said it can be as simple as washing the dishes. Yet, just as important as doing such tasks is having the right attitude about serving one’s spouse.

“We need to do it with a heart that loves to do it,” he said. “We are not simply men who go through the motions doing what we need to do; we actually grow to love it, we actually want to do the dishes.”

Buri knows this message is countercultural, which is one reason why he was excited to see such a large gathering of Catholic men at the cathedral.

“For years, I have dreamed of something like this,” he said, “800, 900 men who are interested in saying yes to God.”

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