Conference crowd fills St. Michael Church

Jesuit Father James Martin signed his new book "Jesus: A Pilgrimage" March 21 at the Flaget Center. (Photo by Marnie McAllister)
Jesuit Father James Martin signed his new book Jesus: A Pilgrimage March 21 at the Flaget Center. (Photo by Marnie McAllister)

By Glenn Rutherford, Record Editor

The organizers of the third annual Archdiocese of Louisville Catholic Men’s Conference were hoping to fill the new St. Michael Church with around 800 people on March 22.

And their wish — as a result of a great deal of effort — came true.

The crowd was the largest in the event’s history, and those who came were treated to addresses from both Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz and Jesuit Father James Martin, famous for his appearances on national television shows — both news and entertainment — and on National Public Radio. And they were also treated to four “break-out” sessions — Adam Ruiz led a session called “Man’s Vulnerability to Violence;” Patrick Hughes, the blind musician who has gained national notoriety, led a session called “I Am Potential;” Deputy Coroner Buddy
Dumeyer, and faculty and students from St. Xavier High School led a panel discussion on “dying with dignity;” and local attorney and peace activist Thomas Williams led a session called “One Man’s Witness from Darkness to Light.”

In a brief interview prior to the start of last Saturday’s conference, Father Martin was complimented for the positive way he represents the Catholic faith when in the spotlight of national media attention.

“Well, thanks for the compliment, but this isn’t something I thought of on my own,” he said with a gentle smile on his face. He just tries to live and act following the example of Jesus, he said.

“Jesus didn’t say ‘follow me or I’ll hit you on the head with a stick,’ or ‘follow me or I’ll punch you in the nose,’ ” the Jesuit priest noted. “I try to tell people that it’s a big church, and that it should be — as Pope Francis says — a welcoming church.”

Father Martin, editor-at-large of America Magazine and also a well-known author, spoke to the filled-to-capacity church after a brief keynote address by Archbishop Kurtz.

The archbishop referred to Father Martin as “a pleasant, gentle, look-you-in-the-eye priest who commands the respect of everyone he meets.”

Archbishop Kurtz also noted that the conference provided the men in attendance with “a great opportunity to grow closer to their faith, closer to Jesus.”

“You know, I used to bowl a great deal when I was younger,” the archbishop noted, offering an anecdote about the nature of “closeness.” “And I’ve learned a valuable lesson over the years. If you take the ball and then walk up the lane until you’re about 10 feet from the pins, your score will increase dramatically.”

Once the laughter subsided, the archbishop made his point: “Error increases with distance,” he said. “The farther we are from the people and things we love, the greater the chance of making a mistake, and that holds for the church, too.

“Let’s resolve here and now to get closer to God and closer to the ones we love,” he said.

Father Martin’s address compared the dichotomy some people have in viewing Jesus Christ as either a deity or a human, when in fact he is both. And in one anecdote he used to illustrate his point, Father Martin pointed to the story in the Gospel of Luke when Jesus was preaching “surrounded by a mass of people.”

“He asked Peter to take him in a boat out into a bay,” Father Martin noted, “and from there he preached to the people.”

Now, some who’ve considered that parable have wondered why Jesus wanted to preach from a boat. Was he tired of the crowd? Did he, as a human, desire some distance from his followers? Was he just having a bad day?

“The truth is, sound travels easily over water,” Father Martin explained. “So it is easy to see Jesus preaching from the boat in the ‘Bay of Parables,’ and being easily heard by his followers, by those around him.”

Once on a trip to the Holy Land, after much searching and questioning of those who lived near the Sea of Galilee, Father Martin finally found the “Bay of Parables.”

“And I looked all around and saw the things that Jesus would have seen,” he said. “I saw really stoney ground; fertile ground; even a large thorn bush. And then I remembered the story of the sewing of seeds on all types of ground and standing there, seeing all that, reminded me that Jesus was fully human, a flesh and blood person full of life; an honest to God man who
entered the world as any of us would.”

Jesus the man “grew tired, sweated and sneezed and even scratched himself from time to time,” Father Martin said with a grin. “Everything proper to men he experienced.”

But he also performed miracles; he also brought people greater knowledge of God the Father, the priest noted.

“He performed astounding deeds that today we call miracles,” he said. “And Jesus’ followers, time and again, were amazed and astonished.”

But it is in his Resurrection that “Jesus’ divinity is evident,” Father Martin said. “Yet even today talk of his divinity may be a stumbling block for some. Some people want to say he is merely a wise teacher; yet others can focus on the divinity of Jesus in the dramatic story of the raising of Lazarus.”

So what do the stories of astonishing works, the raising of Lazarus and the Resurrection tell us, the priest asked?

“Here’s the point — Jesus is not human in one event and divine in another,” he explained. “He is not a man pretending to be God or God pretending to be a man. The truth is his humanity and his divinity are essential, and when he speaks he is always speaking as fully human and fully divine. He understood what it means to be human — he wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.”

But he also understood his relationship as God on earth, as the savior of mankind. He knew the meaning of work; knew of the toil that women faced daily; knew the problems of humanity, the priest noted.

“Jesus knew the world just as he knew he was the son of God,” Father Martin concluded. “Come to know Jesus as fully human and fully divine.”

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One reply on “Conference crowd fills St. Michael Church”
  1. says: Michael Ross

    My first attendance at this conference and I could not have been more thankful for attending. The break out sessions, food, time for meeting others, and group worship and gathering were spot on. It was well organized too. I highly suggest you mark your calendar for next year and attend – you will not be disappointed. – Michael (convert Easter ’13)

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