More than 600 men — many of them with their sons — turned out for the second-annual Archdiocese of Louisville Catholic Men’s Conference held March 16 at St. Raphael Church.
In fact, when Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz asked those who’d come to the conference with a young son or young friend, about a quarter of the crowd rose. Drawing young people to the conference was one of the goals of this year’s event, David Such, a conference leader, had said in the months leading up the conference.
So he was excited by the numbers of young adults and teens who showed up last Saturday.
“There are a good 90 to 100 young people,” he said before the conference began. And it turns out his estimate was a little short — there were well more than 100 young men in the gathering by one reporter’s count.
Matt Dickerson, 19, was one of them. The University of Louisville freshman had come to the conference with his father, Ken.
“It’s an opportunity to strengthen my faith and my bond with my father,” he said. “When I can come to an event like this, being with my father makes it even better.”
Archbishop Kurtz, along with radio host and national speaker Jon Leonetti, served as keynote speakers for the conference, which also included breakout sessions on such topics as “Growing and Sharing Your Faith in Prayer,” and “Religious Freedom.”
The theme of this year’s conference was “It’s awesome to be Catholic,” and both the archbishop and Leonetti, who as a testimony of his faith once walked from Ocean Park, Calif., to Ocean City, N.J., mentioned the theme in their presentations.
Archbishop Kurtz noted that the adjective “awesome” is often used in today’s vernacular to express a sudden joy for a temporary pleasure.
What is really awesome, he noted “is a joy that’s given to you and me that is lasting,” such as the love of God.
When you rise in the morning and the sun is shining and you realize that, whatever the day might bring, God is in charge, that is awesome, he said.
“Awesome is someone whose child gets in trouble who doesn’t give up on her and stays with her and guides her with God’s help, that’s awesome,” the archbishop said. “The truth is, when you experience someone or something who is awesome, that experience doesn’t leave you.”
It’s the experience of the Holy Eucharist that’s awesome, he said. “And my calling to be a priest — I’ll be 41 years a priest next week,” he said. “That’s awesome.” And the men agreed with loud and sustained applause.
“When someone struggles with their failures and weaknesses, but goes to confession and learns to stand up and walk with God again, that’s awesome,” the archbishop added.
Archbishop Kurtz also said he wanted to bring special attention to two people during the day’s conference.
“There are two very important people in God’s eyes, two people for whom God has a plan today,” he said. “God has a plan for Pope Francis, and God has a plan for you.”
And he noted that God changed St. Matthew’s life with just two words: “Follow me.”
“The Lord wants change in my life and in your life — our destiny is to change,” he added. And by changing, by learning to live as Christ would want us to live, we can grow ever closer to God, the archbishop said.
“Will God demand change in our lives? You better believe it,” the archbishop said. “Because it is awesome to be Catholic.”
Leonetti told the more than 600 people before him that we often waste our time and our lives by chasing a happiness that isn’t real, isn’t obtainable without the help of God.
“Happiness is not a what; happiness is not a who or a thing,” he said. “Happiness is a person who walked our walk, talked our talk, died our death. Happiness is a man who said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ Happiness is God with skin, who showed us the way we are to live.”
The engaging youth minister and radio host told the story of his own father, who for years struggled with addiction. “There is nothing in the world, of the world, that can satisfy your soul,” he explained. “My dad was a phenomenal father who has been clean a year now, but for years he spent his life reaching for happiness and in that reaching he made not only himself but his family miserable.”
His father “always wanted more,” Leonetti said. “But isn’t that the way addiction works? Everything we profess to want in this life is finite. But God is infinite.”
He discussed the hardship of his “walk of faith” across the nation, and noted that the experience “taught me that encountering Jesus Christ is in the little ways of everyday life.”
“I encounter Jesus when I wake up next to my wonderful wife,” he said. “I encounter Jesus when my children call out to me for help.”
The faith we hand down from one generation to the next “is a faith that’s ready to change the most intricate, smallest parts of your life,” Leonetti said. “Remember, love is pouring yourself out completely even when you gain nothing from it. Our God doesn’t have to love us, but wants to love us. God doesn’t have to spend eternity with us, but wants to.”