By Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross
“Who is your daddy?” That’s what Deacon Ralph Poyo wanted to know of about 400 men gathered at Marshall School in Duluth for the fourth annual diocesan Men’s Conference.
The answer, he said, could ultimately only be God or the devil, and the devil is playing for keeps, not only for the men, he said, but for their spouses and children.
Deacon Ralph Poyo gets off the stage and near the crowd of around 400 at the diocesan Men’s Conference, Feb. 21, held at the Marshall School in Duluth. (Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)
“It is either all or nothing,” he said. “You either give God everything, or you give God nothing.”
Early in his talk, he described how he once ran across a relative looking at pornography and ended up in an abuse situation. He said he put up walls that were supposed to keep out the pain, but they didn’t.
Illustrating his point with a shrink-wrapped glass vase that had been sitting on the podium, he dropped on to the floor. The wrapping maintained its shape while the glass shattered. He said that instead the walls were meant to keep people from love by preventing the kind of healing and freedom that made it possible — the kind of healing that helped him out of his own porn addiction that began at age 12.
“So I need you to decide,” he said. “Who do you want to be?”
He contrasted “playing church” — going to Mass and looking holy — with being a disciple of Christ, someone who strives to be “constantly in his presence.”
He described the training of discipleship as learning to hear the Holy Spirit. “Once your heart is committed to going the whole you, you will go the whole way,” he said, not in a spirit of fear but in strength, honor and integrity.
And he said men needed to be leaders who would resist the threats to their families coming in through the cable box and the Internet, as well as their own temptations to idolatry, whether it is hunting or hockey or simply television.
Deacon Poyo gave a second talk — twice — on how to put that into practice. In a new twist this year, conference organizers sought to make it easier for all the men to get to confession by splitting them up into two groups for the second talk. One group would go to confession while the other heard the session.
Deacon Poyo gave four fundamental practices to grow in discipleship: being grounded in the teaching of the Apostles, remaining close to the Eucharist, committing to daily prayer and building Christian fellowship in small, intentional communities.
He encouraged daily reading of Scripture and 30 minutes of prayer a day, as well as attending daily Mass if possible. “Everything comes from the table, the altar,” he said.
Nic Davidson, a missionary and popular speaker on the Theology of the Body from the Diocese of Duluth who is now living and working in New York, closed out the day with two talks, one a very blunt one on pornography and the other on its antidote, the “Good News of Theology of the Body.”
Davidson described his own introduction to porn as coming at age 8 — about a year later than the average is nowadays. He said he struggled with the addiction until he was 21 and said it affected his marriage even longer.
He described the widespread use of it, particularly among Christian men, and its connection with devastating problems. He said many of the people who appear in pornography were abused as children and got into porn through prostitution or human trafficking. He said there were 1 million victims of human trafficking every year, many of them stolen and forced into sex slavery.
Many of the people who appear in pornography are already dead, he said.
Davidson said pornography falsifies the entire purpose for which God created the good of human sexuality. “Real love is not concerned with itself but with the other,” he said.
He emphasized that the church doesn’t talk about porn to condemn people, either those who view it or those who produce it, but rather to call them to their own dignity and goodness, and he promised to give the hope and good news in his closing talk.
In that closing talk, Davidson emphasized that real love is grounded in the “hermeneutic of the gift.”
“Real life is gift, is gift, is gift,” he said, with the example being Jesus on the cross.
He said one of the reasons God created men is to tell the world what God thinks of them. “The whole world is in doubt as to God’s love for them,” he said.
In particular, he said, men are to sacrifice themselves, even in small matters, for their families, especially their wives.
“We were made to give and give and give,” he said.
And he said God would be there. “To the degree that you embrace the gift of self, you will not be let down,” Davidson said.