By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross
The forecast called for an impending winter storm, leading to a canceled bus and to the annual Men of Faith Conference ending earlier than scheduled March 9 at Marshall School in Duluth.
|Paul George spoke addresses the crowd at Marshall School in Duluth March 9 during the annual men’s conference. (Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)|
Illness also kept some of those who would have attended home — notably including the scheduled master of ceremonies for the event. The conference also faced competition from the state hockey tournament and, for some students, spring break.
So there were “a number of curveballs this year,” said Deacon John Weiske, an organizer of the event. “Our attendance was down. We were down about 100 men.”
But many of those who had planned to take the bus drove anyway. Deacon Dan Goshey filled in as emcee. The weather held out. And there was plenty of Blackwoods food for all those hungry guys.
“The weather and the flu bug impacted our number of priests hearing confessions, but everyone was able to have their confession heard,” Deacon Weiske added.
Those who made it seemed to appreciate this year’s conference and its speaker.
“Paul George was very well received by the men,” he said.
Deacon Weiske said George is an excellent storyteller who was able to apply them to the chosen themes for his three talks, covering the identity of Catholic men, prayer, and bearing witness to the faith.
George, from Louisiana, is a speaker, consultant, and life coach, as well as the author of “Rethink Happiness: Dare to Embrace God and Experience True Joy.” He hosts a weekly national radio show and podcast. He said he has been married for 22 years and has five children, the oldest being in college and the youngest a 1-year-old.
In his first talk, he told the story of a CEO who had reached out to him and despite all his wealth admitted he just wanted to be happy. George said he talked to the man about God and prayed with him — things the CEO hadn’t experienced since childhood.
He told another story of a man who started talking to him on a plane. The man had retired at age 40 and traveled the world, but he told George, “I can honestly say that I don’t know the meaning of life, and I’m not happy.”
“We all want to be happy, every one of us,” he said. In fact, he said, to be loved and to be the happy are the things we all want most and are most afraid to say.
Yet, he said, we are confronted with the spread of infidelity, divorce, and pornography. He said young people name being rich and famous as their top two goals. Loneliness is a major cause of death among men, a majority of people no longer attend church regularly, and it’s the first time in history in which half of the adult population is not married,
Citing a scene from the story of Exodus, George said that God used the Red Sea to cut off Israel’s ties to slavery in Egypt forever. “A new life: That’s what God offers us,” he said.
He added that “the greatest poverty is spiritual poverty” and that we have to come to a point where we need Jesus more than we need anything else.
George continued the theme of identity into his second talk, on prayer, noting that people involved in their faith life are happier and that without faith, men tend to seek their identity on the ball field, in the billfold, in the bedroom, or in the boardroom.
Instead, in prayer, God brings men back to their identity as adopted sons of God. He noted the question God asked of Adam and Eve after the fall in the Garden of Eden: “Where are you?”
Those kinds of questions — where are you? how are you? — are the kinds of questions God asks us in prayer. “This is the art of prayer,” he said. “… This is the conversation God wants with us.”
He said if you think you don’t know how to pray, ask yourself if you know how to talk. He also said that prayer doesn’t mean we always see things clearly right away. “It’s OK to go back to God and say, ‘Can we talk about that again?’” he said.
George closed with a talk on bearing witness to the faith to others and with a question and answer session that covered topics ranging from what a life coach does to post-abortion healing for men and how to help children of divorced parents.
Next year’s men’s conference is already set for the memorable date of Feb. 29, 2020 — leap day. The speaker will be Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, who is known as a powerful orator. The men’s conference is supported by the CREED Fund of the Diocese of Duluth.