by Jack Figge
Special to The Leaven
OVERLAND PARK — Six hundred men, ranging from teenagers to retirees, gathered together to feast on barbecue and crack sports jokes — but not in the context of a Super Bowl victory party.
Instead, these men from across the archdiocese were participating in the annual Men Under Construction conference, enjoying fellowship while being formed in the faith.
For the past 26 years, Men Under Construction has sought to deliver a dynamic experience by bringing in renowned speakers, giving participants ample time to receive the sacraments and providing an open place for men to grow together.
With the national Eucharistic Revival now entering its second year, the theme this year centered on helping men recognize the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Russ Engel, a parishioner of Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, has been participating and volunteering with Men Under Construction for years. He serves now as the organization’s president, with the goal of planning a day dedicated to helping attendees deepen their faith.
“Men Under Construction wants to provide a platform and opportunity for men to grow in their faith,” said Engel. “We try and bring them in, challenge them and get them involved in the topics that they dance around. We try and bring in speakers that can bring those issues to the forefront so that men see what they couldn’t before.”
With a diverse line-up of speakers, from a demonologist to the founder and CEO of the Colorado-based Augustine Institute, the talks served as an opportunity for many men to grow in their knowledge of the Eucharist and their roles as men in society.
Two members of the archdiocese — Michael Podrebarac, the archdiocesan consultant for the office for liturgy and sacramental life, and Joe Heschmeyer, staff apologist for the popular Catholic Answers website — gave separate talks about the power and true presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Podrebarac discussed how despite the broken nature of the world, the church provides us with an answer to correct the course: the Eucharist. Heschmeyer expanded upon this by delving into the theology of the Eucharist and sharing seven truths of the faith that the Eucharist reveals.
“We live in a world that rewards selfishness in which it is very easy to check out,” said Heschmeyer. “As Pope Benedict XVI said, ‘You weren’t made for comfort. You were made for greatness.’ That really is the call not just to be a complacent husband. It’s not just be a social man, but to really be a saint. The Eucharist is the fuel by which that mission is possible.”
Both Dr. Tim Gray, founder of the Augustine Institute, and Adam Blai, a demonologist, spoke of the modern threats that men face and issued a call for participants to embrace their role as husbands and fathers. Gray’s talk explored society’s definition of toxic masculinity, contrasting it with the Catholic Church’s teaching on authentic masculinity.
Blai shared his personal experience with demonic encounters and his ideas on the modern rise in demonic presence. He linked this to the prolific presence of social media accounts promoting witchcraft and the demonic. Blai concluded his talk by encouraging all fathers to educate their children and to trust Jesus, because it is only through turning to Christ that widespread change will occur.
“All of the speakers were amazing, but I thought Dr. Tim Gray was exceptional just because of the strength of his message,” said Brandon Schmidt, a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood. “There was a lot of wisdom and education in his message, but it also served as a call to action — especially about the idea that we have to choose our battles, and how we might approach that.”
For many men, the most powerful moment of the day came not during one of the talks but in the sacrament of reconciliation. With the presence of over 40 priests from across the archdiocese, each attendee had the opportunity to experience the mercy of God through the sacrament.
“One of the joys that I walk away from every year is watching 600 men get up and go down the hallway for reconciliation. They stand in line for confession for a while,” said Engel. “It’s just incredible to see that many men do that.”
Men Under Construction draws many attendees not just for the talks and sacraments, but also for the fellowship and community that the day offers. Schmidt attended Men Under Construction for the first time last year and loved seeing many fellow St. Michael parishioners there. This year, he invited his father-in-law to attend with him to experience that same fellowship.
“It was really great to be here with my father-in-law. He and my mother-in-law moved here last year, and to have this time to spend with him was awesome,” said Schmidt. “Then to see a bunch of my fellow parishioners growing and worshiping has been really neat.”
The day concluded with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann who challenged the men to serve as personal ambassadors of God’s mercy and compassion. With that calling in mind and a renewed passion for the faith, men left the conference reflecting on the power of the Eucharist and the call to serve their families in new capacities.
“Men Under Construction renews my excitement for the faith,” said Bob Allison, Church of the Ascension parishioner. “You come to a conference or retreat like this, and it enkindles within you a closeness with the faith.”
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