by Joe Bollig
OVERLAND PARK — In the spirit of the new evangelization and with the archdiocesan initiative “Proclaim It!” as their watchword, more than 1,000 men attended the Men Under Construction 18 event on March 8 at Ascension Parish here.
The annual archdiocesan wide men’s retreat is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and organized by the Kansas City Catholic Men’s Fellowship.
One attendee was Robert Baker, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park. Baker has been to eight MUC conferences — four with his son Matt, now 18. This year, he brought along 11-year-old son T.J.
“I didn’t know what it was at first, but now that I’m here for the first time, I’m really liking it, and the spiritual growth I can learn from it,” said T.J.
“It’s been a great bonding experience to share this with both of my boys,” said Robert Baker. “With Matt being 18, who knows what he’ll be doing after high school? This is an opportunity for the three of us to have a spiritual bonding experience.”
This year’s MUC was dedicated to the memory of Paul Welsh, one of the founders of the annual event, who died last year.
This year’s lineup of speakers included Gov. Sam Brownback as keynote, Catholic apologist and purity speaker Matt Fradd, Atlanta Falcons’ assistant special teams coach Eric Sutulovich, noted English convert and acclaimed author Joseph Pearce, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
The day was also enhanced by the talents of two performance artists, live art performance painter Mike Debus who painted an image of Jesus, while musical artist Mike McGlinn played keyboard and sang.
McGlinn, who played in four bowl games for Notre Dame, and Sutulovich both talked at a special Catholic youth athlete breakout session.
The day began with Mass, followed by a continental breakfast and welcome by Dan Spencer, executive director of the National Fellowship of Catholic Men and master of ceremonies.
The first speaker was Fradd, who first instructed the men to ask themselves three questions to demonstrate that what they deep-down want of themselves is what God wants of them as well.
The questions were: What kind of man do you want to be? What kind of man do you respect? And how do you want to be remembered when you are dead?
“God’s commandments toward us . . . [do not] require the repression of our deepest desires, but call for an expansion of our deepest desires,” said Fradd.
In his talk, Brownback touched on many topics, including an encounter with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. It was when Brownback was serving in the U.S. Senate and still a Methodist that he met Mother Teresa.
“She was very frail, very small. . . . Most of the time I was with her, she said, ‘Pray for the Sisters, pray for the Sisters.’ [And I thought] Why do you want a bunch of dirty politicians to be praying for the Sisters? You pray for us, I thought,” said Brownback. “She was asking for the most valuable thing I could give her.”
“I was taking her out to her car . . . and she grabs my hand, stares me in the eye, and says three words, four times: ‘All for Jesus! All for Jesus! All for Jesus! All for Jesus!’” he continued. “The car door shut and the car drove away, and I thought, ‘I just got the wisdom of the universe in three words.’”
Pearce, who became Catholic in 1989, told the story of his conversion.
He grew up nominally Protestant in a family that had no life of faith. As a member of neo-Nazi and white nationalist political movements, he ended up with two prison terms due to his activities. While in prison, he began to consider the Catholic faith.
“When you get so far into these things, the most irrational and most evil seems rational to you,” he said.
A big part of his conversion was the interest he developed in the Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton. Eventually, Pearce became a Catholic, married a Catholic, and moved to the United States. Today, he is a writer-in-residence and professor of humanities at a number of Catholic universities.
Sutulovich, a 1996 graduate of Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kan., talked about his professional sports career and growth in the knowledge and love of his Catholic faith.
Sutulovich became motivated to learn more about his Catholic faith after hearing it libeled at his fiancee’s family’s evangelical church.
“I felt like I had my brains bashed in for an hour solid,” he said.
What he heard was misleading, untrue, inaccurate and out of context — and it made him mad.
“I said, ‘This is it, I’ve had enough. I’m going to learn my faith and do whatever I need to do to get it done,’” he said. “I’m drawing a line in the sand right here. The next time I see that man, it’s going to spew out of me like a faucet, and he’s not going to be able to take it.”
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann concluded the event with a talk on the new evangelization.
“We all have a great story to tell,” said the archbishop. “Part of what I think is essential for the new evangelization — which the church has been summoning us to for two decades — is for us to become aware of what that story is — the way in which the Lord has worked in each of our lives.”
Pope Francis, he said, talks about a “culture of encounter” — that in every encounter with others, we have an opportunity to bring Christ’s love. The new evangelization is about the “culture of encounter,” meeting people on their own terms and trying to understand their difficulties and joys.
“No one is going to care about what we think or believe if they don’t first believe that we truly care about them,” said Archbishop Naumann.
“This new evangelization has to begin with prayer,” he continued. “I would ask you — as homework from this day of Men Under Construction — to do this simple exercise: to spend some time in prayer tomorrow or sometime during the coming week. Ask the Lord in your prayer, ‘Lord, who are you calling me to be an instrument of your grace [for] at this particular moment in my life and their life?’”
Archbishop Naumann ended the day with a final prayer and blessing.