by Marc and Julie Anderson
OVERLAND PARK — Chiefs fans, are you ready for some football?
OK, so it might not be the high-drama football game the Chiefs played against the New England Patriots for the AFC championship this past January.
But the stakes of this event are much higher than a trip to the Super Bowl. That’s because it focuses on living an integrated Catholic life.
On April 6, former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Elvis Grbac will speak on faith, family and football as part of the 23rd annual Men Under Construction conference to be held at the Church of the Ascension in Overland Park. The day will also include eucharistic adoration, confession and Mass.
Drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 1993, Grbac played nine seasons in the National Football League, including four with the Chiefs, starting in 1997. During his career, he earned many achievements, including an AFC West title, a Pro Bowl appearance and the Super Bowl XXIX championship.
Currently working toward his master’s degree in theology, Grbac travels the country as a motivational speaker and is also involved in parish leadership, serving on the parish council at Church of the Holy Angels in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
In addition to Grbac, the annual conference will feature Dr. David Anders, a Catholic catechist, writer and speaker, as well as the host of “Called to Communion,” a show found on EWTN radio. Anders grew up in the Presbyterian faith, attending a Protestant college and seminary. During the course of his doctoral studies about the Protestant Reformation, Anders became convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith. In 2003, he and his wife Jill and their children converted to Catholicism.
Anders will speak about his latest book, “The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony,” which details his and his wife’s journey from torment and pain to joy as husband and wife. According to numerous online reviews, the book is forthright from the very first line: “The Catholic Church saved my marriage and, quite possibly, my life.”
Dan Spencer, a member of the Catholic Men’s Fellowship board and the coordinator of the annual conference, said the event typically draws 900 to 1,200 men.
Typically, conference organizers, Spencer said, try to bring in someone well-known to men. Often, it has been an athlete such as Mike Sweeney, former Kansas City Royals player, or Philip Rivers, quarterback of the Los Angeles Chargers. When Spencer heard that Grbac was pursuing a possible call to the diaconate, he thought the former quarterback might be a good fit.
“Faith, family and football is his topic,” Spencer said. “The whole thing was kind of how he lives an integrated Catholic life, which is the theme [this year]. And so, I said, ‘I really want to understand how your faith impacts all of that.’ He was good with it.”
After reading the book written by Anders, Spencer thought the writer, too, might be a good speaker.
“While he’s brilliant as an apologist and explains about the faith, I thought it would be interesting to hear his personal story this time,” he added.
Involved in the conference for at least 15 years, this year marks Spencer’s last year to serve as its coordinator. As someone who has been involved in men’s ministry at both local and national levels, he said it’s been gratifying for him to see so many men grow in their faith.
“We have two really distinct groups who show up at these. One is [composed of] guys involved in men’s activities and small faith groups, men who have been going to these things for years. Others have never been to anything. To them, it’s like a welcome to a whole different experience and awareness of Catholic manhood.
“So, it’s kind of a kickoff for what they might consider doing in the future; the others, it’s kind of a renewal day.”
Spencer said he thinks the conference serves both groups equally well.
By and large though, it’s the large numbers that encourage Spencer and his team.
“For me to see a thousand-plus men gathered in prayer and adoration and growing — just coming together as men — is very, very reaffirming to me,” he said.
“I’m encouraged. It challenges me,” he continued. “It helps me in my own personal spirituality, and I am a very big believer that if men are going to try and lead their families spiritually, they need to be well-grounded and they need to be challenged.”
Spencer also said male leadership is urgently needed in today’s society.
“I think the culture will change when families change,” he said, “and I think families will change when the fathers and husbands and grandfathers start taking their role really seriously.”
Perhaps, though, Spencer’s greatest wish is for other men who have never been to a retreat to try it.
“I just wish men would see that we’re not a special kind of guy. We’re just normal people for whom Christ is the center of our life,” he said. “So, we just want to share some time with them and give them something to think about.”
“Plus, it’s a great day,” he enthused. “It’s a fun day. It’s an encouraging day. It’s an uplifting day. It’s a spiritual day, but it’s also a thousand guys hanging out, eating food. So, it’s got everything.”