WEST HARTFORD — Bishop Frank J. Caggiano told almost 600 men at the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference they live in a “post-Christian, secular and ever-more atheist world … and we have to do something about it,” urging them to become Marines for Christ and men of hope whose lives are centered on the Holy Eucharist.
Bishop Caggiano was the keynote speaker at the 15th annual conference, held Saturday at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford. After two years of being hampered by COVID, the conference attendance almost doubled, attracting men from 13 years old to 85 from parishes throughout the state.
The theme “The Most Holy Eucharist” was selected as part of the National Eucharistic Revival initiated by the U.S. bishops “to restore understanding and devotion to this great mystery here in the United States.” (For more information, visit https://www.eucharisticrevival.org)
“The Holy Spirit brought every single one of us here today for a reason, as brothers in faith, because you and I are living in a unique moment in the life of our country and of our Church, unique in time because the challenges we face continue to grow,” the bishop said. “We have come here to be resolved in courage and to make decisions in grace so that we answer those challenges together, just as in the Ancient Church, where the Fathers with their people faced similar challenges and rose to the occasion. Are we ready now to rise to the occasion?”
He told the audience that “the world out there is a mess, an absolute mess” and asked, “What are you and I going to do about it?”
The scope of that mess, he said, includes secularization that has taken hold of our country and culture, which has devolved to the point “where many people believe they themselves are the standard of truth and goodness and all that matters is me or you.”
“Scripture teaches us we are made in the image of God,” he said, “But the world out there teaches God is made in my image, and he will do what I want him to do.”
The bishop also discussed the effects this attitude has on families and politics. Pointing to the disintegration of political dialogue, he said, “Look at our political world; it is one step above chaos, where there isn’t a sense of the common good, and we cannot have a rational dialogue among those whose disagree.”
Bishop Caggiano also cited the lack of respect for human life, asking, “Where did we ever get this idea that life is ‘a choice.’ Life is a gift from God because God is the author of life and the destiny of every human being.”
In addition, he referenced the culture of entitlement, which is motivated by the attitude of “What’s in it for me?” along with the destructive influence of social media, which promotes the “open warfare” among people, and rampant materialism, which has become the “measure of our dignity, our value and our worth.”
Secular culture also attacks our religious freedom. “We live in a time now that more and more to be a Christian is to live and walk in a hostile world, where what we believe is being attacked simply because we believe it,” he said.
Bishop Caggiano cited challenges within the Church, including the faithful who “have fallen into the sin of complacency and mediocrity, which says, ‘I’m good enough. I do enough and don’t ask for anything else.’ How many of us have fallen into a religion where we fulfill our obligations, but don’t ask, ‘Lord, what do you want me to do outside my comfort zone?’”
The Eucharistic Revival is long overdue, he said, because a majority of Catholics no longer believe in the Real Presence. One study found that 15 percent of those who don’t believe “actually believe the Church, itself, does not believe in the Real Presence.”
Many have left the Church, he said, “because they believe in a God that was taught to them by CNN and not the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” Recalling his work with young adults, he said many leave the faith because “they see a lack of authenticity among Catholics — that is we say one thing and they see us do another … and that applies to bishops, priests, deacons and religious.”
“I believe in my heart of hearts that this is not the time for us to give up,” he said. “This is not the time we run. This is the time we have to stand on what we believe and make a conviction to become heroes for Jesus Christ, no matter what work or sacrifice it demands.”
He said St. Augustine, patron of the Diocese of Bridgeport, lived in a “time that was a bigger mess than today.” Augustine preached on the Gospel account of Jesus asleep in the boat when it enters the storm, and he said the boat was never in danger of sinking because “the barque of Christ, which is the Church, will endure forever.”
Augustine also said the Lord was asleep in the boat, in part, because he was testing his apostles.
“The Lord was implicitly saying, ‘I trust you to calm the storm’ …There is a storm today but we can calm it with his grace,” the bishop said.
Much of our despair is the result of the “Great Deceiver,” who is Satan, whispering in our mind, ‘It’s over. Things will not get better,’” he said. “But I come to you, my brothers, as a successor of the apostles to tell you that the time has come to unmask that lie once and for all.”
He urged them to unleash the power of the gifts God gave us on the day of our baptism, when we received the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love.
“The time has come for us to unleash the power of Christian hope. Now, more than ever, you and I are called to be Christian men of hope,” he said. “We have to roll up our sleeves as Marines for Christ and go into the battle wherever that is and lay aside our safety and comfort, and sacrifice so that Christ’s Will will be done.”
The tide will not turn because of our efforts alone. “There is only one who can change what is around us, one who sends us his power and grace,” Bishop Caggiano said. “In the end, you and I are the vessels of his grace. It is Christ who will lead us. It is Christ, in the end, who can bring conversion of hearts and lead us forward and do the miraculous, which you and I could not do alone.”
We must let hope grow in our lives “so that it is not an ember but a blazing fire that can attract others and lead those who are stuck, who are enslaved, who are wandering, who are discouraged, to dare hope in Jesus Christ so the mess can be fixed.”
Bishop Caggiano urged the men to ask themselves three questions “with brutal honesty:”
1. At this very moment in the silence of your heart, what do you desire?
2. What guards your heart?
3. Who sits at the center of your heart right now?
“If we do not choose Jesus Christ to be the center of our lives, it will make no difference who is in his place,” he said. “Our captain is always there with us, and he will allow us to be messengers of glad tidings that the mess will not have the final word.”
He said Christ gave us what is necessary for success. “It is the same thing he gave the apostles on the night before he died because he knew they would be discouraged and believe the mess had won,” the bishop said. “Where do you and I see the victory of Jesus Christ with our own eyes? Where do we go to see his presence — true, real, substantial, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, for us to see, eat, be nourished and be fed so we can go out into the world? Where can we go to have Our Lord lead…in our lives, our minds, our stomachs and our spirits so that he leads us by the power of the Holy Spirit. I am speaking of the Holy Eucharist.”
Bishop Caggiano concluded by saying: “If you want to be a man of hope, then that hope is sustained and strengthened and grows into a fire only in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the Eucharist. We are the army of Christ, and he has given us the antipasto of eternal life, and he asks us to eat worthily so that we can go out into the mess and straighten it out one day, one person, one choice at a time. Brothers, let us leave this place with hope. And by being nourished with the Eucharist, let us go out there to start cleaning up that mess.”
His words were met with a sustained standing ovation.
The other speakers include Deacon Michael Forrest of Springfield, a writer, speaker and catechist. A Baptist convert, he cited the writings of the early Church Fathers and his personal experiences of the Real Presence. His talk explored the theme of “how God helps us to see and live with Eucharistic eyes to get beyond mere appearances to a deeper truth, so we can act on it.”
He said Catholics are changed by what they consume, and when we eat the “supernatural food that God has given us, we become what we receive in the Eucharist.” He credited his wife Paula for the inspiration to become a Catholic; however, even after he entered the Church, he had to face the hurdle of the doctrine of the Real Presence and come to the realization that it is not merely a symbol.
One personal story he recounted involved an injury he sustained when the minivan door slammed shut on his hand as they were leaving for Mass. Rather than rush to the hospital, he told Paula they had to go to church, where the pastor gave a powerful homily on the Real Presence. After Deacon Forrest approached the altar and knelt — as an inner voice twice directed him to do — his bloody wound was miraculously healed. Only afterward did the priest inform him it was the Feast of Corpus Christi.
“This was no accident,” Father told him. “It was for the church a reminder of what a great gift the Holy Eucharist is.”
Father Wade Menezes, CPM is a member of the Fathers of Mercy, who appears frequently on EWTN and is the author of several books, including “The Four Last Things: A Catechetical Guide to Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell” and “Overcoming the Evil Within: The Reality of Sin and the Transforming Power of God’s Grace and Mercy.”
Father cited the many types and symbols of the Eucharist found in the Old Testament, including the manna in the desert and the offering of bread and wine by the priest Melchizedek to Abraham. The New Testament contains the multiplication of the loaves, which is the only miracle to appear in all four Gospels, along with the wedding feast at Cana, during which Jesus turned water into wine, and the story of the disciples’ encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus, when they recognized him in the breaking of the bread. Central to the Church’s doctrine is the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, which contains Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse.
When it comes to the miracle of transubstantiation, whereby bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, he said that “looks can be deceiving” for non-believers and believers alike, but never doubt that the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, which radically transforms us when we receive it.
Father Chris Alar, MIC is a member of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, a religious community entrusted with spreading the message and devotion of Divine Mercy. His presentation, titled, “Eucharistic Miracles: Scientific Proof” examined several Eucharistic miracles approved by the Vatican, and it cited the evidence to substantiate that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Jesus.
Throughout history, he said, the occasions for such miracles have often been to reassure a doubting priest or to provide a reaffirmation of the Church’s doctrine for the faithful. One of the earliest was recorded by the Desert Father’s in Egypt, and another at Avignon, France in 1433.
Father said that 133 Eucharistic miracles have been recognized by the Vatican, but that thousands of others have occurred from Holy Thursday, when Christ instituted the Blessed Sacrament, to the present day.
One of the most recent was in 1996 in Buenos Aires, when a desecrated consecrated host was placed in water to dissolve, but after eight days in the tabernacle was transformed to a piece of flesh with blood. Three years later, it still had not decomposed, and a series of scientific tests were performed by independent laboratories, which concluded it to be a fragment of human heart tissue from the left ventricle, which pumps blood to the body. Tests showed the living heart it came from had been under severe stress.
Father concluded with the observation that when we receive Communion, not only do we become like Christ, but also become part of Christ’s body.
The conference concluded with Archbishop Leonard P. Blair concelebrating Mass with the priests and thanking the organizers for developing a program that reinforces the efforts of the national revival. During his homily, he encouraged the men to be advocates of justice in a troubled society and to defend the poor, recognizing that poverty is not just material, but also moral and spiritual.
All of their efforts, he told them must be “connected to the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.”
“Let’s live the Eucharist and be close to Jesus when we leave here,” Archbishop Blair said.
Conference director Ken Santopietro said he was very pleased with the turnout and the results of a poll they conducted about the Real Presence, which showed close to 99.8 percent of the attendees “believe wholeheartedly in the Eucharist.”
Santopietro was motivated to conduct the poll after seeing the results of recent Pew Polls that indicate almost two-thirds of Catholics do not believe in the doctrine of the Church. He emphasized that research must differentiate the responses of practicing Catholics from those of nominal Catholics.
He believes the work of the conference will inspire other Catholics “to come back to the faith and believe in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.” He also urged every parish in the state to strive to send at least a half dozen men to the conference next year so they can be energized by the message and inspired to spread it to others through their personal evangelization.
Aaron Joseph, co-director of the conference who founded the lay apostolate Saint Joseph Our Patron (https://www.ourpatron.net), was pleased with the turnout and said the theme is especially urgent during his period of National Eucharistic Revival. He marveled at the series of “Godcidents” that occurred in the final weeks of preparation.
When one of the key speakers had to drop out because of a health issue, Joseph was confronted with the task of replacing him within a short time and was able to enlist Deacon Forrest through a series of events he described as providential.
Deacon Forrest received a standing ovation for his presentation, which discussed the early Church Fathers’ teachings, along with several moving personal experiences that revealed to him the fundamental reality of the Real Presence in his own life.
Fr. James Sullivan, rector of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury and chaplain of the conference, spent much of the day hearing confessions joined by some 19 other priests. He estimates he heard about 75 confessions and that in total 350 men received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which he described as “a beautiful gift from God to not only the penitent but also the priest.”
“It is one of our most rewarding ministries, especially when we can help a hurting soul,” he said. “Even the biggest of men feel like they’re floating on a cloud after confession. There are certain things in life we never forget and this is one. I compare it to a refreshing shower, and instead of water, men who haven’t been to confession in 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years, are showered with God’s grace and peace and divine life that come from his love.”
Deacon Richard Lawlor of St. Mary Church in Ridgefield, who is a member of the conference’s leadership committee, said, “This conference is so important for Catholic men because we live in an evil world. Our culture, our society love to tell us lies, and men need to recognize that and make Jesus the central part of their lives.”
Dan Joslin of St. Edward the Confessor Parish in New Fairfield said that if Catholic men keep themselves centered on the Eucharist, they will appreciate the importance of humility, and it will lead them to be less self-righteous and have more empathy and compassion for others.
Thirteen-year-old Peter Carmody of St. James Church in Stratford was the youngest man to attend the conference. He had been confirmed two weeks ago by Bishop Caggiano and went to talk with him after his presentation.
“It is inspiring to see so many different people who all have been touched by God,” he said. “And the Catholic Men’s Conference brings them together to share our faith.”
His father, James Carmody, who has attended several conferences, said: “All of the speakers were excellent. I always enjoy the Men’s Conference because it renews my faith. The great conversations and engaging presentations never disappoint. I learned a lot about the Eucharist, and I feel I can now explain to others why the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. What a great way to start the Eucharistic Revival.”
James Driggs of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Fairfield was equally moved by the conference and said, “Christ lives within all of us, and today’s spiritual retreat confirms my conviction in this message. There is a living God, and I urge others to find him daily in their life as I did today.”
Article and photos by Joe Pisani