BRISTOL—“I have come to give you a call to arms different from any other call in the world,” Bishop Frank J. Caggiano told 550 men at the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference on Saturday. “You must surrender to Jesus Christ and fearlessly give witness to him in a very confused and mixed up world.”
The Bishop delivered the keynote address at the 10th annual conference whose theme was a celebration of the Apostolate of the Laity taken from Acts 1:8, “You will be my witnesses.”
“You and I must choose and be committed men of virtue,” he said, because it is the only hope for the next generation. “Young people are tired of words because the world is full of empty promises. Instead, they want to follow men and women who are people of integrity and who are true witnesses to Christ.”
The day-long program, which was held at St. Paul Catholic High School in Bristol, also include presentations by Tim Staples, director of apologetics and evangelization at Catholic Answers, Fr. Glenn Sudano, CFR, one of the original eight founders of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and James Wahlberg, executive director of the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, which he founded with his brother, actor Mark Wahlberg. Musician and evangelist Marty Rotella served as master of ceremonies.
Our country has become more divided and hostile to faith, Bishop Caggiano said. And modern life is characterized by consumerism, materialism, addiction, abortion, euthanasia and a callous disregard for the poor, the sick and the suffering.
“Men of Christ must stand up as virtuous witnesses and say, ‘Enough is enough,’” he said, adding that we can no longer wait for our leaders to act.
These efforts in spiritual growth should be based on the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.
Bishop Caggiano outlined a suggested course of action for the men:
1. Make a nightly examination of conscience that considers not only faults but also what had gone well that day … and thank God.
2. When you find yourself confessing the same sin over and over, connect it to the appropriate virtue that is missing in your life. If you struggle with pornography, pray to Christ for the grace to be set free and work on the virtue of temperance.
3. If you need a virtue, ask for it in prayer because “God will not say no.”
4. Examine your fears; one of the greatest being the fear to stand before the cross and accept our sins —and realize that despite them we are still lovable to Jesus.
Bishop Caggiano told the men to pray for courage to face their fears and also to ask for the gift of obedience, which he called, “a dirty word in our modern world.” Nevertheless, our purpose is to “obey and be submissive to what the Lord Jesus asks” because this obedience leads to true freedom.
“Did you ever consider how much faith Jesus has in you?” Bishop Caggiano asked. “He has called you and let his Spirit literally transform you to do his work in the world. Jesus never said it would be easy, but in your greatest struggle, he is standing by you.”
Apologist Tim Staples said that Catholic men must be armed, ready and equipped to take the faith to the culture at a serious time in our nation’s history when religion is under attack. “We are living in a culture where people have lost what it means to be a human being — but we have the answer in the Catholic faith.”
“So many are afraid to say anything for fear they will be criticized,” he said, adding that “When you don’t know your faith, it leads to a spirit of timidity. Apologetics is very important in our age of growing indifference.”
A Baptist convert to Catholicism and father of seven children, Staples said that 31 years ago when he was serving in the U.S. Marines he met a young Catholic who was prepared to defend his faith and who had a thorough understanding of the Bible. “I was out-Bibled by a Catholic, and it was unnerving to me,” he recalled.
Jim Wahlberg, executive director of the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, talked about his life of alcoholism, drugs, prison, loneliness and the events in his life, which through the grace of God, led to his recovery from addiction and to a true understanding of the Catholic faith.
The middle child in a family of nine kids, he grew up in Dorchester, MA, and started drinking at 11. He left home, was arrested many times and spent his early life in group homes and foster homes until age 17 when he went to prison for a violent crime. He turned a 2-year sentence into a 5-year sentence and eventually was on the streets again.
During his second prison term, at MCI Concord Prison, he was befriended by a priest and began to work in the chapel. A decisive moment in his life occurred when Mother Teresa visited the maximum security prison. During Mass, surrounded by dignitaries, she eschewed a place of honor on the stage beside the Cardinal and chose instead to kneel on the floor with the prisoners.
“I felt an explosion inside of me,” Wahlberg recalled. “I realized I was looking at Jesus.”
At 25 he was released from prison and entered a 12 Step program. Then, after his wife went on a retreat, she returned home and said he should attend one. However, he resisted until his 13-year-old daughter pleaded, “Daddy, I want you to go. I want you to be happy.”
“That retreat led me right to the foot of the cross, and I realized how broken I was,” he said.
He continued to grow spiritually, but his life wasn’t without adversity. His world was rocked again when he learned that his young son was addicted to drugs. However, after entering a recovery program, he has been clean and sober for five years, which Wahlberg described as one of the greatest blessings in his life of faith.