Men of St. Joseph gather for annual conference


PROVIDENCE — The Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul hosted the annual Men of St. Joseph Internationals’s 14th annual Men’s Conference on Saturday, May 4. The event was organized by the Diocesan chapter of the Men of St. Joseph International (MOSJI).
The keynote speaker was author and apologist Father Larry Richards. The Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania-based priest regularly organizes retreats and is the founder of the Reason for Our Hope Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to a wide variety of initiatives associated with the Church’s mission, including pro-life activity, social outreach programs, organizing retreats, and local grassroots initiatives, including purchasing Bibles for local Catholic school students.
The theme for the conference was “Surrendering to God’s Will.” In his first talk, Father Richards noted how authentic expressions of the spiritual life can only be found in taking the focus of one’s attention away from the self and reorienting it towards God, stating that an over-emphasis on public signs of holiness points toward a lack of sincerity and a disordered focus on the self.
“Christianity is the forgetfulness of self, not the focus on self, even your holiness. You’ve got to forget about yourself,” Father Richards said in an impassioned lecture.
He said that holiness is when God’s will and our will become one, and that true faith demands an openness to the ways in which God makes Himself known to us.
“You can sit there and go to church every day and be an atheist. You can say a Rosary every day and be an atheist. You can do the Divine Mercy chaplet every day and be an atheist. … You can’t be an atheist if you’re listening to God every day and seeking His Will. The only way that happens is through us being men of prayer,” Father Richards asserted.
In his second lecture, Father Richards built on many themes found in his first.
“We can feel God. Everything comes from God. But we can’t see God until we’re born to eternal life ... Once you start knowing that, you will not live in fear of death every day, and it says in Hebrews that the devil keeps us slaves our whole life long because of fear of death,” Father Richards said.
Father Christopher J. Murphy, the rector of Our Lady of Providence Seminary and the chaplain of the chapter of the Men of St. Joseph also presented.
“We are not going to renew the Church, we’re not going to reform the Church, unless we first deal with the sin that is in our own heart, and that is the sort of surrender that we’ve been talking about for most of the day: letting God in, calling sin for what it is, retaliation from the enemy,” Father Murphy said.
With the development of the Church’s doctrine on just war, there developed a strict set of rules concerning how to conduct oneself in warfare, including how to treat the surrendering party. Even in this context, to surrender implied loss, defeat, and a corresponding embarrassment.
Yet, Father Murphy continued, the spiritual, moral and mystical tradition of Christianity saw in the term “surrender” a ceasing of the resistance to the Will of God born out of sin, and a sense of trust in the Divine Will that exists even in moments of difficulty.
“That’s what faith is, that’s what hope is, and that’s what surrender is: to see in every problem, to see in every challenge of life, God’s redemptive grace at work. I’ve always found that to be, by the way, a message of profound hope,” Father Murphy said.
“The biggest lesson is trusting in God. I can’t do it on my own. I’ve got to trust in God,” said Paul Lemek, a parishioner at SS. John and Paul Parish in Coventry, reflecting on the main message of the day’s events.
Just as important for many in attendance as the spiritual message was the sense of mutual support offered by the Conference in living out the Catholic faith.
“The more men can get together on a regular basis, it’s important,” said Tom Kelly of St. Vincent de Paul parish in Coventry.
For some, this spiritual fellowship reaches its most profound expression in prayer.
“To see all of these guys together, and in the silence, there’s dead silence, and when he says, ‘The Lord be with you,’ there’s all these voices at one time saying, ‘And with your spirit,’ is just so beautiful, just everyone completely in tune with what’s happening,” said Bill Herreid of St. Francis Xavier Parish in East Providence.
Bishop Richard G. Henning expressed similar sentiments after celebrating Holy Mass in conjunction with the conference.
“I think it really is not an exaggeration to say that your presence today is not just about you wanting to deepen your spiritual life. Your presence matters to the men around you. It’s that gift of mutual support, of partnership with the Lord and one another. I’m so grateful to you for that,” Bishop Henning said.