Deacon Matt Halbach, Bishop Deeley Highlight Successful Maine Catholic Men’s Conference
“Weakness gives us an opportunity to seek strength in God.”
BRUNSWICK---“Strength comes from our dependence on God and on our ability to be vulnerable to others.”
The words of Deacon Matt Halbach fell upon the men gathered at the St. John’s Community Center in Brunswick for the 2023 Maine Catholic Men’s Conference on Saturday, March 18 (pictures below). The conference drew men from 45 different towns and cities in Maine, from York Beach to the Caribou area, who attended for different reasons but were all seeking guidance on how best to love and serve God and their families.
“There are very few opportunities to have fraternity with other men around the diocese. I did not want to pass up this opportunity for that,” said William Bessette of All Saints Parish in Brunswick, who was attending his first men’s conference.
“There comes a time when a Catholic gentleman must take stock of his relationship with God and neighbor,” said Tom Nigro of St. Joseph Parish in Bridgton. “Spiritual guidance from an experienced retreat leader like Deacon Matt surely helps. And what better time than during Lent.”
The theme of the conference was “Be Strong in the Lord” (Eph 6:10) with witness talks, time for prayer, and presentations by Deacon Matt Halbach, a national expert on evangelization and mercy and a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Advisory Council, who came from Iowa to serve as the keynote speaker at the conference.
Deacon Matt encouraged the men to willingly and wholeheartedly accept God’s love and embrace the fraternity of faith around them.
“A lot of guys I know, myself included, tend to adopt a ‘go it alone’ attitude in life. This is true with regards to our faith journey as well,” said Deacon Matt. “Even though a guy might be married, there is a part of him, a mentality, that says you need to be strong so that others can lean on you. As St. Paul said, ‘When I am weak, then I am strong.’ Weakness gives us an opportunity to seek strength in God.”
The message of the day challenged participants to re-frame their vision of what it means to be a “real” man in the light of God’s own Fatherhood and in the image of Jesus. It was a message and a moment that was received well by the participants.
“Since I have come to know the fullness of Christ in the Catholic Church, I want to continue to understand the source of my faith and to discover new ways to live it out in my daily life,” said Timothy Clark of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Bangor, who is a Protestant convert. “This conference was so attractive to me. It’s given me new insights into how to do this and was a great chance to get to know others from outside of my parish and to see how other men are living out their faith.”
“The conference helped me learn more about my faith so I can depend on it to be a better person, husband, and father,” said Jon Harvey, state deputy of the Maine State Council of the Knights of Columbus.
“I relished the opportunity to get together and always get ideas about how I can get closer to Jesus and help my parish,” said Stewart Russell of Topsham. “I feel events such as this support camaraderie in our faith.”
The conference also focused on how the Eucharist helps Catholics be the men God calls them to be.
“The companionship of Jesus, which we receive through the Eucharist, supports us and encourages us to discern, explore and commit to the way of life to which God has called us. Through the gift of the Eucharist, Jesus prepares us to accompany others in our own unique way,” said Deacon Matt.
In the late afternoon, the men headed to St. Charles Borromeo Church, also in Brunswick, to receive the Eucharist at a Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert Deeley.
“Gentlemen, I can’t tell you what a joy it is to be with you, and how grateful I am that you have come together for this day,” said the bishop. “Today was an opportunity for you to gather with like-minded men and reflect on your faith in the midst of Lent. I hope you have seen this as a special time in which you have found great treasure in the ability to pray and share with brothers who see themselves on a journey walking with Jesus. For whatever reason you have come, you have shared in the message of the Gospel and the words of Jesus: ‘Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst.’ There is, of course, nowhere where that happens more wonderfully than in the celebration of the Eucharist. I am grateful to be here with you and grateful for the grace of God that strengthens us all in the living out of our faith.”
The joyous celebration was the perfect conclusion to a day that underscored the importance of having such opportunities for men of faith to gather and grow.
“I think that these types of faith-building events can be a great reminder that we are not alone in our faith, but instead we are part of the universal Church,” said Clark. “Through an event like this, we gain a new perspective on our faith, are challenged to grow, and discover new paths of service that we've never considered before.”
“I am always seeking fellowship with faithful men to grow my relationships with others and with God,” said Brian Beland of St. Michael Parish in Augusta, who was attending his third men’s conference. “Our culture is faltering due to the decline of strong Christian fatherhood in our nation. Families need faithful, hard-working and loving dads. This is why I go to these events.”
“It's very easy to have a busy schedule that is focused on anything and everything of the world,” said Bessette. “Events like these are good to focus us on God and build community together in which he wants us to live.”
The men’s conference was hosted by Shawn Gregory and the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation in the Diocese of Portland.
The Maine Catholic Women’s Conference will be held at the Holiday Inn by the Bay on 88 Spring Street in Portland on Saturday, May 6, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a theme of “Holy Friendship,” meaning those in our lives who challenge us to grow in excellence, virtue, and faith. The keynote speaker at the conference will be ValLimar Jansen, who has sung and toured professionally throughout the United States and served as a professor, inspirational speaker, and leader of worship and prayer. The conference will also include a witness talk, an exhibit hall, eucharistic adoration, the opportunity for the sacrament of reconciliation, and a concluding Mass celebrated by Bishop Deeley.