One thing was for certain – we would be traveling in style. Five men piled into the Lincoln at 7:30AM to make the 40 minute drive to the Annual Archdiocese of Philadelphia Men’s Spirituality Conference last Saturday. My brother-in-law, Dan, works for Ford Motor Company and his company car would act as our taxi.
Men of all ages converged on Archbishop Ryan High School in Northeast Philadelphia for the conference. Over 1,100 men would be in attendance, which was a record for the five years of the event. I had the privilege of greeting Bishop John McIntyre, an auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia, shortly before he led the men in morning prayer.
The first speaker of the day was very inspirational. Jim Towey, the President of Ave Maria University, was the personal attorney for Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta for 12 years. He asked the crowd why Mother Teresa needed an attorney. “Because she liked to sue people!” he said facetiously.
Mr. Towey related how he first met Mother Teresa in 1985 shortly after one of his best friends committed suicide. He went to visit her at her Home For the Dying in Calcutta and was greeted by one of the nuns who told him to go clean the wounds of the patient in Bed 46. All his sensibilities revolted at the idea, but something impelled him to carry out the directive. That day something in him changed for the better and he realized that love and service for others was the key to living a happy and holy life. What is the Bed 46 in your life that you fear and have to overcome to realize God’s plan for your life?
We all know the public Mother Teresa (who took her name from St. Therese of Lisieux) who founded the Missionaries of Charity and won the Nobel Prize in 1979 for her tireless work with the destitute and dying in the squalor of Calcutta, India. Only a few knew the private Mother Teresa, and Jim Towey was one of those privileged few. He told many touching stories of their time together such as the time that she tracked him down to make sure that he had something to eat. She came to him through the throngs of people and put a banana and a peanut butter sandwich in his hands. On another occasion shortly before her death when she was infirmed, she literally jumped out of bed with childlike excitement when Jim said his children were coming to visit. He told of his last meeting with her and about her beautiful death.
The others speakers at the conference did not disappoint. Richard Lane, the son of NFL player “Night Train” Lane and a very prolific Catholic speaker, gave a very dynamic presentation about five qualities that a Christian man needs in order to thrive. Don “Big Bird” Saleski, was a hockey player in the NHL from 1970-1980 and was on the Philadelphia Flyer teams in 1974 and 1975 that won the Stanley Cup. He spoke about his faith journey and about key areas that Christian men need to develop. Christopher West, best-selling author and teacher, rounded things out with a rousing presentation on Blessed Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
The day concluded appropriately with the Celebration of Holy Mass with Archbishop Charles Chaput for the Third Sunday of Lent. When the time came for his homily, he asked if it would be alright if he descended from the stage to speak because the lights were in his eyes and he wanted to see his audience. Once down on our level, the diminutive prelate asked jokingly if the men could see him! We yelled out that we could. He proceeded to give an excellent homily and spoke at length about each of the three readings from Exodus, 1 Corinthians, and Luke respectively. He exhorted the men to be deeply rooted in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church and to be witnesses and missionaries in the world.
By the conclusion of the mass at 5:30PM we were all quite tired and hungry and it was time to pile back into the Lincoln and set off for home. We shared about some of our personal highlights from the day on the drive home and arrived back in Wayne just as the sun was sinking low in the sky.