Although the current pandemic has brought many spiritual and social challenges, God’s grace remains deeply present and accessible for those searching after Him. In the face of countless events that have been canceled or “gone virtual,” a local group of committed Catholic men is making the intentional decision to provide an in-person retreat to rekindle hope, strength Christian identity and encourage masculine spiritual leadership.
The retreats are led by Armor of God, an apostolate founded by laity at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Fort Wayne. Their mission is to arm men to be the spiritual leaders that God designed them to be in their homes, workplaces and churches.
Armor of God members meet for monthly spiritual briefings, which provide fresh and relevant content for getting fortified in faith, as well as biannual retreats where men can come together, learn from one another and gain the tools, knowledge and direct experience necessary to live as the “priests” of their domestic church. The last retreat, which occurred Feb. 19-21 at St. Felix Catholic Center in Huntington, provided such training in tangible, stimulating and interactive ways.
Rob Gregory began the retreat by emphasizing a fundamental component of Armor of God: developing a core mission. Meant to be a short, personal identity statement, a core mission is born from honest prayer that is unique, easily repeatable and holds one accountable for achieving ultimate purpose and fulfillment. He exclaimed, “if you don’t have a core mission and a clear sense of who you are striving to be, you’re like a ship without a rudder, floating through life defenseless against the obstacles and situations which threaten to shipwreck you and your loved ones.”
Tommy Lapsley further elaborated on the importance of forming habits and friendships centered on God. He pushed them to honestly answer the questions: “How are you living? What ‘virtues’ do you prize most? Are you striving after resume virtues, like your bank account, house, car or the latest technology? Or do you pursue legacy virtues: honesty, integrity, loyalty, etc.?” He exclaimed, “To be holy men, we need to be thinking about and running after joy that is true, lasting and eternal.”
Darrian Franzen, a youth minister at St. Vincent who is expecting the birth of her first child, was invited as a guest speaker to emphasize what women are looking for from their men. She emphasized, “Women do not want passive men! We want someone who will be strong, protective, mature, reliable and sacrificial. We want leaders who are confident and compassionate.” She shared the tremendous value of her dad’s consoling words to her before she would go to sleep each night, which she still values to this day. He would tell her: “I am here, you are safe and protected, you are wanted, you are loved.”
Scott Druhot then alerted the men to the importance of being aware of the dangers of technology, social media and excessive screen time. Sharing sobering statistics regarding marital satisfaction, family unity and addictive tendencies influenced by internet usage, he encouraged building habits of consistent prayer time — especially the rosary — to defend and protect spouses and families from temptations, distractions and isolation.
Nick Gray further cautioned the men about the temptations of living a dualistic “shadow” life that threatens to tear them away from being the faithful husband and father God is calling them to be. Such deception can leave the family in grave peril, unless it is exposed to the light and truth of God’s grace.
Father Jay Horning and Father Benjamin Muhlenkamp addressed additional ways to become armed for spiritual battle and open to spiritual healing. They began by highlighting the necessity of going to confession regularly, rooting out evil habits and acknowledging that mortal sin is a personal catastrophe – something that cuts a man off from life in God, jeopardizes his eternal salvation and that needs to be addressed immediately, before he is led further away from the Lord.
They reminded that God has a plan for each man’s life. But Satan has a plan for the same life. This is a spiritual battle every man needs to be aware of, to see where the devil is trying to gain access into his life. He has to take personal responsibility for the salvation of his soul and the souls of his wife and family, they said.
They continued by addressing a vital component often overlooked when speaking on reconciliation: woundedness. As a team, they explained that when a person sins, or when others sin against them, there can remain significant pain and emotional scarring that is carried long after going to confession.
God wants to heal His children of this suffering, they continued. Jesus died for all men, that they might have life and have it abundantly, He wants them to give Him everything negative they are holding on to.
The priests then instructed the men to renounce whatever might be ailing them from their past, including old wounds, grudges, vices, tendencies toward sin, or other spiritual afflictions. The key element is to speak this renunciation in the name of Jesus. Through the power of baptism, the Lord has given the ability to call on His name to remove the burdens that oppress and gain freedom in Christ. This action does not eliminate or overshadow the power of the sacraments, but rather works in tandem with them, allowing for a greater activation of their sacramental power in one’s life to avoid evil and choose virtue.
After hearing confessions on Saturday evening, the priests offered to pray individually with those who desired guided personal prayers of renunciation. From the visible effects and responses, it was evident that many were deeply moved by this exercise and came to experience the healing hands of the Lord touch their lives in a new way.
Mary Jo Parrish, founder of Kingdom Builder’s women’s ministry, also came as a guest speaker to encourage the men to pray over their wives and children and to take the lead in spiritual warfare. She exclaimed, “Your job is not to heal your families. There is only one Savior, and you are not Him! Your job is to lead them to the Savior. Remember that you will eventually die, and when you face God, He will ask you whether you brought the souls He brought before you back to Him. So, get used to asking your children about their favorite ways to pray, about what Bible verses are most powerful to them, what their prayer intentions are, their favorite saints, and about their role models in faith. Leading others to holiness does not mean leading them to be bored. Be creative and go deep. The closer we come to God, the more our joy and our gifts will unfold.”
To learn more about Armor of God, view specialized prayers and resources, connect with a small group for holy fraternity or sign up for the next retreat Aug. 20-22, visit armingmen.com.
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