February 27, 2024 // Bishop

Speakers Urge Men to Rekindle the Fire of Their Faith

It’s early in the morning on Saturday, February 24, in the Expo Hall at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne. Vendors are setting up tables as several men in red fleece vests wander about checking final details and finishing up preparations for the annual Rekindle the Fire men’s conference, which is about to begin. Soon, men come filing into the hall, where dozens of round tables await them and their peers, and they take their place among the settings.

In these days with political, moral, and spiritual turmoil, the need for guidance amid the confusion and social chaos – particularly among men – is needed more than ever as our society and culture become increasingly void of any spiritual bedrock, leaving a path forward clouded in philosophies and ideologies mired in falsehood and hatred for what’s good and holy. Multiple speakers at the conference attested to the fact that the family has suffered greatly on account of this, as so many men have spiritually lost their way.

Photos by Scott Warden
Chris Padgett, above, speaks on the importance of men being merciful to their families.

To combat this erosion, seminars and groups have been formed to support Catholic men, to answer questions, and to shine a way and fill a void. Founded several years ago to meet these needs, Rekindle the Fire took root and flourished. Alternating between host cities South Bend and Fort Wayne – this year’s was in Fort Wayne – Rekindle the Fire featured three speakers and Bishop Rhoades, each of whom touched on the state of the moral, spiritual, and social world that men find themselves in today, the confusion and pitfalls prevalent, and how Catholic men can overcome them.

The speakers included Father Dwight Longenecker, a married priest who converted from the Anglican church; Father Chris Alar, Provincial Superior of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception (a religious order of the Catholic Church that embraces the Society of Mary); and Chris Pagett, a convert to Catholicism who has served in various ministries for more than 30 years. Father Longenecker and Father Alar filled their morning sessions with powerful presentations that discussing the diabolical attacks on the world today and remedies to combat these attacks. In the afternoon, Padgett, who not only works as a Catholic speaker but also as a comedian, stressed the importance of being a good, compassionate, merciful husband and father.

More photos from this event.

In the opening session, Father Longenecker began with a brief introduction and mentioned that he was not only a priest but himself a husband and father. He explained that this was possible thanks to a “pastoral provision” made by Pope Benedict XVI to allow former Anglican pastors to become Roman Catholic priests.

Striding across the stage, Father Longenecker began the meat of his presentation by recounting the Communists of the Soviet Union and the devastating impact Russia had on the moral fabric of the countries held captive by this atheistic ideology. Father Longenecker went on to compare the Communist regimes in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere (which collapsed in the late 1980s and early ’90s) to the current atheistic communism, which, Father Longenecker maintained, is far more subtle and dangerous, infiltrating governments as well as institutions of academia and media. The purpose of this infiltration, he said, is to weaken – even eliminate – Christianity and its influence on public and personal life. Father Longenecker elaborated on what he called the “isms” prevalent today: materialism, scientism, relativism, individualism, sentimentalism, and Freudianism.

At right, organizers pay tribute to longtime Rekindle the Fire Executive Director Joe Brown, who died in 2023.

Materialism, Father Longenecker said, is a destructive philosophy that rejects the supernatural realm. “What you see is what you get,” Father Longenecker said in describing it. “The material world is all there is.” Scientism holds that the only kind of knowledge one can have is that which has been tested and proven. Relativism proposes that everything is subjective and that there is no objective truth. Individualism is the complete reliance on oneself. Sentimentalism is when emotion serves as the sole arbitrator of moral truth. Finally, in Freudianism, one’s moral identity is rooted in their sex drive. Father Longenecker offered the solutions with which to counter these destructive philosophies: for materialism, a return to prayer; for sentimentalism, a belief in the Divine Power; for emotionalism, understanding the truth of the Gospel; for Freudianism, a return to Mary and the Rosary in the healing of sexual sins.

For his talk, Father Alar focused on spiritual warfare. Lively and animated, Father Alar delved into the theological beliefs about the fall of the angels and the consequential impact this had on humanity. He explained the belief one-third of the angels focused on worshipping God the Father, one-third worshipped the Holy Spirit, and one-third worshipped the Son of God – the last being too much for those angels filled with pride – notably Lucifer – which caused their fall. Father Alar described the “portals” that the devil uses to enter and confound humanity – namely, drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, astrology, the occult, and divination. Father Alar described the removal of prayer as catalyst for the infiltration of the demonic into society. He then laid out the weapons we can use against these: prayer (in Jesus name), worship (especially the Mass), adoration (which is especially appreciated by our guardian angels, as they are in the presence of God), fasting (which brings focus to prayer), Scripture (the word of God), sacramentals (saint medals, scapulars, rosaries, holy water, etc.), and the sacraments themselves (especially the Eucharist, baptism, and confession). A highlight of Father Alar’s presentation was when he described the Sign of the Cross – something Catholics do regularly but perhaps forget the importance and significance of what they are doing. “You’re marking yourself for Jesus Christ,” he said.

Padgett spoke on the importance of the family and his own pain growing up in a divorced and dysfunctional family. Pagett offered four disciplines fathers should follow to lead and build a strong, loving family. The first was sacrifice. “That’s your job as a married man,” he said. “You have to sacrifice to help your wife get to heaven. Marriage is going be way harder than you could ever imagine, but – and this is what nobody will ever tell you – it’s also way better than you can possibly imagine.” The second discipline that is key for husbands and fathers is service. The third, Padgett said, is mediation, which is, as Padgett describes, “standing in the gap and being a representative between God and family, be a warrior for your family, and pray earnestly.” His fourth and final discipline was to be an advocate for your family – to fight for them and for others through the corporal works of mercy. In other words, Padgett said, “Be Jesus to your family.”

A highlight for longtime attendees was a tribute to former Rekindle the Fire Executive Director Joe Brown, who died on October 20, 2023, after a battle with cancer. Men on the leadership team of Rekindle, clad in their trademark red vests, gathered on the stage to offer words of appreciation for the work Brown did in organizing the event. Photos of Brown were shown on the screen behind them.

According to his friend, Doug Fischer, Joe Brown was “the best man I’ve ever known and taken too soon.” Fischer said Brown was instrumental in the growth of Rekindle the Fire, which began as a small gathering of men at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Fort Wayne and swelled into a yearly diocesan-wide conference. As the tribute proceeded, Brown was lauded as a man who “realized the importance of bringing men of the diocese together to pray, to listen to excellent speakers, and to celebrate Mass so that we all could become better friends, husbands, and fathers for our families, our parishes, and our communities.”

Bishop Rhoades concluded the afternoon with a Q&A session where he answered question on a wide range of topics, including the National Eucharistic Revival, the Synod of Bishops on synodality (and his participation in it), the biggest challenges he faced when becoming the bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the danger of gender ideology, and the confusion caused by the Vatican’s recent document allowing priests to bless same-sex couples. Today’s Catholic will print a detailed recap of Bishop Rhoades’ Q&A in next week’s issue.

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