By JOSEPH NICOLELLO Special to The A.D. Times
A record number of men packed into the basement of the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown on a beautiful March morning, sharing in conversation, freshly baked donuts and coffee, in preparation for Bishop of Allentown Alfred Schlert to give a Lenten talk upstairs in the Cathedral, followed by Father Bernard Ezaki.
Whereas years prior had seen a normal crowd size ranging between 65 and 100 men, this year saw 165 registered and in attendance.
Deacon Mike Doncsecz led with morning prayer. He prayed for the greater glory of God to be with all the
Diocesan men in attendance and across the land, in thought and in deed:
“Teach us to be leaders in our homes, in our communities, at work and in our church.”
The second speaker was Cristian Rojas, who had a pivotal hand in putting the morning’s events together. Rojas advocated the need for men both of youth and experience, of all backgrounds, ignited by love of the faith.
Rojas had the pews in stitches as he recounted how precisely he’d been led to do so, relating a late-night post-pregnancy McDonald’s run – where he both forgot his wallet and bumped into Bishop Schlert.
“It was there, at McDonald’s, that Bishop Schlert not only paid for my cheeseburgers, but told me, ‘I want you to serve on the Commission for Men.’ And when the Bishop says something, you do it.”
The morning crowd smilingly nodded in approval.
Ascending the ambo, Bishop Schlert read from the Book of Sirach. He then spoke on how this Lenten season we must focus on something unspoken of these days.
“The quote from Sirach speaks about shaking the wheat until the husks are shaken out,” said Bishop Schlert.
“Isn't that really the purpose of Lent? To spiritually examine our lives and see what husks of sin have to be eliminated.”
He pointed out, “The ruggedness of Lent can especially appeal to the masculinity of men.
“The Church needs men's masculinity as much as the Church needs the femininity of women. Both complement each other and are equal in the life of the Church.
“The model of men as provider and protector is still valid. Too often in society, there is a denial of this role. Society devalues this aspect to our detriment.”
Bishop Schlert used two examples: “In 1912, when the Titanic was sinking, it was 'women and children first.'
One hundred years later, in 2012, the Costa Concordia capsized off the coast of Italy. While many passengers died, the captain abandoned his ship and fled to shore. Which example of masculinity best serves society?
“Masculinity, virtuously lived, is necessary in our society. It is not ‘toxic,’ but rather fulfills an essential role in the marriage, in family, in the Church and in our nation.
“Never be ashamed of being properly masculine. It is how God made you, and how he calls you to serve him on earth.”
Father Ezaki spoke next, with a talk centered on five Lenten pillars:
- Spiritual benefits. “By saying no we increase our ability to turn away from illegitimate pleasures. Satan himself thought Jesus would be at his weakest at the end of his 40-day fast – Satan was wrong.”
- Help us to appreciate the blessings we normally take for granted. “In this way we can relish what we have and learn gratefulness. The evil one hates gratitude.”
- Fasting, abstinence make us more compassionate (to others and as humans altogether). “St. Teresa of Avila loved pears. During Lent she kept one all day on her desk. When asked why she would torture herself so, she responded, ‘If I cannot resist a pear, how will I resist Satan?’”
- Rid ourselves of self-deception of self-sufficiency. “We are dependent on other human beings – even bread and wine are social products.”
- Blessing from above. “We empty ourselves out for blessings the way a whaling ship used to make way for capture by doing away with the ballast.”
“And so with these pillars established we have also five fingers with which to give the devil a big, fat knuckle sandwich.”
In closing, attendees were left with these illuminating words from Deacon Anthony Campanell:
“May the ashes of Ash Wednesday turn into the fire of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to bring masculinity back into the Church, society, and further bring others to encounter Jesus Christ, both leading by example and walking alongside our families, brothers and sisters in the faith, and God Almighty. Amen.”