Birthday Presence

A few weeks ago I came across an article about a men’s conference sponsored by the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul. It got my attention not so much because I am such a big Catholic but because it was happening on February 27, my birthday. In the past I would usually reward myself on my birthday by purchasing a book or some software or something that would add to my personal life in a personal way, for myself.

This conference was held on a Saturday morning, one of my favorite times to have fun. I signed up weeks ahead of time, picturing my early morning drive to St. Thomas University; imagining a meeting with Catholic men and telling everyone “this is my birthday present to my self.” (As if what I really want to do, given the option of doing anything I want, is talk with a large group of Catholic men).

A few days after I registered, I received an e-mail from St. Rita Church inviting me to join a car pool for the event. This elevated my interest even higher. Now my vision was of a smaller, captive audience of Catholic men.

Last Saturday morning I walked over to the church parking lot, the meeting place for the car pool. As I stood there motionless, I worried about getting the message right to meet at 7:00 am. It was now almost 7 and there was no sign of anyone. I shifted to my pater-noster-zombie persona and was soon relieved to have a truck pull in and drive right up to me.

“Are you Hank?”


“I am Michael.” So I finally met the guy who sent out all the e-mails to the active men’s group of the parish. I held this person in high regard.

He said, “I’m not the Michael [that sends the e-mails] you may have heard from already, there are two Michaels.” He gave his last name and spoke about the other last name. Another car pulled in. Michael told Michael that I was Hank. A few phone calls later determined that the three of would travel to the conference together.

On the highway, each of us gave fragments of our life stories: children, books, saints, trips taken, trips to be taken, weddings, and other minutia. In less than 20 miles we were new best friends. When I learned that both of them were converts, I joked a little that converts often have a greater faith-life than cradle Catholics.  One of them crossed himself as we passed the Cathedral and I felt that I was going to be one of the lesser faithful at the convention.

We walked in to a field house that had almost 2000 men attending Mass. It was inspiring to hear them all say “amen” together. After Mass the first speaker was the Bishop.

He told a story about when meeting him Pope Francis poked his chest and said “pray a lot” repeating the same gesture three times….in the breach… heroic sacrifice.. self mastery…

I was strongly affected by his next statement, “…if you can’t guard your own soul (how can you [help]).”    I think his premise was that our culture is so based on self satisfaction that it is extremely difficult to extract our own altered senses from our actions. As we blend into the accepted “normal” are we already beyond the original meaning of the 10 commandments? Would our faithful reaction to current “ways” make us look like haters?

He went on, “…you need to know how much you need God.  …find a way to depend on God     …experience mercy and give mercy.”  I was rolling ideas around in my head, trying to tie down a plan of action.  My memory banks echoed the thinking of a teenaged self.  I want those days back.

John Paul II’s last words,”The world needs divine mercy.”  Bishop Cozzens said, “We have two levels of encounter with Jesus:   1. I recognize I am a sinner     2. As this sinner I am loved

From the book by Pope Francis (This would make a perfect gift, LOL): The Name of God is Mercy, “you will get tired of going to confession before God tries of forgiving you ”

“In our weakness we learn that we need more God so… [in a way] its a good thing that we are weak.”

“… men need men   …each to be the man God wants them to be.”

Jeff Cavins followed the bishop with a summary:  1. Corporate relationship [the Body of Christ]  2. Personal relationship with Jesus ( “most personal on our last breath” ).

Initiation into the Catholic Watchman.

The card below is a guide for Catholic Watchmen. Cavins walked us through the steps, but by this time, I think most of us felt that the process was self explanatory (pun intended).

Watchmen Seven



1.  Of course it all starts with prayer.

2.  Daily

3.  Joseph’s fatherhood was a hybrid. Single men, celibates, priests and others can practice fatherhood.


5. This is the hard one. (or not)


6. Now it gets a little more serious.

7.  Real hard one. (or not)




Personal summary: Expecting birthday presents, I received birthday presence:

The presence of mind when seated in the soul.