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A punch in the gut

"The conference 'high' wears off fast," one dad told me the week after the record-breaking 1,100-man-strong diocesan men's conference earlier this month, "and you're back in the thick of daily life." That said, in talks that were at times fierce and gentle, hilarious and sobering, keynoters Father Larry Richards, Father Marc Drouin, and Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde never let the thick of daily life out of their sights. What follows are the concrete changes five fellow attendees shared with me since the conference.
The Word
"I'd been in the habit of reaching first and last thing each day for my blinking phone by the bedside," one dad responded, "constantly checking my emails and texts." In the span of one fiery keynote, Father Richards upended this man's entrenched routines, calling us out of our stupor with his challenge of "No Bible, no breakfast" and "No Bible, no bed."
"Now, I put the phone in the bathroom and keep a Bible on my nightstand," this dad said matter-of-factly two weeks post-conference. "Since that day, I've been taking time every morning and every night to spend time reading the Scriptures, to make sure that the first and last voice I'm hearing each day - the first and last conversation I'm having each day - is with God rather than with the world, the flesh, and the devil via my phone."
Note well this man's counsel: "It's like feeling scales fall quietly from your eyes, and you wonder why you haven't been doing this all along. How easily we forget that the word of God truly can transform lives."
"In the name of Jesus," we repeated aloud together after Father Marc, "I renounce a spirit of unforgiveness." In a 360-degree renunciation of dozens of sins, idols and evil spirits - from workaholism to pride, pornography to anger - Father Marc led us through a powerful prayer based on the "five keys" method of Neal Lozano's Unbound prayer ministry, with which the Arlington Diocese has a formal partnership.
"The speakers went to the heart of the blockages for men," one dad in his 60s told me, "those areas of unforgiveness, sins, evil spirits and lies that prevent us from becoming the men who God created us to be.
"With 1,100 men standing in the authority of Jesus Christ forgiving and renouncing," this dad continued, "I had the image in my head of the demons scrambling over one another trying to quickly leave the building." Another replied that Father Larry's insistence that "whatever you love more than God - even if it's simply the time you're not giving Him - is your idol," personally convicted him.
"Forgiveness," one dad told me about his key takeaway, "is a choice of the heart to put up with an uneven score."
"I sensed," said another, "that we were truly dealing with men's issues as, in the name of Jesus, we forgave our parents for many things, including not showing us the love we needed; not being the parents we needed them to be; and not showing us how to be real men; and as we, again, in the name of Jesus, renounced our sins, bad habits and the lies that we believe; and as we were filled with the love of our heavenly Father."
"Husbands and fathers," said one dad, paraphrasing Father Larry about our need to be spiritual sentinels for our families, "need to live in such a way as to say to the devil, 'If you want to get to my family, you're going to have to get through me."
"Each of us needs to drop to our knees on a daily basis," Bishop Loverde said in his homily, "and let Jesus fight our battles within us and for us and so break the sinful cycles in our lives. He will if we let Him."
"Bless your children and wife each night," one dad told me was his primary takeaway. How foolish to forego this biblical, powerful act of love.
"So how have I changed?" asked another. "I have hope and joy that we no longer need to play the roles of 'Type A' personalities, wearing expensive suits to cover up our woundedness and the weaknesses we have as men, as husbands, as fathers, as sons. All of us men are in desperate need of a Savior and of a heavenly Father we can call 'Abba' - all in desperate need of being led and transformed by the Holy Spirit."
Johnson, a husband and father of five, is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's special assistant for evangelization and media. He can be reached on Twitter @Soren_t.

Find out more
For more information on the Diocese of Arlington's Unbound prayer ministry, contact Terry Riggins at t.riggins@arlingtondiocese.org.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015