PHOENIX — The participants in this year’s Diocese of Phoenix Men’s Conference already knew living a godly life involved leaning into God.
What many received from the daylong seminar perhaps was a new perspective on how to do that.
The roadmap was “Theology of the Body,” St. John Paul II’s masterwork where he lays out his integrated vision for who we are as His Creation.
“We are created by God as a gift out of pure love; not necessity,” said the Diocese’s John Paul II Center for Theology of the Body coordinator and conference leader Michael Villanueva.
“We only truly find ourself — we only truly become who we were created to be — if we give ourselves as a gift to God and to others, and receiving the gift of who we are as individuals and as men,” Villanueva told his audience inside the Diocesan Pastoral Center.
Quoting from “Theology of the Body,” the Bible, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Villanueva zeroed in on three key questions:
*Who are we as men?
*How are we called to live? and
*How do we live out that calling?
In addition to being created by God – as articulated in the Old Testament Book of Genesis — Villanueva said that man’s role is to “in some way ensure the very process of the exchange of the gift, which means authentic communion of persons,” a reference to “Theology.”
“This is my Body, given for you,” Jesus’ words at the Last Supper recorded in the Gospel of St. John, show how Christ – the ultimate man and giver – carried out that role. We may not be called to die for others, but we are to freely give of ourselves to our wives, families, and those around us, he explained.
While prayer, adoration, the Sacraments, and studying Scripture and the Catechism of the Church are all ingredients for effectively living God’s calling, Villanueva encouraged men to take time in solitude to hear His voice.
Sometimes referred to as “pirate prayer,” PARRR involves being aware of God’s presence and being present with Him, acknowledging what He tells you, relating to it, reflecting on it, and responding, he explained.
“Put yourself in God’s presence. Have this habit of prayer: ‘Lord, I know you are here,’” he said.
The message resonated with men.
Mike Kincaid, 65, a parishioner of St. Germaine in Prescott Valley, said he’’ sometimes reminds friends when departing for Adoration that he doesn’t do much praying there.
“I do more listening. It’s like, ‘Shut up, and let Him talk to you,’” the retired married father of four and member of the Knights of Columbus, Mary Queen of the Knights Council 8386, said.
“If you do all the talking, He doesn’t get a chance to talk to you.”
Edgar Martin, 39, of Prince of Peace Parish in Sun City West, had similar thoughts.
“I think what’s resonating for me the most is being present in the prayer and taking time to pray, and taking advantage of contemplative prayer — when I don’t really have to say anything but just receive what He’s going to speak to me,” said Martin, a married father of three.
As a husband and dad with a full-time real-estate job, Martin acknowledged the challenge of making quality time with God and said his go-to is usually early morning.
“Everything’s quiet. The kids are asleep, and it’s dark, not just saying ‘thank you,’ but feeling it’s a blessing to wake up for another day, and share the time with my kids, and feel what He’s given me. That makes all the difference for the rest of the day.”
Colby Nguyen, 20, a student at Arizona State University in Tempe who is studying computer-information systems, said the entire presentation gave him a broader perspective on living as a godly man among the distractions and temptations of university life.
“I feel like we always need to be protectors and providers,” Nguyen explained. “When I heard we are guardians (of the gift), I was like, ‘Whoa, man. It gives you a sense of freedom. You don’t have to resist (going to Him). It’s always (just) been (an attitude of) ‘pray and be strong.’”
TURNING TRIALS TO BLESSING
Even in our shortcomings, we are to receive Christ’s strength, Villanueva said, adding that life’s trials, tragedies and setbacks can be turned into growth by leaning into the LORD.
“These things are alive and active in our hearts…where the LORD wants to meet you, and heal you,” he said.
The men also received a sobering reminder from Fr. Charlie Goraieb, Mass homilist, co-founder of the John Paul II Center for Theology of the Body, and parochial vicar at St. Anne Parish in Gilbert.
Pursue the heavenly over the earthly, because we cannot take the earthly with us, he said.
“It’s just a chasing after the wind,” a reference to the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 2.
A departure from past conference’s, this year’s gathering was arranged in a matter of weeks by Villanueva and the JPII Center after longtime lead organizer, Catholic Men’s Fellowship of Phoenix, decided to take “a hiatus” to “reassess” its future.
“This one (was) a little more intimate and direct,” Villanueva said.
A department within the Diocese, the JPII Center is donor-funded.
The center notified members by direct mail, and was able to do limited promotion at the individual parish level. A number of attendees said they learned of the event online via The Catholic Sun. The news also was spread by word of mouth.
“The response has been beautiful,” Villaneuva said.
More than 80 men attended.
Past conferences had taken place inside the auditorium at Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix and included such speakers as the University of Mary president and professional athletes, while this year’s event was devoted to a single topic.
‘THE FINAL BATTLE’
Delivered by John Paul II in a series of Wednesday audiences from 1979 through 1984 – the first years of his papacy – “Theology of the Body” is the late pontiff’s vision of the human person. Based on Scripture, “Theology of the Body” emphasizes love, rather than a view that the body was created for pleasure or to be used for manipulation. It addresses such deep, fundamental issues as the purpose of life, what it means to be created in the image of God and what the marital union of a man and woman say about God and His plan for our lives.
The John Paul II Center for Theology of the Body “exists to ignite the hearts of men and women with the Good News of love, sex, marriage, and the body by forming youth, equipping adult leaders, and evangelizing culture,” according to its page on the Diocese of Phoenix’s website.
Villanueva said the topic is needed perhaps now as much as at any other time in man’s history, as the world awaits the Second Coming of Jesus and the ushering in of God’s Kingdom.
“The final battle will be around marriage and the family,” he said, quoting Sister Lucia dos Santos, the eldest of three children who witnessed the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. The only one of the three to speak with the Blessed Virgin. Lucia later became a Carmelite nun, died in 2005, and was declared venerable by Pope Francis in June 2023 — the final step before beatification.
Lucia’s words resonate with the conference, Villanueva said.
“The evil one knows exactly where to hit: around the husband and father: keeping men from a healthy marriage and distracting married men from living out a holy marriage.”