Monday, July 27, 2015

Steubenville 2015

Friday started out somewhat normally:  shower, shave, men’s Bible Study at Panera’s, followed by a drive to church and mass at 8AM.  But then I hit the road, and began a 5-hour drive to Franciscan University in Steubenville and The Defending the Faith Conference.  I expected to be there by 2PM, in time to hear the first talk by Fr. Michael Gaitley --- I’ve reviewed some of his books here; they are very inspiring, and I expected his talk would be too.

But the best laid plans of mice and men ….  The crash on I80 was near Cleveland, blocking the entire expressway, and everyone sat unmoving in the hot sun for well over an hour.  I read the Wall Street Journal, and began the crossword puzzle.  There was nothing very inspirational there --- surely this delay was not the work of God.  People and kids got out of their cars and walked about, one even setting up a card table and preparing lunch.  

I missed Fr. Gaitley’s talk, and most of Jennifer Fulwiler’s, too.  (I recently reviewed her book here also, and it too was very good).  I caught the last half hour of her inspiring conversion story, and then went to register at my nearby hotel.  I dropped Jennifer a quick note of thanks, and she promptly responded.  That was a nice, albeit delayed, start to the weekend.

Saturday morning’s talks were by Patrick Madrid and Dr. Peter Kreeft.  In my opinion, Patrick has replaced the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel as a key reason for attending this conference.  Mr. Madrid explains complex truths simply and more importantly, I think, gives everyday examples from his life of how really simple it is to evangelize effectively:  just go where God leads you and let Him do the work.  Dr. Kreeft’s talk was a reflection on a Harvard talk given by Alexander Solzhenitsyn 40 years ago.  His address to the Harvard alums was considered shocking and unacceptably depressing back then, but can be seen now as a preview of today’s culture; it offered most interesting insights.

After the late morning mass, I went off campus and got some soup and a sandwich from Kroger’s, and then returned.  I set out a pillow and blanket under a nice shade tree, and planned to relax the entire afternoon: having lunch, reading a novel, and maybe even napping --- skipping the various afternoon workshops and their speakers.  R&R was on my agenda.  But yet another unplanned interruption stopped MY plans --- and I think this one truly WAS from God.

I don’t remember feeling drowsy as I ate and lay down on the blanket, but I do remember suddenly jerking awake:  a seizure was upon me (you may recall my epilepsy).  As I sat up on the blanket, I glanced around:  there were no people nearby who might be disturbed by my problem.  Then I clutched the crucifix hanging from my neck, and began to pray to God and Mary for help.  I feared throwing up the recently-eaten lunch --- which could be a life-threatening problem --- but after a minute or two (or three), the trembling stopped, and I tried to relax.  I glanced at my watch; it was 1:45P, shortly before the first workshop scheduled to begin at 2.  I asked God if He wished for me to attend these workshops, and took out the Conference program listings.  Both Fulwiler and Gaitley had workshops that first hour, but for some reason I had circled Gaitley’s name in my program, and so I packed up my things and went to his talk and Q&A.

Fr. Gaitley largely talked about Marian Consecration, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and in general the topics of his book The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, and most especially about a call for Divine Mercy and its importance to the world today --- both its eternal importance, and its very IMMEDIATE importance.  I took his words to heart, and wrote myself a note to read his book again, and begin (as he suggested) the 33 day Marian Consecration on November 5, and to ask God what He would have me do regarding December 8, the final day of the consecration, and the beginning date of the Church’s proclaimed Year of Mercy.

Fr. Gaitley reminded us how St. Kolbe, echoing the calls of Fatima, had helped the Polish people to prepare for WWII, through a call for consecration to Mary and prayers for Divine Mercy.  Kolbe himself died in a concentration camp in that war. Gaitley told us how before the war Poland was considered the most Christian nation on earth, and reminded us how Christ called on his followers to be prepared to suffer in this life.  Kolbe’s work had helped the Polish people prepare for their suffering: 18% of the Polish population died in WWII.

And now, Fr. Gaitley said, the United States is considered the most Christian nation in the world, and he told us how now there are many calls here --- many calls --- for a renewed Marian Consecration and prayers for Divine Mercy --- for this country.   

And the auditorium was silent.  (Is God calling us to be prepared for great suffering here?)  The pope has called for a Year of Prayer for Divine Mercy, and this is most unusual. Only four such universal calls to prayer have ever been issued.

I was glad I was awoken from my sleep (and my plans) to hear this talk.  I believe there are things I must do, and applying a greater focus of my prayers on Divine Mercy among them.  I strongly suspect this is not the last thing I will hear on this subject --- but for now, I am awake.

The Saturday evening talk was by Dr. Scott Hahn, who was interesting as usual.  It was the holy hour, however, which was the highpoint of the evening.  I didn’t expect it to be, but then again my plans for this conference didn’t seem to matter anymore.

As the monstrance was processed into the auditorium, the words of the various hymns being sung, old and new, seemed to strike my heart.  Later as the monstrance was processed throughout the auditorium, aisle by aisle and at one point right next to me, I deeply felt Christ’s presence, and tears and sobs of joy overwhelmed me.  Later still, in the quiet adoration time, thoughts came to me of other nights here --- and previous years --- and especially those years when Fr. Groeschel led our adoration:  oh, how close to God we felt.  And then I thought:  but he is even closer to God right now, and so I began to pray and talk to Bennie, and so many thoughts of him flooded my mind.  His words and example were a special part of my life, and still are.  And then, somehow, my thoughts drifted to other holy hours I had attended, other very holy priests, and other thoughts were shared between God and I.  And in all this, I felt Him with me.

I was surprised when the prayers closing the holy hour began; the time on my knees had passed quickly.  I felt good as I got up and left the campus, and returned to my hotel.  I turned on my computer and checked for any new emails.  First in my Inbox was an email from a stranger, and opening it I read:  “Hello, I saw your post regarding Eucharistic adoration at St. Edward on the lake in Port Huron, Mi. and your experience with Fr. Hogan.  I've heard many great things about him and I'm seeking to find a book written about him by one of his (late?) parishioners.”  And then I recalled one more man with whom I had many special holy hours:  Fr John Hogan.  Why hadn’t I remembered him during the Holy Hour I had just attended?  Why did a stranger remind me of him right now, this minute?  And then I recalled how my rosary had turned gold at the very first Holy Hour I had attended with Fr. Hogan.  And thoughts of God’s presence again overwhelmed me.  This weekend He has something to say to me and I am hearing Him.  I think I shall add Fr. Hogan to my list of intercessors.

Early Sunday morning I had breakfast at the hotel and then went to the small adoration chapel on the college campus.  There were few people about.  The doors to the chapel building were wide open, and so as I read my morning meditations and prayed for God’s blessing on the day, I could hear the birds singing loudly nearby, and could see the sun’s light gradually entering the chapel, growing stronger, until the monstrance on the altar was bathed in bright sunlight.  My prayers and God’s answers seemed unusually focused, and with my pen I underlined many sentences in my readings, and wrote insights in the margins.

Strangely, it seemed at the time, my closing thoughts and prayers jumped to a couple of books I had purchased earlier in the week, which lay on the floor in the back of my car.  The thought seemed a distraction to my prayers, and I wanted to dismiss it, but the thought wouldn’t go away.  Finally I blurted out: “Do You have a purpose for those books, God?”  And I told Him I would take one of those books and offer it to whoever He pointed out to me this day.  And so I ended my prayers, stopped by the car to pick up the book, and went to the auditorium for the morning’s talks and mass.

I had only been there a few minutes when a man sat down in front of me, and turning around he noticed my name tag.  “Are you from Michigan?” he asked.  “My wife greatly enjoys the talks and books of a guy named Ralph Martin, who is from Michigan.  Do you know of him?”

“He’s in my parish,” I said.  Then he said: “We’re from Neenah, Wisconsin” --- a place I knew well; it is just down the road from where my mom and dad had retired for 30 years.  Both he and his wife knew the spot well.  And then they mentioned a Marian apparition site near Green Bay in Wisconsin --- which I have been making plans to visit soon.  That was enough.

I gave him the book I was carrying.  If this wasn’t the guy God wanted me to give the book to, I couldn’t imagine who might be.  You know, God doesn’t always have to slap me upside the head before I hear Him.   

As I wrote this in the auditorium, the Sunday talks are coming to a close.  And I thought:  “Perhaps there is something there too, that God wishes me to hear.”  This seems to be a weekend of His plans, not mine.  So I placed an order to get copies of those missed talks.


            - - - - - - - - - -

I think some people wonder why I attend the Steubenville conferences each year.  “A wasted weekend, same-ol’, same-ol’,” they might dismiss my travels.  Perhaps some wonder why I attend daily mass also:  same-ol’, same-ol’.  Perhaps in some ways it is; perhaps in some ways these things are an inconvenience to me (especially if you get stuck 2 hours on a hot expressway).  But if you are sincere in wanting to have God in your life, just what should you do?

I guess you could do nothing, or just say a prayer every now and again, and just wait for Him to act.  Or --- you could go into His presence, to places where His people gather, to places where He says He is.  And He might speak to you.

Or you could go off and just do what you want, and wait for God to throw you off your high horse, like He did Saul.  And maybe He will.

Or maybe He’ll wake you up one day from your sleep with a seizure to capture your attention.  These things happen, you know.

            - - - - - - - - - -

I was going to end this rather long post there, however perhaps that would leave you with some wrong impressions of my life.  The drive home Sunday night was uneventful.  I unpacked my car, got the mail from the neighbor’s house, and then sat down at my kitchen table to relax for a minute.

And I looked out the window and saw this:

I guess there had been a storm over the weekend, snapping off the large branch and crashing it on my deck furniture.  I don’t care to look for any damage right now; it’ll still be there when I get more energy to do something about it --- maybe next Thursday or so.  : - )

No, my life is not all miracles ---- but if this is the extent of the sufferings I am to bear, I will be most happy.


  1. Thanks for the 'rather long post', it made my morning. My son graduated from U of S. many years ago, and I myself am very familiar with the special graces that flow from there, especially in or near the Adoration Chapel, the Little Portiuncula. A dark time in my life that I had suppressed for many years was brought to light as I prayed to the unborn memorial there. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  2. I remember your connection to Franciscan University, kam. You may be interested in next year's conference. Scott Hahn said it would be on practical ways to evangelize, including a debate between a secular humanist and an apologist --- so you'll see how to answer the culture that scoffs at our beliefs, and you'll also hear from someone directly confronting those scoffs today: Archbishop Corleone from San Francisco will be a keynote speaker. It should indeed be a good conference. As I was checking out of my hotel, a man was booking 3 rooms for next year. I laughed when it was my turn, and asked the receptionist if she had many bookings a year in advance. "I don't usually, but we are sure getting a lot today. We have only 3 rooms left for this time next year --- do you want to book a room also?" I laughed and said yes.

    It dawns on me that I haven't sent you any books in a while, kam. I think I'll send you that book I gave away at Steubenville --- it is a book on Gospel meditations. It moves my soul most every day. I'm sure you will like it. And maybe I'll send you that Gaitley book also. It is most .... um, scary in a way, I guess, but a book I think serious Catholics should read.