WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Fr. Bill Casey, a Father of Mercy, says just as Christ would not abandon the apostles in their time of need, neither will he abandon those today who put their trust in him.
The strength of a man's faith impacts his family and his community. Yet there is a great spiritual battle in our times, and many fathers and sons are losing sight of what it means to be men of God.
Making matters worse is that many priests do not preach a clear, truthful message. Too many clergy are preaching lukewarm, watered-down, dumbed-down homilies or, what Father Bill Casey referred to as "Catholic lite."
Casey was the keynote speaker at the annual Men of Integrity Conference, held Feb. 3-4 at Holy Trinity Church in Spruce Grove-Stony Plain. This year's theme was Step Out in Faith.
A total of 460 men, including many fathers and sons, were registered for the conference, a similar number as last year. A contingent of 30 men came from Grande Prairie, and others from British Columbia and Saskatchewan. An exchange student from Brazil attended with a man from Vegreville.
Casey's Friday evening talk was on Reconciliation. His words must have had an impact as Confessions that night went until 10:30 p.m.
Casey is from Philadelphia, with the Congregation of the Fathers of Mercy. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1991. In 1997, Casey was elected superior general of the congregation.
Casey told the men that the Church is in greater crisis and confusion now than it has ever been in its 2,000-year history. The last Christian church in Afghanistan was demolished recently and the United States military did nothing to prevent it.
"Christians are the most persecuted people in the world today. But every century the Church has proven that it can stand the test of time," said Casey.
He remarked that Nero, Napoleon and Stalin all failed at extinguishing Christianity. No army, government or political power has been able to destroy the work of God.
Today's Catholics, especially in North America, are experiencing a different kind of crisis. Catholic men face societal pressures to succumb to the pagan way of contemporary culture.
"We are told that we are now the first generation that does not know the Ten Commandments. Young people have had little or no moral formation, no formation of conscience. Sociologists tell us that there is now a difference in the rates of divorce, abortion and suicides," said Casey.
He read a parable from Mark 4.35-41, in which Jesus is on a stormy sea with his apostles and they fear they will perish, but Jesus calms the seas.
"Jesus berates the apostles for their lack of faith. He chides the apostles for thinking that somehow he would abandon them in their time of need," said Casey.
Through trust in Jesus, the Church has persevered. But that same trust pays dividends in one's everyday life too. As with Jesus' apostles, people in these troubling times have a lack of faith that Jesus will prevail. Yet regardless of one's problems in his life - whether marital, health or financial - Jesus can calm any storm.
"In our lives will come times of hardship, crisis, personal tragedy, loss. There will be times of sickness, disappointment, sorrow, failure, times when suffering will touch our lives," said Casey.
Today the world is seeing firsthand the ill effects of abandoning faith, and every family is wounded in some way when this occurs. When families abandon their faith, they are often wounded by addictions, drugs, alcohol, pornography, infidelity, violence and atheism. These influences threaten the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of life itself.
"History provides no example of any civilization that has survived this kind of moral decline," said Casey.
People are losing their sense of God and their sense of sin. People don't even want to talk about sin anymore. The great sin of our modern age is the denial of sin, people pretending that it does not exist.
Growing up in the 1960s, Casey heard only the worst about the Church. Today is no better, as many Catholics do not know even the basics about their faith. They have become easy targets, easy prey, for religious sects and cults. The latest statistics in the U.S. suggests that one in 10 Americans are fallen-away Catholics.
Many people have turned from the Church in recent years because of the much-publicized scandals.
"Did you ever consider why our Lord chose Judas as one of his apostles? Our Lord chose 12 men to be his apostles, and one of them was no good, and he knew he was no good. Jesus knew that Judas would be the one to betray him, but he chose him anyway," said Casey.
He continued, "It's obvious. Our Lord chose Judas as an everlasting reminder that we are going to live with scandals in the Church.
"Judas is an everlasting reminder that not every shepherd is a good shepherd. There will be wolves among us in sheep's clothing. But we should never allow that to shake our faith."
He pointed out that the Catholic Church compiled the Bible. The Church spent hundreds of years determining which books were the inspired words of God, and what would be included in the Old and New Testaments. The Church was also responsible for dividing the Bible into chapters and verses.
Many Protestant churches argue that the Bible alone is sufficient. But as 1 Timothy 3.15 states, the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth. Casey argues that we have the Church and we have the Bible, and one does not stand without the other.
Gregory Amerongen, a basilica parishioner, said Casey's message was radically different from what he hears in a typical Sunday homily.
He was grateful to hear truths that he otherwise would not hear. Casey spoke on mortal sin, and the possibility that it could land men in hell eternally.
"But we really shouldn't have to come out on a Friday night and Saturday to hear that. We should be hearing this from the pulpit every Sunday. That is an enormous deficiency in the Church," said Amerongen.
Active with the March for Life, Knights of Columbus and the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Amerongen said he sees many people with life problems as a result of their moral problems. Meanwhile, the Church is doing a disservice to its parishioners by not speaking on this more often.
"You know in curling, with your rock, you want to take out your opponent's rock? We need the evil smashed out of our society, and out of our hearts," said Amerongen.