APPLETON — Three small white balls loop rhythmically into the air in the shadow of the altar at St. Pius X Church, where each week hundreds of parishioners receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and thus, too, the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Amateur juggler Jason Wicks of Kaukauna, one of a handful of men remaining in the church during a break in a daylong conference for Catholic men, likes to toss the balls skyward as a means to relax and focus.
“I have one set of balls at home that I use for juggling that have been blessed by a priest. They help me to remain calm and to focus,” Wicks said.
At the moment, near the altar, Wicks is focused on a monumental challenge posed to men attending the ninth annual Esto Vir Men’s Conference: how to radiate Christ’s words through evangelization by walking with, not simply following him.
“I’ve never felt like I deserved to be walking next to God,” Wicks said. The Esto Vir conference, held Saturday, March 1, urged more than 625 participants to evangelize through the radiance of Christ’s words.
That means walking in, not following, Christ’s footsteps, said Douglas Bushman, the conference’s keynote speaker.
Bushman is the Blessed Pope John Paul II chair of Theology for the New Evangelization at the Augustine Institute, a Denver-based graduate school training students in reconnecting Catholics with their faith.
“Many men are satisfied doing things for Jesus rather than being with him,” Bushman said. “My main challenge to the men attending Esto Vir was to urge them to develop more of their prayer life, to be comfortable being with the Lord because their projects, activities and missions for him will be all the more fruitful in function based on how one they are with the Lord.”
Pointing frequently to Gospel references of Peter following Jesus at a distance, particularly when Christ was arrested and when Peter denied him three times, Bushman told Esto Vir participants following Christ at a distance could lead them off course.
“If we follow Christ at a distance we deprive ourselves of that totality God has to give. Without that totality we will not be able to follow him through some of the more difficult places he will lead us,” Bushman said. “That is, we will not have the courage to pray with him, so when we sin or misuse our freedom this is the equivalent in our daily life of denying the Lord as did Peter.”
But how to get men to walk with instead of following Jesus?
“More than anything else it is prayer,” Bushman said. “In prayer we are with the Lord. He is in control of the conversation, or at least he should be. Many men tend to translate their love of the Lord into projects, into getting things done. But, and this is important, the love has to flow from being with him.”
Citing Blessed Pope John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization, Bushman said the process of radiating Christ’s words must begin by walking with him.
“If we want to be evangelizers we must first be evangelized,” Bushman said. “We must constantly be converted. God always has more to give and we know how he gives himself to us — through daily prayer, the sacraments, Scripture, the rosary and fidelity to the duties of our vocations. If we are men of conscience, God will work inside us and we will radiate Christ.”
Bushman said conferences such as Esto Vir offer a tremendous opportunity “for Christ to reach the hearts of men who would otherwise be so busy in their projects that the day would go by without this encounter with him.”
Witnessing Christ through other conference participants rang true for Andrew Munywanya Kaggwa, who traveled from his home in Menominee, Mich., to attend Esto Vir for the first time.
A welder at Marinette Marine, Kaggwa, originally from Uganda, said hearing other men radiating Christ helps him deal with many confusing issues in today’s culture, including debates involving abortion and gay marriage.
“Without Christ we cannot survive. That’s why I came to Esto Vir,” Kaggwa said. “I am married with three children and I am supposed to raise them as Catholics. This conference helps me in my heart.”
John Cavill, a member of the Esto Vir leadership team, said the conference “strengthens men and lets them know they are not the Lone Ranger out there.”
“Men are hardwired to accomplish stuff and to get out there and do things for Christ,” Cavill said. “Our mission at Esto Vir is to encourage men to walk with God and challenge them to be extraordinary examples to their wives, families and fellow workers in this culture. When we come together in an event like this it makes a big difference in the journey we take with the Lord.”