The Men of Faith Conference at St. Michael’s parish in London Ontario began with the powerful sound of over 300 men praying the Rosary. The eleventh annual conference featured Dr. John Bergsma, Vice President of Biblical Theology and Mission Effectiveness at the St. Paul Center and distinguished Professor of Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. The day also included Holy Mass, the sacrament of reconciliation, lunch, and refreshments. Dr. John Bergsma gave two talks and then held a Q&A session to end the conference.
Dr. John Bergsma’s first talk was about his conversion to Catholicism. On a personal level, he explained how certain tenets of his protestant beliefs were making him depressed. So he began to search and think about his theological doubts. His conversion was centered around three foundational elements of the Catholic Church; faith and works, tradition and the magisterium, and the real presence of the Eucharist.
During his training, Dr. Bergsma began to wonder if salvation by faith alone was accurate. Calling to mind two specific scripture passages, he explained how during his ministry he began to reflect on the contradiction between ‘scripture only’ and ‘once saved always saved’. “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Mt. 7:21) or “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Lk. 9:23). He began a journey to discover what was meant by salvation by faith alone and how it was different from what the Catholic church teaches. The journey lead him to the Catholic Church. This is the conclusion he came to; “either salvation by faith alone is just wrong and clearly contrary to what the bible teaches; or, by the time you adjust it, and nuance it, and add qualifications, and change it a bit and explain it a little bit, you end up backing your way into the Catholic position by the kitchen door.”
Speaking about the importance of tradition and the magisterium of the Catholic Church, Dr. John Bergsma observed where he was in Grand Rapids there were half a dozen churches when the population could only sustain maybe two churches. All the churches had different views all based on scripture. Scripture alone quickly “breaks down into verses versus verses” with no one to adjudicate and no way to reach consensus. He would go around and knock on doors as would the other pastors and the neighborhood became jaded by all the different pastors and different views. “This disunity in our mission presented a divided front, we’re not presenting a united front as representatives of Christ, and that made me very sad,” Bergsma explained, “the bible alone doesn’t work, there is no way to establish unity.”
In his search for answers, Bergsma applied for graduate study and accepted an offer to study at Notre Dame University where he made a friend who was instrumental in his conversion. This man exhibited three qualities that Bergsma had never witnessed at the same time, “highly intelligent, full of the Holy Spirit, and Catholic.” This was an inexplicably Catholic as Bergsma explained, someone who doesn’t fit in the pigeon hole in which society places Catholics. The attraction he felt to this friend’s Catholic faith was due to the guy’s inexplicable faith, “we’re called to go out and be a sign of contradiction to the people we meet.” Through friendship with this man, Bergsma received the gift of faith. As men of faith we are all called to share the gift of our Catholic Faith.
Building off of the theological foundation of faith and works from his first talk, Dr. Bergsma’s second talk 7 Habits of Highly Effective Catholics shared several practices for men of faith. Holiness does not consist in habits and routines, but these are important. “Games are won on the field,” what you do in the weight room is not the same as winning games; however, there is an obvious a connection, “it’s what you put in the hidden time that gives you the strength and conditioning to really perform on the field”. Dr. Bergsma referred to these habits as the spiritual gym. The habits don’t constitute holiness, but they help a man strive for holiness. These habits were the lifestyle of Bergsma’s friend who was instrumental in his conversion. The habits are; morning offering, mental prayer, spiritual reading, Holy Mass, the Angelus (or Regina Caeli during Easter), the Rosary, and examination of conscience.
The Men of Faith Conference offers inspiring talks and encouraging friendships to help men of all ages practice the Catholic Faith. Life in Christ is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires regular training and relentless focus. This year, with the theme Running to Win, Dr. John Bergsma shares his conversion story and challenged men to develop a winning routine for their Faith life.
Photos by Davidiam Photography