Encounter Texas puts focus on Christ, community and conviviality
GRAPEVINE — The aim of the Aug. 16-18 Encounter Texas Conference, held at the Gaylord Texan Resort, was to offer something for everyone.
From fun events — a Boomers and Beer Social, singles trivia, and a Matt Maher concert — to noted speakers, to Sunday's culmination of Mass concelebrated by Diocese of Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson, those goals appear to have been met.
“Oh man, I'm loving it,” Fort Worth’s St. Peter the Apostle parishioner Jim Price said the second day. “I'm getting really hyped up here for the Lord and definitely I hope they bring this back next year.”
Across the lobby, Catherine Gorman, also from St. Peter, was impressed by the speakers and derived inspiration from their messages.
“I came away with way more self-awareness,” Gorman said. “It made me really want to go to confession, which I did. Now I'm really looking forward to Adoration because that's something that changes lives.”
Meanwhile downstairs, Chris Heinen, a parishioner of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Richardson, was high fiving three of his friends, their team having excelled in a round of singles trivia.
“I've been to other Steubenville conferences but this is my first Encounter Conference,” Heinen said. “Our youth minister brought us. It's been a fantastic experience so far. It's great to meet the other Catholic youth groups and see what's on everyone's minds.”
Peter Fontana, Adore Ministries vice president of movement, explained that, having outgrown Houston, this was the first Encounter Texas Conference in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“The purpose is we're all about vacation, community, and Jesus,” Fontana said, referencing the multiple attractions of the Gaylord Texan. “We can go on vacation with our faith community and go deeper in Jesus. That's the vision. Where else can you come to have a spiritual journey for all generations of your family?”
Adore worked in conjunction with the Diocese of Fort Worth to organize the event.
“Christ really showed up this weekend,” Fontana yelled to the hundreds gathered for Sunday's closing Mass.
The vision of Adore, founded in 2004, is to encourage and teach people to worship Christ their entire lives through the precepts of moments, mission, and movement.
“The purpose of these events is to come in front of the Blessed Sacrament and reveal its power so you can go back and make that part of your daily lives,” Fontana told the crowd. “The movement element is the question of how do we begin to create small communities? In that way we exist in the gap between the parish and the people.”
Fontana said he and his wife, for example, reached out to fellow parishioners in their church and began organizing weekly dinners in order to strengthen parish community.
FIND YOUR OWN CALCUTTA
Ennie Hickman of Del Rey Collective, echoed Fontana's call to love and befriend one's neighbors.
“If Jesus says, 'Follow Me,’ our lives should look like Christ's,” Hickman said. “The greatest good is God and the greatest act of charity is sharing God.
“It's not OK to worship in here and not be the Church outside. It's not the same to be at church as it is to be the Church. Being the Church means loving indiscriminately and loving sacrificially and loving your neighbor.”
Hickman spoke of St. Teresa of Calcutta's 1976 commencement speech after which several students voiced their desires to work with her.
“She told them to find their own Calcutta,” Hickman said. “She told them to not move and to stay where they are because there are plenty of sick, suffering, and lonely people right where they are. You can find Calcutta all over the world.”
Hickman’s audience was a diverse one.
UNWORTHY BUT REMADE
Catholic radio host, author, and Executive Vice President of Life Teen Mark Hart discussed the joys of prayer and the dangers of growing stagnant in that regard.
“Our prayer life can dissipate and become stale as our life changes,” Hart said. “I've found that when you seek to follow the Lord, pray, and seek to do good, evil will come after you. I've found that the times we least desire to pray is often the time you most need to.
“Prayer is not about taking time; it's about making time. Prayer doesn't help your relationship with God — it is your relationship with God.”
Among several prayer tips, Hart encouraged attendees to ask God to “remove anyone and anybody that's keeping Him from your life.”
Hart, in a later talk, said that although he grew up Catholic, he paid his faith scant attention until his Confirmation classes, which he only attended so his mother wouldn't take his truck away.
“For whatever reason that day I asked, 'What if,'” Hart said. “What if that's really who the priest says it is? And it opened my heart half an inch.”
Moments before he had been making fun of his fellow classmates, so the result was unexpected.
“[There was] this weird moisture in my eyes and on my face,” Hart joked. “And it wasn't the result of one of my brothers sitting on top of me dripping spit.
“I broke down and realized, for the first time in my life, if that's God, I'm not worthy of having Him in me.”
Feelings of worthlessness and woundedness followed, Hart said, which is exactly what Satan desires for the world today.
“That's the way the enemy works, whispers to you that you're nothing,” Hart said. “But God offers healing and renewal. You and I are not worthless. We are unworthy, yes. But by His cross we are not worthless. We are wonderfully made and remade. The sacraments destroy us in a beautiful way. They destroy us in Christ's way and recontextualize us.”
That, Hart said, is why we need to come to God with all our shards of brokenness and pain and ask for healing.
“Those of us not seeking the Lord are not really living,” Hart said. “And the only thing keeping us from a relationship with the Lord is us.”
Father Mike Schmitz, a campus minister at the University of Minnesota at Duluth and a well-known presenter for Ascension Press, spoke of choices and the afterlife.
“When it comes to the reality of judgment you could end up losing your soul,” Fr. Schmitz said. “That is a reality built on a deeper truth and that truth is that you matter.”
Because of the fall, we as humans experience a death that is not only unnatural but an obscenity as well, Fr. Schmitz said.
“It's not natural,” Fr. Schmitz said. “It's not part of God's plan and we have to understand that that kind of death is our enemy.”
Fortunately, Fr. Schmitz said, the story doesn't end there.
“Ultimately we're called as Christians to approach death with our eyes wide open,” Fr. Schmitz said. “In Christ death becomes something more. Ultimately death is the thing through which we pass to new life. But it has to pass through the transformational power of Jesus Christ to do so.”
The challenge, Fr. Schmitz said, is that God, through His love, wisdom, and gift of free will, gives us exactly what we ask for.
“Jesus is the only reason heaven is even possible for us,” Fr. Schmitz said. “In the end we can choose God and get Him because Jesus made that possible. Or we can choose anything other than God and here's what we get, anything other than God. God in His goodness lets us have what we've chosen — lets us have what we said we wanted.”
THE DOMESTIC CHURCH
Bishop Olson spoke of the vocation of family and its role in the Church and society.
Family represents the domestic church, Bishop Olson said, not simply an aggregate of individuals with selfish interests sharing space together for mere convenience.
“Family exists for Christ's purposes in nature and in grace,” Bishop Olson said to hundreds of fathers, mothers, youth, and children in the audience. “Not the other way around.
“Without Christ at its center, a family can be taken up with the ideology of excuses that resemble Christian values but become void of Christ Himself.
“The role of the Church is not to be the only institution to offer guidance and direction in society. That begins with the integrity of marital and family life and sanctifying each other in prayer and living the gospel of mercy in relation to the days, which never go as planned.
“The responsibility of fathers and mothers to their sons and daughters is to prepare them for heaven. The responsibility of children is to grow from mere compliance to an obedience rooted in respect and love.”