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Grasping mercy

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

The following story appeared in the Feb. 12 issue of the Idaho Catholic Register.

Father Richards prays before the conference begins. “You have to watch what you say about God,” Father Richards cautioned the men. (ICR photos/Dr. Victor Sanchez of Bridgetower Photography)

Conversion begins with understanding God's love, Idaho Catholic men told

Christians who seek to influence their families and their culture for Jesus Christ will not be able to do so without understanding – and emulating – God’s love and mercy, Father Larry Richards told those who attended or listened to the Idaho Catholic Men’s Conference on Jan. 30.

The Apostle Paul, who hated Christians and was taking part in their murders, did not take the time to repent before God revealed His love and mercy to him, Father Richards said. “It’s not what Paul did that brought about his conversion, but what God did for Paul,” he said. “If it would have been up to Paul, he would have been still killing Christians.”

“Before God gave the people the Ten Commandments, what did he do? He set them free from their slavery,” Father Richards said. “And yet we want to hit people over the head with the commandments; people who have never experienced the love of God. Do you see why that doesn’t work?”

“If you were in a Muslim country and were told you had to follow Muslim law, you wouldn’t like that. You might fight against it,” he said, noting that those who are not Christian may react in the same way if they are compelled into faith.

Father Richards, founder of the Reason for Our Hope Foundation and a regular contributor to EWTN, said the world is in desperate need of Christians who exhibit God’s love and mercy in both their deeds and their words.

“You can’t make people follow God. They need to experience the love of God; then they will change,” he said. The first sentence in his new book “Surrender! The Life-Changing Power of Doing God’s Will” is “We were created by love to be love in a world that doesn’t know love.”

He gave this warning to the nearly 700 men who attended or listened to the day-long conference and who may be tempted to judge others: “You have to watch what you say about God. God is a god of mercy who wants us to bring mercy to others.”

He recalled a time when he shared with an EWTN audience that he had forgiven a seminary rector who molested him when he was 17 years old. A caller, who identified herself as a large contributor to EWTN, told Father Richards she “resented” him for forgiving the rector.

“She never said she was sorry I was abused or that she felt badly. She told me she resented me,” Father Richards said. “She did more damage to me than that pedophile priest. I forgave that priest not for him, but for me.”

People need to forgive to bring about healing in their own lives, he said. “Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.”

Father Larry Richards gestures toward the Divine Mercy image at St. Paul Catholic Church in Nampa while explaining God’s mercy. At left, he emphasizes the importance of daily scripture reading if Catholics are serious about living for God. (ICR photos/Dr. Victor Sanchez of Bridgetower Photography)

'I have invited you here today to kill you; you must die today. You must let go of your old self, your old ideas, and doing it your way. Let Jesus Christ take control of your life and truly live inside you.'

FATHER RICHARDS was one of several speakers at the conference, including also Dr. Ray Guarendi, who hosts “Living Right with Dr. Ray,” on EWTN and local testimonies from Roger Batt and Eddie Trask.

The conference typically draws about 1,000 men who gather on the Boise State campus, but this year’s pandemic forced organizers to plan a much smaller conference at St. Paul’s Church in Nampa to allow for social distancing.

Most of the men gathered either in St. Paul’s Church or at the neighboring Marist Hall, where participants watched the speakers on a large screen. Other conference registrants watched from home using the social media platform, Crowdcast.

Mike Schauble, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Rosary in east Boise, organized a watch party with about 25 men sitting at socially distanced tables in the parish’s large social hall.

Travis Wingo, one of the conference’s organizers, estimated that about 700 men registered for the conference, including those who watched from home or at other sites.

The conference “went off without a hitch,” Wingo said. Though some expressed concerns in advance that the conference was being held, “we didn’t get any negative feedback afterward,” he said. “People were feeling so isolated and were happy to be able to attend something.” He announced from the onset that the conference would be following COVID protocols, even though there was some opposition to that as well.

Bishop ‘We are glad we are in the boat with Him’

Bishop Peter Christensen opened the Idaho Catholic Men’s Conference celebrating Mass at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Nampa. Concelebrating with him were Father Caleb Vogel, left, and Father Larry Richards, right. In lower right photo, altar servers lead the recessional at the Mass’s conclusion. (ICR photos/Dr. Victor Sanchez of Bridgetower Photography)

THE CONFERENCE began with Mass, celebrated by Bishop Peter Christensen and concelebrated by Father Caleb Vogel, pastor at St. Paul’s Parish, and by Father Richards.

The Gospel reading of the day happened to fall on Bishop Peter’s favorite reading, the story of Jesus calming the storm at sea from St. Mark, chapter 4. “I’ve told everyone at the Chancery that this what I want preached at my funeral,” the Bishop said.

On the shore, Jesus was talking about the kingdom of God growing like a mustard seed, but in the boat, amidst the raging sea, Jesus is now giving a sense of what it is like to have the “kingdom present with Him,” the Bishop said. After being awakened by the frightened disciples, Jesus rebukes the wind “and there was great calm; not just a partial calm, but a great calm,” the Bishop said.

A miracle now visible before them, Jesus asks the disciples why they are terrified. “Do you not yet have faith?”

“That’s what’s going on here. Jesus is talking about the disciples putting their faith in Him. They had to be wondering, ‘Who is this man?’ They turned to this teacher for help, but, obviously, he was more than a teacher. Who is this that the wind and the sea obey?”

The experience led to an increase in faith and trust, “and the ‘yet’ of their faith would grow in time as they recognize Jesus as who He was, the Son of God,” the Bishop said.

Likewise, we also have entered a voyage with Jesus to the other side. “There have been storms that we have faced and times of questioning within the storm, questions as to whether Jesus is with us or not. We have called out in our need and have experienced the calming of the tempests that we face.”

The Bishop asked those attending if they ever wonder what happened to those in the “other boats,” to which St. Mark alludes. “Which boat would you rather have been in on that evening during the storm?”

“We are glad that we are in the boat with Him. We’re glad that we are in the Church of our Lord,” he said. Sometimes we complicate the journey with nonessentials “rather than be just as we are with Him.”

“I firmly believe that there is a powerful wind of another sort that is rising,” the Bishop said. “It is the presence of the Holy Spirit breathing upon us during these times.” At the conclusion of the Mass, the Bishop said he and those attending “will pray for the Spirit to be fully released in our lives, just as we are; that our faith may grow even stronger as we journey through these rough seas.”

The Bishop concluded his homily quoting the Old Testament Book of Daniel 10:19: “Fear not, you are loved. Take courage and be strong.”

Dr. Ray Guarendi hosts programs on both EWTN Radio and EWTN Television. (ICR photo/Dr. Victor Sanchez, Bridgetower Photography)

DR. RAY GUARENDI told the men that he left the Church for 10 years. He became involved in evangelical churches until he started reading the writings of early Church Fathers. “If they ruined the Church, then they ruined it from the very beginning,” he said, citing early Church belief in the Eucharist, the authority of the bishops and devotion to the Blessed Mother.

“When people get mad at the Church, it’s usually over below-the-waist issues – abortion, homosexuality and pornography,” he said. No one gets mad about taking care of the poor, but issues regarding sexuality drive people away. However, the Church does not call us to be partially obedient, he said.

In 1968, Pope Paul VI said the Church needed to teach why artificial contraception is wrong, but a commission appointed by the Vatican came to a different conclusion; a conclusion the Pope elected not to follow and one that has proven correct over time, Guarendi said.

“The Pope said if we do this (promote artificial contraception), women would be demeaned, abortions will rise and marriages will suffer.” Further, while they didn’t know it then, “we know now that the pill can be an abortifacient,” he said. “Had the Church buckled under pressure and said let families decide, she would have been saying you can kill a very young human being,” he said. “In matters of faith and morals, the Holy Spirit will not lead the Church in error.”

Guarendi realizes the teaching is an unpopular one, especially with young people. “Even Jesus couldn’t get most people to follow Him,” he said.

Society’s growing distrust of authority extends from the Church and even into the home, said Dr. Guarendi, a psychologist and authority on parenting and family issues.

“Raising kids to be faithful is getting harder against this culture,” he said. The father of 10 adopted children, Guarendi said many parents are criticized for disciplining their children. “Our culture is in big trouble when psychological correctness is replacing moral correction. The question shouldn’t be, ‘Is it normal?’ but, instead, the question should be ‘Is it right?’ ”

Guarendi said he is “hearing from women who say that they are the authorities in the home and the guys are along for the ride.” He said one of his biggest regrets is that he said his prayers while lying in bed. “What a difference it would have made if they (his children) had seen their old man kneeling by the bed.”

IN HIS FIRST talk during the day, Father Richards reminded the men of the challenge to die to self, as posed by his favorite passage in scripture from Galatians 2:19-20 “… I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”

“I have invited you here today to kill you; you must die today,” Father Richards said. “You must let go of your old self, your old ideas, and doing it your way. Let Jesus Christ take control of your life and truly live inside you.”

That is the essence of salvation, he said. However, most Catholics "have never opened the gift that was given them at baptism," he said.

Early Christians were killed for their faith, he noted. "We may die, but the Church will be born again," he said.

Many Catholics are Pelagians, Father Richards said, referring to the ancient heresy that humankind is saved based on its good works and moral choices.

Many more are neo-Pelagians who "think that God does 50 percent and you do 50 percent." Both are wrong, he said. "You will be saved 100 percent by God."

There is only one answer to the question of why one goes to heaven, Father Richards said, and it has nothing to do with the Masses attended, the Rosaries recited or the number of pro-life marches attended.

"The only answer is, 'Because Jesus died for my sins.' It's what He did for you, not what you did for Him."

That is the definition of mercy, he said. "My greatest devotion is to mercy; giving something good to someone who does not deserve it," Father Richards said. The good thief, the one who said, "Jesus remember me," was the first person admitted to heaven, he noted.

“If you want to be the best Christian, get out of the way and let Jesus live His life for you. That’s called surrender.” To receive mercy, one has to humble himself and give Christ control, he said.

Most people, he said, consider everyone else's sin worse than theirs. But a true Christian will recognize his or her own sin first.

“The more a soul is aware of the grace of God, the more he is aware of his sin. It is like the sun piercing through a dark room. The greater the light, the more you can see the dust particles flowing.”

He challenged the men to begin each day with a holy hour that includes Bible reading.

Holding his Bible high in the air, Father Richards declared, “This is the sword that will conquer the world. Not your gun, not your opinion, but the word of God. You can’t take control of anything until you let God take control of your life and God can’t take control of your life if you don’t read His Word.”

ROGER BATT, a private consultant and lobbyist, shared his conversion from the Lutheran Church, partly the result of his attendance at the 2016 Idaho Catholic Men’s Conference where Father Larry Richards was a speaker.

Distraught by the infighting in his Lutheran congregation, Batt agreed to attend Mass with friends at St. Bernard’s Church in Jordan Valley, Ore., just over the Idaho border.

It was there that he met Father Bailey Clemens. “Father Clemens was holy like I had never seen holiness in any church leader. He had such a zeal for God and love just emanated from him,” Batt said.

Father Clemens told Batt he would become Catholic, but Batt had no intention of doing so, until he started reading “Four Witnesses,” a book by Rob Bennett about four early Church Fathers.

At about the same time, his wife, Gayle, recuperating from a concussive injury, happened upon homilies by Father Larry Richards on Salt & Light Radio. She heard that Father Richards was coming to Boise for the 2016 men’s conference and suggested that Roger should go.

At the conference, Batt heard Father Richards and other speakers, including Bishop Peter, and met “1,000 men at Boise State full of energy and life.”

It was during Adoration at the conference, that he ultimately decided that he would become Catholic.

The speakers at the annual Idaho Catholic Men’s Conference, sponsored by Salt & Light Radio. From left, Father Larry Richards, Dr. Ray Guarendi, Bishop Peter Christensen, Eddie Trask and Roger Batt. (ICR photo/Dr. Victor Sanchez, Bridgetower Photography)

THE MEN ALSO HEARD from Eddie Trask, the Boise author of "Confessing All: A Humiliating, Tormented Pilgrimage to God's Will."

Even though Trask had been confirmed as a young adult, he fell away from the faith while in college.

“I was a hidden mess, a con man, really,” he said, appearing faithful on the outside but was interested only in “climbing the corporate ladder.”

He began attending an evangelical church with his wife, who was raised as a Seventhday Adventist. “I responded to several altar calls and got into the baptismal tank, believing my infant baptism was ineffective,” he said. But even after repeated conversions, his lifestyle of drunkenness and addiction to pornography continued.

“I had a great job, pay and clout,” he said, only to then get a very distinct impression from God to confess everything to his wife, which he described as an “encounter beyond comprehension.” The two went through 16 months of working on their marriage. It was traumatic for both, but “God didn’t leave us alone in the fire,” he said.

He started to research Christian history, including first the Protestant denominations. But, mentally, he said, he could tell he was starting the process of returning to his Catholic faith, which made his wife furious. She tried to prove him wrong, but ended up enrolling in RCIA herself when she saw how much Trask’s life had changed due to his reversion.

The two recently moved to Idaho and attend St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Boise.

One of the reasons they moved to Idaho was they saw a YouTube video of the Idaho Catholic Men’s Conference.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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