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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Learning to Be a Real Man
Jim O’Day’s apostolate as chairman of the Georgia Catholic Men’s Conference has put him on the front lines of the battle to reclaim today’s men for God.

Jim ODay
Jim O'Day, Chairman of the Georgia Catholic Men's Conference and President of Heroic Media

This is the fourth article in the Inside the Apostle series.

December 23, 2011. Some of the best lessons in life come in the form of a reality check, a slap in the face that jolts us out of our usual routine and makes us take a closer look at our values and priorities.

For Jim O’Day, two powerful “reality checks” have set him on a path of apostleship to other Catholic men, with a sense of mission to help them recover authentic manhood based on fidelity to God, conscience, and family.

Wake-up call

O’Day’s first powerful reality check came on his 21st birthday, when his girlfriend told him, “Jim, I’m pregnant.”

Like many young, unmarried couples facing an unplanned pregnancy, they were scared and overwhelmed. It was time to face consequences and make some big decisions. Feeling the need for male guidance, Jim turned to his dad, whom he had rarely seen since his parents’ divorce 19 years before. He also called his uncles.

All of them without exception told him, “Get an abortion.” And all of them offered to pay for it.

In spite of that advice, Jim and Kim decided to keep the baby and get married. Twenty-five years later, they are still together. Their daughter Jessica, now engaged and a teacher in a Catholic school, has long been the pride and joy of her grandfather, who fell in love with her from the moment he saw her.

A second reality check came some years later, while O’Day was working as the Vice-President of Sales and Marketing at a major defense contractor. He was successful at work, the family seemed to be doing fine, and he was generally well liked.

One evening, he and his boss Bernie were celebrating a major deal they had just secured for the company. Out of the blue, Bernie looked at him and said, “God is telling me to talk to you.”

“I guarantee, I rolled my eyes,” recalled Jim.

But Bernie’s message was far from warm fuzzies. It was a slap in the face.

“Jimmy, you’re not a good husband, you’re not a good father, and you’re not a good Catholic,” said Bernie, arguing that life is about relationships, and that a salesman who is on the road all the time is not being a good husband to his wife or a good father to his children. He may be providing materially for them, but if he is not connected and attentive, he is not cultivating the relationships that sustain the marriage and hold the family together.

Likewise, argued Bernie, a Catholic who never makes time for God in prayer is not really a friend of God at all. Relationships take time and effort, and these important relationships are the backbone of everything important in our lives. Without them, everything becomes hollow.

Shocked, O’Day got defensive and argumentative. But Bernie didn’t budge. Later that night, in the quiet of the hotel room, O’Day found a Gideon’s Bible tucked away in the night table drawer. For the first time since high school, he flipped it open, looking for some kind of sign.

“I read all of Romans, knelt down, and sobbed for two hours,” he recalled. Although someone looking in from the outside would not have considered him a major sinner, he knew in his conscience that by his choices, he was gradually leading his life and his family away from God.

He went home and talked to his wife, and together they decided to go to attend Sunday Mass again, and O’Day returned to the sacrament of confession after a long time.

“That was the beginning of the journey we’re on now,” said O’Day.

Because Bernie cared about him enough to risk calling him to a higher standard of godliness, he was given a golden opportunity to reexamine his priorities and set things right. And having received that gift from Bernie, he wanted to extend it to other Catholic men.

Calling Catholic men to conversion

After coming back to the Church, O’Day began to realize how many of his ideas about manhood were based on the wrong models.

“They weren’t based on the truth or God’s plan for my life, but on Hollywood characters that are not real,” he said. “I think many men go through that.”

In fact, observed O’Day, one of the biggest challenges for men in our times is the lack of role models to show the way to authentic manhood.

“There has been a huge, gradual demasculinization of men, to the point that we’re supposed to be exactly like women and women are supposed to be exactly like us. God didn’t make us that way,” he said.

Men’s concerns are different from women’s, and there are not enough all-men’s forums to discuss issues that men face in a particular way. O’Day’s goal was to provide those spaces and opportunities, and to let the Holy Spirit do his work.

“It’s about giving men the opportunity to get together and address specific men’s issues, like pornography, ethics in the workplace, being a father and not just a provider… The speakers really address those issues, and we try to have a combination of clergy to speak from the perspective of the Church and then laymen to say how to put it all into practice,” he said.

Each year’s theme is different, but the overall purpose is the same from year to year: conversion.

“We all need it,” said O’Day. “As men, we need it constantly if we are going to lead our families. If at the end of the day we believe we have the responsibility to lead those God has given us to heaven, then we’d better be prepared for continual conversion, and we need God’s mercy for that.”

The gift of a second chance

The first ever men’s conference was held in Connecticut, where O’Day was living at the time.

It was an organizational nightmare. A lot of logistics went haywire and O’Day was on the point of vowing never to put himself through that again.

As he stood by the entrance, he saw an older man sobbing and hurrying to the door to leave the conference.

Thinking someone had offended the man, he ran after him and told him, “I’m so sorry you’re upset. If you want your money back...”

“You don’t understand,” interrupted the man. “I’m going home to kiss my wife. I’m clean!”

He had gone to confession again after 40 years away from the Church and was so elated that he couldn’t wait to get home and share the news.

Floored, O’Day decided that that conference was well worth the logistical hassles. That first year, 1,000 men attended, and 1,300 came back the next year. After moving to Atlanta, O’Day organized the conference in Georgia for the first time last year, with 350 men attending. The organizers are expecting 700 for this year.

“It’s a message that men need to hear,” said Jim. “We get all focused on making money and taking care of our families, but this is the most important thing we can do for our families.”

In another case, a fallen-away Catholic decided to attend the men’s conference after receiving a flyer from a Korean woman at the dry-cleaner’s. He had left the Church 30 years ago and was serving as a Baptist minister. After going through years of spiritual dryness, he had been pleading with God for a sign, praying, “God, I know you exist, but I don’t feel you anymore. Give me a sign.”

He wasn’t exactly sure why he attended the conference—the Korean woman had simply handed him the flyer—but he wanted to be open.

At the conference, he got the sign: a tremendous call to his conscience to return to the Catholic Church. While there, he met the archbishop, who laid hands on him and said, “I can’t wait to welcome you back.”

“Men don’t like to cry in front of each other, but there were a lot of tears,” recalled O’Day.

At the Atlanta conference, a gentleman approached O’Day with a story about a new beginning. 

“Someone like your Bernie spoke to me ten years ago and I didn’t do anything about it. I wasted those ten years,” said the man. “The only reason you did this conference was for me, because God is giving me another chance.”

In addition to the conferences, O’Day has also helped organize a series of one-day events to bring men together, such as the recent father-son mission trip to the Angola State Prison in Louisiana.

“We try to offer opportunities to step out of the box because we all get stuck into our normal routines, and when we get out of those routines, that’s when God can really speak to us, guide us, and help us,” he said.

And that, for O’Day, is what it’s all about: giving men the chance to hear God’s voice and to know how to respond on the practical level as Catholics, husbands, fathers, and ultimately, as men.

In addition to his apostolic work as Chairman of the Georgia Catholic Men’s Conference, Jim O’Day works as President of Heroic Media, a faith-based non-profit organization that runs television, radio, internet, and billboard advertisements to help women in crisis pregnancies get in touch with local pro-life pregnancy resource centers.



Related links web site
Mission Network
Our Lady of Bethesda Retreat Center and the Center for Family Development
Changing Hearts
Cancun-Chetumal Prelature
Helping Hands Medical Missions

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Sponsored by the congregation of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement, Copyright 2011, Legion of Christ. All rights reserved.

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