A Catholic Monthly Magazine

22 Men on Retreat in the Heart of Sydney

The Sons of Navarone

sydney harbour bridge“The Sacrament of Reconciliation has come alive for me.” When was the last time you heard that said? And by an Australian bloke?  Well such talk was commonplace after the menALIVE retreat at St Patrick’s Church, which is in the heart of Sydney’s bustling CBD. Fr Ray Chapman SM and a small band of laymen managed to pull off an amazing feat amidst the ruling spirit of capitalistic greed. The team undertook a stealth attack within the heart of enemy territory – like that of the allied commandos’ mission depicted in MacLean’s book, ‘The Guns of Navarone.’ Despite all the odds, the daring team from St Pat’s managed to gain time and place so that the Almighty could breathe on Australian men’s hearts.

First, loading up with ammunition, they chose menALIVE.  This organisation is the brainchild of Robert Falzon.  Now living in Brisbane, this former Sydney-sider would often take time out from running his own lucrative business to attend lunchtime Mass. Coincidently he would do so at St Pat’s! Looking around at the church one day a question took hold of Robert: “Where are all the men?”  To answer his own question, he eventually sold his business and in 2003, with his mate Peter Shakhovskoy, committed himself to running a Catholic men’s ministry.

Today, menALIVE team up with parishes all over Australia and New Zealand and run programmes for Catholic men to rediscover the God of their faith.  From breakfast sessions to weekend retreats, the organisation has branched out into various areas of men’s spirituality.  For a cartridge load you can check out www.menalive.org.au and even order Robert’s book where he outlines some of his experiences in helping men encounter the landmines hidden in their own hearts.  Ah, it’s a tricky business to get any guy to pay close attention to the place from where he gives and receives love!

But it would seem Robert and his teams have the maps, the equipment and the know-how to take on such work. As per their motto, taken from St Ireneaus, they have seen how God is glorified when men are fully alive!

Second – devising a strategy.  Fr Ray and his team at St Pat’s needed a cunning plan to reach their intended fortress.  To gain the ground from coast to canons our commando team held seminars for men on three separate nights throughout 2011.  The first one in February had Father Ray storming the beaches with his subject: a man’s journey.  In May it was Jonathan Doyle of Choicez Media who silenced the enemy in men’s minds with a talk on male sexuality.  Forgetting the euphemisms, Doyle’s frankness disarmed the callous and awoke the desensitised.  Then in September, Robert Falzon followed up on the need for prayer and offered ways in which a daily ritual can be realised in a man’s life.  He also gave an indication of what a guy can expected when he faces his own heart and pointed out the weapons that need to be used.

And finally – the assault on the Navaronian guns of the Australian male heart - was done on a weekend retreat.  Conducted in the crypt at St Pat’s, 22 men turned up to seminars held on Saturday and Sunday.  Led by menALIVE’s General, Robert, and his Lieutenant, Peter, the course took the small band of foot soldiers into the fort itself.  Explosives were laid and charged!

The team undertook a stealth attack so that the Almighty could breathe on Australian men’s hearts.

Through the chambers of God as a loving Father and the dreams that God has for his sons, the Australian men came to a place of complete silence - bar the softly spoken whispers of confession.  With three gracious, local priests listening for over two solid hours, these men confessed matters from the dark places in their hearts which had kept them from being close to their God.  With each pronouncement of absolution it was obvious from the looks on the men’s faces that they could now recognise the lie that the city was constantly telling them.  These words of truth were hitting their target: sin is not the deepest part of a man!

Being released from such burdens, men could at last pray with a full heart.  For the majority of them who were fathers and grandfathers, they offered to God their greatest ache - being estranged from their own sons and daughters.  Then on Sunday, after making considered commitments to remain connected to their God through prayer journaling, scripture meditation and activities in their local parishes, the weekend concluded with Mass.  It began with male voices singing praises to God with gusto and announcing loudly that the “seas will roar at the sound of His name”.  Then there was calm before the storm at the offering of the Sign of Peace.  One to the other, each embraced or shook hands knowing what it is to experience the peace of Christ that frees men from all anxiety.

Then boom!  The explosives were detonated.  The Christ; the man whose heart is pure; the man who sees God; the man who runs all ministry; the man who has never let sin define him; the man who revealed God in all his self-sacrificial glory; that very man turned up in bread and wine.  And there they were: 22 Australian men attending Mass and loving it.

Robert Falzon’s original question finally gets an answer - at that time and at that place.  The men are at Mass, in St Pat’s crypt, with hearts blown apart.

menALIVE Retreat Group in St Pat's Crypt, Sydney

menALIVE Retreat Group in St Pat's Crypt, Sydney

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