STEUBENVILLE, OH—”What is a disciple? It is not someone who believes the right things or has the right materials and books. A disciple,” says Jeff Cavins, “is someone who is called by God to enter his family and become like him; to adopt his worldview; to allow him to live inside them and motivate them to do his works and change the world.”

Cavins’ words encouraged the 1,556 people gathered at the July 29-31 Defending the Faith Conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville to follow the call of Ephesians 4:15 to “speak the truth in love,” to become more like Christ, specifically concerning morals, marriage, and mercy.

Cavins, creator of The Great Adventure Bible study, explained the ancient Jewish tradition of how rabbis selected their disciples by educating them, then determining whether they could be like him.

“Jesus chooses you because he believes that you can become like him,” said Cavins. “But you cannot become like Jesus unless you spend massive amounts of time with him.”

Theologian and author Dr. Edward Sri offered five keys to defend against relativism, a modern philosophy that says there is no “universal truth.”

While relativism does need to be fought, Sri said, it must be out of love of the other and not out of judgment. “The overall tone that we have to have is that we always lead with mercy,” he said. “Have the keys in one hand and mercy in the other. See the person, and not the particular issue that you are debating.”

His five keys are: 1) Law equals love, thus all moral law must be framed in the context of love; 2) We have to know the difference between making a judgment and judging a soul; 3) Relativism is not value neutral. Though relativism claims it doesn’t impose a specific point of view on others, it judges those who do claim there is one universal truth; 4) Relativism is often a mask, meaning oftentimes, it’s easier to change beliefs to conform to actions than it is to change actions to conform to beliefs; and 5) Understand the true definition of freedom, which is rooted in virtues.

Dr. Scott Hahn, who holds the Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at Franciscan University, spoke Saturday evening on “The Treasure of Our Soul: Our Profession of Faith.” He drew his talk from his most recent book, The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages.

He said that although we stand following the homily to recite it, the Creed is not a “seventh inning stretch.”

“We stand with a clarity that is a renewal,” said Hahn. “Every Sunday, the Creed is intended to be the climax of the Liturgy of the Word. . . . It is a solemn pledge of ourselves to Christ. . . . When we recite the Creed and mean what we say, we are two halves made whole; God and humanity are united.”

Saturday morning began with a panel discussion on same-sex marriage with Father Mike Schmitz, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, and Patrick Madrid, author and host of the Patrick Madrid Radio Show. Franciscan University professor of political science, Dr. Benjamin Wiker moderated the Aquinas-style discussion in which Madrid provided arguments in favor of the issue despite not holding the same views personally, and Father Schmitz responded with love and compassion.

“The attempt to redefine marriage is the attempt to undefine marriage,” said Father Schmitz. “This is not just about ideas; it’s about persons. At the core of this are people who God loves very much. . . .We need to get to a place as a culture that says, ‘I disagree with you but that does not mean I hate you.'”

They encouraged the audience to become more aware of where the Church stands on the issue of same-sex marriage by reading resources put out by other Catholic apostolates and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In her talk about living marriage the way the Lord intended it, author and speaker, Kimberly Hahn, encouraged the audience to “choose your spouse everyday,” offering advice with examples from Scripture and her own marriage.

“By the grace of God through Church,” she said, “we can have a better understanding of what God thinks about being a man and a woman, what is marriage, what is the act of marriage, and what is the value of a child.”

“Kimberly’s Hahn witness to marriage was so reaffirming,” said Kathy Rall, who traveled from Ashland, Ohio, with her husband, Patrick. “It’s called us to really evaluate our marriage and how we are living it. . . . What she says is radical according to the secular world, but we need her message.”

Dr. Allen Hunt, author and speaker for Dynamic Catholic, shared the story of his conversion from being a pastor at a Methodist mega church to the Catholic faith. “Always remember who you are,” he said as the final take away. “We are a people of the Eucharist.”

In his homily on Saturday morning, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, archbishop of San Francisco, offered advice on encountering those who do not hold the same views as the Catholic Church. “There is no evangelization without personal encounter,” said Archbishop Cordileone. “Social media is not a substitute, but a way to get there. . . . Presence is the language of love.”

The three-day conference provided participants the opportunity to attend two workshop sessions, pray the Rosary each morning, attend Mass, receive the sacrament of reconciliation, and attend Holy Hour.

After hearing the call to the priesthood one year ago at a Steubenville Conference, participant Francisco Sordo of Oakville, Ontario, returned to Franciscan University to attend the conference in the weeks prior to his entering seminary for the Diocese of Hamilton.

“One year later I am here,” said Sordo, “and during Holy Hour, the Lord really affirmed for me that this is what he wanted me to do.”

Other speakers included Father Louis Merosne, Sherry Weddell, and Dr. Andrew Jones. Praise and worship was led by Franciscan University catechetics professor and musician Dr. Bob Rice.

This year, Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Christian Outreach Office offered 5 adult, 4 young adult, and 23 youth conferences in 14 states and 2 Canadian provinces. Visit steubenvilleconferences.com for a complete list of conferences.

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