ST. LEON, Ind. — Mark Houck, a pro-life activist and leader of The King’s Men, a nationwide Catholic men’s ministry, stood before 1,200 Catholic men Feb. 18 at a conference at East Central High School in St. Leon in southeastern Indiana.
Less than three weeks earlier, he could have been put behind bars if a federal jury had found him guilty of violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, for allegedly assaulting an abortion clinic volunteer in October 2021.
The jury returned its verdict Jan. 30, finding Houck not guilty of the charges.
“There’s great joy in being free to be able to talk to the guys,” said Houck in an interview during the Catholic men’s conference, which was sponsored by All Saints Parish.
“I was inwardly free the whole time, even if they would have put me behind bars. But now I’m outwardly free, which is great. I can talk about the trial and inspire the men,” he told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. “The Lord has given me a platform to talk about Jesus, grace and mercy. I’m loving it.”
The trial followed Houck’s Sept. 23, 2022, arrest at his suburban Philadelphia home in front of his wife and their seven children by “over 20 federal agents and Pennsylvania state troopers.” Houck said at the conference, describing the arrest as “an act of terror.”
Houck recalled being taken from his home, wearing “flip flops, a pair of shorts and a T-shirt” to a federal building in Philadelphia where his wrists and ankles were shackled and he was chained to a table.
The one thing he had that gave him comfort was his rosary.
“I prayed without ceasing,” Houck said at the conference. “And I had peace, brothers, like you would never have imagined. I was at the foot of Calvary. I was next to Jesus. I felt so much joy in that moment. I felt so much grace being poured out on me and my family.
“It was so freeing for me to be able to just say to Jesus, ‘Your will be done.’ It was the first time in my life that I believe that my will was perfectly united with God’s will.”
Houck reflected on his experiences in light of the life of Christ and encouraged his listeners to do the same for themselves.
“That’s how your life makes sense,” he said. “You understand your life, men, through the One who lived it before you, who’s gone through every human suffering that can ever be gone through. There’s nothing that you can experience in this life that he cannot relate to.”
Houck reflected on the pain of the accusations made of him during his trial.
“They were calling me all sorts of things that, that I would never even think about myself,” he recalled. “My dignity was totally stepped on and crushed in front of my children and friends. I was presented as … someone who hated people, someone who didn’t want to help people. And I’m just putting it mildly.”
As the jury deliberated, Houck experienced again the peace that he knew on the day of his arrest.
“I knew that, no matter what happened, I was in the shelter and protection of God,” he said. “He would protect my family and take care of my children, no matter what happened. I had great peace.”
In two presentations at the E6 Catholic Men’s Conference in Leon, Houck also reflected on the passage from chapter six of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians in which the apostle exhorted his readers to “take up the armor of God” in their spiritual fight against the devil (Eph 6:11).
The “E6” in the title of the conference is a reference to that passage.
“Everyone in here is a beloved son of God,” Houck said. “If you live in that identity every day of your life, not only will you have that fullness of the armor of God, but you will grow in holiness, love and mercy. You will be a conduit of God’s grace in this world and a force to be reckoned with.
“The devil will quake every time you wake up because you are a threat to his kingdom.”
In his interview with The Criterion during the conference, Houck reflected that his arrest and trial were the result of living the life of a Catholic husband and father to which so many of the conference participants also are called.
“I’m not so sure that what happened isn’t going to happen to them,” he said. “It’s possible. They need to be vigilant for it. I hope it doesn’t happen to them.”
In any case, Houck didn’t want his listeners to be afraid to live their faith publicly, including praying outside of abortion centers, because of what happened to him.
“You can’t run from the unknown or the fear of what happened to me and somehow think you’re going to avoid it,” he said. “If you’re going to be a Catholic today, the devil knows it. He wants to come after each and every one of us.
“But the armor of God helps us move forward with hope, confidence and peace, knowing that, no matter what happens, grace is going to be abounding.”