Catholic Herald staff
Love and affirmation, humor and wisdom: Chris Stefanick is a Catholic storyteller, a coach for God’s people.
Nearly 1,300 people gathered to hear the prominent author, youth minister and evangelist Wednesday, Sept. 28, at Spooner High School, Spooner.
A World Youth Day emcee this year in Poland, he speaks to about 85,000 people annually at events arranged through his Colorado-based ministry, Real Life Catholic.
Stefanick, who is also a husband and father of six, travels to major cities and small towns, giving talks to groups of 1,000 people or more. Events are free to host, as long as ticket sales cover minimum costs.
The Spooner event was organized by Loree Nauertz, a parishioner of St. Francis de Sales, with help from fellow parishioners and the church’s former pastor, Fr. Ed Anderson.
‘God is love’
“This is a love story,” Stefanick led off. “God is love.”
Take the love out of the Gospels, and you get rules – often the perception of Catholicism, he said.
“The world has forgotten the context,” Stefanick told the crowd. “This is a love story.”
The story begins, “We believe in one God,” so Stefanick began by dispelling disbelief.
“Atheism is kinda like a flea that doesn’t believe in the dog,” he said.
According to Stefanick, the brand of atheism growing prominent on college campuses creates a false dichotomy between science and religion, but nowhere in scripture is evolution denied.
The problem, he said, is one of perspective.
Atheists say, “I’m in this room, I don’t see an architect. There’s no architect.”
You don’t see the architect, he argued, because you’re in the room.
When one looks at the universe, “If there is no God, there is no reason to hope,” he said. “There is a God. Life, therefore, has purpose.”
Stefanick argued the feeling of being small and insignificant is what creates doubt in God’s existence.
God is love, he said, and what does love do? “Love creates. Love creates space and time.”
You may feel small, he added, but “spiritually, you’re kind of a big deal.”
‘Used to Jesus’
In time, as married couples know, we get used to love, he continued. The same happens with Jesus.
“We’re all used to Jesus,” he said. “We’re all used to this guy.”
Stefanick reviewed some common images of Jesus: hippie Jesus; happy Jesus, a best buddy who demands nothing; an effeminate Jesus “who combed his hair for three hours,” a version that forgets Jesus was a first-century carpenter “with dirt under his fingernails”; the plastic Jesus that signifies empty ritual – Stefanick was a youth minister in Los Angeles, and he recalls the plastic rosaries hanging from gangsters’ rear view mirrors during drive-by shootings; and, finally, Jesus the great teacher, a version that makes the Son of God look bland.
“Jesus was anything but boring,” Stefanick said. “He did crazy stuff. He said get up to dead guys. You know what happened? They got up.”
Whenever the church has a challenging teaching about anything, everyone flips out, Stefanick observed, but that was Jesus’ way.
“He challenged the afflicted,” Stefanick added. “He afflicted the comfortable.”
The culmination of the love story is Jesus died for us and, in Stefanick’s theory, suffered “so we’d know how to.”
“God given us everything,” he said. “What he wants back is everything. There’s a difference between you and God. God never thinks he’s you.”
People don’t have to understand the divine to accept it, he said.
Stefanick offered affirmations for sons and daughters of God: “Who am I? I’m precious. What am I worth? I’m worth dying for.”
If you think your story is the story of a disease or a divorce, or some other difficulty, those are pages in your life, but not the story, he added.
At the end of Stefanick’s presentation, Nauertz thanked everyone for coming.
“People were inspired tonight,” she said. “It is my hope and prayer that we, as a disciples of Christ, will begin to really live this message out loud in our daily lives.”
For those unable to attend the event, Stefanick’s website, www.reallifecatholic.com, includes videos of some of his talking points.