A bunch of rules. A long “honey do” list. More than a bit of guilt and seething resentment.
Faith and religion without the love story is a lot like a marriage without the love story.
“That is how most of the world has come to see your faith,” Catholic evangelist Chris Stefanick told a near-capacity crowd in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City.
“But if you put the love story back into your Catholic Christian faith, suddenly the rules, regulations and sacrifices make sense and become beautiful,” he said.
An internationally acclaimed speaker, author, TV host and founder of Real Life Catholic (RealLifeCatholic.com), Mr. Stefanick was the featured speaker at a May 1 “REBOOT!” conference in Jefferson City.
Standing up on pews, telling jokes and funny stories, setting people at ease and then yanking them out of their comfort zone, he set about melding the beauty and genius of the Gospel to everyday life.
Why is that important?
“So you can have an amazing life!”
Mr. Stefanick said he had no intention of letting a single person — “not one of you!” — leave the cathedral that evening without being changed.
He asserted that every saint has one thing in common — staying focused on the beauty of the Gospel message that defines every facet of life.
“You need to get intentional about focusing on those important, beautiful little things,” he said.
He insisted that God created people not to just get by but to live life to the fullest.
“Our capacity for love is mind-blowing,” he said. “The love that we were born to find, the love story that makes life beautiful the best news ever, the most beautiful love story ever told — you know where you’re going to find it?
“Right here!” he said, pointing to the altar and the tabernacle.
“Your life, your Catholic Christian faith, the Gospel of Jesus Christ — it is a love story,” he insisted. “That is the only way to understand your faith.”
Growing in understanding of that fact leads to joy that doesn’t depend on circumstances, and hope that no one can take away.
Made for more
Mr. Stefanick offered numerous convincing, provocative and occasionally amusing arguments for the existence not only of God but of a God consumed by love.
“Thank God there is a God!” he said. “The fact that there is a God shows us that life has a purpose.”
That purpose is to love and be loved.
“God is love,” said Mr. Stefanick. “Love puts Himself in a box so you can know Him. Love creates you in His own image. You have an intellect, a will, a soul. The devil hates you because you look like God.”
Each person is a deliberate creation of that same loving God.
“You are a huge deal,” he said. “The God Who is love made you for Himself. He made you for a love that is God!”
That’s why all the money, success, pleasure and power in the world — even the perfect marriage — can satisfy.
“We’re made for something more than that!” he said.
That “something” — eternal salvation — is rooted not in knowledge but in a deep and unbreakable relationship.
“You can’t just learn your way into faith,” Mr. Stefanick insisted. “The topic of faith is a relationship you enter. The facts lead you to the threshold of faith. Something else has to kick in.”
This is not wishful thinking.
“There is a Maker Who crated you for a purpose, Who entered time and space to save you, Who died and rose to verify that everything He said and did was true,” he said.
“Everything you could hope for is actually real!” he said. “That’s why we’re here in this church.”
“Let Him win”
Mr. Stefanick talked extensively about five simple habits that saints follow for putting their love story with God into action:
“Jesus won a new life for you!” he said. “Let Him win. Let Him win in you!”
A person who attended the talk said she loved listening to Mr. Stefanick’s message and found many new insights on life in it.
She was especially taken with his stories of people living with infectious joy in spite of great hardships, because God is most important to them.
“This helped me see that God should always come first,” she said. “He will make you the happiest in life despite everything else that is going on around you.”
Since attending the “Reboot!” conference, she has been praying more, working on being more grateful and trying to put God first.
“I have better days when I remember to pray and thank God for my life,” she said.
Mr. Stefanick gave a presentation the following day to the students of Helias Catholic High School.
Zach Rockers, a teacher and coach at the school and a member of St. Martin parish in St. Martins, heard both presentations.
“The name of his organization is Real Life Catholic, and that describes him and his message to a T,” said Mr. Rockers.
He said it’s refreshing to see an everyday Catholic layperson unabashedly on fire with his faith.
“His message is that our Catholic faith sets us apart to go love the world in a very special way,” said Mr. Rockers.
He never wants to forget how Mr. Stefanick relentlessly challenged his listeners to take the next step in their walk with Christ.
“I think anyone who was there felt that push, that nudge to actually make a change and take a step closer to Christ,” he said.
Seeds of joy
Julie Gramlich, youth minister for Cathedral of St. Joseph parish, organized the “Reboot!” conference and invited people throughout the diocese to attend.
She believes Mr. Stefanick’s witness was authentic and convincing.
“It’s never about him,” she insisted. “He believes wholeheartedly in the Holy Spirit. So it’s about doing what he feels he’s been called to do in order to lead others to Christ.”
The key to keeping the momentum going is for parishes to offer people of all ages ongoing opportunities to encounter Christ and grow in their faith.
She believes studying the Bible and taking part in small, faith-sharing groups are two of the best way to do that.
“We need to provide a space for someone to come and learn more and not feel dumb or intimidated,” she said.
Parish-funded online resources such as Formed.org are also helpful, she said.
In addition, people of all ages also need to make time for down-time.
“We’re raising our children to believe you have to be busy all the time,” she said.
She believes the Church needs to be more people like Chris Stefanick, who are genuinely joyful and share that with people every day.
“This is like planting a seed,” she said. “We need to take what we all experienced in that church back to the people we know and love and spend time with.”