Catholic evangelist Chris Stefanick, of RealLifeCatholic.com and the EWTN show of the same name, is committed to helping men live the faith well, including through a 30-day challenge he helped develop called “Rise.”
Aimed at getting men to live intentionally and reclaim an authentic masculinity, “Rise” offers practical challenges to its participants in order to build life-changing habits. He spoke about the initiative’s aims and mission with the Register recently.
How did “Rise” begin? Was there a specific moment when you said, “I want to do this”?
I got a call from a friend [Chris Cope, of Cardinal Studios, who produced the films/video segments in ‘Rise’] that he was going to do a men’s program and wanted me to spearhead it. I said, “No way — I don’t have time.” And I said, “But you know, I’ll ask the Lord if he wants me to do that. I’ll let you know tomorrow.” Would that God always spoke as clearly to me!
I was getting out of my car to go to Mass, and this guy who prays with me all the time came up with tears in his eyes and said, “You have to do something for men.” And he said, “I had a dream last night. There was a beautiful field of wheat and corn and another field next to it that was burned down to the ground. And the devil came between the two fields and said, ‘That beautiful field is all the women, but I’ve destroyed all the men’ — the other field.” That was my clear word from God.
There’s no doubt there’s been an attack on masculine identity that the Church itself doesn’t always know how to respond to. I think there have been a lot of beautiful things done on the genius of women, but what about the men? What about the rest of us? There’s been plenty of stuff done on the priesthood, but that’s 1% of us. So “Rise” is about reclaiming our identity, who we are as men in Christ. And, more importantly, it’s about taking on that great battle over masculine identity by simply living out who we are intentionally every day.
Can you talk about the four primary identities that every man has?
The particular way that we love and “image” God in the world is as sons, brothers, spouses and fathers, whether or not we are married or have kids. That’s how we image God to the world as men. We need change, and the world changes when we get intentional about living those images in our everyday lives — and it helps us live life to the fullest when we do that. Now, do we image all of those things at the same time? I guess it’s who we are all the time. But, obviously, there are different times when we are more powerfully imaging one of those. I think we have to embrace all those identities to be healthy, well-rounded people with a sense of purpose and fulfillment. If you’re living out a spousal, self-sacrificing love but don’t have brotherhood, you’re going to find yourself empty pretty fast.
I think men have never been lonelier than they are today. They say that women can affirm your masculinity, but only other men can confer it on you and help you to become the man you are, whether that’s your brothers building you up and holding you up or the father figures in your life blessing you.
So that is one of the things that the program does: It gets intentional about forming those connections. We don’t just talk about the high ideals of brotherhood; we talk about how to be the friend you want to have, so that we can end this crisis of loneliness among men, who just go into the office every day, come home and don’t talk to each other; who are at church side by side but never get to meet each other.
So we get practical about building up that brotherhood of men. We also encourage men: Grab someone to do “Rise” with you, so you’re texting each other, praying for each other as you go along, and you become brothers through that process. It’s been really beautiful, the results we’re seeing.
I was struck by the importance of the community aspect of “Rise,” but I was also interested in the digital community that has been created. How do you get people to be authentic on the internet when there’s so much opportunity to hide from the truth?
Yeah, because usually on the internet people get mean! I’ve never been uplifted by a comment box — ever. But here I’m actually seeing it happen! How did we get guys to do that? I don’t know. There are little miracles happening. I really think we’re tapping into a deep need with this 30-day challenge, and I’m moved to tears when I sit down and read the comments: not just in how it’s moving guys, but how they’re behaving toward each other, the comments that they’re making toward each other and the supportiveness.
I often say online communities can’t be real communities, but now I’m looking at this and thinking that it’s real, because these men are praying for each other. They’re following Jesus together. So there’s a very real connection with people who are praying for each other and journeying closer to the Lord together. I see that happening online with “Rise.” I think this is what the internet was made for. This is true connection.
After the 30-day program, what happens next? How do you make the leap from the very structured program to being virtuous on your own?
There are a lot of men’s initiatives out there that I think give men a necessary boost of confidence and inspiration, a necessary boost of “spiritual energy.” Those things can point our souls in the right direction, but it’s daily habits that change our lives forever.
Everything about “Rise” is geared to what’s next. Everything that we focus on in “Rise” is so down-to-earth and practical. It really does take that to heart and really is inspiring and true, but it’s so down-to-earth that what’s next is that you just keep living out what you just did.
These are all sustainable habits we are trying to teach people. [Every day has a challenge, like “Surprise your wife with something nice” or “Have a four-minute, uninterrupted conversation with your child.” Each person’s daily habits will look a little different, but they all resemble little acts of love to build stronger relationships.]
How can “Rise” transform families and communities?
Every study that comes out about the impact of men being absent shows that it can be one of the most defining factors in a child’s life — or in a community or a parish — for the well-being and holiness of the next generation. So much is determined by whether or not men are engaged.
I think one of the biggest crises in our culture is that men just aren’t showing up. We have a vocations crisis to the priesthood, but I think it’s preceded by a vocations crisis of masculinity in the first place. Men just aren’t being men. I really do believe half the problems of society can be solved by men taking on their role again.
Nicholas Wolfram Smith writes from Oakland, California.