Equipping Men for the Spiritual Battle
The co-host of EWTN’s Life on the Rock discusses his plan to prepare men for life’s most important moments.
He spoke recently with Register senior writer Tim Drake.
Where are you from originally? Tell me about your family growing up.
I was born and raised in Lincoln, Neb. I’m the youngest of five children. My father was a traffic manager at a book company. My mother was primarily a stay-at-home mother. I went to Catholic grade school and graduated in 1983 from public school. I was interested in art and drama. I’m a poster child for lukewarm Catholics. I was raised in a Catholic family and went to Mass every Sunday, but my heart was never 100% in it. I just went through the motions.
What solidified your faith?
At about the age of 20, I discovered the apparitions of Fatima. I was shaken by the vision of hell that Mary showed to the children in 1917. She said there would be a second world war if man didn’t change, and that happened. I thought I’d be foolish not to pay attention to this. That got me started looking at my faith differently and praying the Rosary.
I was dating a young lady at the time, Denise, who lovingly challenged me to grow in character as a man. She’s now my wife, and we’ve been married for 21 years.
What motivated you to found Radix?
Denise and I were married in 1990. Right away, we started working with a high-school youth group at our local parish. The majority of students knew very little about the faith. They didn’t know the basics, and they had no fire for the faith.
I contacted some college students who used to be in our youth group and put together a group of four or five students to travel around and talk to students. One priest told another and another and another.
The name Radix came from a conversation during a family gathering. Someone called me a “Mary radical” because I was talking about the apparitions at Fatima. When I told a priest friend of mine about it, he said that the word “radical” came from the Latin word radix, and it meant to go to the heart or the root of something.
Through word of mouth, Radix grew, and we started doing youth events and conferences, speaking to young people and adults. For 21 years, I’ve been speaking in high schools, Catholic schools and marriage and men’s conferences.
Many people know you from your one-man play on the Passion. How did that come about?
I had read an account of a Roman crucifixion written by a doctor in Soul magazine. I was so struck by the details of what the Romans did that I shared it with the youth group. People started asking me to talk about that. Slowly, it developed into the current play/meditation that we do now. We’ve done it in 47 states and six foreign countries. Mother Angelica saw it when we performed it at a conference in Oakland, and she said it needed to be on TV. I came down to the network and performed it. It’s played every Holy Week on EWTN.
How did you come to host EWTN’s Life on the Rock television program?
I had been on the show as a guest a couple of times with the former host, Jeff Cavins. When Father Francis stepped down, Doug Keck asked if I wanted to try it. I sat in on one show with Father Mark, and we clicked, so they asked if I would join them on a regular basis. There’s good energy between us. He’s laid back; I’m a bit more intense.
Your latest endeavor is Camp Gargano. Tell me how that started.
About seven years ago, a neighbor up the street asked if I would help train his sons in weight training and basic self-defense. I used to compete in weight lifting, so I said I’d show them how. Once a week, these guys would come over. We’d work out, but there was also prayer involved, and I’d talk about the faith. Pretty soon, they were bringing other guys. After a few months, we had a dozen, and I decided to put together a two-week summer camp.
A neighbor had some acreage, so I mowed a path and built some obstacles. We had 27 boys show up. We would put them through workouts and drills and I’d ask them questions about the faith. If they didn’t know the answers to the questions, everyone on their team would have to do additional drills. Eventually, everyone started taking it seriously and they memorized things like the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the cardinal and theological virtues, the Ten Commandments and the corporal works of mercy.
That was the basis for Camp Gargano. It’s basic faith training to develop a deeper appreciation for the basics of the Catholic faith.
What do you share with the young men at the camp?
I tell men that one day they’ll be husbands, fathers or priests. In their life, God will place people under their care, and they’ll be responsible for developing minds and hearts. If they do that heroically, those under them will benefit greatly and suffer less in this life and the next. If they don’t or they get caught up in the distractions, obsessions and addictions of this world, those under them will suffer. Men are built for challenge. God has placed that competitive spirit in us.
That fighting spirit must be trained in the proper way, so that when a man is tempted by the world of the flesh, he realizes there is something more beautiful — purity, justice and heaven — and he fights for that and perseveres. We’re trying to inspire and bring this out of men.
Men are under enormous attack — from the obsession with sports, to secularism, worldliness and pornography. The collateral damage has been families. Men need to be heroic, virtuous and true fighters for God.
Tell me about the camp itself.
We had a very heroic gentleman step up and co-sign on a $1.8-million construction loan so we could build a 12,000-foot building. He believed in what we were doing and didn’t think we should wait. We broke ground three years ago, and now we’re praying hard, spreading the word that we are here and doing the fundraising to pay it off. I am also looking to join forces with other men who see the problems and want to work together in this fight.
The building has 42 beds and lockers, an indoor obstacle course, a full kitchen and sits on 100 acres. We have worked with high school and college students, sports teams, seminarians, altar boys, youth groups, and both men’s and women’s groups.
The name of the camp comes from the town in Italy where there’s a 1,500-year-old cave shrine to St. Michael the Archangel. St. Francis of Assisi, St. Padre Pio, and many other saints and pilgrims have gone there over the years for intercession. We want to bring the spirit of the warrior angel St. Michael to the hearts and souls of as many men in America as possible.
One of the crises facing men is that they’ve been emasculated by the culture, haven’t they?
Yes: One of the key reasons that men have lost the fighting spirit is because so much culturally has made men look like fools. The feminist movement has made men look like they’re not the heads of the family, that they don’t know what they’re doing or that they are little better than animals. These things tear at what men are supposed to be. Unfortunately, this even comes from good, holy women who’ve lost touch with what a man is supposed to be.
God gives men a spirit of adventure and the desire to be a warrior that has to be shaped and nurtured. You can’t destroy the fighting spirit in a young man and expect him to go out and conquer the world for Christ or protect his family or parish from the attacks of the enemy. A lot of men have never been given permission to be a warrior. If you take that out of him, you forget that one day he’ll have to battle other dragons with much graver consequences.
Register senior writer Tim Drake writes from St. Joseph, Minnesota.