GREEN BAY — At two separate presentations Sept. 18, Chris Stefanick, a popular Catholic speaker, entertained and encouraged more than 4,000 people to “reboot” their relationship with Jesus and to pass on that fire of faith to others.
Stefanick spoke to nearly 2,000 teens from five diocesan Catholic high schools and several middle schools following Mass celebrated by Bishop David Ricken at Notre Dame Academy’s Triton Center. In the evening, Stefanick addressed another 2,200 people from 10 Green Bay area parishes and beyond.
“For me, the great joy of the ‘Reboot’ event … is not just that I get to give a talk,” Stefanick told The Compass. “It’s that I become the excuse for lay people to rise up and to do what we are always supposed to be doing, which is to invite the world back to church and to a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Joining Bishop Ricken for the morning Mass for high school students were Norbertine Abbot Dane Radecki and priests from the Diocese of Green Bay and the Norbertine community.
‘A grassroots movement’
Speaking to students and faculty from Notre Dame Academy, Roncalli High School in Manitowoc, Lourdes Academy in Oshkosh, St. Mary Catholic in Neenah, and St. Thomas Aquinas Academy in Marinette, Bishop Ricken said that having them together at one time for Mass and for Stefanick’s talk was a thrill.
“This is happening because, in many ways, this is a grassroots movement,” he said. “This is something that bubbled up through initiatives here in the area parishes and then started to include all of the high schools. I am deeply delighted to be here with you. I know the Holy Spirit has arranged this day for all of you and all of us.”
Bishop Ricken told the students that it was important for them to know that they are not alone or isolated in the difficult times. “Truly, there are a lot of people just like you,” he said. By striving to serve the mission of Christ and the church, Stefanick said “that it is so edifying and strengthening for all of us.”
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“Can you imagine if your generation gets on fire with the joy of the Gospel, the power you have to be an instrument of Christ for truth and beauty and goodness is phenomenal,” added Bishop Ricken. Learning to know Jesus personally and to love and serve him daily, “that’s what Catholic education is fundamentally all about.”
Stefanick’s presentation began with a mini-concert and song challenge, which included four students joining him on stage to sing while he played guitar. The winner, Jack Reinardy, a junior from Lourdes Academy, left the stage with a $50 prize from Stefanick and many new admirers in the audience.
Message of hope
Stefanick spent the remaining time delivering a message of hope for students whose lives can be filled with negativity.
“We are beating ourselves up inside of our heads, so we run through life looking beat up,” he said. “There’s never been a generation more filled with self-doubt, with anxiety, depression, with self-loathing than your generation. Why is that? I think globally, we are experiencing this because we are telling young people again and again, ‘Love yourselves and believe in yourselves.’ But we are telling them that within the context, the world view, that is scrubbed of God.
“Brothers and sisters, the Catholic difference, the difference the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes, is that we don’t only tell you in Catholic school to love yourself, to believe in yourself, but guess what? We tell you why you should,” said Stefanick.
That reason, he said, is eternal life with God.
“We don’t just believe we are a cosmic accident,” Stefanick said. “We have the best news ever. We believe in one God. The more we learn about this universe, the more it shouts to us that there is a God. You can know there is a God just by looking at the world all around you.”
Stefanick ran through a list of negative thoughts or lies facing young people. These include, “I am broken,” “I am incapable,” “I am violated,” “I am unworthy,” “I am unimportant,” and “I am not enough.”
“When you fall flat on your face, you know who the first one to run over you is? The accuser,” he said, referring to Satan, who has lots of helpers.
“When you gossip, the devil can take a day off,” said Stefanick. “You’ve got him covered. You go to Catholic schools. There are crosses in Catholic schools. If you’re going to let an atmosphere of gossip fester there, take every cross down from your classrooms because you’re no different from anywhere else.”
Stefanick encouraged students to deal with problems face-to-face.
“If you’ve got a problem with somebody, talk to them,” he said. “A requirement to call this a Catholic school is that we don’t help people define themselves based on something stupid they did.”
Royalty in God’s eyes
Young people need to remember that, in God’s eyes, they are royalty and wear crowns, said Stefanick. “Guys, you don’t see it. If you did, you would carry yourself differently. … Don’t let anything knock that crown off of your head.”
The speaker closed his talk asking students to look closely at an image of Christ displayed on two screens behind him. He told students to imagine Jesus Christ looking only at them. “He’s staring at you. Zoom in on his eyes, what are they telling you about yourself and your worth?” he said.
Stefanick told students to declare the lie they’re struggling with the most and turn it over to Jesus. He led them in a prayer for renouncing the lie and claiming the truth that contrasts the lie.
Following his address, Stefanick told The Compass that he leads 30 to 45 “Reboot” events a year, but that the Green Bay events were the largest ever. He added that his message mirrors Bishop Ricken’s message on discipleship and building a personal relationship with Jesus.
“The world associates Catholicism with a particular issue or a bad headline or a particular doctrinal teaching,” he said. “All of those things are part of our reality, but at the heart of it all, Catholicism is about a joyful relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s how most of us have experienced it throughout history.
Now is the time for renewal
“So I think right now, more than ever in the church’s history, we have to come back to that,” added Stefanick. “Not only in our renewal for our faith, but renewal so that we can have a life with joy.”
Todd Blahnik, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Green Bay, said having all of the Catholic high schools together (only Appleton’s Xavier High School was not in attendance) is rare. “Last time would have been at the Resch Center” in Green Bay in 2015 for an all-school Mass, he said.
Blahnik said that the schools office is planning another all-school gathering in September 2020, this time at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.