At the very beginning of the new year, over 8,000 attendees, most of them young people from across the country, gathered together in downtown Chicago for the FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) SLS18 evangelization training conference. One of the featured speakers at the event was Fr. Larry Richards, the founder of the Reason For Our Hope Foundation. He’s also been a guest on various radio and television programs, including programs on Relevant Radio and EWTN. I was fortunate enough to sit down with him during the conference and talk a bit about the inseparable relationship between catechesis and evangelization.
“I Exist to Bring People to Jesus”
Nicholas: Fr. Larry, you’re the head of Reason For Our Hope. In addition to your various media endeavors with them, you’ve been doing parish missions for quite some time. What is it about conducting these missions that you love the most?
Fr. Larry: I exist to bring people to Jesus. That’s the reason I got ordained. So when you do a parish mission or a conference, or you do the Reason for Our Hope—the reason I founded it was to bring the world to Jesus. … I’m also in charge of, and created, this group called D.M.E., which is Divine Mercy Encounter. It’s a Friday-Saturday-Sunday retreat. And I promise them that you will experience Jesus here. The whole point of my job, I always say, is to introduce people to Jesus Christ. Then, once I introduce Him to them, [I tell them] now you have to spend time with Jesus to get to know Him. So I try to do that in a real way.
For some people that are already converted and go to daily Mass, to them I’m “too much” for them. For me, I exist to bring people who don’t know Jesus to Jesus. So I want to bring people who go to daily Mass to a deeper relationship with Jesus, but sometimes I’m much more challenging to them. You know, about [things like how] we can’t judge people. We have to love people. And they’re like, “Oh, we’ve got to judge their actions!” It’s always that fight over proving themselves right, and I say let’s pull back. …
We’re all great sinners. We all need the mercy of God. We’ve been saved by what Jesus Christ did for us and God so loved the world that He gave us Jesus to save us. So, we need to make sure that message is out. It’s the Good News of salvation we’re trying to proclaim.
“Learn How to be Crucified with Christ”
Nicholas: Now through various outlets like Relevant Radio and your DVD series, I’ve noticed that a lot of your talks have been devoted to encouraging men to start acting like, well, men! You’ve even written a book on this subject a few years ago. Men today hear a lot of noise from the secular world on what “being a man” is. Why is a relationship with Christ necessary to living out an “authentic manhood”?
Fr. Larry: To act like a man means to act like Jesus because Jesus was the perfect man. So what does that mean? It means that we lay down our life for others. In the world, to be a man, you go into the Navy, the Air Force or the Marines. And many of them die, for their country and for others. That’s what a man does. And yet, too often, men who are Christian men don’t want to die. They come to Jesus for what Jesus can do for them. “He’ll bless me, He’ll protect me, He’ll take care of my family.” No, you come to Jesus to learn how to be crucified with Christ. So that you can now give your life for God and give your life for others. When you do that, of course, you’re going to find true life, eternal life, and you’re going to be life-giving.
But isn’t it amazing, even when you go to the Eucharist, that for anything else to live, something else has to die? For you to eat dinner tonight, whether you have steak or chicken or something, something gave up its life so that you could live today. … Something dies to give life to others; it’s just the way life works. So when men learn that it isn’t about taking care of me, but about living my life for others—that is the deepest need in the Church today.
Look at any of our issues. Take abortion. If men start being men and say “Enough,” we’d have no more abortions in America. We’d have no more abortions in the world. Because men would then start saying that we go to act like men and we got to start saying this is right, this is wrong. And we don’t do that by judgment. We’re not Maccabees, where we go kill everyone who doesn’t agree with us. We are people who love people into the faith, but to love them we have to be strong sometimes. And we love them strongly. … We can disagree with them, but we still love them.
“You are a Beloved Son of the Father”
Nicholas: There are many Catholic men out there, and let’s keep talking about younger Catholic men, maybe even some of those on the tail end of Gen X. Peer pressure happens after high school as well, going into college and into the workplace. Many students here at the FOCUS Conference probably have many secular, or even lapsed Catholic friends. In my own case, I was often the only practicing Catholic in my group of friends. It was hard to live out my Catholic faith at times, and I made some stupid decisions. What can young men, who really do want to be faithful but are afraid to be, do?
Fr. Larry: First of all, they need to know that they need to spend time with the Word of God, and the Word of God being Mark 1:11. Jesus began His ministry, after God the Father looked at Him when He was baptized, and says, “You are my beloved Son in with Whom I am well pleased.” Young men need to know that they are beloved and that God is pleased with them. And that’s what brings people to conversion. So most young men have never had an experience of being loved by God. We want them to live the Catholic faith. But they don’t have faith! Think about it. For a sacrament to work properly, faith is needed. We confirm these high school kids that don’t have any faith at all. That’s why the sacrament doesn’t work for them. They’ve been given the grace, but they never open it. People go to Communion every Sunday, but don’t have faith in the Eucharist. And that’s why nothing changes.
Faith is what’s necessary, and faith is a gift, but faith is a response to the love of God for a person. So if a person has never had the experience of being loved by God, then they can’t have that faith that’ll unlock all the treasures they need. So it’s so important that what we teach boys first is this: “You’re a beloved son of God the Father and He’s pleased with you, and He has plans for you, and He created you for a great purpose.” When you know you’re loved, it’s easy to give away your life, because you’re giving away your life for someone you love back. To just give up your life for an idea? What’s the point? For a person? Gladly.
So this is a day in, day out giving of our life. We’re not talking about being martyrs—we get to be martyrs every day by living a life for others … the way we die for others, giving our life away every day. So like … I talk about in missions all the time, you put I am third on your mirror. Every day you think, “God is first, others are second, I am last. I do at least one unselfish act for someone else today.” And if the answer is no, you wasted your life in Christ today. Every day we got to give away our life for somebody else and for God.
Catechizing and Evangelizing
Nicholas: The very name of your organization comes from St. Peter’s exhortation to us all that we may be able to give an explanation, a reason, for that hope that we hold dear to us. However, the sad truth is that many young Catholic today are woefully ignorant of the riches of their faith.
Fr. Larry: Woefully. And it’s our fault. It’s our priests’ and nuns’ fault because we catechize, not evangelize, and you need both. Catechizing means you teach the faith. Sometimes they know the teachings, but they don’t know Jesus.
Once when I was first ordained, I was doing one of my first high school retreats. And there was a kid who had went [sic] eight years through Catholic grade school and he was just finishing his fourth year of Catholic high school. I just heard all the confessions of all the boys and he was the last kid and after his confession, I looked at him and I said, “Son, do you know Jesus Christ?” He looked at me and he says, “Father, I haven’t a clue.” He knew a lot about Jesus. He could tell me what the Trinity was: one God in three divine Persons. He could tell me what the hypostatic union was: Jesus Christ is 100% God and 100% man at the same time. But he couldn’t tell me that he knew Jesus.
Now other people say, “Oh I know Jesus.” But they don’t know about Jesus. They don’t know the hypostatic union. They don’t know the Trinity. You can never separate the two. I think the problem of the last 50 years is that we’ve separated these two things. We have catechesis without evangelization. You cannot have good catechesis without evangelization. So you need to make sure that they know Jesus and they learn about Jesus. But a lot of them learn about Jesus. Like I can tell people all the time, if people have never met me, and they’ve heard my CDs or read my books they’ll say, “Oh I know all about Fr. Larry”. No, you know about Fr. Larry, but you don’t know Fr. Larry. Now once you experience me, it’s like, “I think I like your books and tapes better than experiencing you, Father.” [laughter] But again, you need to have both. You need to have the experience of somebody and know about who they are.
It’s the both/and. We can never separate it. Never. Again, Paul says, “Preach the truth in love.” Some people only want to preach truth; some people only want to preach love. You need to have both. Everything [regarding] preaching needs to be done in love. And like I always say, if you don’t love me, keep your truth to yourself.