John Edwards, a married father of three, recalls it was on Holy Thursday 2016 that he was arrested, and later spent time in jail – the climax of being a “broken” man dealing with drug and alcohol abuse.
Soon afterwards, he was clean and sober. However, as a man of faith, Edwards was still searching for a way to be more than just a recovering addict. He wanted to be called to be better than that.
“One of the things I struggled with was the relationship with my wife,” Edwards explained. “The Lord brought me out of that drug and alcohol in a pretty profound way. But my relationship with my wife wasn’t any different. I was still sort of a selfish guy. I wasn’t any better of a husband.”
Bill Donaghy is a senior lecturer and content specialist for the Theology of the Body Institute as well as a Certification Program instructor, and international speaker.
He’s worked in mission, evangelization, and education for nearly 25 years, with a background in visual arts, philosophy, and systematic theology. He has given talks and retreats to bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, and the lay faithful in 33 states and 5 countries, and is also the co-author with Chris Stefanick of the RISE: 30 Day Challenge for Men program.
Chris and his wife Rebecca live just outside of Philadelphia with their four children.
Edwards said he needed to rise to the occasion, and it took him a month to make a start. He found a solution in RISE, a relatively new, 30-day challenge for men to rediscover their roles in relationships and to strengthen their Catholic faith. It made such an impact that Edwards now helps bring the challenge to men around the world.
Through a series of two- to three-minute videos and daily challenges, men of any age are invited to become better husbands, father and sons and to deepen their relationship with Christ.
Since its launch a little over a year ago, more than 15,000 men around the world have participated in the RISE Challenge. In the Edmonton area, men are invited to do the same at the Men of Integrity Conference Feb. 1-2 – an annual event presented by Catholic Family Ministries – at Holy Trinity Church in Spruce Grove. Participants will have their RISE Challenge fee waived.
The RISE Challenge was developed by Chris Stefanick, a Catholic speaker and founder of Real Life Catholic, and Bill Donaghy, a senior lecturer at the Theology of Body Institute, which is dedicated to teaching based on St. John Paul II’s lectures on human sexuality, identity, marriage.
The RISE Challenge is completed in pairs, sometimes fathers and sons, so that there is a contact and support for each participant. Each day, participants receive an emailed inspirational quotation and a video with a challenge related to it.
Organizers hope participants will actively engage and strengthen their faith for those 30 days and beyond, and then to bring the challenge to their parishes with the goal of enhancing men’s ministries in the Edmonton Archdiocese.
They add that the RISE program offers challenges to men who want to know and live more fully their masculine identity and vocation – and to counter the current narrative of “toxic masculinity.”
“The cultural take is that men have misused power. They have been self-serving. Their masculinity is toxic and the culture is saying ‘You need to be emasculated,’” said Donaghy.
In its place, RISE aims to reclaim the role of men by helping each participant become a better husband, father, son and brother and to embrace his own vulnerability – something organizers say men are reluctant to do.
“RISE is like a B12 shot for men,” Donaghy said. “RISE is trying to say this drive, this power, this strength isn’t evil. It’s meant for good and it’s meant to be gifted. Be strong. Be a force. But not for the building up of your own kingdom. RISE is calling men to be servant leaders and ultimately like Christ, the God hero who gave His life for his bride, the Church. When we see that kind of masculinity lived, it’s going to be so fruitful.”
In the first video, Stefanik addresses how men have become emasculated.
“Our culture has sort of become one of ‘Take your deep voice and your gross testosterone somewhere else; we don’t need it,’ so men are simply just checked out,” said Edwards, a support specialist with RISE.
“For the last 20 or 30 years in the Church, women have taken over the roles that men had. God made men to be spiritual leaders of the family, to lead your children, lead your wife, to be that pillar in the Church.
“We want men to embrace their roles as men so they can become on fire and start being active members of their parish. If the father is not engaging in the spiritual life, not leading the family, not being an example of a strong Catholic person of faith, then it leaves a void there.”
Earlier in his own RISE Challenge last March, Edwards recalls it was 4 a.m. and he couldn’t sleep, so he went online and watched the first video. The questions it raised had a profound impact that night.
“When was the last time you appreciated your wife? When have you appreciated her other than Valentine’s Day, Christmas, or birthday or when you wanted her to go to bed with you?” said Edwards.
“I thought, ‘What a jerk I am! This woman stayed with me when she didn’t have to.’”
Before going to work, and before his wife got up, Edwards left her a note on a mirror saying “I think you’re beautiful even when you don’t,” and others on the refrigerator and the steering wheel of their van about how much he appreciated her.
“She called me at work and said, ‘What is going on?’ It completely changed the relationship I had with my wife. A three-minute video from Chris Stefanik made me realize what a jerk I had been.”
The RISE program also challenges men to reflect on their relationship with their children. Do they bring their problems at work and in life home with them and transfer them to their kids? Or are they husbands and fathers who are present for their families?
“We’re not even needed to have children, thanks to science, anymore,” Edwards said. “Is it any wonder why so many men in the world and in the Catholic Church have checked out?
“Most men try to fill their lives with other things, whether its addictions, pornography, alcohol, drugs, work, being a gym rat, whatever it may be. Guys are constantly trying to find that one thing in their life that’s going to make them happy, and most of them don’t realize it’s God that’s missing in our life.”
In addition to individual spiritual growth, organizers say the RISE helps connect participants with each other, to be open and vulnerable, and to share questions about faith, family and the role of men.
“Most men, in their lives, don’t have authentic true friendship,” Edwards explained. “They are going through life with all of these hurts and these pains and their not sharing it with anyone. God made to work in brotherhood, not alone, not to be silos.”
Maurice Beier, chair of Catholic Family Ministries, said that was one of the main reasons why organizers invited the RISE Challenge to this year’s Men of Integrity Conference. They wanted the effect of the men’s conference to last beyond a single event.
“It’s something we always wanted to do, to do a follow-up,” Beier said. “We want men to be engaged and committed, to develop friendships in a deeper way.”