By Gordon Nary
Gordon: What is your parish and how has it helped increase your spirituality?
Chad: I am more of a “Roaming Catholic.” Living in Lafayette, Louisiana which has a rich Catholic history and culture, it is easy to find a Mass at a parish within a five or ten-mile radius of my home. I am parishioner of St. Pius X Catholic Church, but do not always attend the Liturgy there. We have amazing priest and vibrant orthodox preaching in my diocese. I have blessed to have been part of Diocesan Catholic education for close to twenty years in three different schools. Each unique to its own subculture and distinguishing Catholic identity. The relationships I have been a part of in the Mystical Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12) in these places have had the largest impact on my spirituality and continued growth in my Catholic faith. The most significant ones have been at St. Thomas More Catholic High School were Eli’s story took place and I continue to be a member of today.
Gordon: You have written two books about your son Eli - titled Waiting for Eli and Eli’s Reach, of which we have featured reviews. Eli’s Reach was named The Best Book by a small publisher in the United States and Canada in 2013 by the Catholic Press Association. Eli was born with Spina - Bifida. Please explain to our readers, who may not know what spina bifida is, how it occurs, and what treatments may be available,
Chad: Spina – Bifida is a neural tube defect, (medical term for the spinal cord in utero) that occurs in the first six weeks of a pregnancy. It literally means “open spine.” There are different types of spina – bifida with varying degrees of severity. Eli has the most severe form of Spina – Bifida called Myelomeningocele. It is when the spinal cord is exposed to amniotic fluid and protrudes through an opening in the child’s back throughout the gestation of a pregnancy.
Annually in the United States 1,500 children are born with this life-long birth defect. Many of them have paralysis, cognitive limitations, and a host of other medical issues throughout their life. Tragically, there is no cure for Spina-Bifida. However, there are approved medical procedures that can be performed while child is still in utero to improve their quality of life following birth. These children often defy the projected medical obstacles and have a joy filled life while teaching selfless love, compassion, and much needed perspective to an overindulged and narcistic society we live in today.
Gordon: You were a speaker at the 41st Annual March for Life in January of 2014. Please comment on why spina bifida is a pro-life issue.
Chad: Medical statistics show that 80% of children diagnosed with this condition are aborted, 75% of them cause a miscarriage in the mother prior to 20 weeks of pregnancy, and those that make it to term at 40 weeks require immediate medical attention from pediatric neurosurgeons following birth. The pro – life movement in the Catholic Church is centered around the theme of recognizing the dignity and integrity of each person from womb to tomb. These children, along with others who have life-threatening birth defects, illustrate this principle in the most profound way possible to the culture at large. I believe the pro-life movement needs a story that takes its theoretical principles and connects them to a relatable real-life experience. A story of a mother, who put the needs of an unborn child above her own. An unborn child that became a catalyst from the womb, who was heard and acknowledged as a person. A person who became an instrument before and after birth to reveal God’s work and impact on the lives of others.
Gordon: You are a popular motivational speaker and was recognized 2010 Teacher of the Year in the Inspirational Teacher category by the Lafayette Education Foundation. How has being the father of Eli helped you motivate others?
Chad: Eli has become an instrument used to make God’s work in my life and lives of many others visible to us. He has been the catalyst in bringing a life-long convicted criminal back to prayer and faith, prevented three children from being aborted, inspiring an infertile couple to adopt a child with down syndrome, and even changed the heart and mind of a former pro-choice advocate to becoming pro – life.
At twenty weeks of pregnancy a poor prenatal diagnosis could of propelled my wife and I to end his life and that pregnancy. Instead we were overwhelmed with the support and countless of prayers of others for the ultimate miracle. That Eli be completely healed and born perfectly healthy. Had that happened, it would have been acknowledged, but soon forgotten. Or written off as some kind of misdiagnosis or unexplainable empirical phenomenon. Instead, God’s reach into the lives of others through his imperfections has truly been immeasurable, and has made his story timeless. A story that would have ended in the darkness of an ultra-sound room had my wife Ashley and I not said “yes” to life.
Gordon: You speak at many Catholic high schools and colleges throughout the United States. There has been a significant loss of young Catholics from the Church. Based on your experience, what are of the factors that contribute to this trend in the culture, and what can our parishes and all of us do to address this in a productive way?
Chad: Young people today are influenced by many social and cultural phenomenon that previous generations were not. The “I-Gen” – generation that was born between1995 -2012 are influenced by social media, screen-time, and less direct interaction with other people. Most come from homes with parents who have less value for their Catholic faith and religious practice. The isolation from individuals and increased time on social media have been psychologically linked with higher rates of depression and individualism. A divinely revealed God whose essence consist of a union of three persons whose communal self -giving love we are invited to participate in cannot be encountered in isolation and hedonism. It must be encountered in His presence within another. A person who can love what they truly know and give what they truly have. My generation was neither well catechized or evangelized. I had to take that upon myself after my experience with Eli.
I’m not sure what the solution is, other than to try and reach this generation through social media avenues with the Gospel. And entice them into a personal encounter with Christ. That is much easier said than done. Persevering in prayer and remaining faithful to witness of the gospel in our speech and actions are paramount to that. I believe any effective evangelization in this era must include Catholic Apologetics. If the highest faculty of the soul is the intellect, than our battle moving forward is not just a heartfelt experience, but rather an objective intellectual reality that supports that subjective experience in the person we engage. I believe the Church of the future will be smaller in number but greater in quality of member. That position is derived from almost seventeen years in the classroom with children from the “I-Gen” generation, but also because of the prophetic words from Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI).
“It (The Church) will become small and will have to start pretty much all over again. It will no longer have use of the structures it built in its years of prosperity. The reduction in the number of faithful will lead to it losing an important part of its social privileges.” It will start off with small groups and movements and a minority that will make faith central to experience again. “It will be a more spiritual Church, and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the Right one minute and the Left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute.” (See Joseph Ratzinger’s little known speeches from 1969 on German Radio reprinted in work published by Ignatius Press in the volume “Faith and Future.”)
Gordon: For parishes who may want to communicate more effectively with young people - what social media resources would you recommend them using
Chad: Here are several that have been developed and are currently being developed, but my top three recommendations would be:
However, I think the most important thing to consider when approaching this topic is the fundamental idea that any answer to an objection of the faith, no matter how profoundly expressed or explained, will only be as effective as the willingness of the audience to which it is expressed is open to receiving it. That is why prayer, fasting, and perseverance in frequent reception of the Sacraments are necessary for those in this mission. God’s reach through our efforts may never be seen or known in this life, but should be continued. A God of self -giving love does not guarantee success but rather demands commitment, trust, and faithfulness.
Gordon: Thank you for an inspirational interview.