R. Jared Staudt PhD, has been serving as Associate Superintendent for Mission and Formation for the Archdiocese of Denver and Visiting Associate Professor for the Augustine Institute. He now works for Exodus 90. He is author of Restoring Humanity: Essays on the Evangelization of Culture (Divine Providence Press) and The Beer Option (Angelico Press) and the editor of Renewing Catholic Schools: How to Regain a Catholic Vision in a Secular Age (Catholic Education Press). He and his wife Anne have six children and he is a Benedictine oblate.
He recently spoke with CWR about evangelization, education, culture, and the current state of the Church.
CWR: How would describe the work you did for many years promoting evangelization and Catholic school renewal in the Archdiocese of Denver?
Staudt: As a theologian, it was somewhat unexpected to take a position with a diocese. On the other hand, I had served as a DRE at two parishes and as a professor of evangelization and catechesis at the Augustine Institute, so there was a foundation for the work.
Now that I’ve finished six and a half years at the Archdiocese, I would say that it was an incredibly fruitful time. I began working on the implementation of restored order Confirmation, including a two-year curriculum for second and third grade, and then established a new program for catechist formation. I was asked to move into the Catholic schools office four years ago and focused on bringing a stronger Catholic vision to formation and the curriculum. I created programs for teacher formation, especially a four-day Catholic Worldview Seminar, a training program for future principals, a system for evaluating mission effectiveness, and an initiative to form disciples within our schools.
CWR: What will your new position with the Exodus 90 program entail?
Staudt: I am starting a new position as Director of Content with them. Exodus has had a huge impact on thousands of men. The core of this experience is ninety days of prayer, asceticism, such as fasting (including from media) and cold showers, and fellowship with other men. The powerful impact comes from the combination of these elements, not in isolation but experienced alongside of other men in community. My role will focus on building from an impactful 90 days to providing more consistent opportunities for growth in building good habits and lasting community.
We hope that Exodus will be something that can accompany men more consistently in living a strong Christian life, battling through the many obstacles we face in our culture.
CWR: You have worked in helping start a number of schools in Denver. What is the focus of these schools?
Staudt: One of my students from the Augustine Institute, Rosemary VanderWeele, implemented a classical curriculum at Our Lady of Lourdes in Denver and oversaw a general renewal centered on the Catholic faith. Our kids have been attending there since 2011 and we knew we wanted to continue the same kind of experience in high school. We wanted daily Mass, a fully classical curriculum (versus a track or program), and many opportunities for living out and experiencing the faith.
Working with other families, I co-founded the Chesterton Academy of Our Lady of Victory, which is now in its fourth year. We chose to affiliate with the Chesterton Schools Network since its curricular vision aligned with ours, and it emphasized the fine arts and daily Mass. We added a Formation Friday component, which gives a weekly opportunity for service, prayer, talks, additional experience of the arts, outdoor activities, and other elements of human formation. I was asked to help found another school in the Ft. Collins region in northern Colorado, and the St. John Paul II High School is now in its third year.
CWR: There is great deal of debate on how the culture should be evangelized. What do you think is the best way to evangelize culture?
Staudt: I define culture simply as a way of life. Evangelizing culture means bringing faith into the center of how we live. Otherwise, we will fail into a latent secularism that keeps faith and worship to the side as one aspect of life, mostly private, rather than the organizing principle of the whole.
I see the evangelization of culture as starting out as shaping one’s own life through prayer, suturing at our lives with God’s presence. Then there must be judgments, including about dress and technology, about what truly glorifies God in our lives and what eclipses him and distracts us from his presence. Culture is a shared way of life, and it cannot remain individual. We can build culture in our family life, in schools, and also in the parish when we form practices with others for living the faith.
There is no clear blueprint for building culture, but it will flow from a shared commitment to living the faith in all that we do with others. I do explore the various dimensions of building culture—creation, art and beauty, family life, education, and society—in my book, Restoring Humanity.
CWR: You have written a curious book on beer. What is the “Beer Option”?
Staudt: The book uses beer as a means of exploring Catholic culture. Although some sneer at focusing on a topic like beer, there is actually a rich history that goes back to the beginning of civilization, which includes even the Bible. Beer as we know it was perfected by Benedictine monks, as they provided a sanitary and nourishing drink for themselves, pilgrims, and the sick. The monks remain among the best brewers in the world today and The Beer Option examines how we can learn from them to integrate all of our life and work toward the glory of God, using beer to foster festivity, fellowship, and evangelization. The topic of beer also addresses issues of craftsmanship, the economy, consumerism, moderation (and I explore the distinctions between alcohol and drugs), and building up local community.
CWR: What is your favorite beer?
Staudt: Generally, I seek out beers made by monks or in conjunction with a monastery. I love learning the history and culture behind the beers. That is how I became interested in beer to begin with, especially through the Benedictine connection. The Belgian Trappists are definitely my go to beers, especially Orval and Chimay. I also really appreciate Birra Nursia (made by monks, many of whom are Americans, outside of St. Benedict’s hometown of Norcia, Italy). I’ve tracked down some harder to find monastic beers from Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon, Tynt Meadow Trappist from England, and from the Benedict Abbey of St. Wandrille in France.
CWR: How do you, as a husband and a father of a large family, balance life and work? How do you see your family life connected to the subjects of your research?
Staudt: I see both my family life and career as a response to the Lord’s call to follow him with my whole life. It is undeniably difficult to adequately lead and provide for a large family in our culture. I wouldn’t say that I’ve figured out a great work-life balance, but my spirituality as a Benedictine oblate provides a constant inspiration to stay rooted in prayer (myself and as a family) and to see my work as part of the praise that I offer God.
In my writing and teaching about Catholic culture, I have come to the conclusion that the family needs to be at the center of our rebuilding efforts. Parents overwhelmingly have the largest influence on the faith life of their children and overcoming secularism by reuniting faith and life can occur most successfully in the home. Families need help and support in maintaining faith in light of the overpowering challenges of technology and media, and, in my opinion, the Church is not focusing enough on family ministry. I certainly try to live a robustly Catholic life with my family, with the support of strong Catholic schools, although it is quite an adventure.
CWR: Many Catholics today feel demoralized by current state of the Church. What would you say to a Catholic who has lost trust in the Church’s leadership?
Staudt: There are no easy answers. I think it would be hard to find a Catholic who has unwavering confidence in the Church’s leadership right now. Life in the Church requires faith in its supernatural foundation and its identity as the Body of Christ. Although the Church certainly needs reform (as is always the case), we can become too obsessed with the failures of bishops and the Vatican in a way that overshadows our own spiritual life and the needs of our parish.
It certainly helps to be rooted in the tradition of the Church, and I draw consolation from the great legacy of the saints, finding refuge in their life and writings. There is great scandal when leaders openly question or depart from the truth of God’s revelation, although this cannot shake our own faith, which does not depend on the holiness of our leaders.
In my mind, the crisis of the liturgy overshadows all other problems in the Church, as the beating heart of the Church’s inner life. There is a great refuge in the Church’s liturgical tradition (East and West), although we find a battle ground here as well. I pray that the Lord will bring order and peace to his Church.
CWR: Many Catholics are now fatigued by the “internet wars” among traditionalists, conservatives, and liberal Catholics on social media. Do you use social media? Can it be a force for good?
Staudt: A little more than two years ago I smashed my smartphone and gave up Facebook. Both had a greatly freeing effect. I am still on LinkedIn, although that does not have the same addictive and divisive qualities of other forms of social media. I do keep too keen an eye on Catholic news outlets, though I don’t follow blogs or podcasts very faithfully.
I think many of these outlets can be a source for good, and I’m sure we could all think of examples of how they have been, although we also need to be aware of the ways in which our time on social media is influencing us. Too many studies have now pointed out that we are addicted to technology and how this influences our mental and emotional health (let alone our spiritual life). Catholics need more time for prayer, genuine leisure, and real friendship. I think we would be better served offline, building real community.
• Related at CWR: “The Beer Option and feasting, fasting, and friendship” (April 12, 2019)
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