An Arkansas priest is getting set to take part in the new season of the popular NBC reality show “American Ninja Warrior,” where he will compete against talented athletes from across the country for the $1 million prize.
But it is less about the cash for Father Stephen Gadberry — he wants to use this tremendous opportunity to share his faith.
“[Evangelizing] is the primary reason for me doing this. The Lord tells us to go out and make disciples of all nations,” the 32-year-old religious leader told the Catholic News Service. “As this platform has stumbled into my lap … I can further deliver the message of the Gospel that I am supposed to as a priest.”
In a recent interview with Word on Fire, the priest explained how he was ordained into the ministry two years ago on May 28, 2016. The ordination, he said, was as a result of 10 years of “priestly formation and prayerful discernment.”
“This process began in late autumn of 2005, shortly after I enlisted in the military. You could say that was when I first heard ‘the call.’ With increased Mass attendance with active participation, and more personal prayer and silence, I began having ‘random thoughts’ of priesthood. These would come about while I was at work, at the grocery store, and even at the gym. I became more and more aware of them and started paying more attention to them,” he said.
Fr. Gadberry said his parishioners were delighted with him taking part in the show, as they were assured he would be “sharing the joy of being Catholic” with a wide American audience.
“What they’re excited about is that the church that they’re a part of is doing things that people usually wouldn’t imagine. So their church is going to the peripheries is what Pope Francis says,” he told CNS. “They’re telling all these other people of different faiths and denominations that ‘my church is not one that is stuck in a box. My church is one that can go and do crazy stuff. Come check it out.'”
The unconventional minister regularly uses the “jesusismyhomie” hashtag on his Instagram and is known by the kids in his church as “Father Flex” because of his love of physical fitness.
“‘Father Flex’ is not just muscles. … With all this stuff I want to invite people to take it to the next level, go to the spiritual level,” he said. “We can flex our spiritual muscle too whenever you really got to lift some heavy spiritual weights and love somebody that you don’t want to love or forgive somebody you don’t want to forgive.”
Fr. Gadberry is hoping that his appearance on the popular show will help shatter narrow, unimaginative views of what it means to be a priest.
“So many of my brother priests have amazing talents,” from music to athleticism, “so anyone reading this, their pastor has an amazing talent or two or three. Ask them about it, because it reveals the human side of us,” he said.
“We are really the image of Christ in the church and it’s easy to think of God as this being who is way out there,” he continued, “but Jesus came to be like one of us so hopefully the priest can be somebody at the altar who people look up to, but at the same time be one of the people, and that’s what it means to be Christ as a priest.”
(H/T: Catholic News Service)