Chris Padgett cannot keep still. In the hour we’ve spent together, Padgett, though seated, has burned more calories than most runners can manage in a 5K. Talking with his hands, legs bouncing and eyes aglow as he speaks, Padgett, as a family member once quipped, may be the reason Ritalin was invented. But his enthusiasm is infectious. It’s also proven successful.
Padgett, 42, wears many hats. He’s a devoted family man. He and his wife, Linda, have been married for more than 20 years and are the parents of (grab a seat): Hannah, Sarah, Madeline, Noah, Kolbe, Mary, Jude, Joe and Ella.
He’s a musician who’s released nine albums as a solo artist (The Rosary Project is a recent one) and as a former member of the Christian music group Scarecrow and Tinmen.
He’s both student and teacher. Currently an adjunct professor of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Padgett is also studying for his doctorate at the International Marian Research Institute in Dayton, Ohio.
He is a published author of Spirituality You Can Live With, Wholly Mary and coauthor (with Linda) of Not Ready for Marriage, Not Ready for Sex (all from Servant Books) and a popular speaker who’s traveled the world over.
But, foremost, Padgett is an impassioned Catholic who percolates with excitement about his faith.
“It’s easy to become cynical and lackadaisical in the faith,” Padgett says. “Bottom line: I want to be a good father, a good husband, a good friend and a good neighbor. I won’t achieve that excellence if I remain complacent.”
A ‘Spiritual Mutt’
Chris Padgett is a convert.
He and his sister, Carrie, were raised by their single mother in the Dakotas — and outside the Catholic faith. Padgett’s mother, Sharon, made sure Sunday services weren’t just a family obligation, but about allowing Christ into the hearts of her kids.
“As I grew, we unpacked a livable spirituality,” Padgett says. “I learned Bible verses, and we would go to Christian camps and weekly meetings.”
Padgett calls himself during his adolescence a “spiritual mutt” — a blend of Baptist, Assembly of God and Nazarene. But, in the late ’90s, his spirituality began to change when he discovered the Catholic faith. So what compelled him to convert?
“In a nutshell, it was the authority of the Catholic Church. When I saw that consistency of faith and morals for 2,000 years within Catholicism, it blew me away,” Padgett says. “In Christ we see that he passed authority to the apostles — that apostolic succession. We, as Catholics, are the recipients of that. It’s powerful and it was lifechanging.”
But he’s careful not to demean believers outside the Catholic fold. His Christian identity first took root in their soil.
“There’s so much diversity within these different denominations: Southern Baptist, American Baptist, Free Will Baptist. There are many amazing thingsto learn about each of them — great people who live so abundantly in the spiritual life,” he says.
“But within the Protestant milieu, there’s not a strong sacramentality; there’s not a strongly emphasized liturgy. It can be very fluid, depending on the denomination’s tendencies.”
Padgett became consumed with the writings of Henri Nouwen and was overwhelmed by the Dutch priest’s openness and vulnerability. Nouwen became a conduit to the faith for him. But before Padgett could make the leap, he needed to address his own preconceived notions of Catholicism.
“A common one is that Catholics worship Mary,” Padgett says. According to him, another is that Protestant religions think we’re cannibals because we take in the Body of Christ.
“But the more I read and studied and searched the Scriptures, the more I found the Catholic answer to be far more reasonable than what I had grown up in.”
Padgett, nevertheless, is at peace with his mixed Christian heritage.
“What’s awesome is that I didn’t have to give up the beautiful things I loved about my faith: the love of Scripture, of worship and of fellowship, talking about spiritual matters. It just became exponentially more when I became Catholic.”
Start Small/Believe Big
Chris Padgett wants to pull us out of our spiritual ruts.
Whether his ministry is reaching out to the disenfranchised teenager or the busy mom who has lost touch with her spiritual identity, Padgett wants to help. He uses humor and his own experiences in the process.
“When I work with people I try and figure out what language they’re speaking. How can I reach into their lives and show them that their call to be great can be expressed in limitless ways?” he asks.
“There’s a preconceived idea that spirituality is about levitation or the stigmata, but those are few and far between. The truth is I’m a man in a funny-shaped body. Can I be a saint? Not sure. I might weigh too much to levitate. So what can I do? Well, I can be more charitable to others. St. Therese of Lisieux was right: ‘Do small things with great love.’”
Padgett, a veteran of three World Youth Days with a background in youth ministry, calls his work with teens “the heartbeat” of his vocation. In a culture where young people are encouraged to indulge in excess, Padgett seeks to bring them back to a simpler, healthier place.
“My call is to take people and invite them to see Christ in a new way so that they can put away their skepticism,” he says. “If I can articulate an idea in my own way, it might come across as new to them, but it’s really a part of that tradition and deposit of faith we’ve been given.”
Padgett often taps into pop culture when discussing the needs of today’s youth. In mid-sentence, he abruptly stops, looks off and begins singing the lyrics to Bruno Mars’ single “Just the Way You Are”: “When I see your face/There’s not a thing that I would change/’Cause you’re amazing/Just the way you are.”
“Young people want that. They need that,” Padgett asserts. “Deep inside they know they are of value, of great worth. That song taps into the principle that we are made in the image and likeness of God. We are worthy of respect.”
For older Catholics who’ve become spiritually lazy, Padgett encourages them to take baby steps.
“Don’t try and read three chapters of Scripture a day. Just try a verse. Have the readings of the day emailed to you. Many of us have this weird idea that we have to do something gigantic to be a person of Christ. Start small.”
There’s Something About Mary
Chris Padgett is a mama’s boy.
Broach the topic of the Virgin Mary and he practically swoons. What’s noticeable is that he seems genuinely surprised by his relationship with her. When he was growing up, his understanding of Mary didn’t go beyond the Nativity, but after his conversion, things changed. Now it is a driving force in his life.
“I had a dramatic transformation when I recognized that Mary wanted to help me to love her son,” Padgett says. “Our Lady wants to love us in such a profound way: in our joyful moments, in our sorrowful moments. We have, in the rosary, the chance to soak in her journey and know that she’s going to help us in ours.”
Padgett believes the Blessed Mother is the ideal guide on our faith journeys because she leads us back to Jesus.
“Mary is truly in step with the will of God. As that authentic disciple, she invites us into the rhythm of the Trinity. She has done this throughout time: points us back to Jesus and assists us in our journey.”
And, like all good mothers, Mary will never tire of nurturing her children. “Mary will never look at you one day and say, ‘It’s over. You haven’t measured up to the standard. I’m done mothering you.’”
For Padgett, she is an always-patient mother and guardian, someone who understands the stresses and pitfalls of everyday life because she faced her own.
“Many of us have cycles where we might be doing great with God and then have moments when we’re not doing so great,” he says. “The challenge is to invite Mary into our lives to show us how to be that disciple we’re called to be.”
Chris Padgett must run on batteries.
When he isn’t teaching — or studying — he’s writing and performing music. He travels extensively to men’s conferences, schools and parishes, often leading workshops on chastity. He’s also a popular keynote speaker and leader in parish-based marriage renewals. With such a workload, and a large family on top of it, how does he keep his head above water?
“There has to be a sense of balance in my life,” he says. “I like the pressure of having assignments and tasks that have to be completed. I can get lazy if I don’t have that. I feel neurotic if I don’t keep moving.”
Chris Padgett will likely never stop moving, speaking, singing or reaching out to other Catholics. And though he has no interest in living anywhere but “in the moment,” his short-term goal is a humble one.
“In 15 years, I hope I’m still living,” he says with a laugh. “I hope I can look back and say that I’ve grown in my love for Christ and for others. I just want to be a greater person of love.”
Nine Kids and Counting
CHRIS PADGETT IS KNOWN IN THE CATHOLIC WORLDas a singer, songwriter, book author, speaker and worship leader. But perhaps what’s most impressive is that he and his wife, Linda, have managed the task of raising nine children without ever being whisked away to an institution.
When the Padgett clan was in our offices for the interview in July 2011, only five of his then eight children were in tow. (Their youngest was not yet born.)
How do they do it?
“It’s insane,” Chris says. “How do you do laundry for 11 people? How do you make sure there’s enough food in the house? How do you prepare when you’re on a limited budget as we always are? What do you do when your car constantly breaks down? Those are real-life challenges.”
What’s a normal day in the Padgett house?
The kids wake up first and make cereal. Linda and Chris soon join them, hit the coffee and make their way to the front porch for discussion of the day ahead, reflection of the day before and prayer.
The kids are shuttled to school, and Chris and Linda commence with work, housecleaning and, if they’re lucky, a bike ride. It’s in those harried moments of housework and bill paying, laundry and home repairs that Chris finds moments of grace. And it’s certainly never dull under their roof.
“With nine kids it’s always going to be noisy,” he says. “We’ll always be on the edge of a Hoarders episode, and there will always be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But it is such a place for grace. By loving each other, we’re being the saints we’re called to be.”