The following is the complete 6,000-word-long interview with author and radio host Al Kresta, given to John Burger in the course of the researching and writing of the profile, "Al Kresta: Missionary Looking Inward, Then Outward"
, published as a CWR feature last Friday.
CWR: On your thumbnail bio, it says
that you are “first of all a missionary.” Please explain.
The truth of that hits at two immediate levels. Back in 1974, shortly
after I started following Christ as an adult, I was in the Michigan
State student union. There were two books I was reading at the time.
One was Lewis’ Mere
Christianity, the other was
John XXIII’s Journal of a
Soul. I came out of a New
Age movement type of thing and ended up in Evangelical Protestantism
for about 18 years and then eventually came back to the Catholic
somewhere after March of 1974, I was there at the Michigan State
student union reading Journal
of a Soul and Mere
Christianity, and somewhere
along the wayI hadn’t really associated with any Christian
community yetit must have been in the back of my mind: I was in
college, I must have been asking, “What am I going to do with my
life?” or “What am I going to do when I get out of here?” And I
just had an experience sitting there that all I wanted to do with my
life was to disseminate this perspective on things. What I wanted to
do was to ensure that what I was realizing there in reading Lewis and
John XXIIIthat the picture of life, the world they were
describing, I wanted to propagate that. I didn’t know what that
would mean at the time. I always felt that from that moment on I was
going to be involved in some kind of Christian mission…. It wasn’t
as specific as being an evangelist, somebody like Billy Graham or
something…. I wanted to spend my life getting this out into
people’s hands because I was absolutely shocked when, as an adult,
I began to realize what Christianity was and realize that the Christ
of the New Testament was different from the Christ of the New Age
movement and realize that there was a good sound historical basis for
the Christian faith. All those things were just a shock to me.
that point on I worked. I started out in Christian bookstores, just
getting the word into people’s hands. I managed Christian
bookstores from when I got out of college in 1977 and continued to do
that until 1986, when I was ordained a pastor of a church.
when I first met with Tom Monaghan in 1997, he described his vision
of what he wanted to do. He was still running Domino’s Pizza at the
time, so he hadn’t started Ave Maria Foundation. He had a
foundationI think it was called Domino’s Foundation; I think it
consisted of some guy with a checkbook down in North Carolina or
somethingbut there wasn’t much happening. So when he and I
talked, and I was moved by his vision and also gratified by his
interest in my work, I asked him, “Are you asking me to come to Ann
Arbor and basically be a missionary in the Ann Arbor area?” At that
time the radio operation [Ave Maria Radio] was intended to focus
pretty much only on Washtenaw County, and he also had a newspaper,
which was going out to 5,000 Catholic homes in the southeast corner
of the Lansing Diocese. He wanted me to edit that, and he wanted to
take my program and see if it would be eventually syndicated. But in
the meantime we developed this radio station that he had leased a
signal. So when he asked me to do those things, I said. “I want to
make sure I get kind of a general picture here of what you’re
asking.” There were a lot of little details. I said “You’re
basically asking me to come to Ann Arbor to be a missionary.” He
said, “Yeah, that’s what I’m asking.”
the missionary language has always been part of my
self-understanding, even since I started following Christ as an
adult. If I wasn’t doing radio I’d be doing the same thing,
somewhere else, some other way. But I’m not fundamentally a radio
personality, any more than I’m a bookstore operator.
So you had already come back to the Catholic Church when you met Tom
Yeah, I returned to the Church in 1992. From 1986 I was pastoring
a church until, I think, right through 1990. When I left the
pastorate I continued to work in radio. My theology had been changing
as a pastor, and I wasn’t in a place where I could lead my
congregation in the direction where I was moving because I didn’t
know where I was going and I didn’t feel it was fair to be living
out my own spiritual autobiography in the pulpit. They ordained me
and asked me to represent a doctrinal statement, and I was beginning
to say I can’t do that anymore.
rather than trying to change the doctrinal statement and trying to
change the congregation, since I didn’t know where I was going to
end up anyway, I just said, “Well, let me just resign.” … I
knew at that time I was going to be Catholic or Orthodox. My
worldview had become sacramentalized, and I had also become convinced
of the visible unity of the Church. You had to have that, and once
you decide that Jesus’ will is that the Church be visibly one, your
options narrow pretty quickly. You’re either going to be Catholic
You said that
your worldview had become sacramentalized.
do you mean by that?
increasingly dawned on me that our “spiritual” experience was
inextricably tied up with matter. Matter really matters. Creation,
Fall, the calling of Abraham with the promise of offspring, the
founding of Israel as a nation with borders, the exile from the land,
the Incarnation with the Virginal conception, Passion, Resurrection,
Ascension, Pentecost and Eucharist. None of these takes place in an
exclusively “spiritual” realm. All participate in some way with
material cause and effect. The whole drama of redemption is played
out in what New Agers and neo-gnostics would think are embarrassingly
gross physical terms. Modern American religion, not just
Christianity, however, anchors the ultimate act of faith or communion
or self-realization in our “heart,” entirely invisible and
immaterial. Evangelicals stress faith alone. New Agers stress some
kind of discovery of one’s divinity. Only Catholicism refuses to
run from the world of our senses.
another point that was working on me from reading some Orthodox
writers: I became convinced that the very materiality of creation was
emblematic of invisible spiritual realities. It wasn’t just,
however, that God looked at the water that he had made and said,
“Wouldn’t that be good as a symbol of baptism?” Rather he
created water to find its ultimate significance in Baptism. What is
water? Most people would say it is H20 and is necessary for the
formation of life. It also renews us by washing, purifying us,
refreshing us as a beverage. I became convinced that baptism wasn’t
just another function or meaning attached to water but that the very
purpose of water had always been baptism. All the other functions,
uses, meanings of water, in some way, worked to orient people to the
necessity of Baptism, the water of life. From our very first contact
with water as unborns and newborns God is preparing and inviting us
to grasp the reality of Baptism which gives the final meaning to
water. In a similar way, families were to prepare us for the family
of God, bread and wine for Eucharist, sex and marriage for eternal
union with the Bridegroom. Our very experience of the material world,
our sensible experience is, if we could just sustain our
consciousness of it, an experience of God and His purposes.
the Catholic and Orthodox traditions understand matter in this way.
At least, I don’t know of any Protestant group but maybe some
finally, Orthodoxy ceased to be
an option for me. It had certain theological problems I couldn’t
resolve in my own thinking, and problems of ethnicity that go along
with Orthodoxy. And I was raised Catholic anyway. I figured the best
thing to do at this point, if I really believed in the visible unity
of the Church and I really did believe that Jesus had established the
Church on Peter as the rock, the place where that was most evident
was Roman Catholic Christianity.
What do you mean when you speak of the “problems of ethnicity that
go along with Orthodoxy?”
sees itself as the custodian or guardian of certain ethnic cultures.
The preservation of the culture [Greek and Russian are the clearest
examples] is one of the purposes of the Church. To be Greek is to be
Orthodox. To be Orthodox is to be Greek. This leads too easily to a
sacralizing of traditions and customs for which there is no divine
warrant. These can become mere traditions of men that obscure the
culturally transformative power of the gospel. A change in the
cultural status quo becomes a threat to the divine order of things.
also seems to lead to a sacralizing of ethnicity making it much more
difficult for the Church to be universal in scope. Outsiders find it
difficult to become Orthodox. Even my visits to Orthodox churches to
speak with Orthodox priests highlighted this. In some cases, there
was bewilderment about why I, a non-Greek or non-Slav, would be
interested in Orthodoxy. I found only one Orthodox pastor who seemed
to recognize this as a problem and understood the evangelical
imperative to reach out to the world.
problem is especially evident in politics and the history of
“Caesaro-papism.” This is a tendency to see the Emperor as
superior to the Patriarch even in spiritual matters since the future
of the national or ethnic community appears more dependent on the
role of the Emperor than the Patriarch. In their apologetics, the
Orthodox may have a way of properly balancing this. But even reading
Alexander Schmemann, the great Russian Orthodox theologian, led me to
think that even its best formulation was too subject to political,
cultural and ethnic abuse. The Church, I feared, would turn in on
itself and lose its mission of “sent-ness” to the world. And
that’s the way Orthodoxy looks to me in fact. Phew.
Were there other problems you had with Orthodoxy, such as the
question of Petrine primacy?
Actually, there were quite
a few. One of them was that they don’t have sufficient unity to
call an ecumenical council, even with the five patriarchates. If you
can’t do that you can’t claim
that the Church is One
since the authority is lacking to convene a meeting of the Church
second thing was it seemed that what John Henry Newman called
development of doctrine ceased with them somewhere around the 7th
ecumenical council. For instance, when it came to issues like divorce
and remarriage, when it came to issues like contraception, they
weren’t really bringing the theological resources of the tradition
to bear on these modern problems. The Catholic Church was engaged
with it, they were fighting with it, trying to model a new way, a
different way, a right wayChrist’s way. But Orthodoxy was
conforming pretty much to the culture.
Tell me about your credentials for being a “missionary.”
Because my adult conversion took place in college, and the early
teachers that I had stressed worship of Christ over all areas of
life, I tried to think as a disciple, even in college. So if I were
doing a paper in sociology I would try to ask myself questions that
were related: What’s the relationship between cult and culture, for
instance; what’s the relationship between worship and how
communities organize themselves. If I were doing a paper in the
history of psychology, I might pick John Dewey, for instance. He
wanted to utilize religion for some social purpose but he wasn’t a
believer. So I’d critique his work and how this idea that religion
was a matter of social utility, that that simply is inadequate; it
doesn’t explain religious experience, doesn’t explain the role of
the prophets. Anyway, so in all those areas, I began thinking right
when I was in college, and working in the bookstores familiarized me
with a wide range of authors and publishers and what people were
reading, what was helpful to them, what wasn’t helpful, what areas
were weak in the publishing world, what areas were strong.
I just began doing a lot of teaching; people had asked me to speak in
local churches, so I’d do that, mostly in the field of apologetics.
Back in the late 1970s and early ‘80s there was a lot of talk about
comparative religions, and the Jim Jones/Guyana thing happened.
People were asking a lot about cults. I ended up doing seminars on
how to witness to Jehovah’s Witnesses, how to witness to Mormons.
Eventually, this one congregation where I spoke a few times a year,
when their founding pastor decided to resign, I was one of the people
they went to and asked if I would be interested in “candidating.”
So I went and “candidated” for a few weeks, a few months. I spoke
on Wednesday nights, I handled a Sunday service or two, and then they
voted. They needed to have a 60% vote, I think. I told them that
wasn’t enough. I said I’d only come there if it was over 80%. I’d
never pastored anywhere before, and I thought if I didn’t have that
kind of support to begin with, I’d probably screw up.
turned out the vote went real wellit was over 90%. So I went there
for five years and began going to Ashland Theological Seminary. Later
on I went to Sacred Heart Major Seminary. I didn’t get my master’s
there either. I ended up being just too busy; I was raising a family.
But I did well in both schools. And I’ve got a library of about
35,000 books. And I continue to study and write.
I think the key thing is, I think we’re all gifted by virtue of our
baptism, and our confirmation extends that as well. But those gifts
have to be some way confirmed by the Body of Christ. People have to
respond to it. You can’t just go off half-cocked. That was actually
one of my complaints when I was in college: I had a lot of friends
who were good Christians; they were theologically interested,
biblically astute but they were running off to seminary at 21-23
years old. At that time I said to myself, “Half of you aren’t
married; you don’t know how to raise kids; you don’t know how to
hold down a job.” You shouldn’t be going out to study to pastor
anybody, you should work for a few years, get married. That was my
attitude then because of what I understood the pastorate to be as a
Protestant. I never liked the idea that somebody would just hop up
one day and say, “Hey, I’m being called to be a pastor.” If
one’s calling isn’t confirmed in some way by the Body of Christ,
then I’m suspicious.
because I had been pushed along through this by people, I felt
confident that I was doing what God had called me to do.
Could you explain a little more“confirmed by the Body of
Shortly after I became a Christian as an adultEvangelicals say
it was a born-again experience; as a Catholic, I would say I was
appropriating the grace of my baptismI began sharing who Christ
was with people. I was working in restaurants and bars, working with
two violinists. I was playing guitar myself. I would spend time
talking to people on our breaks. The violinists I was working with
eventually made a commitment to follow Christ as an adult; one was
raised Catholic, the other was raised Lutheran, but they were nominal
at best. But they experienced renewal,… and I found that that was
happening frequently, that when I was sharing who Christ was with
people, they would want to know more and in many cases would end up
becoming baptized. I even started a little house church at one point,
called Church of the Word, in Lansing.
would be confirming, that people actually recognized the gifts you’re
exercising. It’s like if you’re a singer and nobody ever says
they enjoy your voice, there’s probably a good chance you’re not
gifted. It’s got to be recognized. A lot of small churches are
notorious for putting ungifted vocalists in the choir. It always
drives me nuts. If a person can’t sing, don’t put him in the
choir, for heaven’s sake. If a person doesn’t have any experience
sharing Christ and leading people to Christ, don’t call him an
Why and how did you leave Catholicism in the first place?
It was the 1960s. As a kid growing up I didn’t mind being
Catholic. I always thought there was something special about it….
It was more interesting than the Protestantism of my friends. Not
that I spent a lot of time thinking about these things. We had
Fatima, we had Notre Dame. Catholicism in America at that time was
pretty robust, at least socially speaking.
guitar, somewhere in the mid-1960s, I was in a band, a few different
bands. As the 1960s went along I was pretty much into the
stereotypical drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll thing. My parents’
generation enjoyed wine, women and song. I just thought our
generation was going to do the same thing, only a little more
have to make choices, and my choice was to go that direction, and
that meant abandoning Catholicism. I don’t remember thinking very
deeply about it. I remember trying. I went to high school in West
Haven, Conn., and I do remember a period of time there when I was
trying to get to Mass often, and I remember trying to read the Bible
at that time, but nothing took. My family, we didn’t talk about
these things…at all. We did go to Mass on a regular basis, and
morality was clear. We did know right from wrong, that’s for sure.
But we didn’t talk about the faith in our home. I think Mom prayed
and I think she may have had an Infant of Prague statue in her room,
but I can’t think of anything else in the house. I didn’t have a
Bible til I was in high school, and I had to get one for religious
studies class at Notre Dame.
that wasn’t considered unusual at the time. Among my friends, that
was pretty standard. We didn’t know any on-fire Catholics. I don’t
remember any. And I don’t know what my parents would have thought
of them if they had known them. I’m not sure they would have
received them gladly or thought them fanatical.
So was it a conscious decision or a kind of gradual drifting away?
At some point it was a conscious decision but there was a drift
for a while. It’s hard to get back to that, but there’s a period
where you go through, you tell yourself that you can still be a
Catholic, you can still be a good kid and play in this band. I mean
you’ve got the drugs begin to creep in or alcohol begins to creep
in. Alcohol never had any attraction to me, so that wasn’t a
problem. Women, girls at that time, they had attraction to me, but I
still had enough resolve not to get myself involved.
on the other hand, became more readily available and easy to ingest.
And then after a while you just say, ‘What the heck….I can’t
continue to do this, this is the kind of life I want to lead. You
just decide not to go to church anymore. That was the decision, in my
mind, because I didn’t think very theologically about this stuff.
It was, “Am I going to go to church anymore?” and the answer was
“No, I can’t go to church and be a hypocrite.” That’s what I
would tell myself.
then it just went downhill from there. I ended up arrested twice in
my junior year of high school, once for marijuana possession, the
other for heroin possession. They ended up with a two-year suspended
sentence. I’m not surethe charges were probably reduced, because
I remember thinking that the system was really screwed up. There was
so much dishonesty. Just the police tactics. It was really an
education in the justice system. Again, a 15- or 16-year-old kid
trying to make sense of it. You’d watch police lie to you and you’d
say, “That’s the adult world, that’s the world they want me to
be straight in?” It was bad enough what I was doing, but then my
interactions with the adult world were terrible too. It confirmed to
me that I didn’t really want to be a part of this whole thing.
Were you using both of those substances you mentioned?
Yeah. And LSD was frequent and common. It was a…I tell my mom
and dadin fact I was talking to my Dad last night, because we were
talking about my brother Michael, who passed away from heroin abuse
the year I started here in Ann Arborwe were talking about raising
kids. I think parents raising teenagers through the 1960s, I think
that may end up being, historically speaking, one of the most
difficult periods in American history because everybody was
blindsided by the changes in the culture, and we didn’t have
organizations like Dobson’s Focus on the Family. I didn’t know
the Catholic world well enough to know what was going on there, but
I’m told that there were not many remedial organizations available.
It was a bad time.
With the number of changes, cultural and otherwise, we went through
in the 1960sfrom the Pill to the drug culture to the anti-war
movement, the assassinations and allno wonder the Church had a
hard time after Vatican II.
And we had just had the Council, so everybody was trying to
think, ‘What does this mean?’ and then you have the world going
crazy. I’m very sympathetic to adults trying to live through that
period. I honestly think raising children today is far easier than it
was then. The lines are much clearer today. If you’re going to be
serious about raising your kids as a Catholic today, you get yourself
involved, you read, you find friends who share your faith. You’ve
got the homeschooling option, you’re seeing independent Catholic
schools and some diocesan schools, too, getting the message. I know
in Ann Arbor, we have a disproportionate amount of committed
Catholics. So there’s a very strong social support system here,
which is actually one of the reasons we were going to move here.
Before Tom Monaghan called me, Sally and I were already moving to Ann
Arbor. We were already on our way here because we knew that Christ
the King parish was here; we knew that there were large numbers of
committed Catholics who had gone through the Word of God community [a
charismatic “covenant community” that preceded the foundation of
Christ the King parish].
Christ the King, that’s the large charismatic parish in Ann Arbor?
Are you a member of that parish?
Yes, we are. That’s the reason we moved to Ann Arbor. We moved
to Ann Arbor to go to Christ the King. When we finally made that
decision, Tom happened to call. We were only tickled pink. We’d
been praying for two years about moving and not only had made the
decision and felt confirmed in it but then Tom called and offered
employment here at the same time.
[former Legatus executive director] Jim Berlucchi called. The truth
is that at that time they were asking me to take a massive pay cut.
That I couldn’t do. It was too much. Tom called back within a few
weeks, and I explained. He said “Don’t worry about it.” So,
financially speaking, I made a lateral move. … He matched what I
was getting at Crawford Broadcasting.
Getting back to Christ the King parish, are you a charismatic
Yes, I would say so. I want to make sure the terms are
understood, though. I believe that all the gifts and operations of
the Holy Spirit that are described in the New Testament are still
operative today. I don’t believe that every believer should speak
in tongues. I think that’s fine, but I don’t think that speaking
in tongues is the initial evidence of having received the Holy
Spirit. And I don’t think the Church teaches that either. But I do
think that the gift of tongues, interpretations of tongues, prophecy
and healing are still operative today, and that the Christian
community should be open to those expressions, under the guidance and
leadership of the Church, of course.
How did you meet your wife? Did she go through the conversion
experience with you?
Sally and I met in the summer of 1975. There was a young woman I
was dating at the time, who was raised Jewish. She had become a
Christian, a messianic Jew, after I spoke with her, and then she and
I began dating. We were thinking of getting engaged, and that was
around the time I met Sally, but I didn’t meet Sally on a romantic
basis at all. My roommate was a pianist, and he was working at a club
in East Lansing. Sally happened to be there one night and heard him
play. He played jazz, and she was a pianist. On a break, she went up
and asked him if he would teach her how to improvise like that. And
he said, “Sure, sure, sure.” He was pretty chatty. He was also a
committed Christian, a little shy, a little bashful about sharing his
faith. He said, “Yeah, that would be good. You need to also meet my
roommate,” and she said “Why?’”He said, “Well, I think you
would like him.”
he brought her over so I would witness to her. That was the whole
she comes by. My girlfriend was there, and we started talking. I have
to say I did like her right away, I felt a certain spark, and we
began talking about music, and I guessed her favorite composer in
about five minutes. She was quite impressed. It was Chopin.
she was not walking with Christ; she had fallen away. She’d been
raised Methodist. So I invited her to come see the group I was with
at the time. I worked with a grouptwo violinists. We’d do ethnic
music and a lot of standards. We’d just walk from table to table at
a whole bunch of venues in East Lansing.
she’d come and watch us perform, and we had long conversations over
a period of many, many months. By end of 1975 I realized there were
some romantic possibilities there. And my girlfriend and I decided we
weren’t fit for one another in the long run, so I began dating
Sally in January of 1976. We were married in 1977.
that’s how we metbecause she wanted to play piano, and because
my roommate wanted her to be evangelized, and I tended to talk about
Christ to everyone I met at the time.
has been an incredible gift. Because we were committed Christians
through our whole courtship, our engagement, and from the very
beginning I said to her, “I don’t know where we’re going to be
going here, but I do think I’ve been called to share the faith. So
you have to ask yourself if you want to be a missionary wife, because
I don’t know where we’re going to go. I don’t think it’s
going to be a foreign land; it would be sort of home missions.” She
had been raised in a very good home, so she wasn’t insecure about
this. … Sally was game. I can’t say how important that is from
the very beginning, to be able to have a sense of a joint mission, a
joint task, a joint calling together.
When I interviewed your parents, your father was telling me about
some of the service that some of your children have been involved
inMexico, inner city Detroit… I get the impression that the
family is both humble and compassionate. Is that something you and
your wife have sought to instill in your kids?
It’s part of the whole package of being a Christian. In Baptism
we’re united in Christ and we take on his mission. His destiny
becomes our destiny. I’ve always urged my kids to try to stay open
and prayerful about what God is doing in their lives and also to try
and understand in what ways they might be gifted to help build up the
body of Christ. This is based on how I understand Ephesians 4.
been part of our growing up. We have a family mission statement on
the refrigerator, to live lives which demonstrate the existence of
the triune God through lives of service, prayer, and study. That’s
the kind of the ambience that we try to build into the family
they’ve all had opportunities. Nick’s been to Sudan; he’s
helped the bishop there build school buildings. [Now] he is a
construction manager for a company in Ann Arbor. James has been on
many mission trips with Renewal Ministries, in Mexico. He’s now a
law student at Wayne State University. Alexis is married to John
Love, who got his doctorate at the Angelicum and is now teaching
theology at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg. Evan is taking what we
call a ‘gap’ here. He was at Grand Valley State College and is
going to be spending a year in Detroit with a group called Bezalel
Ministries. They do after-school programs for kids. Nine out of ten
of the children that he works withelementary school kidseither
don’t know their father or don’t have a father in the home. So
he’s going to spend a year that way. And they we have a
12-year-old, like most 12-year-olds not thinking about these things.
Let’s step back again, ten years ago: your bout with necrotizing
fasciitis, often called “flesh-eating” bacteria, and the
consequent amputation of a leg. That must have been one of the most
difficult periods of your life.
It wasn’t as bad as….
1982-85 was the most difficult period for me. I was hospitalized
twice with depression. That was much worse than losing my leg. Losing
my leg, my faith was intact. I was unconscious for four or five days.
The same time I got necrotizing fasciitis, Sally had something going
on in her leg, the same leg. They thought that
was necrotizing fasciitis. At one point they were talking about
removing tissue from her leg, which is kind of a euphemism. One
doctor had to step in and said, “No, give it more time.” It
turned out it was cellulitis, and they did remove a little bit of
tissue but they didn’t remove her leg. That was exactly the same
time I was in the hospital. It was bizarre. My kids were going crazy
wondering what’s going on here. Sally was in the hospital when I
came to. My daughter was there to tell me what had happened, so Lex
said to me, “Dad, what did the doctors tell you before you went
into surgery?” I said they told me it might be my leg or my life
and I should be open to losing a limb if necessary. She said, “Well
they had to take the leg.”
was not good news obviously, but I was alive.
had an overwhelming sense of grace too, which I attribute to the
enormous amount of prayer that people poured forth at the time. The
station let people know; listeners were praying. Word got around.
Father Benedict Groeschel called me when I was about to go into
surgery. He said “Al, what the heck’s going on up there?” He
was down at the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky dong a retreat for
some of the monks there, and the monks were praying for me.
was encouraged incredibly by people. I felt like, you know, in Mark
2, you’ve got Jesus healing this man; they take the roof off, and
his friends lower him down to the presence of Jesus. I felt in my
case that the prayers of people were lifting
me into the presence of Jesus, and for six months afterwards, I felt
buoyed on the prayers of God’s people, and it was a very tangible
it was bad, it was painful, but it wasn’t like the depression. The
necrotizing fasciitis took my leg; the depression took my life. The
universe was bleached of all meaning, purpose and significance. We
talk about the beatific vision. Well, this was the miserific vision I
had in 1982-1985.
necrotizing fasciitisyes, it was a shock. We didn’t expect it at
all. When I was in my 30s I was a little bit of a hypochondriac. I
always imagined I was dying of one thing or another. Brain tumors,
liver cancername it, I’ve imagined I might have it. One thing I
never imagined was being an amputee. But that’s the thing that
I’ve used the prosthesis. I’ve gotten a new prosthesis, which I
have not adapted to yet. So I’m often in a wheelchair. I do expect
to adapt to this prosthesis; I need to take some time off from work
and just throw myself into it for a few weeks.
kids lived through this with us. For them it must have been awfully
frightening, but we did it together. My oldest son, Nick, spent lots
of hours at the hospital just sitting with me and talking for a time.
I was there for ten weeks; it was tough.
Your latest book is Dangers
to the Faith (Our
Sunday Visitor, 2013) You consider a number of challenges to the
traditional Christian faith, specifically the Catholic faith. Do you
consider apathy on the part of Catholics or being too comfortable
dangers to the faith?
I mention it in the book, but I focus primarily on external
threats to the faith. I actually think we have enemies within too,
and some of those are things like apathy, indifference, and some of
them are alien philosophies that are being practiced by a number of
Catholics. But the book closes with a paragraph which begins “Often
a life well lived can do more to illustrate the truth'adorn the
doctrine,' as St. Paul tells Titusthan the most brilliant words….
The lives of the saints, but especially your becoming a saint, may be
the most neglected tool in the missionary/apologist’s work bucket.”
think the next book might be on this question of how Catholics
undermine their own witness in the world, how we as a community are
sending real mixed signals. We’re not bearing real truthful witness
to who Christ is.
apathy isn’t dealt with at length in this book, but it’s
mentioned in the very beginning of the book and then the call to
holiness is mentioned at the end as the most effective means by which
we can bear witness to Christ and combat our enemies.
You paint a sobering picture of our society today. Where do you see
America in five years?
I think we’ve turned a corner. I haven’t said this publicly
before… In the late ‘70s I think there was a window of
opportunity for Christians to potentially change the culture. I think
that opportunity’s passed. I think the window has been shut. Right
now we need to build the Church. I don’t want to say forget the
nation, because we should continue to oppose same-sex so-called
marriage. We have to continue to work for the protection of unborn
life. We have to continue to work to make sure the poor have adequate
educational opportunities. But I think many Catholics and Christians
would have recognized success if they had “changed the culture”
or, as sometimes people say, “reclaimed the culture.” We probably
should have realized from the beginning that we haven’t reclaimed
our own community. The Church itself needs to be rebuilt, and that’s
what John Paul II was talking about with the new evangelization.
Benedict, I think, was suggesting the same thing. And I think Francis
is about that. He’s about a more authentic, consistent, coherent
Church. The phrase we’re using here at Ave Maria Radio is “Rebuild
the Church, Bless the Nation.” I think for many Christians over the
last generations, my generation, a lot of us thought we were in a
position where we could bless the nation, but we weren’t in a
position to bless the nation because we haven’t built the Church.
think the problem was that over the last generation there might have
been an assumption that Christiansboth Catholic and especially
Evangelical Protestantsthat our house was somewhat enough in order
such that we could bless the nation. I think what we’ve learned now
is that that wasn’t true, and if we’re somehow going to bless the
nation we first of all have to rebuild the Church.