Editor’s note: 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.
Kresta: 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 faith.
But 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 way—I hadn’t really associated with any Christian community yet—it 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 XXIII—that 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.
From 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.
Then, 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 foundation—I think it was called Domino’s Foundation; I think it consisted of some guy with a checkbook down in North Carolina or something—but 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, Credo, 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.”
So 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.
CWR: So you had already come back to the Catholic Church when you met Tom Monaghan.
Kresta: 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.
So 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 or Orthodox.
CWR: You said that your worldview had become sacramentalized. What do you mean by that?
Kresta:It 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.
Here’s 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.
Only the Catholic and Orthodox traditions understand matter in this way. At least, I don’t know of any Protestant group but maybe some Anglo-Catholics do.
But 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.
CWR: What do you mean when you speak of the “problems of ethnicity that go along with Orthodoxy?”
Kresta: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.
This 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.
This 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.
CWR: Were there other problems you had with Orthodoxy, such as the question of Petrine primacy?
Kresta: 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 universal.
The 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 way—Christ’s way. But Orthodoxy was conforming pretty much to the culture.
CWR: Tell me about your credentials for being a “missionary.”
Kresta: 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.
Then 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.
It turned out the vote went real well—it 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.
But 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.
But because I had been pushed along through this by people, I felt confident that I was doing what God had called me to do.
CWR: Could you explain a little more—“confirmed by the Body of Christ?”
Kresta: Shortly after I became a Christian as an adult—Evangelicals say it was a born-again experience; as a Catholic, I would say I was appropriating the grace of my baptism—I 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.
That 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 evangelist.
CWR: Why and how did you leave Catholicism in the first place?
Kresta: 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.
Playing 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 intensely.
You 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.
And 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.
CWR: So was it a conscious decision or a kind of gradual drifting away?
Kresta: 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.
Drugs, 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.
And 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 sure—the 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.
CWR: Were you using both of those substances you mentioned?
Kresta: Yeah. And LSD was frequent and common. It was a…I tell my mom and dad—in 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 Arbor—we 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.
CWR: With the number of changes, cultural and otherwise, we went through in the 1960s—from the Pill to the drug culture to the anti-war movement, the assassinations and all—no wonder the Church had a hard time after Vatican II.
Kresta: 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].
CWR: Christ the King, that’s the large charismatic parish in Ann Arbor? Are you a member of that parish?
Kresta: 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.
Originally [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.
CWR: Getting back to Christ the King parish, are you a charismatic yourself?
Kresta: 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.
CWR: How did you meet your wife? Did she go through the conversion experience with you?
Kresta: 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.”
So he brought her over so I would witness to her. That was the whole point.
So 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.
But 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 group—two 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.
So 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.
But that’s how we met—because 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.
She 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.
CWR: When I interviewed your parents, your father was telling me about some of the service that some of your children have been involved in—Mexico, 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?
Kresta: 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.
That’s 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 culture.
So 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 with—elementary school kids—either 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.
CWR: 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.
Kresta: 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.”
It was not good news obviously, but I was alive.
I 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.
I 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 feeling.
So 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.
The necrotizing fasciitis—yes, 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 cancer—name it, I’ve imagined I might have it. One thing I never imagined was being an amputee. But that’s the thing that happened.
So, 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.
The 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.
CWR: 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?
Kresta: 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 Titus—than 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.”
I 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.
So 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.
CWR: You paint a sobering picture of our society today. Where do you see America in five years?
Kresta: 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.
I think the problem was that over the last generation there might have been an assumption that Christians—both Catholic and especially Evangelical Protestants—that 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.
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