In the past two weeks of hitting the radio and TV waves almost on a daily basis promoting a new book, I have been transformed. In the physical sense, yes — I’ve gained a good seven pounds and am unsuccessfully masking it with baggier shirts and new husky style dress pants. But this transformation transcends trans fats — in a more figurative sense, I have become something anew — according to a colleague at work, I think I may now be a religious pundit.
Some quick research on this word brings to light a definition that explains a pundit to be, “a learned person in media, or someone who at least appears to be learned.” It is the second part of this definition that I take solace in and will embrace.
A new book and a fantastic publicist have now given me entrée to a world craving media punditry; my responsibility and duty is in the thoughtful dissemination of learned answers on religion, particularly the Catholic faith, and life — and hopefully sell a few books in the process, too. A great joy of this new distinction is sharing what I consider the “bread and butter” of the Catholic Church — love, hope, faith, graces, the sacraments, the Eucharist, and everything that happens in between.
However, what are my “talking head” qualifications? Well, I have 20 consecutive years of Catholic schooling. It probably doesn’t hurt that my aunt is a nun and my godfather is a parish priest. I absolutely love the Virgin Mary more than mushroom pizza and yes, I still go to church each week and absolutely enjoy doing so regardless of the music and quality of the sermon. I’ve made all my sacraments, still have a healthy fear of nuns, and retain an acutely refined nose for the smell of church incense.
Yet, all of these years of formal and informal training cannot even begin to prepare one for the ephemeral 5-, 10-, 20- or 60-minute appointment as “religious spokesperson” in the secular media. What is it that people want to discuss on the radio? What are the pressing questions that one wants to ask a pundit in training?
Most recently, on CBS radio, a caller wanted to know whether I thought Jesus was a vegetarian and wondered whether I discussed this question in my book. I have been asked to verify certain factual accuracies of The Da Vinci Code and questioned on just how much the Catholic Church owns in real estate across Eastern Europe. I’ve been asked to explain the “cannibalistic similarities” when consuming actual body and blood and to sum up the Trinity in a simple tweet. It is in many of these cases where my religious punditry progress pauses, and when I do my best at satisfying the definition of “appearing to be learned.” It’s hard to talk about religion, let alone explain the myriad nuances of a 2,000-year-old organization in 20-second sound bites. Even in this piece, here at word 590, I have yet to even scratch the surface of why I am Catholic. I’ve distracted you with stories that might be more interesting yet are far less substantive than what I am about to write.
A buried thesis
There is nothing sexy or groundbreaking in expressing that I am Catholic simply because I love God and want to help people. That I love an organization which, although not perfect, was established to be a force of good in the world and continues to be. That it brings me joy to hold my father’s hand during the “Our Father” in church and to share in mass-produced, post-Mass pasta dinners cooked by old Italian ladies after a 4 p.m. Saturday vigil. That in the quiet solitude or an early morning swim, I have an opportunity to send out some prayers for the day and thank God for it all.
I find that it is the simple joys and graces of Catholicism that get lost in the detritus of the media landscape. From sex abuse scandals and schisms to devious Vatican butlers, it is not hard to be distracted from the core ideals, ideas and action permanently fierce in global Catholic imagination. Religion has become politicized and is used as a weapon — it is misinterpreted, under-interpreted, over-exaggerated and minimized. Yet perhaps for me, it simply simmers somewhere between knowing and searching, finding and still seeking. It is a dance of confusion and rigidity that somehow seems graceful when done correctly. In so many ways, faith is metaphor — not a metaphor — but the device which we use to understand and explore.
My hope today as you read this is to distract you from distractions; to be a pundit for the beauty in the ordinary and to feed you both the “bread and butter” and “meat and potatoes” of the Catholic Church. From the secular to the spiritual, there is a humankind hunger in this world for meaning, and I have found Catholicism to be my consistent sustenance — perhaps in the same way vegetables were important to vegetarian Jesus.