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Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

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From Sinner to Saint. After having acknowledged his sinfulness in his first book (the aptly-named) Sinner, Lino Rulli is now ready for what he sees as the logical next step in his faith journey — canonization. In fact, Saint: Why I Should Be Canonized Right Away is the name of Lino’s follow-up work (just released on 9/3) in which he makes a passionate for declaring him a living saint.  Of course, anyone familiar with The Catholic Guy‘s unique brand of ecclesiastical comedy (heard weeknights from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET on SiriusXM’s Catholic Channel) knows that he can’t be serious. Can he?

Well, I actually do know Lino. Before I interviewed him about Sinner I actually worked with him for a couple of years at The Catholic Channel. I was the first producer of Seize the Day with Gus Lloyd, the channel’s morning show, while Lino was launching his program later in the day. So, is he serious? Whether or not he is, Saint is an entertaining read and it was fun catching up with him to talk about it.  

JWK: First all, Saint is a very funny book.

LINO RULLI: Well, Thank you.

JWK: You always make me laugh.

LR: That’s the goal. I’m glad I could continue to succeed.

JWK: Where did the concept for Saint come from?

LR: You know, I’ m a genius and so like all great geniuses the idea is stolen from somebody else.  The first book was called Sinner so everybody wanted to second one to be called Still Sinning or Sinner 2: Electric Boogaloo or something like that. And, honestly, ultimately I was just going to write another book about, basically, being a sinner.  Still Sinning After All These Years, something like that. But then the thought really did just occur to me (that), you know, I’m not just a sinner. I’m also, at least in theory, a guy who’s trying to live his life and going heaven and stuff — and, if I make it to heaven, then I’ll be a saint.  So, it was really a way to talk about the fact that, yes, I’m a sinner but a sinner who ideally still gets to heaven and is trying to become a saint. So, that’s actually where the idea came from. One day I was just like “Oh, let’s do that.”

JWK: So, I guess the idea is that everybody can be a saint.

LR: That’s not my idea. That’s the Catholic Church’s idea. Everybody is called to become a saint. Not everybody’s gonna be canonized by the Church…The only thing about being canonized is you’re already dead so you don’t even get to go to the party. So, I want to get canonized now and enjoy the perks of becoming a saint.

JWK: I’m sure you’ve been following the whole controversy over Pope Francis‘ conciliatory tone toward atheists — saying that they too are covered by God’s limitless mercy.

LR: I don’t think he said anything new. And I don’t mean that as a negative. Popes don’t typically just come up with new theology. It’s the way that each pope sort of presents and talks to people that is usually the groundbreaking part. I read it in Italian. I haven’t really read the English translations. Maybe I missed some things, you know, but my real take away from it all is its great. Some atheist has a bunch of questions and the Pope’s basically just saying we’ve got to have dialogue. We’ve got to be talking and what I like most — (as I understand what the Pope said) — is just because we have absolute truth that can’t be what shuts the door on conversation.  I love this pope. I mean I absolutely love the guy. He’s hitting the right notes. Quite frankly, to be fair to Benedict, if Benedict had written it people would be just like “Who cares?” People love Francis so they want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Me too.

JWK: Getting back to the book, I understand that you would like to be the patron saint of kissing.

LR: That’s correct.

JWK: Why kissing? Did you consider any other things that you might want to be named patron saint of? Was kissing your only choice?

LR: Well, you know, the thing is if you’re going to be a patron saint of something you don’t want to have any competition. If I was to say, well, because of (my background in) media I want to be the patron saint of media, well, now I’ve got competition because I’m competing up against St. Gabriel. I can’t beat an angel! Maybe one day Archbishop Fulton Sheen — because he had a TV show back in the day — maybe he’s gonna be an Emmy Award-winner who (becomes) the patron saint of television.  Again, well, I’m an Emmy Award winner but I don’t to compete with him because he’ll win. He was holier than me. So, I wanted to go after something that nobody was thinking of, that there’s no competition. I don’t know any saint who wanted to be the patron saint of kissing.

I (chose kissing) for two reasons. One, I think it might drum up a little business in the kissing department because now some girls are gonna wanna say “Oh, is this guy real? Let’s see if he’s a good kisser or not!”

JWK: Good strategy.

LR: But the second thing is the whole thing about saints is we always think of saints as these monks or nuns or popes or priests from centuries ago who were celibate or lived very quiet lives. Maybe we don’t know a lot about a lot them but what I’m saying is the saints of the 21st century are gonna be regular people — people who’ve kissed other people. They’re gonna be married people. We’ve got some married saints but, you know, it’s a human thing. It’s part of who we are. I hate to use the words “tongue in cheek” when talking about kissing but it’s a little tongue in cheek, I’ll admit.

JWK: You write in the book about being a great fan of Johnny Carson while growing up and David Letterman now. Do you have any ambition to move into that arena yourself? You could be the patron saint of late-night television.

LR: You know what’s weird about me? Well, there are a lot of things that are weird about me — but people who I admire I don’t necessarily want to be. So, in other words, I love Dave Letterman. I think he’s the greatest. I love late-night television but I’ve never really thought “Oh, I should do that for a living.” Now, maybe I should. I would probably love to — but I’ve never really thought about becoming a late-night host. I just love late-night TV. I love John Paul II. I never thought about becoming pope. I never thought about becoming Polish…It’s strange but sometimes the people I love and admire I don’t necessarily want to follow in their footsteps.  Now, with that said, of course, if somebody wants to give me a late-night TV show, I’m all ears! I’m ready to go! Let’s do it!

JWK: Are you still making occasional appearances on Howard Stern‘s show?

LR: You know, a couple of years ago (in) my first book, Sinner, I had a chapter in their all about Howard Stern. So, naturally, my name was mentioned here and there on the show and on other shows as well. You know I don’t think I have. I haven’t since…and that’s probably a safe thing. That’s a good thing.

JWK: As someone who does comedy yourself — much of it about living a faith which you obviously take seriously — do you find it hard to draw that line between about having a healthy sense of humor about it all and crossing that line where maybe things can be inappropriate?  Where’s the sweet spot between relaxing and not being overly uptight about things and avoiding any sense of actual disrespect?

LR: You know, I think that’s a great question that I don’t have an answer to. But what I try to do — and I was doing this before Pope Francis encouraged us to — (is follow the call of) Pope Francis (who) for the past six months has been telling folks to quit being safe, quit always doing the same old thing. Take risks! Risks that might fail! But take a risk! That’s what I do. Anybody who’s ever tried to crack a joke — whether because they’re paid or because they’re just with family or friends — (knows) any time you crack a joke you know you’re basically taking a risk — unless it’s the most safe, boring joke in history.

No matter what you do, you’re kind of taking a risk. That’s understood and I’m gonna cross the line sometimes — not because I’m trying to offend or intentionally cross the line but because in order for the Church to reach out — and we’re gonna reach out in new ways and different ways and creative ways — sometimes those creative ways are gonna be wildly successful and sometimes they’re gonna completely fail but you can’t just sit around and be focused on self and never want to take a risk and always want to be safe…You’ll never have success if you just do things the they’ve always been done. The safe way is never the way to real success.

JWK: What are key attributes of sainthood? What makes a person a saint?

LR: Well, according to the Church, one of the key attributes of sainthood is death. You have to die first. So, I’ll agree already (that) I might not have all the attributes that usually that the Church looks for when canonizing somebody because I’m supposed to be dead already.

But the next one is real holiness. Now, my thinking here is this, how do we define “holiness”? If we define holiness as people who spend six, eight, ten hours a day praying (and) fasting, that’s great — but ask the average married person or ask the average high school kid if that’s their life and they’re gonna say “Well, no.” Anybody who’s got a job that’s sometimes working seven, eight or nine hours a day (or) a kid that’s in school, they’re like “Oh, I wouldn’t have time to pray six a day. If that’s holiness, well, I’m stuck. I’m screwed. I’ll never become holy, right?” But, in fact, that’s not what the Church says about holiness. The Church says we’re all called to holiness right where we are — which means we’re called to become saints right where we are. It’s not a fake, sanctimonious, rigid piety that makes a saint. It’s truly living the way God created us to live — and that’s with joy and with faith and with hope and with love and with all these other virtues. That’s what God is asking us to do. That’s what holiness is. So, of course, anybody who would really love to become a saint can never aspire to be a role model and a real canonized saint — because anybody who does that is an ego maniac. Like, you know, me.

JWK: Which saint do you personally admire? Which one saint would come to mind?

LR: You know, the one I write most about in the book is John Paul II.

JWK: But he’s not canonized yet.

LR: He’s not but he’s Blessed John Paul II which means he’s in heaven…and it’s been announced that he’s gonna be canonized. They just haven’t announced the date yet.  So, he is going to be canonized but, anyway, I say John Paul II in some ways because I knew him. And when I say “I knew him” it was not like we were pen pals and talking on the phone every day but I got to meet him (and) I saw him hundreds of times. You could relate to him. Again, (I’m not) from Poland. I didn’t live in Communist Poland during World War II. So, it’s not like we have that much in common. But the Pope had sunglasses, the Pope had an iPod, the Pope watched TV and the Pope was obviously on TV. The Pope liked swimming. He was just a regular guy who, of course, was extremely holy and was a mystic and was  completely devoted to God. But that’s a saint I can relate to. I happen to not be able to relate to some great saints who might be doctors of the Church who might have been living the 17 or 16 hundreds, whatever. They might be great people but, I don’t know, did they like the Foo Fighters? Did they like Dave Letterman?  Did they like anything I like? Did they like pizza? John Paul II liked pizza. That’s a saint I can relate to.

JWK: The Patron Saint of Pizza.

LR: Exactly.

JWK: One of the biggest surprises to me in the book is the fact that you’re a rap fan.

LR: Oh, I love rap!

JWK: Where does that come from?

LR: I don’t know where it came from. You know when rap really started breaking out in the late eighties, I would say, I was in high school. I was just mostly into rock — Guns N’ Roses, some Metallica, Van Halen, Motley Crüe, that kind of thing and then the Beastie Boys really broke it for me. Once the Beastie Boys hit, I was like “That’s cool!” And then the Beastie Boys sort of turned me on to Public Enemy and some other rap and then I started to get a little more into N.W.A. and stuff like that. What I loved about rap — and it’s a little bit more difficult now because rap is so mainstream — (is) it was out on the fringe. That’s what I loved. Rock was certainly, of course, counter-cultural in the fifties…but rap was almost something like something like you were a real outsider if you were into rap because, back in the day when MTV used to play videos,  rap wasn’t in heavy rotation. They had to have a show called Yo! MTV Raps just to have rap music being played. It was controversial. It was outsiders and I always felt like I’m an outsider as well.

JWK: I’m not saying all the stuff — and I’m not suggesting it’s the stuff you like — but, let’s face it, some rap has been criticized for being very anti-woman and violent. What are your thoughts on that?

LR: It’s tough to answer that. Am I for that? No. I loved the movie Goodfellas, does that mean I approve of gang violence? I know some people who would say then you can’t like the movie Goodfellas (without) supporting murder. And I’m like “Well, no, I just like that movie.” Yes, people do get killed in it. I do like rap. I like the rhythm. I like the rhyme. Obviously, like all things in life, there are very few things that I can say I like 100%. I’m a Catholic. Is there any politician on Earth that I’ve ever voted for that I’m like “I behind this man or woman 100%”? Well, no. That’s never really our situation in life. I love Dave Letterman but when he makes a joke about the Holy Father do I like it? No. But I’ve got friends who say things that I don’t like and they still remain my friends. So, yeah, rap does have violent lyrics. I mean the Beastie Boys (not so much), Public Enemy, maybe a little. N.W.A. definitely had some horrible things to say but that’s not why I liked them. I liked them in spite of that.

JWK: And you also reveal that you cried while watching The Notebook.

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LR: I’m a very evolved guy, John. I’m a guy who likes N.W.A. and yet I cry at the movie The Notebook.

JWK: You were on a plane when you cried.

LR: Absolutely. I’ve seen The Notebook (more than once). As it turns out I’ve cried during  at The Notebook even outside of airline travel. I loved the movie  Love Actually. What a romantic comedy! That’s a fantastic movie as well.

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JWK: Saint is dedicated to your mother.

LR: Yes.

JWK: Was your first book dedicated to your father?

LR: The first book wasn’t dedicated to anybody. If it was dedicated, it was dedicated to me.

JWK: I won’t ask you who your third book will be dedicated to — but do you have any themes bubbling to the surface?

LR: You know, you gotta love the society that we live in. We live in such a crazy world that when I wrote my first book, two years ago it came out, and everybody said “Well, what’s your second book going to be?” Now the second book just came out and people are saying “What’s the third book?” It’s not you. Everybody does the same thing.

JWK: It’s like when’s the next iPhone coming out?

LR: We never allow people to live in the moment. We always have to look to the next thing or reflect on the last thing. I really am a guy who’s trying to live as much as I can in the moment.

JWK:  So, how is the moment? How is the book doing?

LR: It’s doing really well. It’s always  a tough question to answer because, if you say it’s doing well, you’re bragging. And, if you’re failing, it’s embarrassing.

JWK:  How would you compare the satisfaction of writing a successful book with the satisfaction of hosting a successful radio show?

LR: You know, the big thing is radio is obviously a very temporary thing. I do a great radio show and once it’s done it’s done and tomorrow I gotta start all over again. The one thing that I got excited about by writing a book was that it’s something that’s a little bit more permanent…(When) I talk every day on the air…people are living their lives. They’re not listening to (every word I say). They’re driving the car. They may miss stuff. (With a book) I can really think about what I wanna say and leave people with something. So, I love radio. I love TV. But that’s been something that’s been very satisfying with the book — the fact that somebody could read something slowly, think about what I’m saying and go back and read it again. Of course, that’s something you can never do (with) a radio show.

JWK:  Both with the radio show and with the book, you reveal a lot about yourself. Do you ever wrestle with how much to reveal? Is that a challenge — particularly writing it all out?

LR:  You know, it’s not difficult when you write. It’s difficult when people read it. That’s the big difference. When you’re writing it you’re still sitting at home or wherever I write my books. It’s not difficult to reveal — there’s more I’d want to reveal if I could but there’s still always the (need) to hold back a little bit type of thing. It’s different to have so many people know so much about me that perhaps nobody knew until I revealed (them) in the books. Maybe only one person knew. Maybe only I knew.  It’s weird. I guess one of the reasons I do what I do — whether on radio or in a book — is to try to be a little honest and be a little bit more revealing…The reason I do it is because I hope it encourages others to be honest. That’s really all I’m doing is being honest…It’s bizarre. But sometimes we don’t even know ourselves. We don’t even realize what we’re up to…(Through) my words I’m revealing something that you may find out about yourself (like) “Oh, I didn’t think of it that way.” It’s tough but it’s not tough. It’s funny and, in some ways, it’s not funny because people know so much about me now. I do hope…it challenges you in a way that other (things) haven’t really challenged you before which is to be completely honest about stuff regarding like, God.

JWK: Totally ignoring your earlier point about living in the moment, here’s my typical last question. What’s next?

LR:  Lunch. I have a meeting and then I’ve got lunch. That’s what I’ve got next…A lot of people make plans in life. I’ve never been a guy who makes plans primarily because, well, I do have a fear of commitment and I’m afraid if I commit to one thing then I’m missing out on something else. But the other thing is because I never know what’s going to happen….With faith, a lot of times if you have a little bit of faith and you kind of trust in God, the adventure of faith and seeing where God leads us is ten times more entertaining than anything I could come up with by myself. So, I don’t try to make a lot of plans…because a year ago, when we started talking and my publisher came to me and asked if I’d write another book, the truth is I didn’t know what I was gonna write about. It’s not that I’m holy and perfect but (I was like) “Alright, well let’s see where that goes” because I don’t always know and what I found for most of my life and my career is that half the times when I plan what I’m gonna do it never happens anyway. There’s that line “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” So, with me I really sorta say “Well, geez, I don’t know what’s next.” And I guess that’s good because if I spent time preparing a two-year plan, a five-year plan and whatever, I know some people do that and perhaps it’s a smart thing to do, but I always find there’s no reason for me to do it. It’s more fun to see what God’s got in store for me next.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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