PETE: In your latest book, The Feasts, you point out that the Church calendar of feasts is a sort of living catechism of our faith. How much have the feasts played in your own faith journey as priest, bishop and now cardinal?
CARDINAL WUERL: I couldn’t begin to calculate the degree of influence the calendar has had on my life. Every year, since I was an infant, I’ve reviewed and meditated upon the life of Jesus Christ, simply by living in a Christian family. Through the wonder of Christmas I learned the incarnation. Through the splendor of Easter I learned the Resurrection. Over decades I have been able to ponder the mysteries more deeply by marking the customs with my neighbors. Our tradition gives us a way to grow in holiness and knowledge just by paying attention to the date on the calendar.
PETE: This is the third in a series of books, similarly titled, that you’ve written with Mike Aquilina: The Mass, The Church, and now The Feasts. Is the arrangement intentional?
CARDINAL WUERL: The arrangement is indeed intentional. The books focus on three fundamental ways the Church passes on the tradition received from the Apostles.
The primary way is through the liturgy, especially the Mass. At every Sunday Mass we review basic doctrine when we recite the creed; we listen to four readings from Sacred Scripture; we listen to a homily that interprets the Scripture and supplies us with practical spiritual advice; and we offer prayers that Catholics have prayed since the first century. The Mass is not a CCD class, but we can’t deny that it’s one of the chief ways we’re educated in the faith.
In a similar way, our churches are constructed to teach us the saving truths. They do this through representational art, like the Stations of the Cross, but also through the very shape of the building. Our buildings, like our ritual, serve as our tutors in the faith.
Finally, there are the feasts of the Church’s calendar. At the beginning of our book we quote a rabbi who said that the calendar is like a catechism. I couldn’t agree more. As I said a moment ago, when we celebrate Christmas, we are — effortlessly — reviewing our doctrine of the incarnation of the Son of God. When we celebrate the saints, we are schooling ourselves about our own salvation.
PETE: Are there plans for more books in this series?
CARDINAL WUERL: We conceived the series as a trilogy. But I’m always willing to be surprised by movements of the Spirit.
PETE: I saw a recent study that showed some 70% of Catholics between 18 and 44 felt attending weekly Mass was not necessary. Can a better understanding of the Mass and the feasts of the Church help resolve this and how can your books aid in that?
CARDINAL WUERL: It’s sad that so many people are not fulfilling their obligations as Catholics. But it’s much sadder that they’re denying themselves the joy that comes with communion, with celebration, and with contemplation of Jesus. He has good news for them; but they’re limiting themselves to the bad news they get in the papers, on TV, and on the Web. In my books I try to remind readers of the joys and gifts that come with the ordinary life of ordinary Catholics.
PETE: With your undoubtedly busy schedule as a Cardinal of the Church, how do you find time to write?
CARDINAL WUERL: When I was a young man I served as Rome correspondent for a U.S. newspaper. I produced a fair share of copy. In my several decades as a priest, I’ve prepared thousands of homilies. As a graduate student and as a young academic, I wrote still more, for theological journals and popular magazines. In more than twenty years as a bishop, I’ve produced a number of pastoral letters. And for 18 years I had the joy of doing a weekly television program, the transcripts of which are now part of my electronic library. At this stage of my life, I’m often adapting, updating, and improving material I wrote long ago. One of the beautiful things about the Catholic faith is that its essential doctrine never changes. It helps, too, to have a co-author, like Mike Aquilina, who is an old friend, who shares my interests, who enjoys the task of pulling all of this material together and who brings his own gifts, knowledge and experience to the task.
CARDINAL WUERL: I hope people will discover or rediscover the joy of being Catholic — the profound beauty, the rich history, and the treasures of culture, music, and art. My greatest hope is that, through all of these things, people encounter Jesus Christ, love him, and glorify him through their lives.
PETE: I have not asked you this lately so, time for signature ending question. This is a blog about books. What is currently on your bookshelf to read?
CARDINAL WUERL: As you might suspect, since I am preparing to go to Rome to participate in the Synod on the Family with the theme, “The Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization,” I would be doing some very topic specific reading. Among the books stacked on my desk to be read in the next weeks include The Meaning of Marriage Family, State, Market, and Morals, a volume edited by Robert T. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain. This volume is a collection of thought-provoking articles touching on family, marriage and our current culture. Another helpful work is The Church of Mercy: A Vision for the Church. This book is a collection of statements by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, woven together and published by Loyola Press. It gives insight into the mind and heart of Pope Francis.
Another heavier work is the Summer 2014 issue of Communio: International Catholic Review entitled, Marriage: Theological and Pastor Considerations.
With those more concentrated works there are a couple of other volumes that I would recommend, including Special Heart: A Journey of Faith, Hope, Courage and Love by Bret Baier, the Fox News Anchor, who beautifully tells the story of his son’s struggle with congenital heart disease and the renewal of faith. Another very handy volume always within reach is A Year with the Church Fathers: Patristic Wisdom for Daily Living by Mike Aquilina and published by Saint Benedict Press. Here, you can find for each day a meditation on some aspect of Christian living in the light of the wisdom of the Church Fathers. Finally, I have pulled off the bookshelf and have ready for light reading when I have to travel an old friend, Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather’s classic on the life of Bishop Lamy. I think I read this book once every couple years. It is just that good a read with a wonderful message.
Other books by this author: