Program #0127 for Friday, September 2, 2011: Lino Rulli

September 2, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry, Fr. Mark O’Connell, and Fr. Chip Hines

Today’s guest(s): Lino Rulli, author of “Sinner” and host of “The Catholic Guy”

(Paperback and Kindle versions, respectively)

Today’s topics: Lino Rulli, the king of all Catholic media

Summary of today’s show: Scot, Fr. Mark, and Fr. Chip were joined by Lino Rulli, author of the new book “Sinner” and host of “The Catholic Guy” radio show on SiriusXM satellite radio and talked about the honesty that makes Lino’s presentation of the faith so attractive and just generally laughed for a whole hour together.

1st segment: Scot welcomed Fr. Mark and Fr. Chip back to the show. He noted that Fr. Chip has been following Lino on SiriusXM satellite radio for some time.

Scot said he’s been giving presentations at St. John’s Seminary over the past few days on human virtues and has been reading Sinner for the past several days at the same time.

He welcomed Lino to the show. Lino said he loves Boston even though he’s from Minnesota and lives in New York. He loves the vibe and personality and even the accent. He talked about going to Mass yesterday and running into a guy after who said he used to watch his TV show on CatholicTV and who wanted to talk to him about his problems with the Catholic Church.

Scot noted that Archbishop Tim Dolan of New York wrote the foreword to the book and who praised the book for its honesty and humor and boldness. He said “Sinner is a winner.” Scot asked him why he named it “Sinner.” Lino said that when great spiritual leaders write something, they’re so profound and inspirational, but Lino is just a regular who knows the Church has it all figured. He called it Sinner so he could come right out and be honest about who he is right up front, get it out of the way, and then talk about God.

Scot asked if titling it Sinner makes it accessible to people who haven’t read a book about Catholicism. Lino said he named it that to disarm people. Lino said even Howard Stern’s producer enjoyed the book even though he says of himself that he doesn’t believe in God.

Fr. Chip said Lino wrote three chapters about confession and asked if he’s making confession cool again. Lino said he’s annoyed so many of us went through the 70s, 80s, 90s, and today without talking about the beauty of the sacrament of reconciliation. “We’re offering this beautiful sacrament of reconciliation with God from 3:45 to 4 on Saturday.” In a 10,000-person parish?! How is this not one of the top 3 things you bring up as a Catholic?

He told Fr. Chip he’s putting him in the confessional box on Saturday. Fr. Chip said he’s happy to be there.

Scot said the third chapter is the impactful for him, that knowing that if Lino can bring this sense of humor to it, then people will be more open to it.

He asked how the Catholic Guy Show came about. Lino said he started on TV in 1997 with a small show called Generation Cross that started in Minnesota and then spread to other Catholic channels around the country. He also worked in local Minneapolis TV at the same time. Then he got offered a half-hour radio show called Lino at Large and he decided to try it out. It aired in a bunch of markets around the country for two years until one of the main providers told him he was being let go because younger people listen to Lino and they had an older audience. The guy told him that old people give money and young people didn’t which was strange from a Catholic network that purported to be about evangelization.

Lino said that left him mad at God and a bit annoyed and frustrated. The sad thing about Catholic clichés is that they’re true and when a window closes, God opens a new one. A little while later, he heard that Sirius was starting a Catholic channel and was asked if he’d be interested. One of the themes of his book is how he’s constantly getting his way and thus getting in God’s way of what he wants for him.

Lino said t he beauty of SiriusXM is that it’s a collaboration with the Archdiocese of New York. SiriusXM isn’t concerned with orthodoxy, but are concerned with the quality. It’s Archbishop Dolan who’s concerned that Lino isn’t a heretic. The Archbishop sets the limits on what he can do as a Catholic radio host, and within that he’s got freedom.

Scot asked him what he likes about radio versus TV. Lino said TV has the lights and makeup and production, but what’s he found with radio is that it’s more honest. He would never have written a book called Sinner and been honest if he hadn’t been on radio. He can’t be on air for three hours a day, five days a week without being honest about who he really is. We prefer to show everyone what a good, pious Catholic we are, even if we aren’t. On TV, you can re-shoot or do over, but on the radio it’s live and you expose all your flaws to everyone. It’s just like how we are before God in confession.

2nd segment: Scot said Lino was a a fan of media and comedy growing up in Minnesota. Yet when people didn’t have a vision for Catholic TV for young people, he decided to produce one on secular TV.

Lino said he wishes he really did have a plan to integrate his faith, media, and comedy for his life. Lino said he wrote the book for the guy he was 20 years. He loved TV, radio and all media, so he went to college for communications. He got an internship at a local NBC affiliate and got serious about his faith at the same time. He started to think that a good Catholic shouldn’t work in media. He doesn’t know where he got such an idea.

He went for a Master’s in theology, but God hounded him. He was living in Italy and came home for a friend’s wedding, and was going to stay in Minnesota for a month doing some temp work. He kept getting job offers in media for various Church organizations. One day someone literally said he should do a TV show for people his age at the time (26) and they offered to pay him for it. Scot asked him how it turned up on a network affiliate. Lino said it was an easy pitch and even though people said no one would watch it, that no young people would be interested in a Catholic TV show, it won two Emmys.

Lino said it was like World Youth Day. On the face of it, it shouldn’t work: millions of people in ridiculous conditions, camping out to see the pope, yet it works.

Scot noted that the production values of the show were high and higher than we were used to seeing in the Church at the time. Lino said it’s strange that for centuries the Church was a patron of the arts. The Church tells us to create beautiful art and use all our gifts and talents and all the finest resources and materials. This is what we are called and need to be using in the 21st century. One of the reasons it worked was that he was working for the Food Network at the time and they sent him to Italy and they spent an extra week there shooting for his show on the Food Network’s dime.

Fr. Mark asked him when he knew it was working and a success. Lino said, “Today.” He said he knows it’s working when he’s goes into a bar and a girl walks up to him and says, “Lino, I love your show even though I was raised Catholic and don’t go to Church anymore.” We’re not called to convert people by the sword, but to invite and show through how we live our Catholicism that it makes our lives wonderful. It’s attractive enough that we don’t have to invite people, they invite themselves. They want what you have in your life.

It’s not necessarily that they come back to faith—that’s between them and God. That’s when he went from experiment to success, when people came up to him and said they enjoy the show. If they say they’re not coming back to the Church, he tells them that’s between them and God.

Scot said we have a culture that wants people of faith to privatize it and not share it, so young people probably don’t have a lot of peers talking about their faith. Then there’s Lino’s show which shares faith and now people hear Lino’s voice and want to share their faith with him. Lino said part of the honesty of his show and he gets uncomfortable when people share too much that’s too personal. He also doesn’t want to be a role model for sinners with his own failings, but to show them that God will pull them through the tough times. He tells people to end with the good part, don’t just tell the sinning part. If Lino can admit his lust and envy and other sins, then others can do so in confession.

Lino said he sent copies of a chapter on prayer and discerning God’s will to his closest friends who happen to work for Howard Stern and their response was to ask him, “Do you pray?” They simply don’t know other people who pray. This Lino guy that they hang out with and go to the bar with and eat out with actually prays. This fascinated them and they asked him all kinds of questions and details about it. People aren’t used to seeing normal people who pray.

Scot asked whether it was more difficult to write the book honestly than it is to be honest on the air. Lino said on the air he talks and talks and then goes home without necessarily thinking about who’s listening. But with a book he intentionally writes about things to be honest about and then has to see people reading the book and talking about what he revealed.

Fr. Chip loved the chapter about the girl that Lino had wanted to marry but it didn’t work out. Scot asked Lino if he really calls his mother every night at the same time. He said she’s impressed that he calls her every day at 9:55pm. He said he doesn’t have a devotion to the Virgin Mary that he should so at least he has a devotion to his own mom and working up to it.

Fr. Chip said in the book his relationship with his dad is different. He and his dad have a different dynamic. When Lino was in junior high, his dad went from being a parole officer to being an organ grinder and wanting Lino to be the monkey. Lino said we call God our Father, but maybe in our families we don’t have the appreciation of our own fathers that we should.

Scot asked him if his parents listen every day? Lino said they do, but they don’t bring up what he talks about on the show. He said the rule is that this is what he does for a living and he’s doing his job. Fr. Chip said his mom is on the show all the time and it’s great radio.

3rd segment: Scot said one of his favorite chapters is about when Lino met the pope. Lino said every Italian family has to have a cousin who’s a priest. Lino said he’s got a cousin who’s an archbishop and back in 1999 he got a chance to meet Pope John Paul II. Scot said he’s met him twice and Lino asked if Scot’s Italian, one-upping him.

Lino said it’s a cliché to say he’s very holy, but it’s true. Lino said he froze, which is what everyone says. Fr. Mark and Scot agreed that it happened to them to. Scot told the story of the times he met the Pope. The first time he could only reply, Yes, but the second time, with his brother, they wished him happy birthday on behalf of the entire United States and then asked him to pray for their Great-Aunt Gert, which he did at that moment.

Lino said he’s now been on-upped by Scot. Almost everyone has a better story of meeting the Pope. When he met the Pope, his big nose got in the way and he didn’t get to kiss the Fisherman’s Ring. Fr. Mark said he Eskimo’d him.

Fr. Chip said in the book that Lino wrote about asking a monk about whether he should enter the monastery, but the prior turned him away because he thought Lino would later walk away. Lino still wonders if that was the right thing, whether he might have matured as monk and would have stuck with it.

Fr. Chip said he’s always thought Lino might have been heading to the priesthood and he’s glad he’s at least seriously thought about it. Lino said for better or worse if he’d asked that question today to a different religious order they might have been more encouraging and asked him to try it out. Now he’s a neurotic mess and set in his ways so maybe it wouldn’t work today.

Scot said reflecting on his life there are events that don’t make sense until you see it in retrospect many years later. Lino said it’s possible that was God’s decision with the Holy Spirit guiding the prior to say No. It could also be God making good from a bad decision by the prior.

Scot asked Lino what some of the things he emphasizes about Catholicism for people who want to talk about it. Lino said he speaks honestly about all that is good and bad in the Church. It’s not easy being Catholic, there are plenty of days it’s tough. We all know the stereotypes and it’s not true. He just says what he loves about being Catholic and if they have a different experience, he respects that, but it doesn’t change what he’s doing. The more he emphasizes the positive, the more it’s attractive. Being Catholic is funny and entertaining. He doesn’t focus on the “rules” of Catholicism or the “bad” of Catholicism that people think about it. He focuses on the good. If you focus on the positive, without ignoring the negative, it’s healthy.

Scot asked how Lino has changed the focus of what he does over the years as his audience has matured with him. Lino said now he’s 39, he’s not a young adult anymore, but a lot of his heroes in the media who are older are still funny and entertaining and attract people of all ages. But he’s also aware he has to be able to step aside and let young people take over the task of talking to other young people someday.

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