I struggle a lot with my faith life. Many people think that I am somehow better or holier because I work for the Church. Correction: I am not. If anything, being so closely connected to the inner workings of my sort-of parish makes me more aware of how much of a mess I am (and how much work and money it takes to run the place). As I write this review, I am barely through breakfast and have already been reminded by God that he does not make my life stressful. My choices do. It’s my choice to return to him and stay faithful to him that makes all the difference.
Persistent faithfulness is the underlying theme of the recent book by Lino Rulli, the Catholic Guy from Sirius XM satellite radio’s Catholic Channel. Its full title is Sinner: The Catholic Guy’s Funny, Feeble Attempts to Be a Faithful Catholic. I’m not that funny, but I am feeble, so I can relate. In the grand tradition of St. Augustine, Rulli offers stories from his spiritual journey, some of which put him in a decidedly negative light. It’s our bad choices, truly and unfortunately, that build our character and inspire the good choices that follow. In this holiest of weeks, as we approach the joy of Easter, we walk toward our personal Calvary with sorrow, but also in the hope of the Resurrection. As we read along with Rulli’s faith journey, we share a companion on that road.
Rulli’s book does not read like a traditional memoir. For one, it’s much funnier. I found myself reading very quickly and throwing my head back to laugh as I went. Rulli describes the time he met a very nice Thai prostitute and managed to avoid temptation. He didn’t covert her away from sin. He didn’t even have a particularly wrenching struggle. He simply encountered an opportunity to fall away from God and intentionally did not fall away. St. Christopher may have been a devil worshipper before his conversion. Most of us ordinary 21-st century Catholics face sin more like a Lino Rulli than a St. Christopher. It is comforting to know that there are other regular Catholics dealing with regular problems and choosing God each day.
In between moments of hilarity in Sinner, though, come bits of spiritual meatiness. Three of the brief chapters describe Rulli’s “Adventures in Confession.” He notes that many Catholic writers make reference to confession, but few ever actually describe how to do it. So he does. It’s not exactly how I go, but it’s a pretty good approximation, and I had to cobble my habits together from years of awkwardness and good advice. (My top tip: Start listing your sins with “the big one.” It’ll all be downhill from there!) By describing his utter failures, he introduces the casual reader to the theology of the body and developing a rule of life. He admits to many sins, but recognizing that you have a problem is the first step toward solving it.
Explaining the title, Rulli says that he knew if he ever wrote a book about his life, he’d probably call it Sinner. He knew it was the right title when not a single person he told about it disagreed with him. The truth is that Sinner ought to be the title of all our life stories. We are all sinners, and by the grace of God, that debt has been repaid by the saving Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. By sharing pivotal moments from his life, Rulli shows us that although we are sinners, there is grace in stumbling along toward God. I wish you a blessed Easter. May God remind you of his love for you as exactly the huge mess you are.
Next time: The Thrill of the Chaste, a memoir by Dawn Eden reflecting on the theology of the body
This review was written as part of the Tiber River Reviewer Program. I received a free copy of the book in exchange for this honest review of it. For more reviews of Catholic books, visit Tiber River. To purchase Catholic products of all kinds (not just books), visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.