When was the last time you shared a Catholic book on faith, virtues, apologetics and evangelization with a teen or young adult in your life? If you’re drawing a blank or laughing out loud at the concept, you obviously haven’t had the good fortune to read Sinner: The Catholic Guy’s Funny, Feeble Attempts to Be a Faithful Catholic by radio host, national speaker and all around great guy Lino Rulli. Along with lots of other Catholics around the country, I’ve been a Lino fan for the last several years since I discovered his “Catholic Guy” show on Sirius XM’s The Catholic Channel. I learned early on in listening to Lino that although his brand of “new evangelization” can be edgy at times, the show struck a chord with my sons and provided some great fodder for conversation about topics related to the faith. While I’d never admit it to my parish staff (oops, I’m doing that here), I suspect my seventeen year old Adam has learned as much catechetical information from Lino as he has from attending Confirmation classes.
Listeners to Lino’s show over the past year have followed his path to writing and publication of Sinner and it’s absolutely no surprise to me that this book is topping the Catholic best seller list. This is a book you’ll not only enjoy quickly and repeatedly, it’s also a great resource to share with others. The day I read Lino’s book, I took turns sharing it with Adam, both of us laughing out loud but also drawing inspiration from Lino’s memoir. The book is a page turner — and I couldn’t help hearing Lino’s voice in my head as I read it. For those who truly want to hear Lino’s voice as they enjoy the book, it’s available in audio book format as well.
I’m happy to share my recent conversation with Lino and to give two big Catholic Mom thumbs up to Sinner.
Q: Lino congratulations on the great launch of your new book Sinner . For our readers who have not yet has the pleasure of meeting you in person (as I’ve been lucky enough to do!), would you please briefly introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your family background?
A: Thanks, Lisa! Yes, you’re very, very lucky you’ve been able to meet me in person. Its something I’m sure you thank God for every day. I’ve been told that the experience of meeting me is somewhere between giving birth and washing floors.
Anyway, my full name is Angelo Gino Armando Rulli. Surprisingly, with a name like that, I’m not German. I’m actually Italian; Italian-American, to be specific. Born and raised in the hotbed of Italian American Catholicism: Saint Paul, Minnesota. I’m an only child – which probably explains a lot about my career – with family split between Minnesota and Italy. I lived in Minnesota until I was 23. Then moved to the Bahamas, then Italy, then back to Minnesota, where I worked in television for 8 years. I moved to New York to host The Catholic Guy on SiriusXM five years ago.
Q: Sinner seems like a natural evolution on your path to reaching out to everyday Catholics in extraordinary ways. Tell us a bit about what prompted you to write this book at this time in your life, and what readers will find when they dive into Sinner ?
A: Why did I write the book at this time in my life? Well, I’d always wanted to write a book before I turned 30. Unfortunately, I’m horrible with math and was off by 10 years. So I’m writing a book before I turned 40.
To be honest, this might not sound so humble (which has never stopped me before), but I was lucky enough to have publishers come after me the last couple of years asking me to write a book. Well, ask any girls I’ve dated, and they’ll tell you: I have very little willpower. The publishers wore me down.
And at my core, the idea of writing a book really scared me. So when I’m scared, like most things in my life, I look to the words of John Paul II – and well, Jesus before him – to “Be Not Afraid”…it makes me do some crazy things, like write a book. And trust in God.
What I hope people find in this book is honesty. The type of honesty they don’t often see in Catholic books. My failures, my inner thoughts, my sins, and my struggles. There are times I think it’d be easier to just give up the whole Catholic thing. But I won’t do that. So I’m a sinner who is halfheartedly trying to become a saint. I’m hoping people see a little bit of themselves in what I write.
Q: I’m a huge fan of your radio show, The Catholic Guy on Sirius XM’s The Catholic Channel — I thank you on behalf of moms of teenage sons everywhere for making Catholic radio that is cool and teen friendly! But I’m curious about how it was to go from the fast pace and immediacy of the radio format to the rather plodding pace of book publishing? Was the book process all that you expected it to be and did you have many knock down drag out fights with your editor over content and style?
A: Thanks for your compliments on the show. Of course, now that a mom has called my show “cool”, any credibility it had of being a cool show has flown completely out the window. I now feel like we’re in a Sunny Delight commercial where mom is trying to convince the kids how cool it is to drink orange juice and be healthy!
Seriously, I do appreciate that you enjoy the show so much. As for the immediacy of radio versus the slow process of writing a book: Because of the way tv works, I’m used to the slow process of writing scripts, re-writing scripts, editing, and so on. And actually, what I really enjoyed about writing a book is that I was able to articulate what it is I really want to say. Doing a 3 hour radio show, 5 days a week, means I’m talking for 15 hours a week! You can’t write 15 hours of script a week, so I leave the show every day thinking to myself “I should have said this better” or “I could have done this better.” So it was nice to be able to have the luxury to change a joke here. Add some theological substance there. And let the reader know what I really wanted to say.
And believe it or not, there were no knock down drag out fights! I think, to be honest, the folks at Servant Books kinda knew what they were getting when they signed me to a book deal. So they were nice enough, and legally bound, to let me have fun and do my thing. Certainly I took their advice on cutting or adding some content, and I was happy to have an experienced editor helping me out. I might be dumb, but not dumb enough to ignore experts.
Q: Readers of this book and listeners to your show are treated to a lot of your “human” moments and meet a man who is spiritual and yet also human like the rest of us. Why the conscious decision to air your less than saintly side in public and what do you hope readers will take away from their experience of reading your book?
A: I’ve heard pious reflections on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I’ve read Scriptural exegesis on why to go to confession. I’ve heard syrupy comments like “We’re all sinners”. But the truth is? That’s why so few people go to confession.
Here’s what I think: Going to confession sucks. I mean, leaving is the greatest feeling. I like being absolved. But I hate standing in line. I hate saying all the dirtiest, most embarrassing, saddest parts of my life to someone out loud. That makes sense, right? Well, that’s the real confessional experience for me. And I love it, because I love being forgiven.
Plus, I wonder what everyone else is confessing. You know how when you’re in jail…well, maybe you don’t, but I’ve been in jail – read about it in Sinner ! – and you ask someone “What you in for?” Well, I wish I could do that in confession. Sorry, but I want to know if people going to confession are confessing sins like “I was distracted at Mass one time” and “I said ‘darn’ when stubbing my toe.” Or are they like me? Sex, jealousy, anger, and so on. What are you confessing, Lisa? That’s what I want to know. I’m fascinated by the human person: our successes and failures. And the more failures I hear from others, the more encouraged I am to keep going.
The reason I’m so honest about my failures is because I genuinely want to know if I’m the only one who is a sinner. Strange as it sounds, I really hope not! And there’s strength in numbers. So if you see me, a guy that keeps falls, gets back up and tries again, it might give you hope. And if I find out you’re struggling, as well, it lets me know I’m not the only one. And I find hope in your failures. Strange, huh?
Q: As a Catholic Mom, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about Chapter 8 and your eloquent words about your mom. How have your parents reacted not only to your book, but the vocation you’ve found leading others into a closer relationship with Christ and the Church?
A: I started the book tour in Minnesota, which means I’d come back at night and have mom reading my book while I’m sitting on the couch watching tv. Having my mom read stories about my life few people knew till now? The word “awkward” comes immediately to mind.
And to let you know a little bit about my parents: as soon as my mom got the book, she looked at the chapters, saw Chapter 8 was titled “Mom”, and read that chapter immediately. My dad saw “Monkey Boy”, which is Chapter 1, and knew that must be about him, so he read that one first. In other words, they wanted to read about themselves more than read about me.
But they’re both really proud of me. In fact, almost uncomfortably so. When The New York Times wrote an article about me a couple years ago, my dad called to say how proud he was of me, and I thought to myself: “I have to top the Times now, or he’ll stop being proud of me!” Certainly it’s nice to be supported by them and they think it’s pretty cool I can help bring people closer to God.
Q: Lino in some ways you’ve built a bit of a cult-like following of listeners who are truly devoted to your work and your “brand” is really you — your personal life and your spiritual life. Do you ever feel like you’ve put too much “out there” and how do you deal with readers, listeners and Facebook friends who want more and more disclosure of your life? I’m seriously wondering about how you hold a piece of yourself as private when the work you do is so public…
A: Believe it or not, I’m actually a very private person. But this is the job I’ve chosen – or in some ways, God has chosen for me – and I know what that entails. The people I admire most are honest, sometimes brutally so, about themselves. Yes, I feel I’ve put WAY too much “out there”. I feel more exposed than a streaker at a football game. But over the years I’ve come to accept the fact that this is what people want from me. In a sense, my honesty – or vulnerability – is apparently what’s attractive about me.
Q: What are some of your favorite chapters in Sinner and is there one you wish you could take back or delete at this point?
A: There’s a chapter titled “The Wrestler” that I think sums me up best. You see all my insecurities, my desire to fit in, my shallow prayer life, my attempt at athletic accomplishments…followed by a big fat lie. I love that chapter because everything you need to know about me is right there. Plus, I still laugh out loud reading it…
As for a chapter to take back, I suppose it’s the story about wanting to pick up a prostitute in Thailand. Well, first off, I’d like to take back the very idea that I wanted to get a prostitute. But unfortunately, it’s a true story. So it’s one of those things where the folks I went to Thailand with will read it and say “You wanted to get a prostitute, Lino?” That’s awkward. My parents will read it and think “Great, our son, the john.” It’s a really awful admission to make, in retrospect, but I think it’s pretty funny. And it’s brutally honest. So I’m glad it’s in there.
Q: What advice do you have for folks who have been separated from the Church for years — how can they find peace and reconciliation in the Church and in their own spiritual lives?
A: One of the coolest parts of my radio gig is that people who have been away from the Church for years get a chance to re-introduce themselves to Catholicism through the show…and then may turn to me to ask questions about how to come back. The advice I give them is simple: Do it.
Go back to confession. Yes, it’s gonna suck. Yes, you’re gonna be there awhile. And no, I’ve never heard anyone ever regret going to confession.
Go back to church. But be honest: homilies might be boring. The music might be horrific. The people around you might be lame. Go for Jesus. And it’s ok to be honest about the other stuff.
They’re gonna find peace and reconciliation in the Church. But it’s not gonna be easy.
Q: What’s next for Lino Rulli – how long will we have to wait for the movie adaptation of Sinner and who will play you (and past love interests) in the screen version? Have you thought about future book projects?
A: I’ve learned never to tell God “what’s next” for me. Five years ago, I had been Executive Producer for a WWII documentary for CBS. We’d won pretty much every major television award, and were planning our next documentary. Then I got a call to move to New York and host a Catholic radio show. WHAT? So I’m done trying to figure out what’s next.
Sinner – the Movie – is a couple years. But we’ve narrowed it down two people to play me: Either Ralph Macchio or Scott Baio.
As for love interests: hoping for Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz, and Elle McPherson. Of course, if we get those women for the film, I’ll be playing the character of Lino Rulli myself…for obvious reasons…
And yes, I’ve already been approached by a few publishers to write a second book. What the hell? Sinner just came out, guys! Give a brother a little time to enjoy this one, ok?
Q: Thanks so much for your time Lino, but especially for your work and for Sinner . Are there any closing thoughts (or one liners) you’d like to share with our readers!
A: I’m grateful for saints like you that help promote sinners like me. Thanks, Lisa.
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