This week we had the opportuntiy to interview Matt Swaim, author of the new book “The Eucharist and the Rosary” which has just been published by Liguori Publications.
This was a fun interview and we know you will enjoy reading it!
This is your first book, so can you give our readers/customers some information about your background?
Sure! I grew up in a wonderful Christian family that had a great love of the Trinity and the Bible, and they instilled that in me from a very early age. Both my father and grandfather were Sunday School teachers, and I myself was even involved in the glorious Evangelical subcultural phenomenon known as “Bible Quizzing.” One of my proudest achievements during my nerdiest years was making the Northwest Ohio Regional Bible Quizzing “All Star Team.” Although I have to say, it didn’t exactly get me a lot of girls.
A series of scandalous happenings in my Nazarene Church while I was in junior high caused me to start to question my faith. Instead of the bad kind of questioning that led to atheism, I very fortunately went down the good road of questioning that led me to realize that there was a whole lot more to belief in Christ than I had ever imagined. This led me to read more and more Christian literature, and as time went on, I began to come to the sickening realization that the books that I found to ring truest with reality were written by people who were a part of this crazy Babylonian abomination I’d come to perceive as the Catholic Church. I was horrified, and so in Bible college, I’d quote Augustine, Aquinas, and Chesterton in late night conversations at the Waffle House, but I blocked from my mind every possibility of actually becoming a member of the Catholic Church.
I should mention at this point that I was living in the Central Kentucky portion of the Bible Belt at this time, and didn’t personally know a single “real live” Catholic that I felt to be a reliable source of the truth. However, one summer weekend, on tour with a D-list Evangelical indie rock band in Cincinnati, I hit it off with a venue owner, and decided to move North of the Mason-Dixon line, and unwittingly, into Catholic country. Tragically, instead of encountering the visceral medieval piety that I desperately craved, I was slammed at every turn with the scourge I came to understand as post-Vatican II “cultural Catholicism.” Thankfully, through the corrective encouragement of my soon-to-be wife, I was able to realize that the Catholic Church, while infallible, was full of as many flawed beings as any other Christian communion I’d been involved in, and so I swallowed my pride and entered RCIA. After leaping the barbed wire and stone fence barriers of liberal and disaffected DRE’s, I found a wonderful parish that was ready to enthusiastically welcome me into the Church. So much for the progressive ideal of hospitality.
I had been listening to Catholic radio toward the end of my conversion, but not until I was actually received into the Church did I come to realize how gaga faithful lifelong Catholics were over converts. So it was that I ended up volunteering in Catholic radio before I was even canonically Catholic, and teaching at a private Latin school a year later. Only a year after that, I helped start a local Catholic morning radio show, and a year after that, found myself producing a program for EWTN that now airs across their (inter)national radio network. Looking back, if I were them, I would have been more diligent when it came to vetting me.
We’ve never asked this question before, and people probably are curious about it. Can you explain the process you went through to get an imprimatur for your book?
Rule Number One: Don’t be a heretic.
Rule Number Two: Don’t quote heretical people.
Rule Number Three: If you reference virtuous (or for that matter, unvirtuous) pagans, do so in reference to orthodoxy.
To be honest, the only real hoop I had to jump through to receive an Imprimatur from the wonderful Redemptorist who granted me one was to be consistent in my capitalizations. I figured it would be much more difficult! The fact of the matter is, if you don’t say anything that is unfaithful to the Magisterium, or, more likely, too tied to the temporal than the eternal, you’re in the clear. Then again, maybe I just lucked out.
Our readers/customers are always interested in the process of writing a book. Can you tell us both about the process you went through to write “The Eucharist and the Rosary” and your motivation to write the book.
It’s sort of a funny story- I produce a three-hour weekday morning show that showcases thirteen interview segments per program. So when Liguori, a publisher with whom I had a good relationship, called me about this time last year, they were asking me about who I’d talked to recently that they needed to chase down as a potential author. After giving them a few suggestions, I was asked if I was writing anything. I frankly told them that I was writing about a thousand things, from vampire graphic novels to discourses on what St. John of the Cross might think about the internet. Realistically, though, I mentioned that I’d been looking at the Rosary and the Mass, and had been struck by the similarities. I was (to my surprise) asked to submit a proposal, which I did. A swift response was given, which served as a reality check from me. Literally, this time last year, a deadline of August 15 (the Feast of the Assumption) was set. I tried to avoid the irony that my devotional book was based on lowercase “a” assumptions to begin with, but plugged ahead nonetheless.
I must say that as a first-time author, it was somewhat of a relief to have a structure to my first project; one of my other impending projects happened to be about prayer and information, and such types of projects aren’t exactly known for having boundaries.
You work in Catholic radio. How has that unique experience affected your decision to write this book? Has it affected how you wrote the book?
Like many converts, I (hope to be) eternally grateful for the existence of Catholic radio. The value of programs like Catholic Answers Live is inestimable. The Son Rise Morning Show, by contrast, is much less about apologetics and much more about the slow and steady instillation of a growing Catholic culture. We want to foster an anti-ghetto of sorts; a Catholic community that knows no geographical bounds. Whether that’s the effect we have or not, that’s certainly a great deal of the intent, And I would remiss if I said that trying to do so hasn’t had an effect on me and my writing.
Dr. Kevin Vost has said that your book “views the Mass through the lens of the Rosary” – can you tell us a bit more about that?
You bet. The whole idea of the book is to show the genius, not only of the Gospel, but of the efforts of the Church to communicate the Gospel. Would you want to place Vegas odds against the Magisterium as to which prayer of the Church communicates more of the Gospel? I certainly wouldn’t. Of course, we know that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Christian faith, but the graces we obtain by receiving the Eucharist point us to fully realize its gratuitousness through prayers such as the Rosary, and praying the Rosary increases our desire to go to Mass. And while we know that the Church could survive without the Rosary better than she could survive without the Mass, is it really spiritually, or even theologically, practical to abandon either one?
That being said, the book is not meant to be a liturgical or theological work, but rather a devotional one. I write about the Rosary as a way to reflect on the way we approach the Mass. For instance, as Jesus prepares to suffer in the Agony in the Garden, just as we prepare to remember his suffering at Mass, do we reflect on his admonition to his beloved disciples to “watch and pray,” or do we do what Peter, James and John did in the garden of Gethsemane, and doze off because we don’t have the proper realization of what’s going on during the sacrifice? All of the reflections of the Rosary mysteries I wrote about are reflected upon using this mentality.
What are some ways that Catholics can “live the message” of your book?
The best way to live the message is to pray the message. As the Latin idiom states, Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi; “The Law of Prayer is the Law of Belief.” How can you live the Mass if you don’t pray the Mass? We can witness the Mass, attend the Mass, and experience the Mass, and still neglect to pray the Mass. The same is true for the Rosary. We can treat it like a Pilates exercise, or treat it like an encounter with the Living God. The way we approach it informs the way we live it.
The book has reflections/prayers/questions at the end of each chapter. How do you envision the book being used by readers? Can it also be used by reading groups?
The questions are meant to challenge individuals as well as groups… I know that more than a couple of Bible study groups have picked up the text, read the chapters, and used the questions to spark extended discussion. I am greatly encouraged by this, because I see it as a fulfillment of my prayers to the Holy Spirit!
However, I also hope that individuals, be they converts, reverts, or lifelong Catholics, see the book as a practical guide to re-encountering the Gospel. If this whole business is true, how are we doing ourselves a service by taking it for granted?
As a convert to the Catholic faith, do you think you have a unique view of the rosary and its relation to the Mass? If so, how?
It would be cocky to say my view of the Rosary and the Mass are unique; the baggage related to these prayers tends to fall into a couple of categories. Either you have baggage like the post-Vatican II anti-traditionalists who think that the Rosary is an embarrassing Catholic ID card from a bygone age, or you have baggage like I did as a semi-fundamentalist Christian, that praying the Rosary was a form of idolatry that piled up unnecessarily repetitive prayers. The fact of the matter is, as I point out in one of the appendices, that there is a fundamental difference between meditating within and meditating without.
The Church calls us to meditate on that which is greater than ourselves, while new-age and other Eastern forms of meditation call us to focus within ourselves. Anyone honest can see that the focus of one’s meditation becomes the focus of one’s worship, so we can easily see that inward-focused meditation worships a false god we perceive to be inside of ourselves, while outward-centered meditation brings us heavenward into the greatness that calls us outside of ourselves. When we pray the Rosary, which forces us to focus on someone holier than us, namely, Jesus, through the experiences of someone holier than us, namely, Mary, we are snapped out of our narcissistic realities. That is the most formative thought that I have been provided with through my own praying of the Rosary and my own experience of the Mass.
Catholics have lots of reading choices in front of them, why should they read your book?
Because I had about a bajillion books I wanted to write first, and this one was the first that I felt proud enough to actually let a publisher publish.
Also, because a lot of people are missing out on the awesomeness of these two devotions. Many Catholics go to Mass, but still more have absolutely no concept of what the Rosary is nor its intimate relationship with the Eucharistic liturgy.
Do you have plans for a future book or books? What’s next for you?
As I said before, I have about a bajillion more book ideas. Liguori Publications pinned me to the wall and called my bluff. I have numerous other projects involving St. Therese of Lisieux and social networking, vampire-slaying priests, and the commonalities between the book of Judges and the Terminator series, but it’s always best to go with the safe bet!
Thanks, Matt, we had a great time with this!
Buy Matt Swaim’s new book right here.
He lives with his lovely wife and eleven kids in northern Colorado.