“Lisa, you need to get to the hospital,” my cousin pleaded with me on the other end of the phone. “Your dad has been in a serious accident. You need to come now.” That was three years ago today, September 30, 2009. And at that moment I knew my dad had died. I just intuitively knew.
I’ve heard it said that daughters carry their fathers with them even when they aren’t around. It’s certainly true for me — I carry Dad in my heart even more so today, three years after his death. There are so many things to miss about him. But the biggest void has been the loss of a spiritual leader. My father greatly understood his vocational mission to reveal and relive on Earth the very fatherhood of God. He was my gateway to knowing God better. I greatly miss all those little reminders he used to give me when I was veering off course. Dad had a way of grounding me and getting me back on path.
But this isn’t a post about my dad; it’s about Fr. John Riccardo, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit. And I can’t write about Fr. John without some mention of my father. Hopefully it’ll all make sense in a bit.
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A few years before my father’s death, I started a job that required a 45-minute commute. At about the same time a local radio station, 1150 AM, switched from all evangelical to Catholic programming. Two shows became the soundtrack for my commute: Christ is the Answer with Fr. John Riccardo and Catholic Answers Live. Catholic Answers showed me the beauty of the faith, and Fr. Riccardo showed me how to put it into practice. I recently heard Cardinal Wuerl say the goal of The New Evangelization is to re-propose the Gospel to those who already think they know it. Bingo! This is exactly what these two programs did for me.
For many of our Midwest readers, Fr. Riccardo needs no introduction. His Christ is the Answer radio show is consistently one of the most popular programs on local Catholic radio. For those not familiar with his work, here’s the elevator speech.
A priest at Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church near Detroit, Fr. John studied philosophy at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, theology at the Gregorian University in Rome, and received a Sacred License in Theology (STL) from The Pope John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. He is an expert on Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Interesting anecdote: his father was the CEO and Chairman of the Board for the Chrysler Corporation. Wouldn’t you love to ask Papa Riccardo a question or two about the state of the auto industry?
Several years ago, Fr. Riccardo’s archbishop appointed him to run a marriage and family retreat center in the Detroit area. Many of the talks he gave for the retreats were recorded. Ave Maria Radio (a.k.a. Al Kresta) happened to be located near the retreat center and got wind of Fr. Riccardo’s spirit-filled talks. Impressed with what they heard, the radio station began airing them under the title Christ is the Answer. While the production value behind them is simple — Fr. Riccardo, a mic, a recorder, and often a live audience — his message is deep, powerful, and connects with listeners on a very personal level. Dare I suggest somewhat reminiscent of Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s Life is Worth Living?
Now a decade later, Fr. John is still recording and his library of talks is exhaustive. Head over to his iTunes Channel or website, and you’ll find a treasure chest waiting for you. Thankfully a woman with very good organizational skills indexed many of the talks into a syllabus format here.
So if Fr. Riccardo is such a riveting speaker, you might wonder why he has never been booked to speak in your area. The thing is, he recognizes his vocational call as a parish priest, first. He could book more talks but chooses not to. His primary responsibility is to be a spiritual father to those parishioners entrusted to his care. He doesn’t want to be like that neighborhood dad who all the kids know and look up to, except his own.
According to Fr. Riccardo, his goal is for people to meet Jesus. And with the charism of evangelization, he has gifts for uniquely helping people get there. Through vehicles such as Catholic radio, iTunes, and the Internet, he’s able to share these gifts more broadly while being faithful to his parish responsibilities. So it’s a good news, bad news kind of ending here. The bad news, if you’re looking to book Fr. Riccardo, it’s probably not going to happen, at least not very easily. The good news, with a few clicks you can be streaming his podcasts from the comfort of your home in a matter of minutes.
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I’ve been listening to Fr. Riccardo’s podcasts for years, but his words never meant more to me than after the days, months, and now years since my father’s earthly death. In preparing to write this, I had the pleasure to speak with Fr. John on the phone. Like a Brawny paper towel, I soaked up every word he said.
After the conversation ended, I reflected on how the call made my heart feel so full and glad. It was only 20 minutes, but our talk was so rich. What was it about a simple telephone conversation that filled me so? And it hit me. It was kind of like having a conversation with my dad once again. I once heard Dr. Scott Hahn make a connection between our earthly fathers and the priesthood. Our priests — our spiritual fathers — guide, teach, correct, and forgive us just as our earthly fathers do. Today, on the third anniversary of my dad’s death, I am grateful for the priesthood. I am especially grateful for priests like Fr. Riccardo who truly understand in their vocational call what it means to be a spiritual father.