Lawrence Kudlow is a nationally known economist and pundit, appearing on such television programs as The McLaughlin Group and Hardball With Chris Matthews. In the 1980s, he served as an economist in the Reagan administration, before starring on Wall Street as a senior managing director for Bear Stearns.
What few people know is that Kudlow entered the Roman Catholic Church in 1997, after plunging into a period of personal disaster involving alcohol and cocaine abuse. Here Kudlow describes in depth his recovery through his conversion to Catholicism.
Neumayr: What year were you baptized into the Roman Catholic Church?
Kudlow: November 20, 1997, at St. Thomas More Church in New York City, under the direction of Fr. John McCloskey, an Opus Dei priest who now heads up the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C.
How much preparation did you have?
Four years. The story starts in the winter of 1993. I was introduced to Fr. McCloskey by Jeffrey Bell, a political consultant and dear friend of mine. I ran into Jeff on the street in New York, and we had not seen each other in a while. We talked, and Jeff said he wanted to introduce me to Fr. John. A few weeks later, Fr. McCloskey came to visit me in my office.
He introduced himself and said he had been watching me on various television shows throughout the years. He said, “Lately you have changed?’ I said, “How so?” And he said, “It appears you’re looking for God.” He was right, and I broke down and started to cry. So we talked some more. As I recall, he asked me if I believed in life in the hereafter. I said I did.
I think I had told him that I had just come from four weeks in a treatment center for alcohol and substance abuse, a faith-based or spiritually based treatment center. He said that he would give me some books to read.
So at that point you were a non-practicing, secularized Jew?
Right. I was barmitzvahed when I was 13, but I don’t think I had been in a temple, not to worship anyway, in at least 25 years. But I was in this twelve-step recovery program, which, as I said, is a faith-based program.
Fr. McCloskey has a background in economics, doesn’t he?
Yes, he was a former stockbroker for Merrill Lynch. After I talked to him, I went to Mass, and I enjoyed it actually. The first time I walked into Thomas More in New York City I loved it. As soon as I saw Christ on the cross, I felt at one with it.
It is a traditional parish?
I think you would describe it as a traditional Catholic values parish. George Sim Johnston, who is a member of the parish, is another smart guy. I attended Mass often with Sim and his wife. We used to go to the 10 a.m. Mass on Sundays at St. Thomas More. Of course, at that point, I was not permitted to take communion. I would go, and I enjoyed it a lot. I did not understand much of it, but one of the things that attracted me to it is that I really like the traditions, the formality of it. It seems to me that in the early days, the Church had a lot of rituals, and I like that. That appealed to me enormously.
The dignity of it?
Yes, the dignity of it. Again, I did not really understand much of it. But I liked it. That was really my first direct exposure to Jesus Christ. I felt very comfortable. There is a certain orderliness to the Catholic liturgy that brings me peace.
But you had another bout with substance abuse?
I had a rough time with the alcohol and cocaine. I had to resign from Bear Stearns. That was in the winter of 94. And then I went to work as a senior editor, the economics editor, at the National Review magazine. I loved that, because of National Review’s intellectual atmosphere and interesting people. I learned to write there. And there is a certain Catholicism that permeates the place.
It was during that time, let’s say the spring of 94-95, that under Fr. John’s tutelage, George Sim Johnston began to instruct me in Catholicism.
The New Testament was one of the books Fr. John recommended after we met in 1993. I liked it; it made a lot of sense to me. You either take to something or you don’t. I took to it. Not in any great intellectual sense—I am not a scholar—but it made sense.
You connected with it on an intuitive level?
That’s right. I think that I have always felt connected to Jesus’ suffering on the cross because of my problems with alcohol and drug abuse. I really enjoyed my sessions with Sim; I learned a lot. I probably did not learn as much as I should have, but I learned a lot. There were two books that I read constantly. One was This Tremendous Lover by Eugene Boylan. It is a really fabulous book. The other book that I use almost as a text is The Faith Explained by Leo Trese. I also read the pope’s books, and I went on Opus Dei retreats.
Opus Dei’s rigorous spirituality appealed to you?
Yes. It did then and still does. I went to a few evenings of recollection. In the spring of 1995, the roof fell down on my life. I had another bad relapse. I lost my jobs and my life in the spring of 1995. My wife sent me away to the Hazel Treatment Center in Minnesota. I was there for five months. That was a very important experience for me. That’s what got me sober. Every Sunday, I went to Mass in Minnesota. A great experience. I was able to do more reading and also kept in close touch with Fr. John. I was also talking to Sim on the phone. John Sites also kept in touch with me. John and I were partners together at Bear Stearns. He is a wonderful, warm human being.
So through God’s grace I got through that whole period. I then moved to San Diego where I lived for a year in 1996. I reunited with my wife. We lived in Rancho Santa Fe, which is outside San Diego. And I was working for Arthur Laffer, who is the father of modern supply-side economics and a very dear friend. That was a great year, and I kept up with my twelve-step program and attended church every Sunday. I also went to a couple of Opus Dei recollection evenings.
In fact, Fr. John connected me with a priest who would drive down occasionally from Los Angeles and talk with me. Then in 1997, we moved back east to Connecticut. I took a job with America Skandia, which is a life insurance company, and got to see some more of Fr. John.
By the autumn of 1997, I developed a strong desire to convert. I told that to Sim and Fr. John. They helped me with the necessary paperwork. We did it through the archdiocese of New York. On November 20, I was baptized in a small chapel adjacent to St. Thomas More. We had a wonderful group—pretty large. Bill Buckley, Kate O’Beirne, and Peggy Noonan were there. The National Review gang really supported me. And some other dear friends of mine. Then Sim hosted a lovely reception afterwards in his apartment.
It’s funny because I remember it really clearly. I don’t remember many things anymore. I felt good about it. It was a strict service. We had to kneel on the hard floors. I remember that. Jeffrey Bell on one side. Pat Chadwick on another. Sim was involved. I remember I just really enjoyed it. After the water was poured on me, I absolutely broke down and bawled my head off. I can hardly stop myself as I think about it now.
Fr. John explained to me and taught me that Christ died for me as well as the rest of mankind. That I could identify with him personally. It was okay for me to use Christ as an example personally. Over time, he explained to me that my recovery from alcoholism and cocaine was part of Christ’s redemption. I knew somehow that first of all, Christ wanted me to recover, and secondly, Christ would stand with me. He is my Father. That He would be with me and would look after me. I have really come to believe that.
Have you worked out in your own mind what led to your cocaine and alcohol abuse?
I have been taught that for some people like me alcohol and drugs create an allergy. I must never use them because the allergy is utterly detrimental to my health. But I have also been taught that part of the problem with alcohol and drug addiction is a certain spiritual sickness. I need to work on my spirit and on my soul. I needed to think differently and must live my life differently.
I have come to believe that Jesus Christ sent Jeff Bell, sent Fr. John, and sent Sim Johnson. I believe that. That was what I needed to save my life and to begin at least the process of saving my soul. In my worst moments, I fall back on that.
I am a regular churchgoer. I go every Sunday to a small country church in Connecticut. I have been going to that church for two or three years now. Now I pass the collection basket around every Sunday. It takes a lot to pull me away from that parish, except maybe if I am on a business trip. I hardly ever miss a Sunday. At the end of the Mass, I stand at the back of the church and hand out the circulars.
Over a period of time, because God has blessed me, I have been able to make some financial contributions, and now, I am on the finance committee of the church. We are building a new church, so I have become more and more involved in Catholic life there.
I still see Fr. John in Washington. I talk to him and get e-mails from him. I just feel very blessed. I could not have predicted any of this seven years ago. It just happened. I don’t understand it. I don’t need to understand it. It just happened.
As Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited says, grace operates in our life even when we don’t know it or want it to, that grace overtakes us as we run from God.
Yes, all of this is God’s handiwork. I have learned to live a life of faith now. Faith is the dominant guidepost in my life. I pray and meditate every single day, every morning. You know, I pray in cabs. I pray in airplanes. I don’t really ask for anything—I just pray that Jesus will give me the strength to follow Him. That’s all I pray for. And that I will always turn my will and my life over to His care.
I say the Lord’s Prayer a lot. I would not be surprised if, on average, I say it four or five times a day. I could be anywhere, in the office even. When I was at my very worst in the mid 90s, I was able to summon up the memory of the Lord’s Prayer. And the reason for that is many years ago, I went to this small prep school in Englewood, New Jersey, and every day in homeroom, we said the Lord’s Prayer. It wasn’t a church-based school. Thirty years later, when my life was crashing and imploding, I was able to recall that prayer. I used it instinctively.
Some people won’t enter the Catholic Church because the Catholic left has managed to take religion out of religion. They find all the dissent and scandal off-putting. How about you?
All the Catholic priests who worked with me are all very traditional people. I welcome that. In my twelve-step meetings, I sometimes hear some of the younger kids who went to Catholic school rebel against Catholicism. I say to them, “You don’t know how wonderful those rules are.
Here I am at age 52: life has never looked better to me. It’s a miracle. I am the sort of person who requires rules and orderly routines. I need that because, left to my own devices, there is no telling how bad it could be. I acknowledge that openly.
Do you see yourself becoming a public intellectual for the Church, promoting the pro-life point of view, for example?
I look forward to, in the remainder of my days, getting more and more involved in Catholic life. I just want to immerse myself more in the Church’s teachings and traditions because I believe it will help me to live my life better each day.
The dissent in the Church just saddens me. I am a great admirer of the pope. I think he has done a lot not only for the Church but for the whole world. I take a lot of comfort that the Church is 2,000 years old and will go on. It will always be a force for good. I just believe that.
I accept the teaching. I don’t second-guess it; I don’t edit it. I try to follow it. It is hard enough to follow it. I am not equipped to second-guess it. I am sure that Cardinal Ratzinger and other intellectuals will sort out the problems in the Church.
I agree with the natural law, pro-life position. How anybody could take a life is beyond me. No one has ever asked me to represent pro-life causes, but I would. My view is that Jesus has given me my life back. I have a feeling that at the right moment, God will give me that thought and express it publicly…. I stand up for that view on these talking-head shows.