An interview with the Reverend Canon Matthew Talarico, Director of Vocations and Provincial Superior of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.
Q: What led you to choose your priestly vocation in the Institute and your personal devotion to the Traditional Latin Mass?
I came to know the Traditional Latin Mass when I was about thirteen years old. The Mass I attended was celebrated by priests in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. I was inspired by the sacred reverence of the Latin Mass and soon found myself serving at the altar, which I had done for several years at my former Novus Ordo parish. I was quickly drawn to the overall beauty of this ancient form of worship and, as a language enthusiast, was interested in learning Latin.
This early introduction to tradition provided an abundant source of inspiration to me as a teenager. I realized that the way I conducted myself at the altar should influence and uplift my behavior in everyday life. I remember that, as a teenager, sometimes I acted as teenagers do by default. With this natural youthful disposition in mind, serving at the Latin Mass, at the holy altar, and the sacred reverence of that environment radically altered my daily behavior when I was at home and school during the week.
When I was deciding where to pursue my priestly vocation, I was drawn to the Institute, in particular, due to its warm family spirit, which stems from the spirituality of Saint Francis de Sales. In the Institute, I sensed a supernatural charity and a profound spirituality based upon the truths of our Faith. Likewise, I sensed that the Institute would offer a traditional formation in an authentic spirit of Romanitas. I was drawn to the Institute’s focus on restoring the sacred liturgy but also to its mission to restore and renew a sense of Catholic culture in the public square. In other words, the attitude and behavior which we have in church during the liturgy should inspire and edify us in our daily lives—how we sing, what we say, what we do in our social life with other people in the world. So, in the Institute, I sensed there was a wholeness to this Catholic approach and that was very attractive to me.
Q: The Institute was canonically erected in 1990. Since then, the Institute has grown to include 80 apostolates in twelve countries, 120 priests, and more than 90 seminarians. You will soon celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Institute’s founding this September. Where do you see the Institute in the future?
First, we are planning a pilgrimage of thanksgiving to Rome, to celebrate our 30th anniversary, around the Feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, since Mary Immaculate is our Patroness. The trip we put together is on our website, and though the present moment is not the best time to make definite plans, we are still planning this trip to Rome from December 6–8.
Acknowledging that no one is a prophet who can predict the future, I can see, from the ground now, that there has been a sharp increase in men who are inquiring about a vocation, either as a priest or brother. This increase has occurred in the last few years and the last twelve months most notably. Even during this pandemic, we continue to receive phone calls and emails about vocational inquiries. There are a couple of dozen men planning to make a discernment visit over the next few months. I would say that the increasing amount of vocational inquiries is very encouraging.
Also, bishops are reaching out to us. This is always a pleasant and welcoming affirmation of our Institute’s work. Just last week, a diocesan bishop called us to have a conversation about establishing an apostolate in his diocese. So there are bishops who are stating their desire to have communities, like the Institute, in their dioceses. We are blessed by God to have many vocations in order to fulfill this great spiritual need facing the Catholic Church in America. In the past eight months, we started two new apostolates in the United States—one in Waterbury, Connecticut, and the other in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I think that grace will allow the Institute to continue its growth so that priests and the brothers will be present to people for fulfilling their spiritual needs where such support is lacking.
The Sisters Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus Christ Sovereign Priest, the vital female branch of the Institute family, continue to grow as well. There are over fifty Sisters now. This spring, we planned for seven Sisters to receive the habit but, unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we had to postpone the ceremony which was to take place on the Feast of Saint Joseph. Considering that the seven Sisters come from six different countries, there exists a very international character. In regards to the Faith and, especially, to the liturgy and spirituality, I am always edified by how the love for tradition brings people together from across the globe. In Europe and also in Africa, the Institute also operates several schools and I have full hopes that this ministry will continue to grow as well.
Q: The Institute is known, among its many public event offerings, to host free classical concerts to the local community. What is the role of high culture (in music, art, and architecture) in the New Evangelization? How does the Institute view the role of beauty in the salvation of souls?
I would say that authentic beauty is ultimately the reflection of truth, which is ultimately God. The beauty and the order of music inspires us to witness a higher beauty which transcends this world. Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of our patrons, says that our sense of hearing is the most spiritual of our five senses. Thus, music can profoundly touch and inspire the soul, in ways the other senses are unable, to seek questions and answers to the great mysteries of life: who am I, how can I be happy, and what’s the point of my life?
Also, beauty awakens in us the desire for more, for the infinite. Realizing that we human beings are not pure spirits (as the angels) who can be drawn to God by our sole intelligence, this beauty in sight, sound, and smell can draw our humanity to God. It is important to understand that God attracts our souls to Himself not only by intellectual truth. God, who is goodness itself and who desires to share His infinite goodness with us, allows us to perceive that goodness in beauty according to all the modes of our humanity, including our five senses as well.
For example, the sublime beauty of the traditional liturgy draws us deeper into our Catholic spirituality. We ask: what is the purpose of beautiful music in the ancient form of chant, what do the incense and vestments mean, what does this beautiful ceremony, this ritual, mean? So beauty is, in the end, an invitation for us to go beyond mere appearances and the exterior reality to discover the interior reality, to study further, and to seek it out. I think beauty has a very instrumental role to play in evangelization in this way.
In regards to our classical concerts in Chicago, we had people enter our church who would otherwise not visit; they appreciate the timeless beauty of this music. We’ve had children and students come to see and learn from these professional musicians. Local neighbors come into the church and listen to beautiful music, while looking around and silently observing the historic statues and the magnificent altar. The uplifting beauty perceived by the senses is edifying for mind and spirit. Thus, this ambiance can be fertile ground in which, through the grace of God, a seed of faith can be planted in their souls. Sometimes, concert attendees approach us priests in order to ask questions pertaining to the Faith. Others remain in their seats upon the event’s conclusion, spiritually ruminating on what they heard in this setting. Such public concerts are charitable ways to share our sacred space with the community in order to bring those individual souls closer to the altar, closer to the Faith, and closer to the Catholic Church.
Q: The Institute states that the famous quote by Saint Francis de Sales, “Cook the truth in charity until it tastes sweet,” is the principal aim of its apostolic work. Yet there are signs of division and contempt for our fellow man in American society, and the Catholic Church as well. Have we largely forgotten the virtue of charity? If so, how can we grow in it again?
Saint Francis de Sales had a profound love for the Incarnation, for the Nativity of Our Lord in the stable at Bethlehem. God comes down to us as a little child to show us how lovable and beautiful His truth is for us. God wants us to be happy and does not want His children to love Him by coercion but, rather, through pure attraction. What is more lovable than a little child?
Saint Francis de Sales’s spirituality of attraction seeks to persuade the whole human person about the goodness of the Gospel message, the goodness which is God, so that we become inspired to take on the sacrifice, the cross, the trials, and the mortifications which are necessary for our human nature to repent from sin, to live a life of virtue, and thus, please God, to reach our heavenly destiny.
This persuasion based on the sweet force of charity also includes a profound unity. God is Triune, and God is one. So our faith should really bring us together as God’s family. God’s Church is one as He is one. The devil is the opposite of that. Diablos in Greek means the one who divides. He wants always to divide people and foster internal schism.
To achieve this harmony of unity in charity while proclaiming the Gospel, we must, first of all, focus on God Himself, on God who is unity, keeping also in mind that God’s unity does not suppress our diversity. On the contrary, that unity is in some way more fully expressed vis-à-vis our human nature by understanding a diversity of richness. Just look at creation—the animals, the plants, and the angels; you realize the full gamut of creation and get a fuller sense of God’s beauty in all the ways it is shown. But there is still unity because it is all God’s creation. In the process, we cannot forget about the need to be focused on prayer and the liturgy as well. To discover deeper charity, one must be really Christ-centered, especially through the Holy Eucharist since this sacrament is charity par excellence as Saint Thomas tells us.
Saint Francis de Sales also has a message very accessible to us. He says that holiness is possible for everyone in every state of life and that charity is especially accessible to us in the so-called little virtues. We typically don’t have extraordinary occasions of practicing virtue in our everyday lives, but we have lots of little smaller ones. For example, we can practice charity in the smaller virtues of gratitude, humility, obedience, or meekness. Let’s look at the little ways within our reach to practice charity and be faithful in following through with the little things. This is how we will be able to spread more charity, more joy, and more peace to the world, these being the fruits of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of divine love. From the liturgy and the sacraments, we receive the grace needed to use those opportunities in practicing the virtues to bring charity to our world.
Furthermore, the greatest charity is truth. Therefore, we must help people who are living in a difficult society by teaching them the truth in a way that can be better understood by them, in smaller bite-size pieces, little by little. We have to present the truth to them in a manner which highlights just how attractive and desirable the truth really is for them. We have to, as our mothers did when we were infants, spoon-feed little by little, not giving them too much at first as they might choke. No one can drink from a firehose! The whole truth must be made palatable to them in the way that it is presented and taught.
For example, when you go to the grocery store, you fill up your refrigerator with good meat and vegetables, but you have to cook all these ingredients to make the meal palatable. You can’t just go to the refrigerator and start eating out of the fridge. The various ingredients have to be cooked and well prepared with a presentable dining table set. Of course, truth must be made palatable to people. This does not mean watering it down—by no means. We must help people to develop a healthy appetite for this truth. We must teach people what they should be hungering for, increasing their appetite for the truth, and showing them how the truth is good for their spiritual happiness. A holy life is a happy life and vice versa. So charity has a way of opening up souls to the truth and inspiring them to seek out the truth even more; that is the Christian role of charity. Charity without truth is just a natural philanthropy; charity and truth go hand in hand. That’s why God is truth and also charity.
Q: Five years has passed since the fire engulfed the Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in Chicago. Can you describe to us what went on in your mind as you witnessed this tragedy? What is the progress of its restoration as of today? What can the faithful do to support the restoration?
The tragic event occurred on the Feast of the Holy Rosary, so we felt like we were living in the sorrowful mysteries in that moment. It’s a very shocking thing to have a fire of this destructive magnitude and to realize your congregation is spiritually homeless. As traumatic as this was for us spiritual fathers, we knew by faith that Divine Providence is always at work. After the sorrowful mysteries come the glorious mysteries. With this in mind, we remained focused on doing what we needed to do for the salvation of souls at that time, while praying together as a spiritual family that God would show us the path forward in what He wanted us to do with the fire-damaged church.
Then the Archdiocese of Chicago deeded the property of the church and the campus to the Institute in late February of 2016. Restoration work began immediately. The church structure was solid. The walls were firm and steady, as was the tower. However, the fire had compromised the structural value of the steel roofing system, which had to be totally redesigned and replaced one steel truss at a time. The new roof with its drainage system covers an area of about 20,000 square feet. All the brick walls of the interior, about one hundred years old, had to be cleaned and tuck-pointed, while about 25,000 new bricks replaced old damaged bricks. The window frames were cleaned and replaced as needed in preparation for the new windows which were installed about one year ago. We invested about four million dollars into securing the building’s exterior envelope. Phase Two can now focus on everything the building’s interior needs in order to obtain the occupancy permit which will make it possible for the church to be reopened to the public: the heating and ventilation system, plumbing, electrical, fire protection, along with new interior walls made of gypsum board with arches, columns, and ceiling.
Upon completion of Phase Two, the church will have a substantial but blank interior, looking something like a newly baked cake out of the oven and ready to be decorated. While the building will then be open for Masses, devotions, and concerts again, the aesthetical work will begin piece by piece over time as funding is available.
While the Archdiocese of Chicago gave ownership of the fire-damaged building and property to the Institute in late February 2016, no insurance monies were made available to the Institute at that time for this rebuilding project. The Institute must therefore raise all the funds on its own. Thus far, we raised and invested four million dollars in Phase One. We estimate that the total cost of Phase Two will be between four to five million dollars. So far, we have raised five hundred thousand dollars and have approximately two million in pledges for Phase Two. The cost of the Phase Three interior artwork and decoration is still under study. Thus, to achieve our remaining fundraising goals, we are inviting people to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity which serves as a metaphor for the universal Church. As we attempt to rebuild this building as a shrine of national importance for Christ the Infant King, we are, in this process, helping to rebuild the Catholic Church in the United States for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
The construction of this shrine as the headquarters church of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in the U.S. is the cornerstone project of a larger vision for our entire headquarters campus as well. Improvements to our central location will help us better serve the administrative and personnel needs for our apostolates coast to coast across America, provide support and resources for our clergy, organize apostolic activities for youth, welcome men for vocational discernment visits, and much more as needed. Everyone is welcome to visit our website, www.shrinelandmark.org, the project website, to learn more about the project and how to support this historic project of national importance.
Q: How does the Institute aim to spread the reign of Our Lord?
The Institute exists to give glory to God through the public celebration of the traditional liturgy. The canons, oblate Brothers, and Sisters are a family of prayer around the altar of Our Lord. We gather around the altar three to four times a day. Then we go forth from the altar and meet people where they are. We go out to visit the sick in the hospital with the sacraments, offer house blessings for families in their homes, teach catechism to people of all ages, offer days of recollection and retreats, as well as provide spiritual chaplaincy for pro-life groups.
As we meet people where they are, we are always seeking to bring them to the altar—we go from the altar to people in order to bring people to the altar. This full circle imitates Our Lord who came forth from the Father into this world in order to bring us all home to the Father. The writings and example of our spiritual founder, Saint Francis de Sales, help us to understand each individual’s situation based on his or her personal circumstances and then to offer this soul the spiritual direction needed on its journey to the altar of God.
Throughout history, the Church has always been visibly present and active in the world in a Catholic way. Likewise today, we need to go forth from the altar to bring the truth and charity of Christ to people where they are. This includes helping the needy with corporal and spiritual works of mercy, as well as with cultural experiences like concerts. We need to meet the citizens in our neighborhoods, to work together in common projects which truly benefit souls, and to be present in the Roman cassock as visible representatives of the Church and witnesses of Christ’s truth to everyone we meet and speak with. I recall an occasion, after the tragic fire, when the Chicago City Council invited me to offer the prayer invocation for their meeting. Inspired by Saint Francis de Sales, the mission of the Institute is to bring the truth and charity of the reign of Christ our King everywhere and in all places, in such ways as these and others, according to the traditional character of our charism as blessed and sanctioned by Holy Mother Church.
Image: Canon Talarico celebrating Mass in the Shrine church (ICKSP)