John Michael Talbot: A new way to share (and sing) the word

“The average person out there,” says John Michael Talbot, “wants to say, ‘Darn it, I love Jesus, and I love my church, and I’m ready to feel good about that.’” PEGGY LODEWYKS, BSCD

John Michael Talbot, Catholic musician, recording artist and writer, looks like he could be a direct descendant of the Church Fathers with his brown robe, long hair and flowing grey beard.

While his style may reflect monastic simplicity — Talbot founded the Brothers and Sisters of Charity integrated Catholic-based community of celibate men and women, singles and families 35 years ago — he uses modern social media tools in his service as a “motivational minister,” posting daily spiritual reflections on Twitter and Facebook as well as weekly messages on his YouTube Channel.

He is touring more than ever in a mini-van he drives accompanied by his wife Viola, a former nun and BSC’s foundress (they married with the Catholic Church’s permission in 1989) and a ministry coordinator. Instead of traveling in a big tour bus with a crew to manage sound and lighting like before, the trio packs everything they need into their van filled with sound and office equipment as well as boxes of some of John Michael Talbot’s 53 albums and 26 books.

In-between short stays at BSC’s Motherhouse in the Little Portion Hermitage outside of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, or at the community’s year-old St. Clare Monastery in Houston, Talbot lives on the road now, traveling more than nine months of the year doing his motivational ministry visits to parishes.

“The old John Michael Talbot has died,” Talbot, 59, told The Tidings before giving an Aug. 30 workshop on the Faith of the Church Fathers at the SCRC Convention in Anaheim. He also played his guitar and sang in a concert the next day with Franciscan Father Stan Fortuna, a professional jazz musician.

Talbot used to do only 10-12 concerts a year, living in his community in a hermit’s cell most of the time, earning a revenue stream through his recordings to support BSC’s ministries. Then, the digital revolution hit the music industry allowing people to individually download songs instead of buying albums, and many recording artists faced plunging sales, dwindling concert venues and, in the case of Christian and Catholic artists, closure of many religious store outlets.

Talbot saw that the old playbook wasn’t working anymore, and a 2008 fire at Little Portion which destroyed all the hermitage’s main buildings “kind of kicked it to the goal post.” Little Portion has since been re-built as one of the first green monasteries in the U.S. and, during the two-year construction period, Talbot, as he says, “went from Paul the Hermit to Paul the Apostle.”

Before the fire at Little Portion, Talbot had been allowed by his community to live a more reclusive life, only coming up to the hermitage’s main buildings for two meetings and a Mass each week.

“Something happened to me in those five years,” said Talbot. “I can’t even put it into words other than it was a naked encounter with God, and all of the little religious games stopped and my old John Michael died in a big way.”

When he surfaced after the fire, he did one more tour under the old concert format and set out to revamp his ministry, reflecting a vision the Lord gave him in 1971, after which he switched to playing Christian music following his early success as a guitarist with Mason Proffit, a country folk-rock band.

In the vision, Talbot had long hair and a beard and was dressed in a habit going from parish to parish, and the words, “When you do this, you will do what I put you here to do,” were quite clear.

Talbot now does 150 “ministries” a year and stays up to three days in parishes giving his motivational presentations which include teachings and music. In living the Franciscan spirit of itinerant ministry, he feels he is fulfilling the message of his early ’70s vision as well as sharing insights he has gained in the decades since.

“For 30 years, I’ve written books and led retreats and done teachings in the community, and the general public has not seen that side, not only of my ministry, but my person — I’m a goofy guy,” said Talbot. “Everybody that knows me personally says, ‘Wow, you’re radically different than this persona that is out there [seeming to float] around on this contemplative cloud.’”

Humor is a natural part of his parish presentations, where he describes his role as “God’s fool and God’s cheerleader” to get people excited about their church again. In contrast to his mostly music program of before, he intersperses singing and speaking, sometimes enthusiastically striding into the congregation.

“I thoroughly enjoy bringing faith and hope, especially hope, to a church in the United States, where, not only is the culture discouraged, but the church in the culture is discouraged,” said Talbot. People are ready to get excited about being Catholics again.

“The people out there in the pew are tired of bad news, they’re tired of the recession, they’re tired of political polarization, they’re tired of scandals in the church. The average person out there just wants to say, ‘Darn it, I love Jesus, and I love my church, and I’m ready to feel good about that,’” laughed Talbot.

A prolific writer, Talbot’s recent book projects include “The Jesus Prayer, A Cry for Mercy,” explaining the Jesus prayer from the eastern Catholic tradition; “Nothing is Impossible with God,” the title of the three-night parish mission he gives; and a book to be published by Image Books/Doubleday expected for release next year described as a journey into the Catholic Church through the Church Fathers.

“I came into the Catholic Church in 1978 through three different doorways: the monastic/Franciscan doorway, the Patristics (Church Fathers) doorway and the Charismatic Renewal doorway,” confided Talbot, who remembers being present at the first Christian music day at Knott’s Berry Farm when he was in the Jesus movement playing Christian music.

He says his evangelical Christian friends weren’t that upset when he became a Catholic, because back in the day, he “was very serious, and the Franciscans [who he went to study with and become Catholic in Indianapolis] taught me how to laugh.” He relishes his grass roots ministry, combining music, humor and the Gospel message.

“People are ready for good news,” said Talbot. “We just have to give each other permission to get excited about our faith again.”

Information on John Michael Talbot is available at www.JohnMichaelTalbot.com; www.facebook.com/johnmichaeltalbot; www.youtube.com/JohnMichaelTalbot; and www.churchchannel.tv as a monthly guest on the program “Live with Passion” hosted by Passionist Father Cedric Pisegna. 


Voices

Seeking the face of God in the Scriptures

Archbishop José H. Gomez

Prayer is seeking the face of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls the story of how St. John Vianney once found a peasant praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The saint asked him what he was doing, and the man replied: “I look at him and he looks at me.”

Events

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February 13, 2016

  • Saturday, February 13

    World Day of the Sick Mass, Mass and Anointing of the Sick, 12:30 p.m., Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels,  555 W Temple St, Los Angeles. Archbishop Gomez presiding with other bishops and priests. Special section designated for those in wheelchairs with volunteers available to help. Limited parking available for $8. Carpooling is encouraged. For more info: Chuck Huebner at cjhuebner @gmail.com or Jim LoCoco at flavialococ0@msn.com.

     

     

    Bosco Tech’s Yurak Memorial Run & Kids’ Fun Run, Check in begins at 8 a.m., Memorial Run at 9 a.m., Fun Run at 10 a.m., Bosco Tech, 1151 San Gabriel Blvd., Rosemead. Race registration is $35 per person. For school groups of 10 or more, the cost is $30. To register online, go to www.boscotech.edu/events or www.yurak.eventbrite.com; same-day registration available at check-in table. Included: racing fees, finisher medal, goodie bag and BBQ lunch. Plaques will be awarded to the top five male and female runners and to the fastest runner under 18.All proceeds to benefit Bosco Tech’s Yurak Athletic Center (YAC). 

     

    Cabrini Literary Guild “Sweetheart Bingo” Meeting, Sat., Feb.13 at Oakmont Country Club, 3100 Country Club Drive, Glendale. Meeting starts at 11 a.m., lunch at 12 p.m. ($30/person), and bingo social at 1 p.m. Bingo cards are $5 each, or $20 for five cards. For reservations, call (818) 790-3485.

     

    Footprints: Making Tracks for Neighbors in Need, 8:30 - 11:30 a.m., Bishop Amat High School track, 14301 Fairgrove Ave., La Puente. Catholic Charities San Gabriel Region will present this annual walk/run fundraiser to increase awareness about poverty, hunger and homelessness in the San Gabriel Region. Proceeds benefit those lacking basic needs, such as food, clothing, transportation and shelter. This is a come anytime, leave anytime event, with the first lap around the track to be led by Bishop David O'Connell. For more information, visit lentenfootprints.yolasite.com or contact Mary Romero at (213) 251-3582 or mromero@ccharities.org.

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