The CultureCast: This Week Mother Assumpta Long sits down with Radio Broadcaster and Host Al Kresta.

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Mother Assumpta:

We have in our midst a wonderful man that we’ve known since we’ve been in Ann Arbor. Not only is he known in the media world, but he is a man with a brilliant mind and able to articulate his faith beautifully. God has given him some physical challenges which he’s embraced. Thank God the Holy Spirit led you to your media work because you’ve done so much for so many people. How did you get in media?

Al Kresta:

Thank you for such a warm welcome Mother. Well, when I encountered Christ in 1974, I was a student at Michigan State University. I’ve been raised Catholic, but I drifted away during the 1960s into New Age thought, but eventually I came to understand that the Jesus of the New Testament was very different than the Jesus of the New Age movement. I was stunned. My Catholic upbringing had been minimal, so when I began to read the Bible and realize that Jesus said things that were shocking to me. I had assumed that all religions were essentially one and that you basically work your way up to Salvation. I didn’t have any understanding of Grace and that Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father but by Me.” It was a shock because I believe the writers of the New Testament were eyewitnesses or were close to the apostles, and so I took those as real words of Jesus. I started sharing the Gospel of what God had done in space and time to reconcile the world to Himself, and I began to talk about how that had impacted and changed my life. People were interested and made commitments of Faith. They were baptized. I wasn’t Catholic at the time. I was within Evangelical Protestantism, and people were responding to what I had to say. 

When I got out of college, I was managing Christian bookstores because that was another way to get the message out there. Little by little, I got drawn into the world of media publishing. Then somebody asked me to Pastor a church. Then somebody came and said, “Would you like to do a radio show?” and I thought, “Let me try that,” and that’s what happened. I’ve never had to fill out a resume. It’s one thing after another, and I think it’s because I was open. The nice thing about coming to know Christ as an early adult is that I’m still in college, which meant that I was thinking about my future. I always wanted my faith to be integrated with my future in some way. I had about two years to live out my faith on campus and then started with the bookstores. I got to know something about writing and publishing. 

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Mother Assumpta:

It was God working through your life that you were open to it. 

Al Kresta:

I’s funny. Some people might think that you’re courageous to flow with it that way, but it hasn’t felt like a great exertion of courage. It’s a willingness to trust that God is there and that He is telling a story through my life. Of course, Sally was one of the early people I shared the gospel with, and she believed in Christ, was baptized, and we ended up marrying. She’s been supportive from the very beginning. I don’t think I could have had the stability to do this work without being married. I knew I was called to marriage early on.

Mother Assumpta:

When did you become Catholic?

Al Kresta:

In 1992. I was 18 years within Evangelical Protestantism, and the experience of pastoring an Independent Evangelical Church forced me to ask certain questions about the nature of the church and the role of the pastor. What is Spiritual Authority? I wasn’t just a layman anymore. I was ordained as a pastor. The more I studied Scripture, the more I realized that the Catholic tradition best understood what I saw the New Testament teaching. The Church is Universal. It has authority. In Acts chapter 15, you have the Jerusalem Council. When they make their decision, it’s expected that all the churches are going to adhere to that. The Eucharist was central. Peter was central among the apostles. I never realized that until I’m reading about Peter and saying, “Wait a minute. He’s not just one of the twelve. He’s the prince of the Apostles.” After a while, you begin to say, “Hmm, of the Christian traditions out there, which of them insist on universal unity? Which of them insists that there’s Apostolic succession as a means of maintaining that Unity with the apostles? Which of them sees Peter as having a central role in that? Which of them has the Eucharist Central to its life? Eventually you’re down to two options: Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, and there are reasons Eastern Orthodoxy was not an option for me. I went back to the Catholic Church that I had been baptized into as a baby. 

Mother Assumpta:

Were you a pastor when this happened? 

Al Kresta:

Yes. That’s why I resigned. I realized I was going to become Catholic, and I wasn’t at the place where I could lead my congregation in that direction. There are still too many uncertainties. I didn’t feel right about leading them in a direction in which I wasn’t certain yet. I don’t mind doing that for me or my family, but they’re paying me a salary to preach their doctrinal statement, so I didn’t want to be subversive in that way. 

Mother Assumpta:

What’s beautiful, Al, is that you’re coming into the Church intellectually. It wasn’t just emotional. God gave you a good mind to penetrate these things. There are so many people who have gone before us that have pioneered the way. 

Al Kresta:

Once you see it, I’m out. I want to see, and I’ve never had a doubt about the truth of Catholic Doctrine. Since I became Catholic, I’ve heard lots of complaints about the way things work out, but I’ve never had a doubt about the coherence and solid believability of the Catholic Truth. 

Mother Assumpta:

When you started on the radio, were you Catholic?

Al Kresta:

I started in 1987 when I was an Evangelical Pastor. I returned to the Catholic Church in 1992. For a few years, it was unusual, but I was able to continue doing my work there as the only Catholic in that jungle setting. In fact, when the Detroit Free Press came to do a profile on me, at the end of the conversation the woman interviewing me said, “Where do you go to church now?” I said, “I go to St. Suzanne’s.” She says, “Are you Catholic?” I said, “I’m a Catholic.” She had not mentioned that, so she wrote it up in the article, and for the next few days, the lines were burning up at the radio station wondering how I could have become a Catholic. 

Mother Assumpta:

How long were you on the radio before you came to Ann Arbor? 

Al Kresta:

I’d been on the radio 10 years before I came to Ann Arbor in February 1997. I remember it well because we were so impressed with what you were doing and the schools were coming along. Sally was homeschooling at the time, but she asked, “Can we stop homeschooling because I really love what the Dominican Sisters are doing with the schools?” 

Mother Assumpta:

Why did you come to Ann Arbor? 

Al Kresta:

I had become Catholic, and for the first few years I was able to do the program without creating an ongoing conflict with my management. My contract specified that we’re not to make a big deal about our own church affiliation. If people ask a direct question, I give a direct answer, but you don’t go around waving your flag whether you were Baptist or a Catholic. Eventually, it started because as I began to look at American culture and the problems we’re facing, the more I was convinced that a Christian approach would be very good but a more specifically Catholic solution was required. I thought there was no Christian tradition that has thought as deeply about sexuality as the Catholic tradition and John Paul the II’s Theology of the Body. I began to think that it was necessary for me to begin speaking on the distinctively Catholic emphasis. When you’ve got a largely 90% Evangelical Protestant audience, they listen for a while, but they begin to think that you’re riding your hobbyhorse. We saw this coming, and we prayed for two years. Sally had been on a pilgrimage with Father Ed and members of Christ the King parish. We liked the people there, and I also knew other people from Ann Arbor. We said, “What would you think of moving to Ann Arbor? I could get back to the Detroit station in about 20 minutes.” “Let’s go find a house in Ann Arbor.” We got ready to buy property in this area, and I got hit with the flu the Christmas of 1996. I couldn’t meet with the realtor, and we were too late with money down on the property; January comes along and I am finally back on the air feeling lousy, but the second week in January, Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza, calls me. We knew each other, and he wanted to know if I would be interested in moving to Ann Arbor to start a media operation. It was hard to say that God wasn’t at work. By the end of February 1997, we had moved to Ann Arbor.

Mother Assumpta:

We’re so blessed to have you here. You’ve been a blessing for the community and all of us. Tell us about your physical challenge. God is fortifying you for a lot of things. I can’t imagine what Sally went through. We were in agony also with you.

Al Kresta:

In fact, I just found the big cards that the kids here sent me. We got tremendous when I was in the hospital. I got extraordinary support from the sisters and from the students at the school. 

Mother Assumpta:

What happened? 

Al Kresta:

I was actually in a fairly bad place spiritually, and I knew it. I was running on empty, and I hadn’t taken time for retreat in a long time. I knew something was going to have to happen. I had a sense of being driven, and that’s different than being called. My sense of call was getting messed up, and I was beginning to feel driven: “I had to do this. I had to accomplish that. I have to manage this thing or that thing.” I was staying up too late. I was getting up too early. I was eating too much. I was drinking too much. I was not spending as much time as I needed to with my kids. Sally said something was going to have to give, and I came down with strep throat or something, flat out my back. I began to get a pain in my lower back. That was on a Friday. I missed work that day, and our chaplain sent Gary Zmuda to the house to share the Eucharist with me. I told Gary, “I don’t know what’s going on, but I think God is going to break some logjam in my life. I feel it, and I think it’s going to take some suffering.” The following week, Monday night, the illness had gotten so great that I could no longer walk. The pain in my lower back whenever I tried to move was so great. Nobody knew what it was. We went to St. Joe’s. When we got there, my blood pressure had dropped so low that they couldn’t give me any pain relief. Overnight they tried to get my blood pressure up so they could relieve the pain, and it was excruciating the next morning. When I awoke, I felt mildly better. I had pain relief. Father Ed Fride came by to share the Eucharist with me. Father John Ricardo dropped by, and we talked a little bit. I said, “I think the Lord is doing something here.” I feel incredibly blessed because I did think this was in God’s Providence. I felt like Daddy was spanking me. He loves me enough to squeeze me, and He was giving me a squeeze that was going to break a few bones, but it was because of His love. I was aware of that which is rare. Doctors came in said to me, “You’re very sick. I said, “When will I be able to go home?” They said, “We have to show you something.” They showed me my left leg. There had been a purple streak rising up in my leg a few inches long, and they said, “That’s growing about an inch every hour. I’ve never seen anything like that before.” He said, “We’re going to have to do some surgery. We might have to take your leg. I said, “Wait a minute. Should we get a second opinion?” There were about four of them gathered around, and one of them said, “We don’t have time to do that. If we don’t start in the next 20 minutes, you may be dead in the next three hours.” At that point, you don’t have much choice. It’s your leg or your life. I got prepared. They did all the work to bring me into surgery. God’s grace was present at that time. I wasn’t terrified at all. I did not want to think about the children. I avoided that because I thought that might destabilize me, but I did see Sally, and we talked. After surgery, I didn’t wake up for five days. I remained unconscious and they kept me subdued for 5 days. When I first awakened, my daughter and my son, James, were there. They told me that Sally was on the fifth floor of the hospital, and they thought that she had the same thing. I was still getting used to the thing, whatever that flesh-eating bacteria was, and I was thinking, “Is that contagious?” They said, “No.” I said, “How would she get it?” They finally decided she didn’t have that, but I was in the hospital for 10 weeks after that and bedridden for the next six months. I was very conscious of being lifted up by the prayers of God’s people. Obviously in a situation like that as a Catholic, you’re trying to unite your suffering to that of Jesus, and it was difficult because your attention span is shot. I tried and didn’t do very well, but I was glad I was trying at all to do it. St. Catherine of Siena has a statement which says something like if you’re experiencing distractions in prayer, you’re going to experience distractions when you’re trying to offer up your sufferings as well. That was helpful because I get distracted in prayer all the time, so I’m going to get distracted offering up this. Sally was a big help. She brought me a quote saying “Discouragement is never from God because it blocks out all the bright rays of Hope. Disappointment is one thing. Discouragement is something entirely different. That gave me the courage to fight back whenever I was discouraged. 10 weeks later, I came home. Eventually, the wound healed, and I went back to work. 

Mother Assumpta:

You said the most incredible thing that I think is for all of us to know all people initially. Maybe not the extreme way that God did it, but you recognized that suffering would be beneficial to you if we could just think about that. I’m a firm believer in that. Although none of us want it, there’s nothing that makes the character of a person stronger than to go through suffering. The fact that you recognize and welcomed it in effect is beautiful. That’s something all of us should know. I couldn’t believe it when you said that you needed something to get your life on the right track. 

Al Kresta:

I had a period of intense suffering back in 1982 and that turned out to be a baptism into suffering which then equipped me to begin doing pastoral work. I had the blessing of seeing a connection. People say you don’t always get it as clearly as I had it. I’m very grateful because if I didn’t see the connection so clearly, I think I’d be tempted to doubt. The suffering is suffering now. 

Mother Assumpta:

I want to thank you for coming over. It’s like old times. We don’t see each other that much. You’re a gift to our community and also the local community and the world, whoever hears you on the radio. You speak with a clear voice and a brilliant mind. God bless you. 

Al Kresta:

Thank you, Mother. You and your sisters have given my whole family a vision of consecrated life that has been an encouragement for us and also helped strengthen the plausibility of the faith. 


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