On August 2,3 and 4, I attended the 2013 Corpus Christi Men’s Retreat held at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmittsburg, MD. The retreat leader for the weekend was Father Larry Richards. After dinner Saturday evening, Father Larry graciously took some time to sit with me for an interview. What follows is that interview.
PETE: Is it difficult for you to switch from your speaker mode to writing a book?
FATHER LARRY RICHARDS: If you ever read the books it is very much like my speaking mode. That is why everybody who ever heard me speak they always say “Father I can hear you in every word of the book.” Well sure! Again the way I do it is I write it first, and then I preach it. It is always different the way I preach it then the way I write it. I add all kinds of things, take things out and then I will go on retreat. I will take the two things and have it transcribed. I take what I preach and I take what I write and put it together. That is why it sounds like I am speaking.
Like the Be a Man book. I preached it to 200 men every week. I would say “Gentlemen is there anything I could have added? You want to hear something else? How about giving me some questions at the end of each chapter so I can add?”
It is very much like when I preached this last one on Just Live It. I said to people, if there is something that you want me to deal with, send that to me in an email and next week I will incorporate it. All of my books are very, you know, working with other people at the same time because I want to be able to reach the most amount of people with every book I write so it’s not just for a few. I want to reach as many as possible.
PETE: The one thing you said kind of leads into another question I had. And that is basically you could have just been a parish priest and stayed at a home parish. What drives you and motivates you to do all of this?
FATHER LARRY RICHARDS: Well, when I came to Christ I was 17 years old. I came to Christ by watching Billy Graham. So, I always thought that the Lord was calling me to be Billy Graham of the Catholic Church, and my whole drive has always been to evangelize. Like when I started the foundation [The Reason for Our Hope Foundation]. The purpose of the foundation is to bring the whole world to Jesus Christ. If I was to just stay in my parish I would go out of my mind because Jesus did not call us to be shepherds. That came later. He called us first to be fishermen and fishermen never stay at the same place. They have to go out into the deep as John Paul talked about. I have always liked being both.
Years ago my Bishop said would you like to be released and just go full time on the road? I said absolutely not because my people keep me grounded and I can still shepherd them. My church started with 200 families and we grew because even as a parish we evangelized. Now we say our most important thing every week is not the people who are here but the people who are not here. We have to be good shepherds. The good shepherd leaves the 99 and goes after the 1 and so that is all I always wanted to do and that is what I always done. We sit there and make sure that they are there to take care of each other and protected and I go out and bring more people in and we bring them in that way.
For me if I was just on the road I would go out of my mind. Most speakers if that is all they do, almost always are led to scandal. Every Catholic speaker there is out there, unless they have been married, most priests, if that is all they do is go out it is very easy [to be led into] scandal because people say nice things about you. They treat you like you are really good and so you start to believe that and it builds up your ego. When I go [back] to the parish they could care less. “Father you were not here last week and I needed you for something” so it keeps you grounded.
They could care less; “I do not care you wrote another book. I do not care! You were not here”; but that is what you need. Like people who are married they go out and do things and their husbands or wives sit there and say hey I want you here with the kids. So it is a way of keeping you grounded.
PETE: Your books and talks are obviously geared towards us men. What do think is the biggest challenge to men today?
FATHER LARRY RICHARDS: I think the biggest challenge to men is they listened to society [telling them] what men are instead of looking at Jesus. That is why I wrote the book Be a Man. Like in [my] dealing with high school boys throughout the years and dealing with men and different things. With most men who are their heroes? Theirs are sports figures; oh for goodness sakes; movie stars, or rock stars. That is what men look too, to what it is to be a man and most of these people, or any of those things, not all but most of them, are adolescent. They are still kids and they only live for themselves.
When I was dealing with boys I thought, these guys need an image of what it is to be a man. So for me it is like, I want you to look at Jesus and look at his life. Do not be what society tries to take Jesus and melt him down to something he is not. They take Jesus and make him into like Barney or whatever. He tipped toed through tulips, but Jesus was a hard man. People did not like Jesus. I would say to men you want to be a man I want you to go through the characteristics, look at the gospels and go through the characteristics of Jesus Christ. He was confronting, he was not gentle, he was all these strong things. Jesus would not be accepted in most parishes today because he rubbed people the wrong way. My thing is we bought into the lie to many men. We have got to purify that. So what is it to be a man of God? It is all together different to be a man of the world and a man of God.
PETE: Your next book do you want to talk a little about that and the title?
FATHER LARRY RICHARDS: It is called Just Live It and it is about living the 10 principals of the Lord’s, of the world’s, most famous prayer. What I do is I take the Lord’s Prayer and I break it down into 10 principals. For instance the first word is “Our” what does that mean? I belong to everyone and everyone belongs to me. I am called to love everybody without reservation. I cannot just sit there and say me and my God, that is completely, exactly opposite of God because every time you and I pray it is always a communal thing so there is no pride with God and I when we go to heaven. Heaven is not “I am just going to stare at God forever”. Some people think that is Heaven. It is a communal thing. It is God loves us, we love Him, and we love each other for all of eternity. When we are on earth what we learn it is about us, we already start to touch him.
I believe everybody says, Catholic or Protestant, the Lord’s Prayer, most every day but I think most people do not have a clue as to what they are saying. Like you say “Your will be done” then something bad happens in your day. So did you say the Lord’s prayer today….I did….did you say your will be done….I did….for if this is his will why have you not thanked him for it…….but that is not what I meant. Well of course it is not what you meant! When you say forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespasses against us, what you are saying, every time we say that prayer, is Lord if I am forgiving forgive me. If I am not forgiving do not forgive me. Most people do not have a clue that is what they say every time they say that prayer.
PETE: At Mass this morning it was different for me when you slowed the Our Father down.
FATHER LARRY RICHARDS: You could tell in the beginning I had to skip a line to catch up with people! I thought I ain’t going to be able to bring this down if I keep it slower so I have to start there and bring it down. Tomorrow it will be a little bit better, but think about what Jesus said. He says when you pray do not rattle on like the pagans do. At every church you go to I say throughout the world stop for a moment and watch. Just look. When the Lord’s Prayer starts people start rattling on like the pagans do. They just go on to automatic pilot and they just start saying a bunch of words that they have memorized. Well excuse me is this a relationship here? May we talk? Can it be a relationship?
It is just like I quoted the other day prayer is a relationship not a ritual. Yes it can be both, but you can literally do the ritual and never pray. You can pray without ritual but like I said years ago ritual without prayer is rape. It just is not right. You need to make it both. You got to have a true relationship [with God]. What I am hoping to do is hopefully, really get people to really think about the prayer that most people pray though out the world and think about it so it becomes a real relationship prayer and it challenges us to go to the next level.
PETE: Time for my signature ending question. What books are currently on your bookshelves to read?
FATHER LARRY RICHARDS: Well I was just talking about this book I just finished Rebuilt which is from a priest in the Diocese of Baltimore. It is a great book and I was like boy this makes so much sense! It is something I have been trying to do for years, taking the best of what Protestants do and bring it into the Catholic Church.
One of the things that hit me more than anything else is in one of the chapters “It is the Weekend Stupid”. It was like where have I been you know? Most churches are open Monday through Friday 8:30 to 4:30 when everybody is working. Why are we not open on weekends when people can come to us? It was like a slap in the face, where have I been? That is the type of books I love. The one I just read was an eBook on kindle, Cardinal Dolan’s book on the Conclave [Praying in Rome: Reflections on the Conclave and Electing Pope Francis]. I am sitting there saying this is so good.
I have a bunch of Saints books, I’m a big book reader. Right now I have the Life of Saint Francis Xavier a two volume set. I am also reading one of my favorite authors a Protestant guy Francis Chan and Francis Chan he has a book out called Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit. That is a phenomenal book and I just started it. In this Forgotten God book he talks about if I am a football player and God comes to me and says listen I am going to live inside of you to make you the best football player in world. Would you expect that football player to be a good football player? Everybody would be well of course he would be the best football player around.
Well God says listen, I want you to be a good disciple. I am going to live inside of you. I am going to give you my Holy Spirit so you can be on fire. You would expect us to be the best people in the world because we have God living in us but most people live like he does not live with us. That is why I talked about that tonight, living on the Holy Spirit. How do we get to this next level? It is all about the Holy Spirit.
For me the best authors are ones who are very practical and very real. I do not like the pie in the sky when you die stuff. That is not going to do anything for me. I cannot take just different thoughts on spirituality. To me it has to be how you live it. How do I take what you just said and live it. It’s like when I did the Be a Man book, after each chapter there are three things you must do because when I read something I want something to change in my life. When I read a book that takes a lot of time to sit there and read some material! I only have so much time in my life so if I read it I want this to be able to help me to grow so that is what I am always looking for.
PETE: It’s interesting that you mentioned Rebuiltbecause I reviewed that book. In it they discuss that their parish was dying. You mentioned earlier that you built your own church from 200 to 800. How did you do it?
FATHER LARRY RICHARDS: When I got in there the first thing I did is pray and so that is the biggest thing. I did a big thing in Carmel, PA. Father Dorning had a parish mission there and the place held a 1,000 people and we had 1,500 people that night when I heard confession. I heard confession until 4 in the morning and we had 20 priests and I am thinking what is going on? They have a grade school there that is free, they have a clinic that is free and all this stuff and I am thinking what is going on? Well, what I realized is that he kept going to chapel like seven times a day and every time I was in that chapel there the pastor was on his knees in prayer. That is the core of how people start growing.
The second thing I have, I pray every day. I pray for my people when I am on the road and they all know that. Also they all are praying for me. Written down at the Blessed Sacrament there is a little thing that says Father Larry is at Mount Saint Mary’s in Emmittsburg [this weekend] please pray for him. So I know that every moment there are two people on their knees praying for me while I am gone and I always pray for them.
One of the things too is that I do three classes that everyone has to go through. You cannot just come and join my parish, you got to go through three classes. I teach all three and we do it about four times a year. It is on a Sunday between Masses and so it is an hour class. The first week is what does it mean for Jesus to be Lord? I talk about how you have to be a person of prayer and you have to pray with your family. You cannot be pro-choice, you cannot use artificial birth control, and you have to tithe. I say, this is what we are do you want to be part of us? You are most welcome, but if you do not want to do that, you cannot join the parish. You are always welcome to come but this is who we are.
The second week we talk about what it means to serve. I say there are no takers in Christianity but everyone here has to do one thing for the Parish every year or you are a taker. I do not want your money, God has plenty of money. [You might say] I give you money. I do not want it. You got to sit there and be a giver of yourself.
The third week is what it means to worship. Then we talk about how we are a group of intercity parishes that merged with charismatic. One Mass is a charismatic Mass, another Mass is traditional and the other, we really do not know what it is, is a combination of both things every week though. Because of my preaching, when I preach, it is to make disciples of my people. I do not take for granted that these people know God. I am always challenging them and who I preach to first, is me.
Every time I get up to preach it is what the Lord convicts me of in my heart and saying “Larry this has got to change.” When the Lord convicts me then I can convict the people. So that happens every week and people are attracted to that because it always a growing thing. We cannot sit back on what we have done. It is where God is calling us, this community.
One of the things I did years ago, I gave all these programs. [I said] we are not going to do a program for Lent but what we are going to do this Lent is everyone is going to meet after the last Mass on Sunday and we are going to meet over in the gym. I am going to ask questions and read scriptures. What I do is, I ask the question, I read the scripture, I put out the Blessed Sacrament, and we all sit there for 15 minutes of silence. So it will be 200, 300 people sitting there in silence. Then I would say ok, now I want you to get into your groups and discuss what the Lord said to you in those 15 minutes. Then they would share and at the end of the day they share and say “hey where is the Lord calling us?” For all of Lent we waited on the Lord saying Lord where are you calling us to as a community? At the end of Lent we would pick five things we were going to do like door to door evangelization, different things.
So that is where we are at and that is where we are going. Some people were excited and wanted to be a part of that other people left the first couple of weeks and said no I like just being where I am at. So you have to sit there and think that first of all you need the vision of the leader. No matter what, if the pastor is not on fire, the parish cannot get on fire. It just cannot happen because the leader has to lead. That is why what we are doing with my foundation is, next year we are going to start a whole program teaching priests and deacons how to preach. The number one complaint statistically throughout the Catholic Church is the preaching on Sunday and that is what people come for. They come for Jesus of course but that is why they leave us because they are not being fed. You have to be able to bring them Jesus in the Eucharist and Jesus in the word.
I think that most priests and some deacons were never thought homiletics. If you were taught, you were taught one course. It is a shame that the number one thing the world is crying out for we do not teach our people. When I do a parish mission I get them on fire. I make all the deacons have to come and the priests have to come, why? Because I got to preach to the priests and the deacons first or I get the people on fire and they [the priests and deacons] will come with a wet blanket and cover that fire. We priests, we need to be on fire if we are going to get our people on fire. That has always been my biggest struggle. We are not enough on fire.