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Fearing The Stigmata: A Book Review

by John on 11/24/2012

You know my policy here.  Be transparent.  Announce your bias up-front.

Here’s mine before I review Matthew Weber’s Fearing the Stigmata: Humorously Holy Stories of a Young Catholic’s Search for a Culturally Relevant Faith – which I recommend and I highly recommend as a Christmas gift.

Matt is like a brother to me.  More specifically, he is an intellectual brother.  Our intellectual mentor, Father Paul Seaver, introduced us a number of years ago.  We both graduated from Providence but a couple of decades apart.  In fact, Matt’s mom was at Providence when I was there.  Despite our vast difference in years, I have learned far more from Matt than he has from me.

Matt and I corresponded by phone and email until I moved to Boston and we were able to have meals, long talks, and getting our ladies together.  To me, Matt is a marvel.  He is one of those rare people to possess brains, sense of humor, and humility.

He has degrees from Providence, Boston College, and Harvard.  He works for the Education Department at Harvard right now – creating their video and audio content.  You have to hear his podcasts called the Harvard Ed-cast with a slew of special guests in politics and entertainment.  In addition, he has a weekly segment on Catholic TV called “A Word with Weber.

Matt is likened to Andy Rooney.  And there is some of Rooney in him.  But I see him more as a new Woody Allen.  Like Allen, Matt not only appears on TV and writes, but he is a filmmaker too.

And as I read his book, I can hear Woody Allen’s great final line from his landmark film, Annie Hall.  Allen compares relationships to a joke.  A man tells his friend: “My brother thinks he’s a chicken.”  The friend says: “Maybe you should call the police.”  The man says, “I would, but I need the eggs.”

For Matt, the eggs are his Irish Catholic faith.  It’s a Roman Catholic faith New England-style.  It’s a bit stoic; you never wear your faith on your sleeve.  Yet, you stand by your faith.  You accept other faiths, although you would try your best not to marry someone outside of Catholicism.  (Anglicans are alright since, as Brendan Behan said, Catholics base their faith on the Rock of Peter while Anglicans base it on the balls of Henry.)

But what is missing from Catholicism lately – thanks to the priest pedophile scandal, the falling away of the congregation and seminarians, the abortion, and contraceptive issues – is a sense of humor.  After all, your religion is not legitimate unless it can be made fun of.

Matt brings the humor back in an old fashioned way.  The title comes from his experience as a child when the nun explains the wounds in the feet and hands of a saint from the stigmata.  The nun tells Matt that the wounds came from being a good Catholic.  Matt’s reaction is typically Catholic, and not just a young Catholic: “That night I went home and decided I had better start doing some more sinning.”

He also has some great meditations on talking to statues and getting the host from the Holy Eucharist stuck in his harmonica.  Matt open the flood gates for some of my own memories.  He reminded me when my fellow altar boy Eddie Carr farted during Mass.  I couldn’t stop laughing and then I bowed and hit the priest in the back, only to find out he was a visiting priest who was a friend of my parents.  If I knew what the stigmata was back then, I would have begged for it.

Matt also describes being a devout Catholic at Harvard where the college was founded on the theory of rejecting Papists centuries ago.  Talk about walking into Yankee Stadium with a Red Sox cap on.  Matt nicely describes himself as a sideshow for the inquisitive scholars.  That’s no surprise, though.  It reminded me of friends in college who said they had never met a black or a Jew.

If you’re a Catholic – either devout or fallen – you will enjoy this book.  It’s a great Christmas gift.  It’s not an audio book yet, so make sure your Kindle works.  Mine didn’t; that’s why it took me so long to review this.

Don’t worry.  You can share Stigmata with your grandmother and your kids.  Matt does talk about a naked Kate Winslet in Titanic.  But he does it in a tasteful and very funny Catholic way.  In other words, he turned his head but looked out of the side of his eye.

But I think you should read Fearing the Stigmata, because this will only be the first work of many by Matt.  Get used to hearing his name.

God blessed you, Matthew, and as a result, all of us, too.


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