"I don't think the Church is trying to oppress me; I think the Church is on the side of love."
  • "I don't think the Church is trying to oppress me; I think the Church is on the side of love."
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In Lickona's "true confessions," we are introduced to a unique and singular voice, but one that is emblematic of a new generation of believers who combine a premodern faith with a postmodern sensibility. Swimming With Scapulars is a modern-day Catholic coming-of-age story that takes its author from the austere Catholicism of his Irish-French family in upstate New York to the exotic spiritual tapestry of California. It is the story of the formation of an ardent young believer who is painfully honest about his shortcomings, yet who finds joy in receiving the Eucharist and embracing "the ancient treasures of the faith."


From Publishers Weekly: As personal faith stories go, Lickona's is a breath of fresh air, thoughtfully written and happily absent of platitudes and pious moralizing. A 30-year-old husband, father of four, and writer for the San Diego Reader, an alternative weekly, Lickona lives a Catholicism that is orthodox but also dynamic and relevant to modern culture. He reads Salon and The Onion and gleans life lessons from contemporary film and fiction even as he embraces beliefs and traditions rejected by his parents' generation. He admits to being a virgin when he married, and he and his wife practice natural family planning in keeping with their church's ban on artificial birth control. Lickona also wears a scapular, fasts during Lent, and has a statue of St. Joseph in his front yard. In writing about these beliefs and practices, he explains how he came to accept them, often after a period of questioning. As he navigates the realm of Catholic faith in the 21st Century, Lickona reflects candidly on his failures, foibles, and doubts. He confesses to "parish hopping" in search of a Mass that will not disturb his peace of soul, to personal struggles with "constant wanting" and anger, and to his weakness in communicating his faith. Most readers will disagree with Lickona's assessment that he is a poor communicator and will find themselves captivated by this winsome story of a soul.


Matthew Lickona was born in Cortland, a city in upstate New York, in 1973. He attended Thomas Aquinas College in California. Upon graduation in 1995, he began writing for the Reader. Since 1999, he has written "Crush," the newspaper's wine column. He lives in La Mesa with his wife Deirdre and their four children.


Q: Why didn't you want to write this book?

Lord help me, I wanted to be a novelist. I didn't want the memoir serving as a Rosetta stone for the novels. I'm a Catholic, and my early attempts at fiction clearly arise from a Catholic sensibility, but there's a difference between a sensibility and a sermon. I was afraid that people would accuse the novel of preaching — a cardinal sin in fiction — simply because they already knew what I thought about this or that. "Oh, when he writes X, it's just because he believes Y. It's all there in the memoir."

Q: X? Y?

Take Portnoy's Complaint, a novel I enjoyed immensely. When Philip Roth writes about a Jewish guy whose sexual appetites bump up against his religious imprinting, it's hilarious. People don't view it as a morality tale or a sermon, even though there's a moral verdict handed down on Portnoy at the end. I've been trying to write a similar sort of novel about a Catholic guy. But even if I did a decent job of it, it would be easy to dismiss, given the personal sexual mores I lay out in the memoir.

Q: Personal sexual mores?

I adhere to the Catholic Church's traditional teaching on sexual matters, up to and including the prohibition of contraception. I do this not simply because the teaching is traditional — though that does count for something — but also because it makes sense to me. I understand the Church's claims about sexuality, not in a way that I could logically demonstrate (the book is a memoir about my life, not a defense of my beliefs), but in a way that resonates with my experience. I don't think the Church is trying to oppress me; I think the Church is on the side of love. This puts me in the minority among Americans, even among American Catholics. So if I've got a novel, even a comic novel, in which a guy's sexual appetites muck up his life, you can see how easy it would be to say, "What did you expect? The author's a freak."

Q: So why did you end up writing the memoir?

Enough circumstances coalesced for me to call it providence. For starters, I gained an appreciation for just how hard it is to get a novel published and realized that if I ever succeeded on that score, I should just be grateful and not worry so much about how people might react. That removed my chief obstacle. After that, I sort of got carried along by the tide. Abe Opincar found a publisher for his food memoir Fried Butter, which began as a collection of columns written for the Reader. After it came out (to good reviews), Jim Holman, editor and publisher of the Reader, asked me, "So, when are you going to publish 'Confessions?' " In this, he echoed my wife, my father, and a dear friend, all of whom thought my "Confessions" column was my best work.

Q: "Confessions"? Don't you write about wine?

I write about wine for the Reader, but Holman also publishes a Catholic newspaper, The San Diego News Notes. In 1999, he asked me to write a monthly column for the News Notes about my spiritual life -- such as it was. The column was (and is) called "Confessions"; I wrote it under the name Broderick Barker. I used a pseudonym because I didn't want people I knew reading about my sins, and I knew there would have to be sins in any serious account of my spiritual life.

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