Father Lorenzo Albacete

God Is Also At the Ritz Hotel

Lorenzo Albacete appears on the major networks and his comments are published in The New York Times. He has written a book collecting his reflections on the big issues of our day, provoked by a meeting with journalists in a California hotel.
Maurizio Maniscalco

Albacete is a special friend and a sure, reliable guide. For me personally, he is also a frequent traveling companion, in the adventures that take us to the most improbable places in this country.

What is more, “for better or worse,” everybody knows Albacete. Well, maybe not everybody; after all, there are three hundred million of us. However, a lot do. And not just people in the ecclesiastical world. Msgr Lorenzo appears on television, on PBS, and the universally famous CNN turned to him when, for example, the sexual abuse scandal seemed like the most important thing in the world. Lorenzo also writes for the weekly New York Times Magazine, among other things.

However, he had never before done a book like this. God at the Ritz is the title, with subtitles that at the very least cannot help arousing curiosity: “Attraction to Infinity,” and below that, “A Priest-Physicist Talks about Science, Sex, Politics, and Religion.”

The book is made up of reflections and experiences–two, three, at the most four pages long–written as only Lorenzo can, with that taste of his for talking, knowing what he is talking about, and a dose of self-irony that cannot but bring a smile even when the issues are burning ones.

In short, enough to make you start reading–and to want to have a chat with him about what he wrote.

So, you wrote a book.... you are a priest and as such you have your duties, give retreats and spiritual exercises. But you’ve also been a teacher for many years, you write articles, give speeches, presentations. Why a book now? What for?
“Las malas lenguas,” as we say in Puerto Rico (evil tongues, i.e., people who love gossip), would say that I wrote the book now simply because I’m after money. They are wrong. I’d rather paraphrase a New Yorker cartoon that is mentioned in the book, about two pilgrims coming to America on the Mayflower, one saying to the other that he is coming “because of religious freedom, but I also plan to get into real estate.” I’d say I have written the book “for the glory of God, but I also hope to make some money.”

Let’s take it from the title: God at the Ritz. Is God currently dwelling there?
“God is all in all,” including the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Pasadena, California, which is the “Ritz” to which the title refers. Frankly, I’d love to meet God at all the Ritz Carlton hotels! However, the title refers to an experience I had at the Ritz in Pasadena, where I had gone to answer questions from the nation’s media critics about a PBS-TV show on the impact of Pope John Paul II’s actions and teachings. I was asked a few questions about that, but most of the questions were about the possibility, the reasonableness of belief in God today. Unexpectedly, I found myself having to answer for God and the entire religious history of humankind. I did as well as I could under the circumstances, but I thought I should go back to the main questions and answer them with more precision and thought. That is what the book is about.

I suppose it’s a kind of post-modern apologetics for people on the border between non-belief and belief.

After the title, before everything else, there’s a note about Fr Giussani.
I dedicated the book to Father Giussani, because in the midst of the questioning I thought about him and about what I have learned from him, namely, to appeal to nothing other than the desires of the human heart and the experiences of these desires that we all have in common. “Las malas lenguas” might say that the book is nothing but the ultimate vulgarization of Fr Giussani’s thought, but even that would be a great honor and joy for me!

All those you write about–you make it clear–are kind of real stories in which man finds himself facing the “big questions”. Can we call them the “what’s life all about questions”? Even those guys who dwell at the Ritz face such questions?
Yes, you can call them that. Note that my audience was not people who live at the Ritz. They were as out of place there as I was. We were “living off” the big bucks of the media empire. My audience was mostly journalists covering the entertainment media. And yes, they most certainly asked those questions.

So these are the people who–to use your Puerto Rican words–could eat you up like a “gallina” (chicken) would do with a “cucaracha” (cockroach). Instead.....
Instead I found that we were all cucarachas in a world that threatens to eat us up, and we need to know how to win the struggle.

The pages on suffering are among those which struck me the most, because it’s easy to understand that you’re really out there on those pages, with all of your human weakness, tenderness and faith. Why did you write those things?
Again, I wrote in response to the questions I was asked. I wrote only about what I have experienced. The chapters on suffering are the ones that have elicited most response: letters, e-mail, etc. It’s amazing how much so many are suffering, trying to deal with it. Suffering is a thirst for meaning, for understanding, for solidarity, for friendship, for affirmation. The one who suffers wants to be reassured that she or he is not crazy, guilty, an outcast from life. I have tried to show them how suffering can be a point of departure towards an encounter with Mercy as the origin and destiny of life.

What is the one thing that you would like to see sticking to the heart of the readers?
The hope that will sustain their further questioning, the experience of a hint that there is an Answer that satisfies all the desires of the heart.