ROME — Before being ordained a priest in the Opus Dei prelature in 1999, Father John Wauck studied Renaissance history literature at Harvard University and later served as a contributing editor of The Human Life Review. He also wrote speeches for former Attorney General William Barr and for the late Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Robert Casey Sr.

Father Wauck has lived in Rome for the past 10 years, teaching a course on literature and Christian faith at the Opus Dei-run Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. In 2005, his course, called “A Mirror of the Soul,” was aired on EWTN as a 13-part television series.

The American priest recently attended a communications conference sponsored by Holy Cross, where he talked about communicating the faith through literature with Register correspondent Carlos Briceño.

When did you join Opus Dei?

I joined Opus Dei as a numerary, a celibate member of Opus Dei, while I was still in high school.

       

At what point did you feel a calling to be a priest?

Within Opus Dei, the idea of being a priest is always part of the bigger picture of serving the Church and serving the Church within the context of a vocation to Opus Dei. It was the prelate of Opus Dei [Bishop Javier Echevarría] who suggested it. He asked, “What do you think?”

Of course, you are free to say No. But by that time, I thought this really was my calling. I would’ve been 35.

       

What do you teach now?

My course, which is in literature, is a whole-year course introduction to the literary culture of Christianity, which is one of the essential ways that the faith has been communicated over the centuries. In my class, you get a knowledge of the Church and its culture over time, but also the students receive an opening of their horizons regarding the possibilities of communicating the faith.

You see the incredible ways — from St. Paul quoting Greek poets in the Aereopagus to Flannery O’Connor in the 20th century in the United States — in which literature has communicated the faith. It’s especially important now when we’re going through a period when there’s been a bit of a drought in terms of great Catholic literature.

I see a lot of positive signs with regard to the literary culture of today. Mel Gibson did not sit on his behind and complain. He got out and did something. He spent his money, he used his expertise and it paid off, and people bought the product. The audience is there.

I would even say the popularity of The Da Vinci Code has a great deal to do with the fascination that Roman Catholic culture exercises. All the cool stuff in The Da Vinci Code comes from the fact that he’s talking about Roman Catholicism: the history, the art, the traditions, the contact with the pagan world. You don’t get that in suburban America. You get that in Rome.

Where would Dan Brown be without the Vatican? And he’s selling that. He’s selling a very Catholic cocktail with all sorts of erroneous labels on it.

 Why is there a drought in terms of communicating the faith in a literary fashion today?

I think the drought in Catholic literary culture has to do with the turmoil in the Church after the (Second Vatican) Council. It’s the general turmoil of the Church and a lack of confidence and an uncertainty of where to look and where to go in a literary way. That period is ending.

You have started a blog (at www. davincicode-opusdei.com) inspired by The Da Vinci Code. How effective has it been?

I didn’t start the blog in order to refute The Da Vinci Code. Because there have been a number of books already written that do a very effective job of that. What I am trying to do with the blog is create an impression of how the book should be read.

My basic message is laugh when you read The Da Vinci Code. Do not take this thing seriously. It is not a serious attack on Christianity. It is a silly attack. And, on the other side, use it. Inasmuch as it is something serious, it provokes confusion. It provokes questions.

It sells 40 million copies. That’s serious. You can’t pretend that’s not a serious phenomenon.

It’s not a serious novel. It’s garbage as literature. But the cultural phenomenon of The Da Vinci Code is undeniably serious and quite interesting, and the popularity of this book is worthy of study.

My point is that popularity and the questions it has provoked are wonderful for us if we want to use the opportunity to talk about the faith. The Da Vinci Code raises a series of questions that are quintessentially Catholic questions.

Was Jesus married? Yes. Not to Mary Magdalene, but to the Church.

Did the Catholic Church essentially invent or create the authority of the New Testament? Yes, it did. That’s why Jesus Christ gave authority to the apostles in order to let us know what was divine Revelation and what was not.

Is there something sacred or holy about the sexual relationship between men and women? Yes. That’s why we have a sacrament called matrimony that gives you grace.

Is there a missing woman in modern culture? Yes, but she’s not missing in the Catholic Church. The Blessed Virgin Mary and all the female saints — including Mary Magdalene, whose tomb has been a popular pilgrimage site for 12 centuries for Catholics.

Langdon, the hero of the novel, finds himself at the end of the novel in a quintessentially Catholic position. Where in the modern world are you going to find an adult man on his knees praying to a woman? Only in a Catholic church.

And the last thing is the Holy Grail. If you are looking for the Holy Grail, the chalice with the blood of Christ in it, come to Mass. It is on the altar in your local parish.

Carlos Briceño filed

this report from Rome.