'70s rocker, Catholic convert, father of a religious community—through it all, Talbot has been a "goof for God."
John Michael Talbot is one of the best-known and most successful Catholic singer-songwriters today. A musician, author, speaker, media presenter, and founder of an Arkansas-based community called Brothers and Sisters of Charity, Talbot is an iconic figure for many Catholics. Born in 1954 to a Methodist family in Oklahoma City, he left school at age 15 to be a guitarist for a rock-folk band called Mason Proffit. Eventually, a spiritual journey led him to the Catholic faith and a wide-reaching ministry. Aleteia’s lifestyle editor, Zoe Romanowsky, spoke to John Michael Talbot about his life, his conversion, and his ministry.
John Michael, I know of you first as a musician and songwriter, but you’re a husband, a teacher, the father of a religious community, and more. How do you describe yourself at this point in your life?
I see myself as a Catholic Evangelist more than anything else. I travel across United States doing 150 events each year. Catholics are ready to get excited about their faith again, and we’re helping to encourage that through a ministry of love and hope. So, I find myself feeling very much akin to the likes of St. Romuald of the early Middle ages, who traveled most of his life as a itinerant hermit and founded or reformed over 120 monasteries.
"Troubadour" is a word that’s been used to describe you. Can you explain what the word means to you?
I use music to prepare the soil of people’s hearts, and then preach the word of God to souls that have been properly prepared through musical prayer and meditation. I find that the seed of the word grows more easily in such soil.
Were you always a spiritual seeker? What was it that led you to Christianity?
I think I was. Even as a secular musician in the folk and country rock tradition, I always sought after deeper truths found in the lyrics and melodies of the songs I played and sang.
After a long search of the various religions of the world, I was attracted to Jesus because he seemed to be able to say everything and more than all the other great founders, but with fewer words. Instead of just pointing to the way, truth, and life, Jesus actually is the way, the truth, and the life. What’s so cool about this is that he does it without any sense of spiritual self-righteousness. He confirms all that is good and holy and true in what comes before, but also completes it in utter humility. This is culminated in the cross and resurrection, where he becomes the paradox of paradoxes. In that great paradox we find proclamation in silence, communion in solitude, glory in humility and humiliation, and eventually life in death to self. Jesus proclaims this not as simply a word that points to the truth of it, but through the actual living of it. He doesn’t just preach the word; He IS the Word made flesh. This is the great mystery of the Incarnation in Christianity.
What in particular attracted you to the Catholic faith?
First, you have to understand, I did not want to be a Catholic; I wasn’t looking to be Catholic; I didn’t even like Catholics very much. (I still work on that.) But the Lord gave me a word. He said: "I want you to become a Catholic. She is my first church, my love, but she has been sick and nearly died. I am going to heal her, and raise her up to new life again, and I want you to be a part of her." At that point I simply said, "Amen," and sought out a Franciscan priest. I moved into a hermitage, received daily instruction, and became a Roman Catholic in February 1978.
Three main things drew me, beginning with the Patristics. The Scriptures came forth from the church, so if there’s a debatable passage of scripture dividing us today, it just makes sense to go back to the early church from which the Scriptures came, to see if they had at least a substantial interpretation of how to live it. When I did that, I found the primitive expressions of what today we call the Roman Catholic Church.