STEPHEN COLBERT & ME – HOW CATHOLIC ARE WE?
God Bless! Fr. Jim
If there’s one question this Gospel puts before us, then it would be: how connected are we to Jesus Christ? Can people see, know, experience that connection to Him, to His Church in us or not?
About a week or two ago, TIME magazine had a gala event celebrating who they believe are the top 100 most influential people. For a lot of reasons, when you think about it, that’s a good gimmick for a magazine to pull. The list is incredibly subjective (what are the criteria? Who determines whether someone has met that criteria or not?). It gets people debating about who was on it, who was left off. And the “gala” for the magazine, bringing together so many people who TIME claims: are the people who inspire us, entertain us, challenge us and change our world. Meet the breakouts, pioneers, moguls, leaders and icons who make up this year's TIME 100 – well it’s the perfect way for the magazine to get more publicity itself and to try and show how influential it is.
This year’s list and gala brought a wide array of notable names Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; TV news-anchor Brian Williams; actress Amy Poehler – as well as Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York and comedian/satirist Stephen Colbert, who because he’s well known for his topical humor was asked by Time to do a monologue. In the course of the monologue he said some things that I’m sure some would consider funny or “edgy humor”- but to me were just outright vulgar and incredibly offensive as they were directed at the Cardinal.
The jokes were unfair, crude, nowhere near as witty and funny as Colbert is capable of being. But to me what made them even worse was when he finished his first round of shots at the Cardinal he said “I’m a Catholic. It’s okay. I go to confession, it will be fine.”
I know, there will be some who will dismiss me as being super-sensitive. “He’s telling a joke to a room of a diverse group of people... he’s kidding.” But does the fact that he simply says that he’s Catholic make that okay? Because in his “joking” he demeans one of the greatest gifts Jesus gave us –the Sacrament of reconciliation – as he demeans one of the Shepherds who’s laid down his life to follow Jesus. No doubt a lot of people laughed, but how does that “joking” reflect Steven Colbert’s connectedness to Jesus Christ?
I’m not trying to pile on Steven Colbert. Because, I know in my own life there have been times I fall short – times that I realize that perhaps I’m not as connected to Jesus Christ as I think I am or hope to be. One example from over a year ago still humbles me. I was in New York City, walking to get my car from a parking garage. Sadly, I’ve gotten cynical, skeptical and suspicious of people who, on the streets of NY, have tin cans out, asking for money; to the point that I kind of tune them out as I walk to my destination (and that’s not completely an unfounded concern – it is true that there are some scam artists out there who prey on tourists, as well as some who are troubled addicts that giving money to them fuels their addiction...).
This one day though, this man called out and said “Father” - I was actually preparing to pretend I was on the phone to ignore him, but then he stood up, he had a prosthetic leg with an American flag on it, was wearing dirty, beaten up camoflauge top (so I could tell he was a veteran) and I could see he was tearing up. He smelled of alcohol, so my inclination not to give him cash probably was warranted. But he didn’t ask me for money. He said,“Would you say a prayer for me?” I stopped, feeling completely humiliated that I had been so prepared to just blow past the guy; and so taken aback and embarrassed, I stopped in my tracks and prayed with him and before I knew it, I was hugging him right there on a street in Manhattan. Walking away, tearing up myself I couldn’t help but ask myself that day and many times since, how connected to Jesus Christ was I or am I... No doubt, I met Hm in this humble man who humbled me and continues to do so today.
The thing is for all of us, what Jesus is getting at with his vine and branches imagery is that it’s not just enough to come to Mass, to know where things are in the Bible, or to make a charitable contribution. Those are all good and important things, but they only become sincere when we realize these are aspects of a much deeper relationship with Christ. That’s what makes this image so powerful. You can’t see where the vine stops and the branches begin; “their union is too complete to tell. The same sap gives life to the vine and to its branches. He is Lord from within, renewing hearts from the inside as only God can do.” (The Better Part, Bartunek 944 )
It’s not enough just to say “I’m Catholic” to excuse yourself as you insult a Shepherd of the Church; It’s not enough just to wear a clerical collar walking down the street as you ignore someone who’s suffering. Jesus’ expectation is that the world will be able to tell the difference that we are connected to Him in all that we say and do. So how we behave in the car as we drive out of the parking lot of the Church; the people we meet at the grocery store or the bank; my co-workers; my family; all should be able to see, feel, experience, know that I am connected to Jesus Christ and that He is living in and through me...
He continues to provide the sustenance we need to become fruitful vines. Nourishing us– with His word; with His Body and Blood that we receive in the Eucharist; wanting to prune away our self-centeredness and sinfulness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Will we allow the divine gardener to do His work, making us - through his love and forgiveness - into the fruitful branches he always intended us to be?
Posted by Fr. Jim Chern