Humor, Joy, and the Spiritual Life

Tonight I was privileged to be at Fordham University in the Bronx for a special evening on “Humor, Joy, and the Spiritual Life” with TV host Stephen Colbert and Father James Martin, SJ. I had a great time, and it appeared that the more than 3000 people — mostly students — jammed into the Rose Hill Gymnasium had a great time as well.

Here’s the text of my remarks.

Thanks, everybody…

I sure have been looking forward to this evening.  Fordham University – whose students I love and whose campus I relish visiting often – Father McShane; Father Martin; both priests I admire a lot – Thanks!

Stephen Colbert, it’s good to be with you.  While I’m not able to watch you often, my nieces are certainly among your legion of fans.  In fact, they told me that I should find it awesome to be with you this evening.  I informed them that tonight would pale compared to being with Clint Eastwood two weeks ago at one of the two national conventions, especially when he said to me, “Cardinal, you know I played a preacher once, so I know that neck thing you wear is mighty uncomfortable.”

Stephen, part of my admiration for you is that, while you often tease and joke about your faith, and the Church, there’s no denying that you take your faith seriously, and look to the Church as your spiritual family.

In fact, when I met you last spring at a very glitzy gathering where you were the MC, the first thing you said to me was, “Cardinal Dolan, tomorrow night I’ll be with my son as he receives the sacrament of confirmation.  Say a prayer for him, would you?”

That says a lot!

By the way, it was that same evening that Barbara Walters came up to me, as I was decked out in my cardinal’s duds, and remarked, “Every woman in this room is jealous of you, because you’ve out-dressed them all!”  I didn’t know if it was an insult or a compliment.

Anyway, I’d better move from my anti-pasto remarks to what I really want to say, because Father Martin has given me only ten minutes – which could be the best joke of the evening, to think that a bishop would be so brief.

My assignment was to share with you for a few moments what you might call the theological reasons for laughter.  Why would a person of faith be cheerful?  Why is a crabby believer a contradiction?

Here’s my reason for joy:  the cross.

You heard me right:  the cross of Christ!

See, when Jesus suffered and died on the cross on that hill called Calvary, on that Friday strangely called “Good,” literally, the “lights went out” as even the sun hid in shame.  Literally, the earth sobbed with convulsions of sorrow as an earthquake occurred.

Jesus, pure goodness, seemed bullied to death by undiluted evil;

Love, jackbooted by hate;

Mercy incarnate, smothered by revenge;

Life itself, crushed by death.

It seemed we could never smile again…

But, then came the Sunday called Easter!

The sun – S-U-N – came up, and the Son – S-O-N – came out as He rose from the dead.

Guess who had the last word? God!

Hope, not despair;

Faith, not doubt;

Love, not spite;

Light, not an eclipse of the sun;

Life, not the abyss of death.

“He who laughs last, laughs best…” …and we believers have never stopped smiling since that Resurrection of Jesus from the dead!

So, as the Bible teaches us, if God loves us so much that he didn’t even spare His only Son, well, then, “nothing can separate us from the love of God,” can it?

So, Good Friday did not have the last word…Easter did!  That why I can laugh.

Because I believe all is God’s providential hands, and, that – the Bible again –  “All will work out for those who believe.”

Lord knows there are plenty of Good Fridays in our lives…but, they will not prevail. Easter will. As we Irish claim, “Life is all about loving, living, and laughing, not about hating, dying, and moaning.”

That’s why a crabby, griping, whining believer is an oxymoron!

That’s why we say, “Joy is the infallible sign of God’s presence.”

I saw it in Haiti when I went there with Catholic Relief Services right after the devastating earthquake two-and-a-half years ago – crying, horror, death, anguish – you bet, in abundance.  But, still, a resilience and a hope in a people clinging onto faith after centuries of oppression and grind.

I see it every time I visit the pediatric oncology department at Sloan –Kettering – beautiful, little, innocent children, baldheaded, emaciated by chemo, but they and their folks still radiating an interior trust and calm such that they can smile while I’m choking up.

I see it every time I visit cloistered nuns.  Eventhough they posses nothing of earthly value, but the clothes on their back and the prayerbook in their hands; eventhough they live a life of silence, penance, enclosure and virginity, unknown to most of us, they still laugh heartily and, Stephen, they are the best audience I could ask for in roaring at my corny jokes.

A young man in college once approached me as a parish priest to say he wanted to become Catholic.  When I asked him why, he replied, “Last week I was at the wake of a Catholic man  I admired very much, who died suddenly, still young.  And his family, while mourning him deeply, could still laugh, as if they knew it would all be ok.”

Faith in the cross of Christ, and hope in His Resurrection, does that….

…which makes it providential that we’d be talking about joy on this day in the Catholic calendar when we celebrate The Triumph of the Cross.

Thanks for listening!

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28 Responses to “Humor, Joy, and the Spiritual Life”

  1. David Hennessy says:

    Eminence we in New York are lucky that Our Lord sent you to us.
    You are such a great herald of His Word. You make the Word clearly understandable.

  2. Sue Joan says:

    This blog was so beautiful. I love all of your blogs but the last two were good even for you… to use a baseball term, you really “hit it out of the park”! Thank you for sharing the words of Our Lord with us, Cardinal – you are such a blessing to us!

  3. WhollyRoamin says:

    Thank you for this, Your Eminence. Is the full debate available online anywhere?

  4. Steve says:

    Your Eminence,
    I was there at the event. You are certainly right…everyone enjoyed it immensely. I was struck at how attentive the Fordham students were and how open they were to a positive spiritual message. There’s no doubt that the New Evangelization is alive and well. You and Mr. Colbert did a fantastic job of making the faith relevant. Please keep reaching out!

  5. MLsouth says:

    Beautiful words Cardinal Dolan!

  6. Eminence, once again you did not disappoint. It must have a great evening. I love fr. Martin’s book. As St. Teresa of Jesus said: there’s no such thing as a sad saint.” If she thought her nuns were getting too dour, she would get out the castenets and tambourine and get them up dancing. Can’t be glum if you are dancing. We Carmelites, started a dance center for teens in oiur parish of our Lady of Lourdes, outside san salvador. Named the St., Teresa of Avila dance center for teens. large canvas poster wlecoming them has teresa with castenets and tambourine in hand, dancing up a storm. There are lessons for us in that!!! Thanx again.

  7. Tania says:

    God bless you, Y.E. Thank you for such a meaningful spiritual food.

  8. Jim Cowan says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Cardinal Dolan. I always find your wit and love of a good laugh, some even at your wn expense, to be a very welcome antidote to the stream of negative messages that bombard us every day. You are the right man for the job at hand, leading us in these very troubled times.
    I hope that you will share your comments , as well as the other speakers, at the upcoming Smith dinner. I knw that humor will be a part of each speech but the entire message of hope for our country’s future will be paramount. God bless you and yor stewardship.

  9. Ann Cavera says:

    You’ve put into words something we all know, but seem afraid to say – as though laughter in the middle of our chaos would be irreverent. You’re right – those who live in the joy of Christ live with laughter in our hearts. Love wins. When my husband and I were Peace Corps Volunteers (46 years ago!!) we saw much cause for despair, yet those who had so little laughed much.

    Facebook page: Catholic Senior Spirit

  10. Mary Radloff says:


  11. Sherry Theodosiou says:

    Your remarks remind us all that even during these hard economic times, we must remember to have hope and joy. Thank a you

  12. Henry Schwalbenberg says:

    Dear Cardinal Dolan,

    Thanks for coming to Fordham. My family and I had a great time at the event. And a special thank you for mentioning the wonderful work of Catholic Relief Services in your comments.

    With prayers!

  13. GONZALO T. PALACIOS, Ph.D. says:

    “As we Irish claim, “Life is all about loving, living, and laughing, not about hating, dying, and moaning.” Thank you, Cardinal, your words confirm I was guided by the Holy Spirit when I married my wife Anne, nee Sullivan. Gonzalo T. Palacios.

  14. Jack Kelleher says:

    Dear Cardinal Dolan,

    Enjoyed your talk at the Colbert function. However, I am not feeling as joyful as I would like after reading Bill O’Reilly article about the leaders of our church ( Archbishops, yourself, etc. ) not speaking up on what Caroline Kennedy said about “being a Catholic & (paraphrased) being a believer in abortion, etc.”…that, is intrinsically evil in the Catholic Church…at the DNC.

    I am a big follower of yours (read your tweets), but I am concerned about many losing their faith ( including my wife who is a recent convert ). We have all got to speak the Truth no matter what…as I expect the 15 to 20% of Catholics going to church to dwindle further if our Church’s leaders don’t back up what the Religious Freedom fight/lawsuit is all about.

    God Bless…Jack Kelleher

  15. For me to live is Christ, to die is gain! Philippians 1:21

  16. Thank you for lifting up Jesus Christ at the political conventions John 12:32

  17. Greg Hohman says:

    Dear Cardinal Dolan,

    THANK YOU for your fantastic prayers at both conventions, especially the DNC! I wanted to ask if you’d take the time to read these two important items. The first is a real solution to our present state of affairs from a uniquely Catholic perspective:

    and the second is something that troubles my heart, and likely yours as well, but I would love to discuss it with you and/or an open discussion:

    in print > or if you prefer video >

    Oh how we need your fearless leadership now, and that of your brother bishops, I pray for you often.

    Blessings, gh

  18. Carlo Lopez says:

    Such inspiring words, Cardinal Dolan! You now have a new fan from the Philippines! God bless you always.

  19. Bea Biederman says:

    Yes, I believe that God gave us the gifts of JOY and HUMOR as a mainstay in the midst of turmoil we see and experience in our fallen world. I do not follow Colbert, although I’ve seen snippets of his left leaning political jokes. I’m on the right. STILL, I Colbert’s comment about the word “consubtantial” reported in one of the papers crack-up to a LOL. Very witty. There’s a few ‘things’ God hates, but He loves all of us whether we are tainted left, right, radical, or worse.

  20. ReginaMariePear' says:

    Yes Christ has Risen no doubt about that!
    I’m having a Problem with Sorrowful Mary… I Love Her as every Mary.
    I’ve just been so sensitive to her the point of tears at even hearing the sorrowful mysteries.

    I don’t like fear tactics…and I realize that the Lord has freed me from fear… They cannot harm one whom is protect by the truth in the Lord.
    I’m hoping to find My Joyful Mary very soon… Perhaps then I will beable to Rejoice and Be Glad In Our Sweet Lord Jesus.

  21. All through my books, Jesus, as a main character, shows a very comical sene of humor. He even does backflips and juggles eggs that turn into chicken and turns bck into an infant, like the Infant of Prague. There is much humor and joy in my books. Take a look!

  22. regina cornelius says:

    beautiful, thank you

  23. Jerry Colby says:

    Cardinal Dolan,

    I am an ACTIVE participating Catholic and I am so upset with this weeks bulletin insert from the USCCB regarding “The Challenges of Forming Consciences for faithful Citizenship”. I am sure you have a copy of it and you approved of it correct? I will not go into the whole letter, but I call your attention to the part that say’s “The right to Life and dignity of the Human Person”. Please tell why we now have Racism on equal footing as Abortion as intrinsic evil. Please do not tell me it does not say that. Read it as if you were just an ordinary catholic seeking guidance from the Church on how we need to prioritize our thinking on how we should decide who to vote for. Again we look for guidance and we are left with the Bishops confusing us and that is exactly what Satan wants us to be, Confused!! I ask you to please bring clarity to this and be not afraid of those inside the Church that tell you otherwise. All my prayers and support for you and our Church. God Bless

  24. Jovino Miroy says:

    Great piece which caps my Sunday evening. What joy to be a Catholic–Greetings from Manila

  25. joshua says:

    Evangelizare. Evangelizare. It is a command from our Lord. As a cardinal, this is probably the highest of all your many responsibilities. It is the one instruction from our Lord that the lord gave his disciples above all others. Take every opportunity to evangelize. Go bravely into the belly of the beast and evangelizare our enemies. Their eyes will open and they will see that our Lord has been waiting for them all along. They will repent for the damage they have caused and they will become the champions of Christianity and the Lord’s Roman Catholic Church. Does it remind you of anyone you may have read about?

  26. Anabelle says:

    Rochelle, this was great. Thanks for gathering up wonderful stuff all over the media.

  27. Marna Johnson says:

    Thank you and God Bless you Cardinal Dolan for distilling our faith so beautifully.

  28. Carol Abts says:

    You have lifted all of us up by your courage, strong faith, and love for our Church.
    It gives me the strength to carry on the way of my path that God has chosen for me.
    God bless you.