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.
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!