As many of you know, Cardinal Dolan of New York is one of the Archbishops who filed suit against the Obama administration for the insurance mandate that many Roman Catholics consider to be forcing them to go against their faith in providing a coverage with which they do not religiously agree. Part of the argument has to do with where the “bright line” is between what is a religious activity that is protected by the Constitution and what is a religious institution involved in a secular activity, which requires that they obey the law of the land. This is a very real argument and a very real problem, and not just for Roman Catholics. But this post is not about that subject, but about another side of Cardinal Dolan.
You might assume that a person who is a strong supporter of the tenets of his faith would be a dour character. After all, since the days of Nathaniel Hawthorne, committed supporters of any faith have been pictured as being dour and humorless. In his book The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne pictured a Puritan culture that never existed. Sadly, that picture has become the way in which we picture Puritan culture, as a humorless society who always dressed in “sober” dress. Would it surprise you to find out that the Puritans drank wine, had a strong wine trade with their sailing ships, and imported cottons of bright colors to use in their clothing? I am sure it would, every bit as much as it surprised me when I found that out. Hawthorne, as much as many modern writers, simplified his narrative to paint the picture that he wanted to convey. Now, the Puritans were no innocents. After all, Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, was originally a Church of England minister who became a Puritan. He left England for Massachusetts Bay Colony, arriving in 1631, with high expectations. Unfortunately, his fellow Puritans found him unacceptable for reasons that lead me to think highly of Pastor Williams:
Williams insisted that land must be purchased from the Indians, rather than taken from them forcefully, in order to claim title to it. He again went to Salem and was eventually put on trial in 1635 for his views. His sentence was banishment. Williams then purchased land from the Narragansett Indians and established the settlement of Providence, Rhode Island. … [Rhode Island] … became a refuge for people persecuted for their religious beliefs. Anabaptists, Quakers, and Jews settled in Rhode Island.
No, Pastor Williams was not an entirely admirable character in various ways–I have not told you his full story–, but he certainly had many correct ideas! But, this post is not about religious tolerance, but about humor. That is, it is about the thought that one can have a sense of humor and be a Christian. And it is obvious that Cardinal Dolan has spent some time thinking on the subject. In remarks that can be read on the website of the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal Dolan gives an explanation of the roots of humor:
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!
Cardinal Dolan goes on to make a profound remark:
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.
Cardinal Dolan’s remarks were made on September 14th of this year, on the celebration of what the Orthodox call the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. What makes his remarks so interesting is that he was introducing Stephen Colbert, who was speaking at Fordham University about his being a Roman Catholic and how important that was to him. Yes, Stephen Colbert is a committed Roman Catholic who has taught Sunday School. He is an acquaintance of Cardinal Dolan, who is the current President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. And, he is a man who is known to pull no punches with his humor. And yet, here is the hierarch who is challenging the President, insisting that humor is an important part of being a Christian.
I wish that more Christians would pick up on that. As the Cardinal commented, “Life is all about loving, living, and laughing, not about hating, dying, and moaning.”