Fordham University students were treated to a rare opportunity last week when they packed an auditorium to hear Cardinal Timothy Dolan and television comedian Stephen Colbert trade jokes and discuss faith.
Cardinal Dolan told Colbert that “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?’”
The event occurred Sept. 14 at Fordham University in New York City before an audience of 3,000 students.
Colbert hosts Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, a faux news show in which he plays a caricature of political commentators.
The event was hosted by Jesuit Father James Martin. He often appears as a guest on The Colbert Report and is the show’s “official chaplain.”
The evening was an opportunity for the two to trade jokes while also being open and honest about faith and spirituality.
“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?” Cardinal Dolan asked.
“Here’s my reason for joy: the cross. You heard me right: the cross of Christ!” he said.
Even though Jesus died “on that Friday strangely called ‘Good,’” and “it seemed we could never smile again,” “then came “the Sunday called Easter … and God had the last word.”
The Resurrection, and its message of the triumph of hope and light, Cardinal Dolan told his hearers, is the reason for Christian joy.
Colbert is adamant about his faith on his show; in a 2006 episode even recited the Nicene Creed on national television.
He doesn’t joke at religion’s expense on his show, but will take on individuals’ misuse of religion.
“If Jesus doesn’t have a sense of humor, I’m in huge trouble,” he said.
Cardinal Dolan assured him, “He does. He chose me to be a priest.”
Colbert joked about the new English translation of the Missal, specifically citing its use of the word “consubstantial.”
He said, “It’s the Creed … not the SAT prep.”
The two took questions from the student audience, one of whom said he is considering priesthood and asked if it would be prudent to avoid dating.
Cardinal Dolan responded that dating can be good, helping one to discern, adding “let me give you the phone numbers of my nieces.”
Colbert joined in and said that it’s “actually a great pickup line: I’m seriously considering the priesthood. You can change my mind.”
When asked about his favorite beer, Cardinal Dolan responded, “Why don’t you take me out and see?”
The event started when Colbert and Cardinal Dolan went onstage. When Colbert went to shake the cardinal’s hand, Cardinal Dolan instead bent down to kiss Colbert’s ring in a humorous role-reversal for the prelate.
After that, Cardinal Dolan told Colbert it was good to be with him, and that his nieces were fans and excited for the event. He ribbed Colbert, though, saying that “tonight would pale compared to being with Clint Eastwood two weeks ago at one of the two national conventions.”
Colbert discussed his Catholic faith and how he treats of it in his comedy. He is active in his parish, helping to teach religious education to children. He acknowledged that the Church is flawed and human, while affirming that there absolutely is “great beauty” in her as well.
“The real reason I remain a Catholic is what the Church gives me, which is love.”
“I love my Church, warts and all.”