However, this past Monday Jimmy Fallon kicked off his start as host of NBC's Tonight Show, and in this there's a little Spiritual Diabetes nugget to consider. Fallon attended The College of Saint Rose (where I teach in the Religious Studies department) in the early to mid-1990s. He left in 1996 but returned, to much acclaim, to receive his degree in 2009. With one exception Fallon is, unquestionably, the College's best known graduate. Over the years I've been at Saint Rose it's been a pleasure to hear faculty memories of Fallon's days here and now it's nice to see both Fallon and thus the College bask in the aura of his ascendancy. It's no small thing to be likened to Johnny Carson.
In the midst of all this appears an interview wherein Fallon acknowledges his childhood Catholicism influencing his show-business/performance career interests. Fallon thus now sits with Stephen Colbert as America's latest generation of suave and funny Catholic entertainers. Near the interview's end Fallon admits:
Mr. FALLON: I don’t go to – I tried to go back. When I was out in L.A. and I was kind of struggling for a bit. I went to church for a while, but it’s kind of, it’s gotten gigantic now for me. It’s like too… There’s a band. There’s a band there now, and you got to, you have to hold hands with people through the whole Mass now, and I don’t like doing that. You know, I mean, it used to be the shaking hands piece was the only time you touched each other.
Mr. FALLON: Now, I’m holding hand – now I’m lifting people. Like Simba.
Mr. FALLON: I’m holding them (Singing) ha nah hey nah ho.
(Speaking) I’m doing too much. I don’t want – there’s Frisbees being thrown, there’s beach balls going around, people waving lighters, and I go, ‘This is too much for me.’ I want the old way. I want to hang out with the, you know, with the nuns, you know, that was my favorite type of Mass, and the grotto, and just like straight up, just Mass Mass.
Here's a link for the podcast interview at NPR.
I want the old way. I'll speak for myself: I read this and couldn't help but think of the story Thomas Day recounts in Why Catholics Can't Sing (1992). A young man attends mass in an aging Philadelphia parish and, at the Sign of Peace, offers a hand to the elderly woman sitting nearby. Barely breaking stride from reciting her Rosary, she responds disdainfully: "I don't believe in that shit." Fallon's off-the-cuff reminiscence conveys the same point.
Fascinating--and complicating. Investigating the surviving strength of Vatican II's aggiornomento is a topic for several, not just one or a few, blog posts. (and more than a few books!) Nor is this the place to dissect all the "Francis = Good, Benedict = bad" conversations. But there are connections. So as Pope Francis' popularity inspires and reawakens in the Church its sense of itself in the world, perhaps Fallon (and Colbert, who never shies away from his Catholicism) might, perhaps unintentionally, foster another conversation: what broader, deeper, more direct connection to God has American Catholicism been missing? And how and where do we reconnect or, more accurately, does God reconnect with us? Does Fallon's desire for simplicity and profundity recall from history's dustbin "old ways" the demise of which at least a couple generations have celebrated? Have those old ways survived all along?