Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Dad is Fat: The Comedy of Catholicism | Word on Fire

Dad is Fat: The Comedy of Catholicism | Word on Fire

Jacob Bearer, a seminarian soon to be ordained for Cleveland, writes about comedian Jim Gaffigan's Catholicism.

While immersed in a culture striving to annihilate all differences, distinctions, and depth our Catholic faith draws together extremes in a stream of paradoxes. Joined are divinity and humanity, man and woman, heaven and earth, body and spirit, the one and the many, universality and particularity, and the list goes on with dizzying effect. Paradox and absurdity are the hallmark of comedy, and if you want those, then look no further than the Catholic faith. Perhaps this is the crackling mirth behind Tertullian’s claim “I believe because it is absurd.”

Man oh man, ain't that the truth.  This paradox and absurdity have called and will continue to call many to the Faith--and back to it.  And because God, not we humans, sanctifies the Church, we can know--albeit dimly perhaps sometimes--that through the Church God's love comes to us.  US--in all our individual and collective self-righteous, blithe ignorance and apathy, and downright filthy sinfulness.  Bearer contrasts Gaffigan's har-har self-deprecating humor with the snide snark-trolling of Bill Maher (who, Bearer notes, used to be Catholic--so we can see how concupiscience and willful choices can take a good thing and drain it).  Maher, outside the Church now, just doesn't get it, while Gaffigan has the ability to laugh at himself.  Bearer: "There’s a humility and perceptiveness to this type of familial humor that stands in sharp distinction to the cold cynicism from “outside”."  and then further:

"Maher speaks from the outside, atop a judgment seat having already condemned the Church. The wit sees the absurdities, but dismisses the axis around which they revolve. Maher is more like Herod itching to hear John the Baptist preach, but only while John’s in prison with an executioner on the way. Maher imperceptivity senses the wild danger of Catholicism; but, unfortunately, he’s stepped out of that danger and prefers the icy intellectualism of an armchair to the craziness of Catholic family life. This should be cause to embrace Gaffigan’s familial humor and not conflate the Maher-esque jibes with the Gaffigan knowing, belly laughs. "

I do think Bearer overplays just a bit the contrast between the belly-laughing Gaffigan (Bearer's own description) and the supposed-objective of the now-WASP Maher.  Anybody who has read anything about the Oxford Movement and/or Pope Benedict XVI knows a certain elite aesthetic--involving history, art, and literary culture as well as liturgy--resides firmly within the Roman Catholic tradition.  In fact, some of the post-Vatican II history of liturgy might be seen as a violent reaction against just that.  Not all of it, of course, but some of it. Further, that elite aesthetic tradition roots itself first in ecclesiology, not aesthetics for the sake of themselves.  Let's be honest: High-Church Anglicans have a gorgeous liturgy, but the same honesty requires that we acknowledge their ecclesiology, and often their ethics regarding sexuality, are at best incomplete and at worst downright wrong.  As Pope Benedict discussed in his Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith (then as Cardinal Ratzinger), it's precisely because of the Petrine, apostolic connection that we're then able to appreciate the aesthetics. The order, in this case, matters.

Bearer understands this and concludes with great clincher: because the God who made--and remakes--the world comes to us through the Church, we're then able to take ourselves a little less seriously.  Bearer:

Before we get wound up with all the in-fighting of the Church or the out-fighting with everyone else, beg our mirthiful Father for the grace of humor. Humor holds together the beauty and the absurdity we feel while living our Catholic faith. So, sing without restraint with your first grader because, as G.K. Chesterton noted while ending his bookOrthodoxy, perhaps God’s greatest secret is His mirth.
This then is the foundation from which we see ourselves and the world differently, and yes because we can laugh at it--and ourselves.  That laughter reaffirms the greater reality of God extending beyond our own limited horizons.

Read the whole thing here.

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