Bishop-Elect Barron on Stephen Colbert, J.R.R Tolkien, John Henry Newman…

Bishop-Elect Barron on Stephen Colbert, J.R.R Tolkien, John Henry Newman… August 26, 2015

and the Providence of God.

I have remarked in this space in the past that Colbert is a garden variety lefty Catholic who really, albeit imperfectly, believes the Catholic faith.  This has miffed some of my more culture war readers, for whom opposition to abortion takes away the sin of the world and who likewise believe that  Colbert’s support for Planned Parenthood makes all other professions of faith null and void.  For similar reasons, I am declared by such folk to be a fake Catholic or even an atheist because I regard Colbert’s faith as “imperfect but real” and not as a lie by an enemy who needs to be destroyed.

I am therefore heartened by Bishop-elect Barron, who likewise sees the glass as partly full when Colbert gives an interview, in GQ of all places, where he reflects on the tragedy of his childhood when plane crash killed his father and brothers and is able to express gratitude to God for the suffering he has endured and for the mother who raised him to be grateful to God:

Discussing the trauma that he experienced as a young man—the deaths of his father and two of his brothers in a plane crash—he told the interviewer how, through the ministrations of his mother, he had learned not only to accept what had happened but actually to rejoice in it: “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was ten; that was quite an explosion…It’s that I love the thing that I wish most had not happened.” Flummoxed, his interlocutor asked him to elaborate on the paradox. Without missing a beat, Colbert cited J.R.R. Tolkien: “What punishments of God are not gifts?” What a wonderful sermon on the salvific quality of suffering! And it was delivered, not by a priest or bishop or evangelist, but by a comedian about to take over one of the most popular television programs on late night. 

I cannot read that without hearing somebody who is responding to the grace of God–and I cannot but be grateful for it.  Does that make him a saint or right about everything?  Of course not.  But what is the sense of rejecting somebody as a brother in Christ wholesale because he is not perfect yet?

The sensible thing to do is treat imperfectly formed Christians as Priscilla and Aquila treated Apollos and “explain to him the way of God more adequately”, not treat him as an enemy to be destroyed.

I’d love to see Barron forge a relationship with Colbert.  I think they would be good friends.

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  • Dave G.

    It’s not that we can look past Colbert’s rejections of Church teaching and see the good that’s puzzling. It’s why can’t we extend the same courtesy to others who happen to disagree, or reject, other areas of Church teaching the same way? I’m fine with agreeing to disagree. Whether I personally like someone or not, the trick is treating people the same. Not always easy, but it is the trick.

    • freddy

      Yes. Scorn and ridicule are not always the most effective teaching tools. Unless you’re an army sergeant or a high school football coach, perhaps.

      • Dave G

        Scorn or ridicule, while not preferred, are still better than inconsistently applying either.

  • prairiebunny

    If there is a dimes bit of difference between Colbert and that other devout Catholic,Pelosi I don’t see it.

    • freddy

      Maybe I’m wrong, but it appears to me that Pelosi is supremely confident of God’s approval, while Colbert might well acknowledge that he, like us all, is a sinner in God’s mercy. So the dime’s worth of difference might be pride. From Colbert words above he seems to at least have a sense that God is bigger than he is, while Pelosi seems to regard him as an elderly and not very bright colleague.

      • Guest

        He’s proud enough to mock what he disagrees with on a nationally televised show. His humility, such as it might be, is a comparatively private attribute.

        At some point, a person can no longer shout a comparison of the Eucharist to sodomy and whisper about his reverence and awe. It has to be at least the other way around in the end. I hope he gets there, but he absolutely isn’t yet as far as I can see.

  • Guest

    Fine. Let’s have mercy and compassion for Colbert and welcome him and encourage him. But if that’s your choice I don’t want to see another word from you about “Mars worshippers,” “anti-abortion but not pro-life” people, or any other instances where someone’s doctrinal problems rub you the wrong way. If you want people to be accepting and encouraging, model it yourself instead of taking every opportunity to overturn tables when your pet subjects come up.

    • Joseph

      You simply don’t understand, do you? Mark considers himself more of a conservative than anything… but he’s been *betrayed* by those who have hijacked and claim to represent conservatism. He, like me, feels like he was duped… and he, like me, is ashamed and bitter for it. He’s always known where people like Colbert stand and I can see where he’d be more merciful when it comes to people like Colbert because they are only duping themselves… people like Colbert have never duped him.
      I get it. I’m pretty pissed at the *right* for continuing to pretend to be one thing but, in practice, is something completely different. Every new election cycle brings more clowns to the forefront. Yes, the leftist media has it’s hand in manipulating how we perceive them for their own gain, but even without the propaganda these guys are no different from the last. If they are Catholic, they are cafeteria Catholics like Pelosi who encourage people to oppose Church doctrine. If they aren’t Catholic, they pose as evangelicals and are blatantly anti-Catholic to the point where they actually propose that the Catholics being systematically destroyed in today’s genocide deserve it (Cruz) because of their supposed disloyalty to the nation of Israel and their holding to the correct interpretation of Scripture that basically negates John Hagee’s, who believes that populating Israel with Jews only will instigate the Second Coming.
      I’d rather have dinner with Colbert than Cruz, though I’d disagree with him on a lot of things. He’s a sinner, just like me. The Republicans and his ilk sit atop their self-made thrones of sanctimony. Saying that doesn’t mean that I favour Democrats at all. I don’t. I don’t favour either. But, like most people are more upset when priests molest children than when high school teachers molest children (and rightly so), I get more upset when so-called *conservatives* molest me.
      At least the Dems to claim Christianity and try to appeal to their base on that pretense. They are all for baby killing, homosex, etc. They make it clear from the get-go that they are no friends to Christians. The Repubs constantly reference God, then repeatedly spit in His face.

      • Guest

        The fact that this is personal for Mark, if in fact it is, is all the more reason for him to do as I have suggested.

      • Ken

        I used to be a super GOP’er and agree with you 100%. The only thing I can say about the Dems is that at least they’re honest. I was very disillusioned and used when I figured this out. I still think we could have a party who holds the teachings of the church but we have to clear out all the phonies. The most important thing is for people to call out and not vote for the people who are using us for our votes. The Christian vote is a powerful block we just need to come together, use our muscle and stop backing people who claim they hold some of the positions we like.

        • Mark S. (not for Shea)

          Put not your trust in princes.

          I don’t like either the GOP or the Democrats. They’re Sauron and Saruman as far as I’m concerned.

          But I don’t think we should be all that concerned about Christianizing the political parties. We need to be concerned about Christianizing the culture. Do that, and the politicians will follow.

          • Ken

            You are right the politics will follow the culture. Thanks for the correction.

      • Cas


        To put it into terms that culture warriors would understand, I’d rather face and an enemy that declares themself as such from the start than an enemy who is more insidious, posing as an ally, getting my support, and then revealing their true nature once they are in power. “Betrayal” is an accurate one-word summary.

    • chezami

      Sooooo… pro-aborts should be corrected for their errors, but Mars worshippers should get a free pass forever? I don’t advocate kicking imperfectly formed “Movement Conservative First” Catholics out of the Church for the same reason I don’t advocate kicking Colbert out. It is typically conservative Catholics who constantly long for the Great Purge (and therefore, project that longing on me and assume I want them out). But I have no problem with *challenging* the wrongheadedness of both Colbert and Movement Conservatives where they are wrongheaded. The conservative Catholic zeal for kicking everybody out of the Church is one of the things I challenge:

      • Guest

        The difference in your tone when dealing with one or the other is night and day. Pick one.

        • chezami

          You mean the difference in tone between the way Jesus dealt with the tax collector and the Pharisees?

          • Guest

            If you were Jesus, that would be real relevant.

            • ivan_the_mad

              It is relevant, because Christians are to “follow and imitate Christ” 😉

              • Guest

                Unless one possesses both the authority and the insight of Christ, imitating His actions superficially is imprudent.

                The Christian ought to also follow the counsel of Sts. Paul and James:

                “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”

                “And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.”

                • chezami

                  Which is why I don’t go around rebuking the pope and demanding that people I don’t like be kicked out of the Church. I merely critique the painfully obvious hypocrisy of those who do. Why? Because Jesus told me to do that when he said to examines the fruits of those who claim to speak for him.

                  • Guest

                    What difference is there between saying the Church is wrong about abortion or same sex relationships and saying the Church is wrong about conduct in war, immigration, or welfare policy? They should all be reproached, as St. Paul said, in the same spirit of gentleness. You are able to recognize that need when it comes to the former group. All I ask is that you recognize it when it comes to the latter, and if you cannot do it, then be silent lest you fall into some sin of anger. You yourself pointed out the close relationship between murder and harsh words only a few days ago.

                  • Guest

                    By the way, there’s little difference in principle between your claiming the right to blast people you don’t like in imitation of Jesus and these other people’s claiming the right to rebuke the Pope in imitation of St. Paul. You’re both proof-texting in order to justify your bad behavior.

                    • chezami

                      The inevitable tu quoque, last gasp of the Party of Personal Responsibility’s rhetorical arsenal. The conservative attacks on the pope have have been relentless and wrong-headed and wildly out of step with the tradition. My disagreements with conservative dissenters have been disagreements with conservative *dissenters*: people who make it extremely clear that given a choice between the teaching of the Magisterium and Movement Conservative dogmas, they will take the human dogmas every time. Sorry, but that is judging fruit, as Jesus commands us to do.

                    • Same guest

                      Thank you for blocking me. You have set me free on a way that I have not been able to achieve myself. This will be my last comment. I wish you well, and I am still a fan of your work outside this blog.

                    • Dave G.

                      I hope Same guest is blowing off steam and hasn’t been blocked or banned. There wasn’t anything in the exchange to justify being banned.

            • chezami

              I’m not Jesus. I’m a disciple he *commanded* to judge the fruits of those who claim to be prophets speaking in his name. It takes a lot of chutzpah to swan around attacking the pope and demanding that large percentages of the Church be kicked out while whining about judgmentalism.

              • Guest

                Are you accusing me of something? Because I’m going to have to stamp a big ol’ [citation required] on that if you are.

                • chezami

                  Nope, pal. You’re the only one accusing–and projecting.

          • Eric

            Oh yes. There’s nothing less self-righteous than the “garden variety lefty”. Fantastic point Mark. Really spot on.

        • chezami

          Those to whom much is given, much will be required. When conservative Catholics make it their special boast to be the Real Catholics, to be the model of fidelity that all those CINO need to follow, to be anointed by God, not only to kick out the Impure, but even to make war on the pope, they assume a mighty heavy burden and demand to be judged by the standards they themselves constantly place on others. Don’t whine when that subculture’s claim to massively superior fidelity is taken seriously and held up to the light of the Tradition.

      • Adam Hovey

        I think the issue is fraternal correction. Explain why they are wrong in that is situation. But likewise, also point out where you think they are correct in others, and don’t make it seems as though the two are opposed.

  • ivan_the_mad

    A beautiful reflection and powerful yet tender witness!

    “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Surely enduring and accepting such a tragedy is an example of redemptive suffering? For “[a]part from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.” May God’s grace abound in him and in those he touches.

  • bob

    I risk being very callous. Everybody gets at least two shots at bereavement, believer or not. Mr Colbert has his, I have mine. Nothing extraordinary. His pro abortion Catholicism simply makes him a high visibility Episcopalian. I have watched him fully five minutes and find him very unfunny. He has never made any impression on me as a believer. Orthodox don’t expect to be edified by George Stephanopoulos, I don’t think Colbert is much more.

  • BobRN

    Colbert’s sufferings and his perspective on them are genuine and not to be dismissed. I lost my father when I was ten and my mother at 17. I know the suffering of loss, as do most of us who have lived past the age of 30.

    It’s an entirely different thing, however, to hold up one who publicly compared receiving the Eucharist with homosexual fellatio as an example of Catholic virtue and steadfastness in the face of suffering (see the link provided by “Guest” below. I will not repeat what Colbert said). Colbert is too quick to compromise and mock his Catholic faith in order to score points with the secular culture. As such, I will look elsewhere for heroic examples of Catholic virtue.

  • Alma Peregrina

    The trouble is that we still think that there are good people and bad people. There aren’t. There are people. And people do good things and bad things.

    In the same way, there are no good catholics: there are bad catholics and less bad catholics. That’s why I always refer to my brethren as catholics, even if they are in serious error.

    So people should be commended for doing good things and corrected when they do bad things. And we shouldn’t doubt the sincerity of their faith when they say they’re catholics.

    Colbert should be commended for his perspective on personal tragedy. I sure can’t be as much catholic as him on that department.

    He also provides some catholic insights on secular media, which is laudable. And he’s a Tolkienite, which is awesome.

    However, Colbert has things that shouldn’t be commended. And stressing that out is important, lest less cathechized people think that he is a catholic in good standing.

    Now, as I have said, I do not try to tell my fellow catholics that they are fake catholics for not believing on the fulness of the faith, nor do I try to culturally “destroy” them for doing so.
    I can take it if a leftist catholic believes homosexual relationships are OK.
    I can take it if a leftist catholic believes contraception is OK.
    I can take it if a leftist catholic believes in some form of socialism.

    I do, however, draw the line on someone who believes that killing children is a social right. Such person can not, in any circumstance, be considered a model of Catholicism, albeit imperfect.

    • BobRN

      “In the same way, there are no good catholics: there are bad catholics and less bad catholics. That’s why I always refer to my brethren as catholics, even if they are in serious error.”

      That’s fair. Though I think, too, that we ought to be willing to say that someone who identifies as Catholic has not embraced the fullness of Church teaching. In that sense, maybe Colbert is a “Colbert Catholic” and not a “Roman Catholic”?

      Part of the struggle, of course, is that many regard the faith not as “the” faith, but as “my” faith, and feel perfectly free to believe whatever they want and still identify as “Catholic.” I recall working with a doctor early in my career who proudly identified herself as Catholic and was quite resentful when I suggested she might not be the good Catholic girl she thought she was because, after all, she admitted that she didn’t believe in God!

      So many of our confreres, I fear, suffer such a low self-image as Catholics because of the hits Catholicism takes at the hands of the dominant, secular, anti-Christian culture that we’re a bit too eager, perhaps, to raise up someone who is admired by the secular culture and identify him or her as “one of us,” even if they’re “one of us” on their own terms.

      In any case, I have no problem identifying with Colbert’s suffering and lauding his resolute faith in the face of that suffering. The problem is not recognizing his heroic virtue in the face of suffering. The problem is holding him up as an example of heroic Catholic faith to the culture and to Catholics, in general. It’s one thing to recognize the truth that we’re all “imperfectly formed” and in need of God’s and each other’s mercy and temperance. It’s another to raise one up as an example of virtue who is public in his opposition to foundational Catholic moral teaching and in his mockery and blasphemy.