Defending the Faith in an increasingly secularized world freaks me out. I have to be honest. It is a tough proposition to speak the truth when you know that you might become less popular. It can be a great way to kill your pride, if you’re into that kind of virtuous practice. We live in an especially ruthless and cutthroat culture, where the true colours of people really begin to show themselves when you challenge their actions or opinions. Yet, it is precisely in those places where we might be uncomfortable that we are called to go and bring the truth. Yet, many catholics hide from the public eye, in order to retain some semblance of popularity, stability, etc. Some catholics even hold places where they could speak and people might listen, however, they choose the road of least resistance and keep their mouths shut. One such public figure is Jim Gaffigan.
Jim Gaffigan is a comedian from New York City. His skit about “Hot Pockets”, made him more widely known. He’s known for generally having clean humour. He is also a catholic with a family of five. I have always loved his comedy, personally. That being said, however, recently he began producing a show called the “Jim Gaffigan Show“, which can be viewed on Comedy Central. His introductory episode is definitely making people talk (including me – well done, Jim). In it, he explores the idea of being a catholic in the public sphere. Yet, instead of showing any sort of pride and joy in being part of the One Church founded by Jesus Christ, he instead focuses his attention on how afraid he is of being outed as a catholic.
The Washington Post picked up on this and wrote an article entitled, “What’s so funny about Jim Gaffigan’s Christianity?” In the article, they explore the fact of Jim’s fear. Michelle Boorstein, the writer of the article, interviewed both Jim and his wife Jeannie to discuss this. In the article, Jeannie shares that their endgame essentially was to show the “Catholicism they live – while also strategically ‘critique-proofing’ themselves.” It was a strategic move to protect themselves from ridicule. When asked if the episode related to Jim’s actual fear of being seen as a catholic, his wife definitely admitted that, “It’s resonant with Jim’s paranoia, that’s definitely true.”
During the episode, Jim admits, “I don’t want to get involved in the culture war. Religion is a very iffy business. As soon as you identify yourself as believing something, you open yourself to ridicule.” Is he right about some of the consequences? ABSOLUTELY! Is that a justifiable reason to never speak the truth though?
His wife goes on to say in the interview that, “He still has point of view, but he’s not going to take a stand because there are people who love Jim who are atheists, and who love Jim and are of all faiths. The Christian ghetto is a hard one to get out of if I’m only preaching to the choir.” Yet, if you watch the episode, there is not one ounce of joy that he takes in his faith. Sure, as a family they may not be using artificial birth control and may go to church on Sunday, but that is certainly not all that makes up what it means to be a real catholic in the world.
Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places, like the first Apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel (Cfr. Rom 1,16 ). It is the time to preach it from the rooftops (Cfr. Matth 10,27 ). Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern “metropolis”. It is you who must “go out into the byroads” ( Matth 22,9 ) and invite everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for his people. The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference. It was never meant to be hidden away in private. It has to be put on a stand so that people may see its light and give praise to our heavenly Father. ~ Pope St. John Paul II to the youth of the 8th World Youth Day in Denver, CO
Now, before you get your Pope Francis scapulars in a knot, I want to clearly say that I am not judging the state of Mr. Gaffigan’s soul. I am simply speaking about what he has admitted to publically, and how that compares to the call he has received in Baptism; a call that all of the baptized have received. I think in many ways all of us who take this beautiful thing called Catholicism seriously, can relate to dealing with some degree of fear of ridicule from our friends and acquaintances when speaking the Gospel. The Feast of Pentecost which we celebrated this past Sunday is a great reminder of this fact. The Apostles, though pretty solid, had not yet been invigorated by the Holy Spirit to go out into the world and preach the Gospel as they were commanded. So, they huddled up in the Cenacle and kept praying until the Promise of Jesus was fulfilled in their midst. Once the Holy Spirit showed up, they burst through the doors of the Upper Room and declared the “works of God” to the world, first in Jerusalem and spreading across the globe (Acts 2).
We, as baptized and confirmed Christians have this same gift. The Holy Spirit has come to dwell in us through the Sacraments, and has given us the ability to come to know the Truth, to speak and to live it in the world. For Jim Gaffigan, and I think a lot of us, we fail to tap into this reality. Yet, it is our sacred duty, instilled in us through the Sacraments, to go out into the world and “make disciples of all nations.” We must speak the truth, no matter how much the world will hate us. In light of the recent feast the Church has just celebrated, let us take this gift of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling more seriously and ask ourselves, “Are we truly unashamed of the Gospel?”
In this secularized age, when many of our contemporaries think and act as if God did not exist or are attracted to irrational forms of religion, it is you, dear young people, who must show that faith is a personal decision which involves your whole life. Let the Gospel be the measure and guide of life’s decisions and plans! Then you will be missionaries in all that you do and say, and wherever you work and live you will be signs of God’s love, credible witnesses to the loving presence of Jesus Christ. Never forget: “No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a bushel” (Mt 5:15)!
-Pope St. John Paul II