Stephen Colbert, Catholic, comedian, and general media personality, is on the cover of GQ’s September issue. But, more important than his literal and metaphorical image, is what he has to say, particularly what he relates in the interview he gives within the magazine. Many Catholics might question Colbert’s political stances, even his chosen mask, but, as with all people, the man is more complex than the public face.
If he’s unfaithful in one sense, he’s profound in many others, and we can learn much from him. With Colbert, it seems there’s great depth to a man known for playing a two-dimensional talking head, specifically in his comments on human suffering and joy in God’s providence.
Despite the loss of his father and two brothers when he was only 10, Colbert was raised, and remains, a churchgoing Catholic. His mother kept him in the faith; the comedian’s love for his mother drips from every word:
[E]ven in those days of unremitting grief, she drew on her faith that the only way to not be swallowed by sorrow, to in fact recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity. What is this in the light of eternity? Imagine being a parent so filled with your own pain, and yet still being able to pass that on to your son.
As if those words weren’t enough, he goes on to claim something so paradoxical it stuns the interviewer: “I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.” Colbert loves the death of his father and siblings, just as he wishes with every fiber of his being that it never occurred.
There’s no unpacking that statement any more than to suggest that immense personal tragedy can be the gateway to transformation in divine love. Colbert trusts in God’s plan; he feels no disparity between having grown in and through a tragic experience and wishing it away. As someone who lost his mother as a teenager, I readily acknowledge the truth of his comment. There’s a way in which it defies explanation. It’s a bit like Kierkegaard’s pseudonym claiming that Christianity requires “the crucifixion of the intellect.”
Sometimes God’s grace simply escapes articulation.
But this is not just a personal lesson for people who have lost a parent like Stephen Colbert or me; rather, it is a truism of existence. Christians despair over the loss of court cases, the existence of Planned Parenthood, and the general decline of their influence within the prevailing culture. It’s easy to get lost in what seem like cataclysmic losses. In reality, however, we’ve built our faith on the death of the Savior; we’ve grown it from the blood of martyrs; and we continue it through the negation of self. We lose the world to gain it; Stephen Colbert gets that and he emanates the joy of the Gospel as a result.
Whatever else he says, we can all learn from that.