NEW YORK (RNS) If you can’t get enough of Pope Francis, then how about a little Stephen Colbert?
Yes, the new host of the CBS “Late Show” officially premiered Tuesday night (Sept. 8) as David Letterman’s much-anticipated replacement for the vaunted late night slot. The new sketches, plus big laughs — and perhaps a few duds — kept the television critics busy, at least for a news cycle or two.
For a different side of the multifaceted comic, however, there’s a new interview in which Colbert talks about his Catholicism with the kind of passion and humor that evoke the folksy faith of Francis, who will be making his own debut later this month when he visits the U.S. for the first time.
Colbert has reportedly been moving heaven and earth to try to snag a few minutes with the pontiff, who visits Washington, New York and Philadelphia from Sept. 22-27. That’d be a season-making score, to be sure; yet it may be beyond even Colbert’s impressive influence.
But like Francis, Colbert is no slouch when it comes to evangelization.
He taught Sunday school at his New Jersey parish and he frequently deployed Catholicism for semi-serious fodder for his previous incarnation as a right-wing blowhard on “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central. (And had a Jesuit priest, the Rev. James Martin, as his official chaplain and regular guest.)
He has appeared with New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who also has a way with humor, to discuss joy and faith. And he has spoken eloquently about the tragedies of his childhood and the way faith sustained him, and continues to do so.
“(M)y context for my existence, is that I am here to know God, love God, serve God, that we might be happy with each other in this world and with Him in the next — the catechism,” he said in a recent cover story for GQ magazine. “That makes a lot of sense to me. I got that from my mom. And my dad. And my siblings.”
In this latest sit-down, with the Rev. Thomas Rosica, English-language attache to the Vatican press office and head of the Toronto-based Salt and Light media network, Colbert’s answers range from the silly (Favorite saint: “St. Arugula … that’s the saint I worship. Okay? Delicious!”) to the serious: how the Holy Spirit forms one’s conscience.
“I should have said this in Latin, what I just said,” the comedian quips as he waxes theological at one point.
During the course of the conversation with Rosica, Colbert cites the poet e. e . cummings, John Milton, Carl Sagan, St. Anselm (yes, the ontological argument for God’s existence), and St. Thomas Aquinas.
The interview will be broadcast in full on the Salt and Light channel on Sunday (Sept. 13) at 8 p.m. EDT.
And what would Colbert ask Francis if he snagged an interview?
“I would ask him how love leads him to joy, or does love lead him to joy?” Colbert says. And he would ask him about being “a fool for Christ” — a role he sees Francis playing, as well as Colbert himself.
There’s that, and much more, both profound and funny. For example:
“Doing something joyfully doesn’t make something any easier, it only makes it better. And, also it makes it communal — that we’re all doing it together. When you work in fear, or when you work in distress, you often feel alone. But jokes, laughter, humor, joy, whatever you want to call it … it connects people. And as I said earlier, what do we want to be? Not alone.”
“Faith ultimately can’t be argued, faith has to be felt, and hopefully you can still feel your faith fully, and let your mind have a logical life of its own and they do not defy each other but complement each other … Logic itself will not lead me to God. But my love of the world and my gratitude toward it will. So hopefully I can use my mind to make my jokes and not deny my love for God at the same time.”
“I think you have to make a choice to perceive Christ in the people around you, and to love them without fear that anything will be taken from you in the gift that you give them of your own love.”
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