Half of my life ago, all I wanted was to be on Saturday Night Live. While on vacation with my family, I spent my babysitting money on a coffee-table book about the first twenty years of SNL which I brought with me on the bus every single day of junior high. I looked at it so much that all the pages fell out as I committed each character and skit to memory. My ninth-grade English teacher prompted us to write a brief essay on who we would like to meet most, living or dead, and I chose Lorne Michaels. He was my favorite "creator," after all. I wanted him to make me in his comedic image.
Much has changed since then. I became a serious Catholic instead of a serious comedian (not that the two are mutually exclusive). I still love finding SNL clips posted on Facebook by friends and family, but I no longer plan my entire weekend around this sound. Recently, I happened upon Jimmy Fallon's recap of the 40th Anniversary Special, and it inspired this post. Do watch the whole thing. It's delightful:
Look at Jimmy's face as he tells this story. It glows as if he is beholding the Beatific Vision in his mind's eye. Listen to the ecstatic glee in his voice. He can hardly contain himself as he recounts this streaming parade of celebrities, laughing, and jamming, and being together on the stage. He just lived my teenage dream, and dubbed it, "Untoppable." I said aloud to my computer screen, "This is what Heaven will be like."
I needed that at this point in Lent, just as we need the Gospel of the Transfiguration on this Second Sunday to remind us what all the hardship is for.
Lent is always much more difficult than I plan for it to be. I line up my sacrifices, make my resolutions, struggle to keep them. Meanwhile, I'm met with dozens of "temporal inadequacies" (as a friend recently called them) throughout each of the forty days. They always unfold in a series of small inconveniences, spaced out just enough that I don't completely despair but frequent enough that I lose my sense of direction. Where am I going? What is the point? I remember last year at this time, Screwtape & Co. had tons of fun making me late to things. For instance, I would be driving the same route which, in Ordinary Time, had predictable lights that I knew and depended on as I cruised through the downtown. But one Lenten day, they all conspired and fell into anarchy. Red. Red. Red. Red. Red. I could feel the fiery reflection on my face and I succumbed to rage. I was about to shout out a series of expletives when I suddenly shifted to, "I JUST WANT TO GO TO HEAVEN!!!"
Bill Murray will overlap. I'm on it.)
Imagine the same scene that Jimmy Fallon described but with a different cast: not Prince—floating onto the stage, but the King—floating onto the altar, addressing the crowd, "Dearly Inebriated...", those words reminding you of the Anima Christi prayer: "Blood of Christ, inebriate me." You look down into your brimming cup and think, "Yes. They have saved the best wine for last."
Honestly, I cannot imagine anything better than a Solemn High Mass mixed with a wedding feast attended by many millions of my closest friends for all eternity. And, very happily, we don't even have to wait until we're dead. We can get a backstage pass to the party now. That is what holiness is, as C.S. Lewis so charmingly put it when he described the "new men":
Already the new men are dotted here and there all over the earth. Some, as I have admitted, are still hardly recognisable: but others can be recognised. Every now and then one meets them. Their very voices and faces are different from ours: stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. They are, I say, recognisable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of ‘religious people’ which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. [...] They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognised one of them, you will recognise the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect (but how should I know?) that they recognise one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.From a secular perspective, nearly that whole paragraph could be used to describe celebrity—the "It" Factor. There have been times in history when the celebrities and the saints were the same people. The potential for that is still very real, perhaps less within the minds of the fans than within the hearts of the artists, but I would love to see much more of both. Many celebrities do seem to be touched with divinity in some instances. I actually think Jimmy Fallon could be one of these "new men." He is so joyful and kind, hilarious and amazing. He's a fallen-away Catholic. Do you remember that NPR interview that he gave three years ago? He told Terry Gross that he wanted to be a priest. He described with great love the traditional Mass in all its virtues. Yes, he's fallen—but he can get up; he's away—but he can come back.
Sometimes secular celebrities say or do very surprising and inspiring things. (I tend to gravitate towards this theme as evidenced here and here.) I just saw that Eric Clapton wrote a song to the Blessed Mother while he was in rehab, for example. Maybe that happened because some "Layla" fan repeatedly prayed rosaries for him. It's possible! What prayers and penances were spent on Bryan Ferry (of the British art rock band, "Roxy Music") to prompt this stunning, glorious piece of work?
My Lent has been filled with this video thanks to the friend who recommended it after giving a beautiful talk about mortification. It's a little taste of the After Party—the Marriage Supper of the Lamb—right here in time. It is helping me to keep my eyes on the prize, and to keep the peace in the midst of so many temporal inadequacies. It also reminds me to be grateful for the gift of faith, and to pray earnestly for every name in Jimmy Fallon's litany of celebrities. You should do this, too: for the rest of Lent, light a candle each day for the conversion of some artist that you love. Your prayers can make all the difference—believe that! And should you meet those souls in Heaven, jamming along with the entire Cloud of Witnesses, what satisfaction there will be—forevermore!
Here's the post from Busted Halo in which I found the SNL recap clip: What Jimmy Fallon Can Teach Us This Lent. It's a good read.
Here's Stephen Colbert (with a real white beard!) talking about his Catholic faith in a recent interview.
Big news! More audio-recordings of C.S. Lewis have been recovered! Listen to him delivering what became Mere Christianity and weep for joy.
Finally, there is a new edition of Robert Hugh Benson's Lord of the World , an apocalyptic tale in which unity in Christ is contrasted with the purely-secular unity of a religion of humanity. Pope Francis loves it and you will, too!