Category Archives: Funny

A glimpse into Archbishop O’Brien’s playful side

George P. Matysek Jr. with Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien in Rome, 2008.

For the last four years, I’ve had the honor of covering Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien as one of my main beats at The Catholic Review.

I was at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome when Pope Benedict XVI placed the pallium around Archbishop O’Brien’s neck, conferring the symbol of his office as a metropolitan archbishop. I’ve seen the archbishop testify forcefully against the death penalty in Annapolis and meet with parish and school leaders throughout the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

I’ve witnessed our spiritual shepherd quietly encourage seminarians and answer questions of young people thinking about the religious life. I’ve also seen him choke with emotion when reflecting on his close bond with the priests he serves.

The archbishop has a well-earned reputation as a serious-minded and devoted leader who gives everything he has in service of a Church he loves. Yet, there’s another side to him – a playful side that endears him those who know him.

All of Baltimore first encountered Archbishop O’Brien’s wit at his installation Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on Oct. 1, 2007.

The packed cathedral erupted in laughter when Archbishop O’Brien acknowledged that some may find it “puzzling, even ironic, that the Holy Father should choose a native son of New York to be archbishop of another part of the American League East.”

The archbishop won even louder laughs when he recounted how he gave a copy of his high school yearbook to the editor of The Catholic Review to be used for a “human interest” piece in a special edition about the installation. Unknown to the archbishop, his junior year report card was tucked inside the yearbook. A member of The Catholic Review staff informed the archbishop of the discovery – “gleefully” reminding the new archbishop that his lowest grade that year was in religion.

“Even my Irish imagination had a little difficulty in putting a good spin on that,” the archbishop said with a smile.

“Knowledge of the faith is so very important, but what you do with that knowledge is ever so much more important,” he said.

Just prior to Archbishop O’Brien’s first Ash Wednesday celebration in Baltimore, he held a brief press conference on the portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I held my breath and asked what I knew might be a somewhat personal and bold question to pose to an archbishop:

“Can we ask if you’re giving anything up or doing something special for Lent?” I ventured tentatively as the archbishop stood at the top of the steps.

The archbishop paused for a second, exhaled and looked taken aback. Then mischief engulfed his face completely.

“I’m giving up rash judgments on certain people,” he said as his smile grew wider and he chuckled playfully. “How’s that?”

My fellow reporters broke into laughter. I did too, although my face was crimson and my heart was beating faster.

“Trying to be more charitable – that’s the main thing for all of us, I think,” Archbishop O’Brien said, showing some charity after he had zinged me.

Just a few weeks later, I happened to exit the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen through a side door at the same time as the archbishop. He had just finished celebrating the Holy Thursday Mass. As we walked a few feet together, he asked me if I was married or single. When I said I was single, he noted that he knew that was the case because I’m a person who’s always smiling.

About a year later, at the end of the May 3, 2009 dedication liturgy for the new St. Ann Church in Grantsville, one of the owners of the nearby Newman Funeral Home surprised parishioners by giving their pastor a check for $18,000. The gift was the amount the parish had paid the funeral home for allowing the faith community to worship there after their former church was destroyed in a 2006 fire. The owner wanted to donate the money to the parish as a sign of his commitment to the religious community.

Thanking the donor for the gracious gesture, Father James Hannon turned to Archbishop O’Brien and joked that he would give him the check in the knowledge that the archbishop would certainly turn it over to the parish.

When the pastor sat down, Archbishop O’Brien solemnly arose from the presider’s chair and walked over to the lectern as if to continue the liturgy. Without saying a word, he picked up the check and walked back to his seat while smiling mischievously. Waves of laughter from the congregation built to a crescendo before the archbishop finally made a detour and handed the check to Father Hannon.

I’m going to miss Archbishop O’Brien’s good humor. More importantly, I’m going to miss his solid leadership, his model of Christian living and his sense of pastoral outreach. Archbishop O’Brien truly cared for the people he served. He had to make some tough calls during his tenure. He did what he thought was best to build up the Church of Baltimore.

God bless you, Archbishop O’Brien, as you begin a new phase in your ministry.

Click here for coverage of the archbishop’s appointment to Rome.

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8/31 UPDATE: Jennifer Williams, my friend and colleague at The Catholic Review, has some of her own memories of Archbishop O’Brien’s humor posted here.

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VIDEO REPORT: Stephen Colbert’s Chaplain

Be sure to tune into Comedy Central tonight to watch  Jesuit Father James Martin make another of his hilarious appearances on the “Colbert Report.” Father Martin, culture editor of America Magazine, has become known as the “chaplain” to the Colbert Report. His appearances on the popular program are always a lot of fun. Tonight’s topic is God’s “approval ratings.”

During a Baltimore talk on faith and humor at the end of July, Father Martin took some questions from the audience.  As almost always happens, the first one was about what it’s like to appear with Stephen Colbert on national television. Father Martin described how he was first invited onto the program. He outlined how his appearances on the popular show might be considered a form of evangelization. He also noted that Mr. Colbert is “very Catholic” – to the point of even wearing a scapular.

Check out Father Martin on Stephen Colbert in the following clip.

For more from Father Martin’s talk, click here.


VIDEO REPORT: Laughing with St. Ignatius

St. Ignatius of Loyola at prayer in Rome. (Father William Hart McNichols)

In honor of today’s Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola – founder of the Jesuits – here’s a video clip of Father James Martin, S.J. sharing some of his favorite Jesuit jokes. It’s taken from the priest-author’s July 29 talk at St. Ignatius in Baltimore. I know you’ll enjoy it!

Also, the image of St. Ignatius shown on this blog is one of Father Martin’s favorites. It shows the great saint at prayer in Rome – perfectly capturing his humanity. Father William Hart McNichols was the iconographer and you can learn more about his work here.

For more funny and insightful clips from Father Martin’s lecture on humor and spirituality, click here.

Happy Feast Day to all my Jesuit friends from a proud graduate of Loyola University Maryland!  Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!

 

 


VIDEO REPORT: Colbert Report chaplain says God wants us to laugh

Father James Martin, S.J.

Being a faithful Catholic doesn’t mean you have to be a joyless one.

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan knows that. When Archbishop Dolan was installed to his post in the Big Apple, an enterprising reporter asked the newcomer if there was anything he would like to condemn. Archbishop Dolan responded in the affirmative.

“I condemn instant mashed potatoes and light beer,” he deadpanned.

A few years ago, when Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl visited a Catholic bookstore, the owner approached him and said, “Oh!  You’re looking for a book, Father. You must be a Jesuit!”

“No,” Cardinal Wuerl replied, “but I’m literate.”

Back when Blessed Pope John XXIII enjoyed making surprise visits to Catholic institutions in Rome, he once stopped at a hospital run by the Sisters of the Holy Spirit. The superior of the religious community ran up to the Holy Father and announced that she was “the superior of the Holy Spirit.”

Without skipping a beat, the pope countered with: “Well, you outrank me. I’m only the vicar of Christ!”

Those were just a few of many stories of faith and good humor shared by Jesuit Father James Martin during last night’s Ignatian Day Lecture at St. Ignatius in Baltimore. The Jesuit priest, a bestselling author and culture editor of America Magazine, spoke on the important role of humor in living a spiritual life.

Well-known for his amazingly funny appearances on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report, Father Martin is traveling the country to spread a message that might be summed up in two words: “Lighten up.”

Along with Matt Palmer – my good friend and colleague at The Catholic Review, I had the honor of interviewing Father Martin at the end of his lecture.  The priest was very generous with his time and gave us a lot of good insights into evangelization.

We will be sharing some of what he had to say in the next few days.  I will also be posting some interesting observations from Father Martin on what it’s like to be on the Colbert Report.

For now, take a look at some of these three video clips from last night.  Father Martin will have you laughing like you won’t believe.  Stay tuned for much more to come and check out The Welcome Matt to see what Matt Palmer’s posting about Father Martin’s appearance last night.

7/31 UPDATE: Click here to hear Father Martin share some of his favorite Jesuit jokes.


The right side of the confessional

Father Blair Raum (CR File Photo)

This little anecdote has been sitting in my notebook since March 17, so it’s about time I shared it with you. It comes from a story recounted by Redemptorist Father John Murray during his St. Patty’s Day homily at St. Patrick in Fells Point.

Father Murray remembered that not long after St. Patrick Church suffered a devastating fire in 1983 and was later restored, a parishioner who had been away from the church for a long time returned to the historic Broadway parish. He had heard about St. Patrick’s reopening, Father Murray said, and wanted to confess his sins and get back on a spiritual track.

The man came early to Mass one day and headed straight for the confessional. He opened the confessional door and sat down in a large easy chair. Beside the chair was a bottle of Jameson whiskey and on the left was a small television designated for Orioles and Colts games. He closed the door and waited for a priest.

That’s when the now-deceased Father Blair Raum, then the pastor, opened the door and saw the man sitting in the cushy chair.

“Get out!” Father Raum said. “That’s my side!”


Cardinal Keeler and the Psychic Reader

 

Cardinal William H. Keeler, master of the one-liner, meets with George P. Matysek Jr. (CR Staff/Owen Sweeney III)

During a March 2 testimonial at a special celebration of Cardinal William H. Keeler’s upcoming 80th birthday, Richard Berndt told a story that demonstrated why friends know the retired archbishop as a master of the one-liner.

Speaking at the Center Club in Baltimore, Berndt recalled how he and the cardinal were walking back to the Catholic Center after a meeting with The Baltimore Sun in the late 1990s. Berndt, who was an attorney for the archdiocese, was discussing some difficult personnel matters with the cardinal as the two strolled by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Cardinal Keeler looked up and pointed to a sign on a small office building at the southeast corner of Mulberry and Cathedral streets.

“Psychic Reader Advisor – The Mystical Tarot,” the sign proclaimed.

The cardinal told Berndt that the psychic advisor herself had come up to him on the street a few days earlier and introduced herself as a neighbor and a professional competitor. She told the leader of the Premier See that both of them were “in the same business.”

Standing in front of the grand basilica, the cardinal looked at the psychic and deadpanned: “I think you have a lot less overhead.”

“I went away happier for hearing him tell that little story,” Berndt remembered with a laugh, “and thinking that Cardinal Keeler had room in his heart for every person – even lawyers and psychic readers.”

Earlier this week, I had the honor of spending some time with Cardinal Keeler at his residence at Mercy Ridge Retirement Community in Timonium. I caught a glimpse of his humor near the end of an interview when I asked the cardinal if he missed the administrative work at the Catholic Center. Without skipping a beat, he replied with a confident “No!”

Then, he laughed — and laughed hard.

For more on how the cardinal feels about becoming an octogenarian and what he’s been up to in retirement, check out this story in The Catholic Review. Next week, we will have more on his birthday celebration. The cardinal’s actual birthday is March 4.

Happy birthday, Your Eminence!



Speedreader rips through Dr. Seuss

I thought he said to take it slowly?!


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