Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. –Pope Benedict XVI
Back in 2010, Lady Gaga joined the list of celibate stars who openly spoke about the values of abstaining from sex until the right time, and for some celebrities that meant marriage. At the time, I was a high school teacher scavenging for role models for his charges. This was big news.
That morning when I heard of Gaga’s announcement, I printed out the article from CNN and rushed to my class of sophomores with good news to share. “Guys, it’s true!” I stopped to catch my breath. “Abstinence is the way to go. Lady Gaga said so.”
“Yeah, right. Look at how she dresses!” one student yelled out. “And she’s really a man,” added another.
Oh, so young and yet so jaded.
Many of my students were more interested in Lil Wayne’s arrest, Justin Bieber’s hair (who knew if it was because of hate or envy or both), and Charlie the Unicorn’s…I really didn’t know what. They were less than interested in St. Padre Pio’s stigmata, St. Bernadette’s 131-year-old incorrupt corpse, and St. Joseph of Cupertino’s levitations and ecstasies. The Saints, apparently, had some tough competition.
Finding living examples of virtuous and joyful Christian lives in popular culture was no easy task, and I was willing to “canonize” right away—santo subito!— any celebrity who, despite their many shortcomings, could hint to the youngin’s that such a life (religious, holy, faithful, committed, Christian, etc.) was worth living.
In the past two years, I’ve come across two Catholic “saints” in contemporary American pop culture—Stephen Colbert and Mark Wahlberg—who at the moment are considerably more likely candidates for sainthood than Gaga (of course, I don’t doubt she still has a chance). Unlike the 10,000 or so official Catholic Saints (predominantly priests, monks, nuns, and brothers), these two married men are still alive. They haven’t performed any miraculous healings, levitated, and bilocated; and neither of them would call themselves “holy” or “perfect,” but their public witness of joy in faith is no less inspiring.
Here is Colbert showing his serious side (without abandoning the funny side) and defending the rights of migrant farm workers, irritating some members of Congress:
And here, Mark Wahlberg speaks about what faith means to him:
Who would you make “santo subito”?