Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Charismatic Catholic

when i was a catholic high-school kid, circa 1960, one of our religion assignments was to watch Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's weekly 1/2 hour television show.  since i obeyed it, we must have had to write reports or in some way prove our assignment was done.  i remember hating it.  later i recall being told that bishop sheen was charismatic;  recently i've seen a clip of one of the shows, and now i can understand the description.  i certainly didn't perceive any charisma at the time. he was boring, even with those fiery eyes, and he didn't even have any dancers or jugglers like ed sullivan did. ed sullivan i liked.

released from the odious obligation by graduation, i never expected i would willingly watch a religion  show again. then a few years ago, as i was channel-surfing, i came across pastor melissa. i watched, mesmerized, and soon became at least semi-addicted to pastor scott. she preached in a mega-church, and she was a fascinating variation on the snippets of mega-church shows i'd caught in previous channel surfs. to begin with, she is a stunningly gorgeous woman. and though she dressed in severe, alsmost nun-like black blouse and skirt-or-pants  outfit,  clerical collar the only exception to the blackness of the outfit, she had beautiful, flowing, waist-length hair.  that anomaly was itself glaring; the other thing i liked was the fact that i never understood what she was talking about.  other preachers on tv harangued about sin and hell, the usual stuff, and i'd had plenty of that with bishop sheen. but pastor scott was pure exegesis: she strode purposefully from  book stand to whiteboard, which was already covered with combinations of greek and roman alphabet words, which she dissected furiously with encirclings and arrows, explaining that while this word has been translated as 'fire,' in the original language it really meant 'heat'--or stuff to that effect.  nothing about birth control or abortion or homosexuality or sins of the flesh.  so nothing for me to get pissed at.  eventually i googled [as one  always does] and she turned out to be quite a character. she had been in the sex industry--hooker or stripper, i don't remember which--and went to church one day, where she heard a sermon from the elderly, brilliant pastor scott, and found salvation.  she and the pastor were eventually married, she studied and became a pastor herself, and at her husband's death took over his ministry.  posts about her were either worshipful ['she saved my soul and i've never had an unhappy day since'] or blisteringly bitter.  her husband had been accused of being a major con artist, and she, it was averred, had followed in his footsteps.

i have no idea which version was the truth, and i realize that for believers that matters a lot. as an unbeliever, however, i found her great fun.  eventually i deserted her--or maybe her show was cancelled--and felt no further desire to pursue televangelism.

recently, however, i have been called back to the tv faith.  there is a local [boston-area] catholic station, and one of its shows is called 'going my way.'  true to the inspiration for its title, it is wholesome enough to make 'leave it to beaver' seem raunchy.  yet its host is a priest i really do find charismatic.  father chris hickey loves what he's doing, and it shows.  he's having fun.  his charm is exactly the reverse of the eloquently melodramatic bishop sheen's. he has a distinct new england accent, and he is genuinely folksy.  not 'gee golly whiz' folksy, but the real thing.  he has a sort of sidekick, father paul rouse, who plays the piano.

and here's the thing. the first bit of the show is always an interview with a priest or nun or active layperson doing some church work in the community. honesty compels me to admit i've never watched this part of the show, but i will. i owe it to father chris. because in the second half, father chris and his guest sing. [hence father paul and the piano].  and what they sing is the upbeat music of the 30s and 40, and probably the 20s. the american songbook.  his voice is pleasant, if not outstanding, and father paul's piano playing is the perfect accompaniment.  sometimes the guest can't really carry a tune.  but the guest always picks up father chris's enthusiasm, and what is lacking in professionalism is made up by the sheer fun they're having.  father chris can carry off a love song with no hint of sensuality but a strong hint of love.  he may be the happiest ham in show biz.    he seems to be totally sincere.  i get the sense of a man who is in love with himself because he's in love with everybody in the world.

i don't know what his theology is, and maybe that's why i manage to avoid the first part of the show.  if he opposes birth control or gay marriage or obama's health plan, i don't want to know it.  all i want is to accept his invitation to 'sing along at home.'  i hope he wouldn't mind knowing he makes a pagan ex-catholic enjoy life just a little bit more.


1 comment:

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