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.
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.
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.