Surprised by Joy

Behar's bad "View" on Saints

Whoopi Goldberg is a great comedian. So is Joy Behar. But, as it turns out, they’re not great theologians. On the daytime talk show “The View” this past Wednesday, the conversation turned, somewhat improbably, to the saints. What happened next would burn up the wires of the Catholic blogosphere for the next few days.

First, Ms. Goldberg said that Catholics pray to statues, and so therefore we were praying to idols. Well, not exactly. Catholics don’t pray to statues, any more than you think that a photo on your desk of your dog actually is your dog. And when we do pray to a saint to ask for their prayers, it’s the same as asking a friend to pray for us. But that’s a popular misconception, and I liked Sister Act, so I’m not angry with Whoopi Goldberg.

Next, Joy Behar launched into a discussion about Mother Teresa, whose recently published letters revealed that she had heard the voice of Jesus.

Saint = Crazy?
Ms. Behar started off by saying that the saints were essentially crazy, since so many of them heard voices. And, she said, now that we have medication for that kind of stuff, you can’t find any saints any longer. Here’s her quote: “I think that the old days the saints were hearing voices and they didn’t have any thorazine to calm them down. Now that we have all of this medication available to us, you can’t find a saint any more.” So, basically, Joy Behar thinks that all the saints were psychotic.

Now there were some saints who people at the time thought were crazy, like St. Francis of Assisi. After he decided to follow Jesus by living a life of poverty, just to make sure people understood, he took off all his clothes in the town square, and deposited them at his father’s feet. The people of Assisi called him pazzo, or nuts. Afterwards Francis devoted his life to caring for the poor, preaching the Gospel and trying to help others get close to God. So, for me, that’s a good kind of nuts.

And some of the saints did things that we would consider bizarre today. Like St. Aloysius Gonzaga, who decided never to look a woman in the eye, lest he get tempted.

Contrary to Behar’s impression, you don’t become a saint by hearing voices, you become one by living a life of heroic sanctity.

But actually, relatively few saints heard voices and saw visions. Most found God in more familiar ways: by working with the poor, teaching children, meditating on Scripture, praying with others in church, and by thinking about God’s activity in the world around them. You don’t become a saint by hearing voices, you become one by living a life of heroic sanctity.

Abraham, Martin and John Paul
But the strangest idea is that there aren’t any saints around. As St. Paul would say, “By no means!” Most people could easily tick off lots of current-day saints, in addition to Mother Teresa. For Catholics that list might include people like Archbishop Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, Padre Pio and Pope John Paul. For Protestants, people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. For Jews, people like Abraham Joshua Heschel. And lots of us know saints in everyday life: The mother who cares for her autistic son. The father who works long hours to support his family. The friend who patiently visits his elderly neighbor.

Overall, I’m not worried about a few comedians causing people to misunderstand the saints. The saints’ stories, and their examples of holiness, are naturally appealing, and they will endure far longer than “The View.” Most people know holiness still exists because they know holy people in their own lives.

And I’m not too worried about Ms. Behar either. I’m sure Mother Teresa is already praying for her.