When it comes to religion, humor must be applied with caution. It’s a fine line between corny – i.e., Moses was a basket case – and irreverent. Matt Weber walks the line deftly in his book Fearing the Stigmata: Humorously Holy Stories of a Young Catholic’s Search for a Culturally Relevant Faith. His humor is subtle, humble, and has a way of sneaking up on you page after page.
Weber’s young-adult perspective is relevant to any age but especially so to a world too anxious to shed what is perceived to be the confines of Catholicism. For him, his faith does not confine but instead gives life shape and meaning. He comes across as just a regular guy with experiences seen through a religious and comedic lens.
The book chronicles Matt’s catharsis, beginning with his early recall of not wanting to be too good of a Catholic lest he receive the Stigmata. When he learned the spots on the statue of St. Francis’s hands were not some form of lepoard-sy but rather the wounds of Christ for being such a good Catholic, Matt determined to sin a bit more to ward off such gifts.
His family practiced their Catholic faith and it pervaded his persona, but Matt admitted in an interview that he was sometimes tempted to hide that part of him. “As a student at Harvard University, my first weeks at Harvard were as an ‘incognito Catholic,’” he said. “There were internal struggles of whether being Catholic was cool here. I still experience it to this day even though it’s much easier now to talk about faith since I’ve been so open with it.”
Weber now works as their Social Media Officer. In his spare time he also produces segments for CatholicTV and has a commentary segment of his own known as “A Word with Weber”.
Weber appears to meander clumbsily through life but there is surely a Divine compass directing it all. His entry into Catholic TV is a perfect example. It began simply because of his frequent, late-night viewing of the cable station. The first Catholic Television Center of the Archdiocese of Boston began on January 1, 1955. Five decades later, it was watched by over 12.5 million viewers throughout the world, yet Weber found they were missing a segment of the population.
At the time, he was enrolled in a Harvard graduate course called “Growing Up in a Media World.” Inspired by the class to look at the pro-social role of television and by Ghandi’s words, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” he sent an email to the station. Weber pointed out the twenty-something voice was not getting heard on Catholic TV. “Now, my demographic is small, but I feel it is rather important. We are no longer dragged to church by our parents. We are not going to church simply for the sake of baptizing our newborn. New careers are starting, metabolisms are slowing, and Sunday mornings just aren’t what they used to be.” he wrote.
Although they received hundreds of pitches a year for new programs, Weber was given an appointment with station president Fr. Robert Reed and general manager Jay Fadden to pitch a new show. “To me, this was not a pitch but an extension of my faith life, spirituality and religiosity manifesting in the form of a conversation,” he wrote.
In spite of arriving late because of outdated directions on Google Maps, his appeal was heard. He ended the meeting by opening his laptop computer to show them a whimsical, yet touching video reflection on his visits with a statue of Mary on a busy Boston street corner. It was aired the next day and Weber joined the Catholic TV team.
Watch his video below…
Laugh out loud moments often morph into touching Catholic perspectives on mundane aspects of life such as trying to get a gallon of milk home after the bag rips and the carton cracks. It happened because he bent over to pick up a plastic rosary in the street. With the beads on his handlebars, squished crackers and exponentially less milk than when he left the store, he reflected on what is worth saving and worth going back for. “It also shows me that it is good to make an extra effort, whether with faith or with groceries.”
And then there are dramatic moments when even an atheist would be tempted to pray, passing two men in an argument; one pointing a handgun at the other. It was around 10:30 in the evening and happened to be St. Patrick’s Day. Once out of the danger zone, Matt reflected on death in a Catholic way. “I know death can happen at any moment. I bike, I drive, I eat cheeseburgers, I ski. But sometimes guns make that moment seem more real and I guess prayer makes those moments safer. That evening I grew closer to St. Patrick and was reminded that maybe I should chat with him and God more often, hopefully under different circumstances next time.”
Perhaps Matt’s life unfolds in such an eventful way so he can use his God-given gifts to entertain others in union with the Catholic faith. I laughed out loud at his description of dressing as Zak the Yak while volunteering at bookstore for a children’s reading program. However, I wondered how he was going to pull a spiritual reflection out of it.
He had learned that while dressed as a yak, children would pull his tail, give him multiple high fives, ask him if he was a cow, some would cry, and all would seem to enjoy a yak that will dance. After he quickly disappeared to peel off the hot, sweaty costume (“looking as if I had just bee in the bookstore’s secret private sauna”) he was again just plain Matt. And then it came, the Catholic connection: “When you put on a costume or uniform or patch, it represents something. It’s why Superman wears a cape and tights, why priests wear collars, nuns (at least some of them) wear habits, and even why Christians wear crucifixes. Sometimes these things remind you of a greater cause you are fighting for and working toward.”
Matt’s life snippets are precisely what Catholicism is about, allowing our faith to color our lives. By the end of the book, Matt pronounces: “Fear not the stigmata. Be a good Catholic in whatever way you can, and take this charge with adventuresome spirit.”
To that, I can only add one thing: Amen!
Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband Mark have ten children. She was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s “Amazing Grace” series, and has published over 600 articles, appeared on EWTN Bookmark program, EWTN Live, and Catholic TV as well as radio stations across the country. She is also winner of the About.com 2011 Reader’s Choice award. Her latest books, Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families, (Scepter Publishers) and children’s book, Dear God I don’t get it (Liguori Publications) will be released in Spring 2013.
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