Faith Journeying from “What Is” to “What Should Be”

Do you remember “Ed”?

No, not Ed Asner, who played Lou Grant, the persnickety and gruff newsroom editor of the fictional TV station WJM Minneapolis in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” of the 1970s. Not Eddie Murray, the beloved Oriole who hit his 500th career home run in Camden Yards, which is marked to this day by an orange seat in right-center field where the fateful blast landed. Not “Mr. Ed,” the family comedy show of the 1960s starry a clever and smart-alecky horse who talked only to his owner Wilbur. And not Ed Sullivan, the TV variety show host who introduced America to the Beatles in the 1964.

I’m talking about Ed Stevens. Ringing any bells yet?

Ed Stevens was the lead character in the TV comedy show “Ed,” which aired on NBC from 2000 to 2004.

I loved “Ed” when it was on the air. I still love the show now. The writing is fantastic and the characters are real, salt-of-the earth types. You can easily see yourself being one of them or anyone of them being your best friend. It was one of those rare TV shows that made me laugh, touched my heart and made me think about my own life and its purpose – sometimes all in one episode.

Ed Stevens (played by actor Tom Cavanagh) was a young lawyer who was married and practicing for a large firm in New York. In the same day, he was fired and came home to find his wife with another man. His marriage ended, he decides to return to his fictional home town of Stuckeyville to pursue his high-school crush, Carol Vessey, played by Baltimore’s own Julie Bowen, who was absolutely wonderful throughout the show’s four-year run.

Ed winds up buying the local bowling alley and opening a law practice. He then sets his sights on the reason why he came back to Stuckeyville in the first place — winning Carol’s heart. After three years of hardships, trials, tribulations and unsuccessful relationships with other people, Ed and Carol finally get together and tie the knot. They marry where much of the show takes place – in the bowling alley. In a very poignant and touching moment, with many of the show’s characters looking on in the season and series finale, Ed stands next to his beautiful bride, Carol, to make a toast. He says:

“I have always believed that life is divided into two parts – what is and what should be. And with a lot of effort, some hard work and a little luck, there are moments in your life when the two parts touch. What is, and what should be, are the same. I guess I can’t help but think that standing here, next to Carol, next to my wife, and in front of all of you – friends and family, all of us here in this crazy, beautiful, old dumpy bowling alley which I love – I can’t help but think this is one of those times. And I thank you.”

I’m not ashamed to say that after watching this scene (many scenes from the show can be found on YouTube), it’s tough for me to fight back the tears. 

It occurred to me recently that as Catholic Christians, Jesus always wants “what should be” for our spirituality, our faith. In this way, our lives are also divided into two parts. Christ calls us to be holy, to live in the light of his grace. We all live in the “what is” – the current state of our lives, the here and now, with all its hurts, challenges and sin. But as Ed said, with a lot of hard work, a little effort and some luck (I like think of luck in this case as God’s grace), we can stretch ourselves and reach out for the “what should be” in our faith and in our love for Christ.

St. James illustrates that this hard work and effort can lead to “what should be” in our faith when he writes: “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (Jas 1:2-4).

That touching point, the intersection of “what is” and “what should be” in our faith journey, is the point where God’s grace and mercy manifest themselves in our lives, pouring out of us in everything we say and do. In this Year of Faith, as proclaimed by Pope Benedict, we are called to work hard – to put forth our best effort – to understand and strengthen our faith, moving ever closer to “what should be,” then not only to hold on to that strengthen faith for ourselves, but to share it to transform the lives of others, proclaiming it with our lips and by our actions.

Who knew such wisdom could shine forth from a TV show bowling alley?

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.