Perhaps the most obviously Christian element of Mr. Macdonald’s legacy was his quiet acceptance of what we now know were nine years of cancer, from which he died without acknowledging his illness in public. (The closest he ever came to referring to his disease was in a stand-up bit that mocked the fashionable rhetoric of “battling” cancer: “I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure if you die, the cancer dies at the same time. That’s not a loss. That’s a draw.”) Unlike secular ethical systems — stoicism, for example — Christianity almost uniquely invites its adherents to find value in suffering because it allows us to unite ourselves with Christ in his Crucifixion.
But the acknowledgment of suffering is not the final goal of Christian religion, which ultimately derives its meaning from the joy of Christ’s Resurrection. In the early centuries of the church, Christians were mocked by their pagan fellow citizens for a kind of blithe silliness that reminded them of drunkards. Even in his final years of pain, Mr. Macdonald, too, exhibited an almost Falstaffian joie de vivre. “At times, the joy that life attacks me with is unbearable and leads to gasping hysterical laughter,” he told his Twitter followers in 2018. “How could a man be a cynic? It is a sin.”
Some years ago, Mr. Macdonald was asked on social media whether he was a Catholic. He answered that he was not, explaining that in his native Quebec it would have been very unusual for a person of non-French descent to be a member of the church. “Like everyone,” he said, “I am in search of the true faith of course. It’s been a rather long tough journey, for me at least.”