Wednesday, June 22, 2016


I recently finished two excellent books I recommend to everyone.

Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life by James  Martin, S.J. who is the cultural editor of America magazine. Someone  called Father Martin one of the funniest, joyous, most light-hearted religious figures in America today. 

He writes: Indeed, the more you know about the actual lives of the saints, the more it strikes you as bizarre that so many statues, paintings and mosaics of the saints show them as unsmiling men and women. These are surely misrepresentations of the holy men and women of Christian history, many of whom were not only joyful but had terrific senses of humor.

Father Martin recalls episodes in his own life where a Christian sense of humor has saved the day for him personally, as well as for others he was ministering to. Often times, the humor came from a friend, a brother Jesuit, or even a stranger, who was able to make an unbearable situation bearable.

As Christians, we should wear our joy on our sleeve, showing a very pessimistic world that we believe in the Resurrection. Joy shows our trust in God, and joy reveals our faith.

The second book, My Life with the Saints, also by Father Martin, deals with some of the saints who touched his own life as a Jesuit.  (Among them are St. Therese, Mother Teresa, Pedro Arrupe (whom I love), and Pope John XXIII.

After reading this I thought it would be interesting to find some joyous saints on my own. The lives of the Saints give us concrete examples of living heroic Christian lives. In each of their lives, they manifest important characteristics of what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ.

Some saints were known specifically for their rich sense of humor. ST. PHILIP NERI, a 16th-century Italian priest, for example, was called “The Humorous Saint.” Over his door he posted a small sign that read, “The House of Christian Mirth.” En route to a ceremony in his honor, he once shaved off half his beard, as a way of poking fun at himself. “Christian joy is a gift from God, flowing from a good conscience,” he said.  And “A heart filled with joy is more easily made perfect than one that is sad.” 

Much of St. Philip Neri’s humor was a way of keeping him humble, as he engaged in what could only be called acts of public silliness, like wearing a cushion on his head like a turban and wearing a foxtail coat in the middle of the summer.

"We are not saints yet, but we, too, should beware. Uprightness and virtue do have their rewards, in self-respect and in respect from others, and it is easy to find ourselves aiming for the result rather than the cause. Let us aim for joy, rather than respectability. Let us make fools of ourselves from time to time, and thus see ourselves, for a moment, as the all-wise God sees us."
St. Philip Neri

, the 17th-century bishop of Geneva and renowned spiritual master, espoused what you might call a sensible, cheerful and gentle spirituality. “When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time,” he once wrote. His humane approach to spiritual matters stood in contrast to some of the rigidity of his day. So did his desire to help lay people live a life of deep spirituality- when “real” spirituality was thought to be the province of clerics. His classic text Introduction to the Devout Life was written specifically to help laypeople on their path to God.

ST. JOHN VIANNEY (Patron of the parish priest) learned how to appreciate a good laugh growing up in a happy home. When he would be out doing work on the farm with siblings and friends, he sought to make that time enjoyable and learned a peasant's sense of comic irony. During his time as a priest, he discovered that jocularity was often a very useful way to package some messages that, if stated directly, might wound others' sensibilities.

Much of his best humor was of the humbly self-deprecating kind. When asked once to describe himself at a gathering of clergy, many of whom were seeking positions of importance, he said, "I am like the zeros that have value only when they are next to other numbers." St. John Vianney had a truly Christian view of life and through his humor demonstrated that the Gospel was actually "good news of great joy for all the people."

In our own age we had POPE ST. JOHN PAUL II, who radiated a joy to the whole world. He once said God made us for joy!  He loved people of all nationalities and religions, young and old, smiling and laughing with them, exuding joy wherever he went. In spite of much physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering he still radiated the joy of Christ, certainly and example to us all. 

Other saints in our day and age present us with the idea that joy is what we should strive for in our spiritual life. St. Pio of Pietrelcina said,  "Joy, with peace, is the sister of charity. Serve the Lord with laughter."

Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “Let anyone who comes to you go away feeling better and happier. Everyone should see goodness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile. Joy shows from the eyes. It appears when we speak and walk. It cannot be kept closed inside us. It reacts outside. Joy is very infectious.” 

No comments:

Post a Comment