Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Let's Have a Few More Laughs in Church

Saint to be John XXIII in a light-hearted moment 

I went to hear Father James Martin speak last evening speak last evening on “Between Heaven and Mirth: Who Says Religion Has To Be So Gloomy?”  Father Martin, like Pope Francis, is a Jesuit. He is an editor of America Magazine and a well known columnist in several newspapers, but perhaps is most widely known for his appearances on The Colbert Report where is the “unofficial official chaplain.”   Father Martin’s talk was wonderful—hilarious and thought-provoking at the same time.  Drawing on anecdotes about popes and saints and great figures in our Catholic history as well as with examples from both the Old and New Testaments, Father Martin showed that not only has humor and wit played a central part in our history as Catholics, but it is fundamental to our faith and an indispensible sign of authentic Christian spirituality. Moreover, Father Martin believes—and backed it up with references to various pope-speaks from the current Holy Father—that it is a primary tool for the new evangelization. 
I am so glad to hear this approach from a man with the influence on the Church and clergy as Father Martin.  Frankly I was getting embarrassed, not for being Catholic, but for being part of a Church that was increasingly becoming doom and gloom.  It’s bad enough that Germans aren’t known for their sense of humor, but poor Pope Benedict has spent his entire life in an ivory tower where his chief means of “lightening up” was to play Mozart on his Steinway.   But better Mozart, even played badly, than the sort of dour scoldings that were becoming characteristic of our American bishops—Tobin of Providence, George of Chicago, Finn of Kansas City, Slattery of Tulsa, Sheridan of Colorado Springs, Cordileone of Oakland and now San Fran by the Bay, and of course the inimitable Fabian Bruskewitz, the Daddy of dyspeptic Catholicism.  As I have often noted: everyone knows what the Catholic Church is against; no one remembers what it is for.  Well thanks to Pope Francis and Father Martin that is changing.  God Bless the Society of Jesus. 
When you think of Saints like Teresa of Avila, Francis of Assisi, Philip Neri, John XXIII, Thomas More, Francis de Sales, Jordan of Saxony, Bishop Sheen and Mother Teresa you see that laughter and light-heartedness have their place and like leaven lighten and expand the heart to greater service of God and neighbor.  My favorite description of St. Thérèse of Lisieux was written by her prioress, Mother Marie de Gonzague:
“...tall and robust, with a childlike face, and with a tone of voice and expression that hide a wisdom, a perfection and a perspicacity of a woman of fifty... a little innocent thing to whom you would give communion without confession, but whose head is filled with tricks to be played on anyone she pleases. A mystic, a comedian, she is everything! She can make you shed tears of devotion, and just as easily make you split your sides with laughter during recreation.”  incidentally, St Thérèse and Father Martin share a surname--though Thérèse was from the French Martins and the good Jesuit, the Irish.  
Dour Christianity is a sure and certain sign of the heresy of Jansenism, a heresy that has poisoned the Catholic Church here in America from the days of the émigré priests who came fleeing the French Revolution and which was reinforced by the Catholic Calvinism so characteristic of many of the normally funny Irish who came to this country in the 19th century. 
The story is told of Groucho Marx who while dining in a restaurant was once approached by a priest who said: “O Mr. Marx, I would like to thank you for bringing so much joy into the world.”  Groucho replied: “and I should thank you, Father, for taking so much joy out.”  It would not be funny if it did not ring true.   Hopefully Catholics like Pope Francis and Cardinal Dolan and Steven Colbert will change that perspective on Catholicism and let us take back our Church from the doom and gloom crowd who suck the joy out of the Gospel.  

1 comment:

  1. This brings to mind an anecdote from a priest in the prologue section of a recent episode of NPR's "This American Life", about someone who repeatedly confesses to the 'sin' of laughing at mass. (You only need to listen to the first minute for that particular story, though the entire episode is worth listening to for its own sake.)