Is the Church suffering from depression? I sometimes wonder. A humorist once quipped that most of today’s vocal Christians look as if they’d been baptized in vinegar and not in water! Humor has become so rare. The Jewish Talmud holds that “we will be held accountable for neglecting to enjoy the legitimate pleasures the Lord sends us.”
You would not believe this. But there are organized groups whose sole mission is to discover imperfections! Apparently in the middle ages, the masters of tapestry spent a lifetime creating works of art, but in order to profess humbly that only God is perfect, they deliberately inserted a mistake in each piece of work. Well, these flaw-detecting groups charter flights to Europe, where members spend hours dissecting a single tapestry to spot the mistake!
Perhaps they do it for fun. But many people do this all their life! Always frowning. Always fault finding. They make their lives and other people’s lives miserable. The problem is that, if you’ve lost the joy, you’ve lost. That is it!
Humor is precious. It gives us a sense of perspective. A grandmother shared that when she was feeding lunch to her grandchildren, one said in distress, “Grandma, we forgot to pray. We always pray at our other grandma’s.” His older sister hushed him, saying, “Jeffrey, we don’t have to pray here. This grandma’s food is always good!”
Humor gives us an opportunity to acknowledge our shortcomings, as the obese comedian did when he introduced himself as a recovering anorexic. We all have shortcomings, but we spend most of our lives trying to conceal them and put the blame on others. Humor deflates this attitude. The word humor, after all, springs from the same root as humility, human and humus – earthiness.
We live today in a culture of negativity. With media and press obsessed with scandal, controversy and crime, it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing everything black. Our initial reaction to a given situation is, “It won’t work” or “There’s something fishy about it” or, in the case of beautiful weather, “It won’t last.”
The good news is that negativity is a learned reflex and anything that has been learned can also be unlearned. Babies aren’t born negative!
Can we resurrect the alleluias? The Italian saint Leonard of Port Maurice once said “Leave sadness to those in the world. We who are with God should be lighthearted.”
Another saint, Clare of Assisi used to say that, “Melancholy is the poison of devotion.” And St. Philip Neri made it clear that, “I will have no sadness in my house.” St. Paul himself stresses, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.”
The laughter of the Saints is healthy, frank, and true; it has the pure sound of a soul at peace with God and man.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, meeting one day one of his novices who was apparently in the darkest of moods, said to him: “My son, I want you to laugh; I want you to be happy in the Lord; a religious has no reason to be sad, and he has many reasons to be cheerful.”
The martyrs themselves preserved that peace and cheerfulness even in the midst of the most refined tortures. Whoever reads for the first time the passion of St. Lawrence – he was burnt alive on a grill – must experience a strange emotion at hearing the triumphant pleasantry thrown by the holy martyr into his tormentor’s face, “This side is now well done! Turn me over.”
The pen of St. Teresa of Jesus often wrote such expressions as, “I had to laugh”, “I laughed heartily”, “you make me laugh.” Some noble ladies who met St. Teresa in Madrid were so awed by her normalness that their only remark was : “God be blessed! Here is a saint whom we can all imitate. She eats, sleeps, and laughs like other people, without affectation, without ceremonies.”
A good brother, who thought himself a painter, and who answered to the attractive name of Brother John of the Misery (!!), undertook to draw her portrait. Teresa who, in her youth had been told she was pretty and (she confessed later on) had believed it, was not altogether pleased with the artistic endeavors of the self-appointed portrait-maker, for no sooner had she been given the opportunity to observe the portrait, than she exclaimed: “May God forgive you, brother, for having made me so ugly!”
“Please,” she said in a letter, “narrate to others all the misfortunes we have had with that kind of pious people. . . It would be better to abstain from opening new houses than to put in them melancholy subjects. Religious of that stamp are the ruin of monasteries. We should avoid them as a plague. Not only are they sick, but they sicken the whole community!!” She was so right when she wrote : “A sad saint is a very poor saint.”
To be happy, live a simple, humble life. And let yourself be guided by God. If God brings you to it…He will get you through it!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.