We live in a society that thrives on XXX, a symbol identifier for pornography. We should create a Church that counteracts with an HHH, a symbol identifier for Christianity – Humor, Humility and Holiness! Genuine humor is based on humility and leads to holiness!
Laughter abounds in the Scripture. When one-hundred year old Abraham learned that he is about to become a father, he “threw himself on his face and laughed, as he said to himself, Can a child be born to a man a hundred years old, shall Sarah bear a child at ninety?”
When Sarah delivered her ‘impossible’ baby, her first reaction was again laughter. “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” The name itself they gave to their baby Yitshaq (Hebrew for Isaac) means ‘laughter’.
These are the first laughs in the Bible, but not the last by any means. He chose Moses, a stutterer, to lead his chosen people. He asked Gideon to go up against ten thousand armed fighters with just three hundred soldiers carrying clay pots, torches and horns! He ordained that the Savior of the world should be born in a stable to a poor woman who was not married.
And what about Jesus? Did he ever laugh? Of course he did! If God created humans with a sense of humor, then Jesus must have laughed. He was fully human!
We know he loved children, who laugh easily. We know he went to wedding feasts. We know that he had a personality that people found magnetic. Sometimes he used hyperbolic language, claiming that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”. When he made fun of the Pharisees because they “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel”, his listeners must have chuckled warmly.
The saints also laughed. Francis of Assisi was adamant with his brothers “not to appear sad and gloomy, like hypocrites, but joyful in the Lord, cheerful and friendly as is fitting”. The Jesuit founder, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, insisted with his brothers that “Out of gratitude and love for Him, we should desire to be reckoned fools. Laugh and grow strong.” Meeting one day one of his novices who was very down, Ignatius 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 Carmelites have a foundress, Teresa of Jesus, who was a racket in laughter. When the self appointed artist, Fray Juan de Miserias (what a name to carry – Brother John of the Misery!!) undertook to draw the portrait of the saint when she was 60, he was in for a very ironic remark from the Saint. No sooner was she admitted to view this completed masterpiece than she exclaimed: “God forgive you, Brother John; after making me go through no one knows what, you have turned me out ugly and blear eyed!” This is the stuff saints are made of!
Born in Viterbo, Italy, in 1668, Saint Crispino was assigned to do the most menial tasks when he joined the Capuchins. In this capacity, he called himself the “little beast of burden of the Capuchins.” As he went about his chores without a hat, a passerby asked why he went bare headed, to which he replied chuckling, “An ass does not need a hat”! Humor serves to destabilize our pompous ego. It cuts us down to size.
Saint Philip Neri was the most eccentric of all Western saints. He hid his ascetic private life by pranks. There are stories of him wearing ridiculous clothes or walking around with half his beard shaved off! When some people came from Poland to see the great saint, they found him listening to another priest read to him from joke books.
The characteristic of the great saints is their power of levity. “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly”, writes G.K. Chesterton. “But the kings in their heavy gold and the proud in their robes of purple will sink downwards, for pride cannot rise to levity. Seriousness is not a virtue. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy, hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.”
The illiterate, asthmatic fourteen-year-old peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous was chosen to be the girl who saw Our Lady at Lourdes, France, in 1858. When one of the sisters brought up the topic of the apparitions, Bernadette rhetorically asked her what she did with a broom when she was finished with it and gave her the answer: “You put it behind a door, and that is what the Virgin has done with me. While I was useful, she used me, and now she has put me behind the door.”
Yes, Leonard of Port Maurice, the saint who was so keen on the Via Crucis that he established these symbols in over 500 places (including at the Coliseum in Rome), is right. “Leave sadness to those in the world. We who are with God should be lighthearted.” H.H.H. indeed.
(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.