May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13)

I'm talking today with Father James Martin, popular speaker and best-selling author of the new book, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life. Fr. Martin will be a featured speaker at the upcoming MidAtlantic Congress for Catechetical Leadership.

Welcome, Father Martin! Let's begin with your keynote address at the MAC, titled, "Feeding Hope." What do you hope people will take away from your talk?

That real faith leads to joy, that the saints often used humor, and that laughter is a gift from God.

How does this help us catechize and lead?

Joy is a tool for evangelization and attracts people to the Church, and to God. When people see someone who is joyful, they wonder what the secret is. It's something that brings people to Christ. After the Resurrection, the disciples were very joyful! I liken it to the Easter message. Christ's message is a joyful message.

Talk about our Catholic understanding of the word "hope."

"Hope" in the secular world is more about optimism, or about having a positive outlook. But hope in the Church, in the Christian sense, is grounded in God. Joy for the Christian is not just an intensified happiness, and hope is not just an intensified type of optimism. It's grounded in a relationship, in a person. It goes deeper than simple optimism. It's the same kind of trust a child has in a parent, or that you might have in a good friend that wouldn't let you down.

What are the attributes of a strong pastoral leader?

Number one is compassion, absolutely, above all of them. If you don't have a loving heart, you can't be a pastor. Being a "pastor" connotes the love the shepherd has for the sheep. Also, intelligence and a sense of humor, especially about themselves. But compassion is the most important thing. If you're a kind person, which is a word we don't use too much any more, that's 95% of the Christian life.

Who inspires you?

My inspiration is Jesus. I try to follow Him. Interestingly, I heard an audio book by Richard Rohr while I was on retreat at a Trappist monastery, and he reminded his readers and listeners that Jesus never says, "Worship me," but He says, "Follow me" a lot. So it's important not just to believe in Him as the Second Person of the Trinity, which I do, but to follow Him and be as compassionate and loving as He was, which is very difficult.

A wonderful columnist at, the speaker and blogger Marc Cardaronella, wrote a great post about Lent as "spring training"; he likened our spiritual work during Lent, attacking our worst sins and weaknesses, to preparing for the "big game."