Joy and Laughter Support a Serious Faith
But I once heard a priest once proclaim the reading with Mary as an exasperated mother saying, with a wave of the hand, "Oh, do whatever he tells you!" As in: "Hey, my Son won't listen to me! Maybe you'll have more luck." And the crowd laughed. It opened up for me a new way of seeing Mary: patient, faithful, but also somewhat exasperated with Jesus. She was human after all, and clearly was initially confused by what her son was doing. Remember the time when she and the rest of her family are outside of Jesus's house saying that they think he's gone crazy? So perhaps she was exasperated a bit, at least at first. Her words at Cana may (I wasn't there so I don't know) reveal a little humor.
But overall, they were both human, and so they must have had a sense of humor and surely laughed.
Why might it be heretical to consider Jesus of Nazareth, the messiah, not possessing a sense of humor?
Having a sense of humor is part of being "fully human." So to say that he didn't have a human attribute is to say that he wasn't fully human, which is a heresy. Also, in the book I mention a psychologist to whom I posed this question: What would a person without a sense of humor be like? She said that a person without humor would be incapable of entering into social situations, would miss regular "cues" from others and would have a hard time relating to others. That is the opposite of the Jesus we know from the Gospels.
The life of faith is full of funny little ironies. One that you mention in the book pertains to our Ash Wednesday liturgy and practice. We hear a reading that says, "Wash your face, so that your fasting may not be seen by others," then immediately get in line to have our foreheads smeared. How does enjoying these ironies help us with our own self-awareness and our "wakefulness"?
As G.K. Chesterton said, "It is the test of a good religion whether can joke about it." While we need to take God and our faith seriously, we have to admit that from time to time that Catholics occasionally do some funny things and, as Chesterton said, it's okay to laugh. Pope Benedict, in a quote I mention in the book, also says that God sometimes wants us not to take things so seriously.
What role does gratitude play in joy?
An immense part. Gratitude is the gateway to the spiritual life. Reminding ourselves of what we're grateful for reminds us of our reliance on, and our relationship with God, which leads to joy. On a simpler level, those without gratitude cannot live joyful lives.
How do you think Western prosperity influences our capacity for joy, for better or worse?
I think for worse, frankly. Pope Paul VI, in his letter "On Christian Joy," speaks of the paradox of a culture that has almost everything it needs and still lacks joy. Part of this is a certain ignorance of how good we have it. But that forgetfulness is rather easy: I spent two years working in East Africa during my Jesuit training, and I vowed that I would never, once I came home, take for granted things like hot water, air conditioning, medical care, things like that. When I came back I was so grateful for all of that. But in a few months I was taking them for granted. So it needs to be combated.
When her nuns would fall into dolors, Saint Teresa of Avila was known to bring out the castanets and encourage dancing. It seems like another way to teach her famous prayer, "Let nothing disturb you; let nothing frighten you..." Your book seems like a practical handbook for living that prayer: how do laughter and trust work together?
Laughter means that you trust that all will work out well, as St. Teresa said. And that even if it doesn't seem to be at the time, you can trust in the God who accompanies you.
Thank you, Father Martin, for taking the time to chat with us on a book that is not only a great bit of entertainment, but wise and helpful encouragement, as well.
My pleasure—and joy!
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