Between Heaven and Mirth, Excerpt 5: Humor Evangelizes

The Between Heaven and Mirth Twitter Book Club continues today with our fifth excerpt, below. Join the conversation by reading the excerpt and tweeting a response, or a question for author Father Jim Martin – and don’t forget to include the#patheosmirth hashtag!  You can follow the whole Twitter conversation here:!/search/%23patheosmirth

Between Heaven and Mirth, by James Martin, SJ

Excerpt 5: Humor Evangelizes (pp. 87-88)

Joy, humor, and laughter show one’s faith in God. For Christians, an essentially hopeful outlook shows people that you believe in the Resurrection, in the power of life over death, and in the power of love over hatred. Don’t you think that after the Resurrection Jesus’s disciples were joyful? “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well,” as the fourteenth-century mystic Blessed Julian of Norwich said. For believers in general, humor shows your trust in God, who will ultimately make all things well. Joy reveals faith.

On a more practical level, Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, a nineteenth-century Redemptorist priest, spoke of “holy hilarity” as a tool for spreading the gospel. Joy draws others to God. To paraphrase St. Teresa, why hide it?

When I was a Jesuit novice in Boston, the superior general of the Society of Jesus, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, came to visit our novitiate. Before his visit, the novices were asked to come up with one question each to ask Father Kolvenbach. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to ask him. (Secretly I wanted to impress him too, which was probably not the best motivation for my question.) Since most religious orders are concerned about declining numbers, I decided to ask him the best way to increase “vocations.”

The big day arrived, and so did he, clad in a simple black clerical suit with a black raincoat; he was accompanied by several other Jesuit officials from Rome and the superior of the Jesuits in New England. The tenor of the gathering seemed to match Kolvenbach’s reputation as a rather serious leader. After the novice director greeted him formally, we moved into the living room. There we were invited to ask Father Kolvenbach our questions.

“Father,” I said, “what’s the best way to increase vocations?”

I expected him to say, “We have to do more recruiting in colleges or parishes,” or “We have to do more advertising to get the word out about the Jesuits.”

His response was as surprising as it was memorable. He said, “Live your own vocation joyfully!”

That’s good advice for everyone. Joy attracts people to God. Why would anyone want to join a group of miserable people? A pithier way of expressing this came from Timothy M. Dolan, after his appointment as archbishop of New York in 2009. A New York Times reporter asked him about the declining number of vocations to the Catholic priesthood and wondered about his approach to that problem. Archbishop Dolan’s answer: “Happiness attracts.”


So, what do you think?  Is “holy hilarity” a tool for spreading the gospel?  Is religious joy “contagious?” Tweet your response — or a question for author Fr. Martin — and include the #patheosmirth hashtag to join the conversation!

Visit the Patheos Book Club on Between Heaven and Mirth for more resources on this book.

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