By: Leo Rudegeair
“There is no laughing in Church!” This is an admonition I heard many times as a child in Catholic elementary school. I had the opportunity to ponder this counsel with my friends in detention… quite frequently.
Looking back, I think it was the right focus to correct our behavior at the time. However, it did have an undesirable long term effect in that it seemed to imply that religion was serious business and no laughing matter. Religion was about praying and obeying the rules. The ‘rules and regulations’ model was good for me for a while, since I am by nature a “rule follower.”
I was pretty good at “doing all the stuff” you were supposed to do. I thought this was the path to holiness.
When I came to know Jesus personally, I realized following the rules wasn’t enough. Also, learning about the lives of the saints gave me a much fuller picture of what a life with Christ could look like. A quote from St. Irenaeus really caught my attention, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Although successfully following the rules was somewhat satisfying, I certainly wasn’t fully alive. Fully alive embraces joy, gladness, smiling, fun, and even silliness. That wasn’t part of my spiritual journey.
In a recent Word Among Us reflection on the feast of St. Lawrence, the saint was quoted cheerfully saying, as he was being grilled to death over hot coals, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side.” Imagine the Roman soldiers’ reaction when they heard this!
In his apostolic exhortation “Rejoice and Be Glad: On the Call to Holiness,” Pope Francis called joy and a sense of humor one of the signs of holiness especially needed today. Christian joy stands in marked contrast to the world’s tendency to seek happiness in worldly things. “Such things might offer occasional and passing pleasures, but not joy,” he wrote. Christian joy also combats the tendency toward individualism. “Joy lived in communion,” Francis said, “shares and is shared.” It “increase our capacity for joy, since it makes us capable of rejoicing in the good of others.”
Why should a good sense of humor be part the Christian walk?
1. Humor can lift our spirits.
There is a need for levity is our lives especially with all the doom and gloom pessimism we hear in the news. The Bible says that “a cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22) and “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
2. Humor can be an opportunity for new relationships.
In the ChristLife courses, new guests react well to humor. They realize we are all regular folks, not pious saints. Laughing together is a shared experience that builds unity and can be a bridge to new friendship.
3. Humor can defuse tension.
Often comedy and humor allow us to talk openly about important issues that are often avoided. Humor can reduce our tendency to be defensive about these topics. And it helps us put our guard down, allowing for fruitful dialogue.
4. Humor can bring us closer to God.
Often disappointments and the cares of life can bring us down. When we encounter something amusing that makes us smile, it reminds us of the joy that God wants for our lives to give us hope (Romans 15:13). The joy of the Lord is more than a passing emotion. It is rooted in the certainty that we are loved by God, just the way we are.
5. Humor is helpful in our work of evangelization.
In sharing the Gospel, Paul encourages us to “talk to them agreeably and with a flavor of wit” (Colossians 4:6). If we are going to be heralds of God’s love, our faces should be the first declaration of that Good News. People should see joy in our eyes and in our expressions. Our speech should be welcoming and our smiles genuine. Our lives should reflect a joy and peace that the world doesn’t give.
In other words, we should be fully alive in Jesus.