I cannot tell you how many times people reveal their surprise when they discover a priest or even somone like myself — a lay ecclesial minister — can actually be silly and crack jokes (albeit they sometimes are not very good ones) and can laugh at themselves. Several of my cousins, when they discovered I had decided to study theology and ministry in graduate school, tried to talk me out of it for fear I would somehow never again be able to meet them at the pub for a drink or enjoy family parties in the same way. Others who encounter me first in a ministry setting will only gradually begin to accept that my faith and my work within the Church far from exclude me from enjoying every chance I can to joke around and laugh. In fact, I am quick to tell these folks what I do for a living, often makes for some of the best material for great stories and even greater laughter.
…the fullness of the life
our God desires for us can be found in between, in spite of,
and in the midst of life’s challenges and our frailties.
In his new book, Fr. Jim Martin, SJ, poses the question: Why is it that so much of what we see of religions and “religious people” seems to be so serious … and even gloomy? The thesis Martin spends nine chapters arguing toward is the proclamation that joy, humor, and laughter are, in actuality, “at the heart” of the spiritual life. He admits the Gospel writers were indeed very focused on telling the stories of Jesus’ ministry, but especially as that ministry built up to Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. But, Martin asks, as Christians who believe in not only the “Divine” Christ but also the “human” Jesus … isn’t it important that we consider what might have been going on “between the lines” and between the stories that are recorded for us? For example, Luke’s Gospel is full of stories of Jesus dining with people, on his way to someone’s house, or having just come from someone’s house after sharing a meal with them. Would you not think that in all this time Jesus spent at the table … there must have been laughter, stories, joking, and many moments of pure fun?
In fact, the presence of joy in Jesus might have been exactly why people were so attracted to Jesus in the first place! Something tells me that when he proclaimed he came so that we might have “life” and “have it to the fullest” — what he meant was that he wanted for us not simply beating hearts, functioning lungs, and operating nervous systems. My sense from reading the gospels is that Jesus wanted us to enjoy all that life had to offer us: not the least of which is joy, love, relationship, laughter, and peace. By facing suffering, betrayal, and sorrow in his own life, Jesus proclaimed even more profoundly the fullness of the life our God desires for us can be found in between, in spite of, and in the midst of life’s challenges and our frailties.
…what He meant was that he wanted for us not simply beating hearts, functioning lungs, and operating nervous systems.
Sometimes the Church, in her efforts to teach and guide Christians in the way of the Gospel, can work against itself by failing to acknowledge and celebrate the importance of joy in the Christian life! When we (the Church) take ourselves so seriously that we have lost the ability to laugh at life and at ourselves, we not only fail to attract people to the life of discipleship, but we also fail to give life to a world that so desperately needs it. I simply have to believe that having a serious job to do does not require one to swear off all but “serious things.” Perhaps that will be my goal as these winter months get all the more gray and cold … to remember the joy of the gospel message as I try to share and live it with fervor, earnestness, and lots of laughter.
Keara Ette is Director of Young Adult Ministry and RCIA at Old St. Patrick’s Church.