There is an assumption among many people today — and this has been true for a long time — that Christians are neither funny nor possess any kind of a sense of humor.
Think about the image of the Bible-thumping minister or the dour nun who supposedly taught in parochial school (what my late mother referred to as “a crabby bride of Christ”). Or how about the cliché of the Puritan who would lie awake all night fretting that someone somewhere was having a good time.
Truth is, many of us can think of nuns who changed our lives because of their joy, good humor and contagious laugh. There is very good reason for the Christian to be filled with joy and good humor.
This month, Msgr. William King takes a look at Catholics and humor. He recalls the famous story of St. Teresa of Ávila who, while traveling across Spain in a cart, hit a rock and was thrown right into a large mudhole. Looking heavenward, she supposedly observed, “If this is how You treat Your friends, no wonder You have so few of them.” As Msgr. King writes, “Only one with a deep and passionate trust in God’s goodness could seek and treasure humor in the midst of travails and disappointments such as Teresa experienced.”
Joy is the mark of the Christian, even in the face of loss, sorrow and suffering. It sets us apart. I am sure you can find one here or there, but in my personal experience unbelievers seem sadly bereft of authentic joy. Pope Francis speaks of joy all the time, and no one would accuse him of being especially dour. He said in May 2014, in one of those delightful homilies he gives every day during Mass in the Casa Santa Marta, where he lives: “We must tell the truth: Christian life is not just one big party. Not at all! We cry, we cry so many times.” But, he added, there is joy, joy that is rooted in hope. He said: “Be courageous in suffering and remember that after, the Lord will come; after, joy will come, after the dark comes the sun. May the Lord give us all this joy in hope. And the sign that we have this joy in hope is peace. How many sick, who are at the end of life, in pain, have that peace of soul.”
We should not confuse being lighthearted with obliviousness or frivolousness.
The problems facing us today are tragically no laughing matter. But as Catholics we can see these problems through the eyes of faith. Those eyes reveal God’s created order as a beautiful reflection of His goodness and perfection. That is something that should elicit a smile.
Matthew Bunson, D.Min., Ph.D., K.H.S., is editor of The Catholic Answer and The Catholic Almanac and author of more than 40 books. He is a senior fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and a professor at the Catholic Distance University. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.