KIM LAWTON, correspondent: Did you hear the one about the funny saint? Probably not.
REV. JAMES MARTIN, S.J., author, Between Heaven and Mirth (in speech): In the third century, St. Lawrence was burned to death on a gridiron over hot coals called out to his executioners, “Turn me over and take a bite, I’m done on this side.” In Latin. Or St. Augustine who famously prayed, “Lord give me chastity…but not yet.”
LAWTON: Father James Martin says humor is an underappreciated value in the spiritual life. Martin has written a new book called Between Heaven and Mirth. He says humor, laughter and joy are essential elements of spiritual health.
MARTIN: If you’re not finding joy in your faith, there’s something wrong with the way you are looking at your faith. And humor keeps us human, basically, brings us down to earth and reminds us that we’re not God.
LAWTON: Martin says all too often, joy has a “disreputable reputation” in religious circles.
MARTIN (in speech): Have you ever been to Mass where the priest says (in boring voice) “And so we join with choirs of angels and their unending hymn of praise, holy, holy, holy Lord?” And you think, if that’s the way the choirs of angels are singing their praise we are in big trouble. (laughter)
MARTIN: I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding that says that religion needs to be serious all the time and gloomy and dour. A lot of things about religion are serious—it’s concerned about your salvation, the afterlife, suffering, those kinds of things. But I think that we tend to focus so much on that to the exclusion of joy.
LAWTON: Part of the problem in the Christian world, Martin says, is a distorted view of Jesus.
MARTIN: We focus a lot of the Passion and death of Jesus, which is certainly very important, sometimes to the exclusion of the rest of his ministry, which was, you know, much more extensive and much of his ministry had to do with joyful things: Table fellowship, visiting friends, those kinds of things, so I think we need to just have a little more balance.
LAWTON: According to Bible scholars, many of the parables Jesus told were probably considered pretty hilarious.
MARTIN: Well the idea that someone has a plank in their eye and another person has a speck of dust in theirs would have been funny to somebody. The problem is that because we’re so far away from that culture and that time, we don’t get some of the humor. But for people in first century Palestine the parables would have been laugh-out-loud funny.
LAWTON: Martin says he gets frustrated that in so many churches, the images of Jesus and the saints have serious, anguished or sometimes even angry expressions.
MARTIN: If we think of Jesus as a grumpy person and the saints as gloomy people, then it’s going to affect what we think that the sort of model Christian should be, which is grumpy. And I think that’s a real mistake.
LAWTON: Consider John the 23rd, who was pope from 1958 until 1963.
MARTIN: His most famous joke came when a journalist innocently asked him, ‘Your Holiness, how many people work in the Vatican?’ And he said, ‘Ah, about half of them.’
LAWTON: Or John Paul the Second, who was known for his sense of humor, even in his last days.
MARTIN: Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York recently told me that he was once visiting Pope John Paul during the end of John Paul’s life and to sort of buck his spirits up, Archbishop Dolan, who was then the archbishop of Milwaukee went to John Paul and Dolan is a very big guy and said, ‘Your Holiness, I’m happy to report that the archdiocese of Milwaukee is growing.’ And John Paul said, ‘So is the archbishop!’
LAWTON: Martin says humor has played an important role in his own spiritual life.
MARTIN: I think sometimes that the funny or wonderful or unexpected things that happen to me that make me laugh at myself might just be signs of God’s playfulness. I can’t speak for God, but sometimes when I’m brought up short or find myself laughing at myself, I think, hey, maybe this is God saying, ‘you know, don’t take yourself so seriously.’
STEPHEN COLBERT, host, The Colbert Report, on show: Please welcome the official chaplain of the Colbert Nation, Father Jim Martin. Papa J, what’s going on?
Please see HERE to read the rest of the interview; and in the article there are video links as well.
The Urantia Book says something about the importance of Humor. See This link.