Why Catholics Need a Sense of Humor

Interviewed by Our Sunday Visitor in their latest issue.  Love the cover.

OSV: You wrote that humor should be seen as a requirement in a Church leader. Why do you think it’s such an important attribute? 


Father Martin: First, it’s important to have a sense of humility and poverty of spirit. Second, humor helps us get along with people. Humor is a natural social element that is an essential part of human interaction. Third, to gain some perspective. The saints used humor as a tool in their quest for humility and also as a way of gaining some perspective on their place in the universe. And finally, as Archbishop Timothy Dolan has said, “Happiness attracts.” Why would anyone want to join a group of miserable people? 

It also communicates our belief in the Resurrection. We’re living in Easter time now — Christ has risen. The disciples ran with joy to see the risen Lord. They didn’t mope around.  

It’s a very complicated topic, because you don’t want to give the impression that you want people to be irreverent or silly, but I’m just trying to balance things out a bit. 

OSV: How can Church leaders go about lightening up a little or infusing a sense of joy and humor back into the spiritual life of its members? 

Father Martin: Far be it for me to give advice to Church leaders, first of all. But it’s an invitation for all Christians to recover a sense of the inherent joy in the Gospel, to see humor as something that the saints used and therefore as something we can use. Life gives us plenty of invitations to laugh at ourselves. That’s the first step, to laugh at ourselves and at the absurdities of life, and to not take ourselves too seriously. And all of this leads to attracting more people to Christ.  

It’s not to say that we have to be grinning idiots 24/7, but I think we are so far over to the one pole that this book is just trying to bring us back a little bit to the center. 

OSV: What could that movement back to the center mean for the future of the Church? 

Father Martin: It’s a tool for evangelization. Human nature is such that we are attracted to joy; and there’s something profound about that because the attraction to joy is the attraction to God’s joy. It’s our ultimate goal — joy with God — so there’s something within us that responds very deeply to the experiences of communal joy. The more the Church recovers it, the more it will be able to attract people. 

Read the rest here.

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ed gleason
7 years 7 months ago
"but I think we are so far over to the one pole that this book is just trying to bring us back a little bit to the center. '
Are you saying that 'the one Pole' [JPII]  was so oft center that the German will give us a balanced humorous center? I don't think so at all.
next you will be suggesting Irish leaders.. ouch..
Bill Collier
7 years 7 months ago
Humor is "a tool for evangelization."

I think that is very true. Your appearances, Fr. Martin, as the "Official Chaplain" of "The Colbert Report" attest to that. It would be foolhardy and unproductive for you to try to one-up Stephen Colbert, but I think your appearances help undercut stereotypes that Catholic/Christian clerics don't know how to laugh at themselves or engage popular cultural on its terms.  
7 years 7 months ago
Thank God for youtube !  We saw the reality of WYD Madrid 2011 in its entirety.  Secular media only reported the few hundred protesters, and neglected the over a million young people who demonstrated their exuberance, enthusiasm, love and joy  for being members of the Catholic Church!  We cannot depend on secular media to tell our story.   The kids definitely showed the whole world the beauty of Catholicism.
There are more youtube videos of WYD Madrid 2011....... I watched the before, during and after episodes of the festivities.  Very touching and inspirational.
jesse wright
7 years 7 months ago
Particularly important in the spiritual life is a sense of humor.  George Herbert's poetry, for example, adds the light touch to the spiritual combat which can be daunting without it.  Spiritual directors, theologians, pastors, popes and curias without a sense of humor are easy victims of satire.  Bishop Tutu, when apprised of an instance of bigotry, commented unexpectedly that ''God has a wonderful sense of humor,'' because in the long run we live in the world of felix culpa.  O happy fault! 
C Walter Mattingly
7 years 7 months ago
"Why would anyone want to join a group of miserable people?" My nomination for the funniest. and truest, quote of the year in America.
In the first and last instance, our aim as Christians is not God the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. We can safely assume they are doing quite well without our assistance. My aim is to somehow get my sorry self into heaven. When I look at where I am supposed to be on that long and winding road, and where I am, the distance can induce paralyzing fright or despair. Humor somehow enables me to recognize the distance, but to accept where I am. Then I can proceed with baby steps, trusting that if I continue every day, God will give me a graceful boost and in the end, I will somehow join Him.
7 years 7 months ago
A sense of humor and elements of surprise interlock to create laughter. If that’s true heaven must be a place replete with soul laughter, good humor, rooted in surprise, after surprise, expressed in St Paul’s trip to the “Seventh Heaven” and  recorded as follows,  “Eye has not seen nor has ear heard the wonderful things God has prepared for those who love him!” That promise seems surprise-loaded, doesn’t it?
 Obviously, God is so filled with elements of surprise that in heaven as we get to know him “as he truly is” we’re going to get a sense of humor so refined that it becomes “awe” in the endless surprises that is God.. Laughter in its heavenly equivalent  will abound. And I suspect there will come a time when laughter as we know it will rock the rafters of heaven! It’s not just that we’ll enjoy God’s company, he’ll enjoy ours just  as much!
 St. Teresa of Avila once said, “From sad face saints O God, deliver me!” They’ll be no sad face saints in heaven. We who live on the periphery of heaven in God’s Church as People of God, should be people of high spirited hilarity. Right? “Resurrection people” as St. Augustine said, adding, “Alleluia is our song!” A sense of humor, the ability to laugh easily, is evangelism-savvy, guaranteed to win over people, wilting jaded Christianity. “Unless you become as a little child you shall not enter the kingdom.” We should laugh readily like “little children” realizing that laughter is the soul-child of a sense of humor and good humor is heavenly! That’s the ideal, often an uphill struggle, a struggle we’ve got to keep at and win!
Jack Barry
7 years 7 months ago
Benedict XVI in his 9/4 Angelus pointed out the responsibility of all believers to engage in fraternal correction:  ''… if my brother sins against me, I must practice charity towards him and, above all, talk to him personally, pointing out that what he has said or has done is not good.''  
George Weigel, whom I usually don't associate with the comedic, wrote recently ''The Gentlemanly Art of the Insult''.   (I would hope that, under sufficient duress, he could be persuaded to insert ''and Ladylike'' in his title.)   He is sorry to see it gone.   His and commenters' examples tend to be noteworthy, not just for their humor, but also for their nicely honed form  -  maximum impact in a minimum number of words.  
If inspiration were taken from old masters of the gentlemanly insult like those Weigel mentions  -  Winston Churchill, Mark Twain, G. B. Shaw  -  perhaps Benedict's fraternal correction could be raised to a new art form rich in memorable humor, enjoyable by all with the possible exception of the recipient.   
7 years 7 months ago
I just love this post!  I agree with you, Fr. Jim, one hundred ten percent.... humor is a tool for evangelization..... who would join a mesirable group of people indeed as you said.    And come to think of it Jesus, himself used humor when Philip asked him to show them the Father.  He must have been rolling his eyes when he said, Philip I've been with you all this time, and you still don't know the Father etc. etc. etc.  I am sure he said those words in a joking way because I just cannot picture Jesus being so insulting, cross and sarcastic towards Philip.  And again at the wedding in Cana, when His mother asked him to do something about the hosts' running out of wine.  Surely, when He said, what is that to you and me, Woman.....etc.etc.  I am absolutely positive that he was not being disrespectful to his mother...... he must have answered her request in a joking way....... much like we say  things towards our moms or dads when they ask us to do something that is rather embarrassing to us at the moment,  because it seems like showing off.  But our parents are so proud of our accomplishment that they want to show us off......  I remember days and weeks after my first piano recital, everytime we had company my parents always asked me to perform my recital piece!  Each time I died with embarrassment.....  and my ''no'' was expressed in a  joking way so they'd  think I was not being disrespectful.  
   Our Blessed Mother must have sense that there was something very special about her son,  and she wanted to show him off.   And hence,  ''Do whatever he tells you. 
And again,  Jesus sounded rather funny, when he told Zacchaeus to come down from that tree because ''today I am coming to dine at your house.....
  I suppose you could say that evangelization is sharing our joys as members of the mystical body of Christ, the Church.  I think people today are more attracted to "show me", rather than to "tell me".


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