Life is, decidedly, never tired of surprises. I had my last yesterday, when I discovered for some Catholics it would not be in order if the Pope allows himself some witticism, or even – God forbid! – a laugh. If anyone where to tell me such a nonsense, I’d answer “you’re a convert, right?”. It is, in fact, inconceivable that a person may have such outlandish, Presbyterian rubbish in his head without it first having been put into said head by some Presbyterian, or by other equally wrong people.
There’s nothing in Catholic culture – or doctrine – against a good laugh, much less against a refined humour. Pope Pius IX brilliantly macabre joke at the expense of the Anglicans who wanted a “blessing” from him (“May you be blessed by Him in whose honour you shall be burnt”, the formula for the blessing of the incense; but he said it in Latin, so apparently they didn’t notice) is very well known, but for one joke that goes into posterity there are hundreds that don’t. A man able to make such a joke must have been an entertaining chap indeed.
Or one should think of St Philip Neri, a man of such devastating humour that occasionally the doctor had to be called because of the breathing difficulties the hysterical laughter caused in some individuals. Without recurring to the truly extreme example of St. Philip Neri, everyone who has enjoyed Don Camillo on TV or books should know a certain playful naughtiness is as much a part of a good priest’s life as anyone else’s.
If this is not enough, the levity and joy of life of Catholic countries – as opposed to the dourness and rigidity of traditional Protestantism – should be enough to let one think that this idea that jokes be inappropriate isn’t really Catholic.
Still, if at the end of the discussion my hypothetical (and formerly Protestant) counterpart were to be still not satisfied, I’d suggest to him that he reflects on the Gospel rather than – as many of them do – learning chunks of it by rote. The Gospels are short booklets written for eminently practical purposes, giving us a very condensed account of Jesus’s work. For Jesus’ joke about the “sons of thunder” to make it in such short stories, there must have been countless gentle pieces of mockery from the side of Jesus, causing hilarity all around. Today, we can’t register even the hint in the Gospel without a smile.
Truly, it seems some Protestants never got what it means that Jesus was fully human. Can they really leave all the hilarity and the playfulness of life aside, and still see Jesus as human? What kind of humanity would that be, that is against a joke, a bon mot, a playful banter, a gentle mockery? Can they really imagine Jesus at Cana, invited to a marriage together with many others, with wine and food and merriment all around, looking all the time like Gordon Brown on a bad day? How very Un-Christian…
Yours truly is, God knows, surly his part, and with a marked tendency to take everything extremely seriously. But I assure you, not even I would have ever thought that witticism doesn’t belong to Catholicism; and if this blog doesn’t make you smile it is due to my lack of talent, not my lack of will. Besides, humour is a powerful weapon, so he who has it, let him use it ad maiorem Dei gloriam; and if he is Pope, so much the better.
My suggestion to all converts from Protestant errors is that they take much attention in spotting where a deeper Protestant layer continues to subsist below the newly acquired Catholic theology. There are many of those influences, from the obsession with the second Commandment (say, that awful writing, GOD or even G-D, or thinking that pious expressions common all over Southern Europe are blasphemies…) to the one with the Scriptures, to the Gordon Brown attitude. In time, the convert will discover he has become a bit more relaxed, and a tad happier. He will, perhaps, one day, even enjoy a good joke without feeling guilty.
“How many people work in the Vatican?” Pope Blessed John XXIII was once asked.
“Oh, about half”, was the answer.
That’s the spirit.