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.
Read on Rorate Caeli about this beautiful Lenten indulgence.
I point out that:1) the “usual conditions” apply: communion, confession. It is generally believed (unless I am mistaken) that a leeway of a reasonable number of days for the confession is acceptable. Therefore, you might go to Mass tomorrow and to confession on Saturday or, if you can’t make it, the following one. During Lent you will notice the possibility of confession might be increased in many churches. 2) I am sceptical about this “easy plenary indulgence” thing, which I suspect is rather a fruit of modern times. I always remember what St Philip Neri had to say on the matter, because I really can’t see myself doing anything wrong if I do. I will reblog the relevant post. I suggest everyone who can gives it a try. Even if we do not get th eplenary indulgence, the day we die these little efforts might do all the difference. Mundabor
The question of the detachment from venial sin as a necessary condition to obtain a plenary indulgence has been often discussed. One generally reads a bit of everything, from the hardliners thinking that only the saintliest could, on rare occasion, gain a plenary indulgence to the softies maintaining that the simple agreement that venial sins are to be avoided would suffice.
In my eyes, we must avoid falling into both the harshness of extreme severity and the “feel good-ism” so typical of our time. The best thing to do is, I think, to find inspiration in the life of the Saints.
St. Philip Neri once received from God the intelligence that the plenary indulgence the Pope had granted for that day – and about which he had just finished to preach to a full church – would be obtained only by himself and another person among the faithful present. If we consider this episode credible – and we do, because it can be easily found in publications sold from the Oratorians themselves – we must agree that a plenary indulgence is, whilst not impossible at all, certainly very difficult to achieve. Yes, St. Philip Neri lived in rather coarse times, but those were also times of much better catechesis and certainly keener awareness of sin. I rather doubt that – in the same full church – today’s result would be much different.
Where does this leave us? Methinks, in a rather useful spot. We do know that a plenary indulgence is something we might chase for an entire life without ever attaining it, but this knowledge will encourage us to a sustained effort. Through this effort we will accumulate more and more partial indulgences and become increasingly more aware of the offensiveness of our sins. As a result, Salvation will become much more probable.
This is, I think, the key. The idea that one would die and easily avoid Purgatory sounds more than a bit Protestant to me. A Catholic – and more so a conservative Catholic – is supposed to avoid illusions of easy entry into Paradise. The road is narrow and the sin of presumption never far away. Catholicism should in my eyes allow the faithful to get a sobering picture of his sins so that an effort is engendered through which irreparable damage is safely avoided. Every illusion of easy achievement may well become a double-edged sword and lull the faithful into a dangerous sense of security.
Keep chasing your plenary indulgence. You may well never get one. But it is a very good way to avoid Hell.