Sunday, August 19, 2012

Humor and the Good Life

A Catholic Times journalist confesses in his column that he is  solemn in disposition and taciturn, and although not pious, he gives that image to those who know him. He tried to give the impression, he says, of gravity, but it was a pretense. He sees now how profound and warm a light hearted demeanor can be, and how a little unpredictability can enrich life and expand one's mental faculties. He came to this understanding by reading the book Keys of the Kingdom.

Fr. Chisholm, hero of the novel, was a stubborn, pious person not noticeably distinguished in any way. He understood that his stubbornness was a fault, and though he admitted to having no talent or charm, he was in the eyes of God, a humble person. But he was also, without knowing it, says the journalist, a humorous person to a very high degree.

The journalist saw in Fr. Chisholm's seriousness, the possibility of humor, and in his piety the leisurely attitude that gave his comments the unpredictability that could bring belly laughs. The secret of this improbable mix was his humility and love.

 "Jesus, in his his humanity, was not a quiet and proper person. Even as a child he did the unexpected, going to the temple to teach the elders without telling Mary and Joseph. Grown up, he continued to cause his parents headaches. Especially difficult to understand was his behavior during the incident with the woman caught in adultery. He writes on the ground, lifts up his head and tells those without sin to start throwing the stones, and goes back to writing on the ground.

What was he writing? Was it to get more time to think? Evading the issue? Was it to show them he didn't think what they were doing was worth the trouble to be concerned? Trying to figure out the reason is no longer his concern; he now finds it humorous.

A few days ago, Korea entered the semifinals of the Olympic soccer competition, beating England. Seeing an unfair call by the referee, the journalist said that it was interesting to observe the behavior of the coach.  With a serious demeanor, the coach used a vulgar expletive directed at the English team that completely relaxed the team, and they went on to win.

Not being alert, we can be very formal and serious in our thinking when we consider what we do as always right. Fr. Chisholm, Jesus and the coach of the Korean soccer team were not afraid to act spontaneously. Because there was humor in what they did, it was not seen as a serious deviation from acceptable behavior.

To Fr.Chisholm, the greatness of God meant everything to him, so believing himself to be insignificant seemed the only natural attitude to have in life. And with this mind set, it was easy to be unpredictable and humorous. It gave him the confidence and the ability to love. Before God, he was humble and wanted to do only what God wanted. He knew that when that is not the case, we tend to do things formally and by rote, succumbing to pretentiousness and distancing ourselves from the simple joys of life.

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