I believe that it’s a small opportunity, but at least it exists, for Catholics to show that we don’t take ourselves overly seriously either, meaning that we can poke fun at ourselves. I’m always reminded of St. Teresa of Avila who prayed, “God protect us from sour faced saints.”
On a trip her carriage broke down and she fell out, ending up in the mud, dirtying her white Carmelite mantle. She looked up at heaven and said, “No wonder you don’t have many friends.”
Once, she had a vision while she was cooking. She was holding the skillet over the fire. The nuns were unable to pry the skillet out of her hands or to move her away from the fire. It was as if she were made of stone. When she came out of it, her hand was severely burned and scarred for life. She turned toward toward the crucifix and said, “You need to work on your timing.”
Once, a friar came to St. Francis and asked for a dispensation to leave the order, because he couldn’t stand celibacy any longer. Francis replied, “Go and breed to your heart’s content.”
Realizing what he had said, he ran down the road until he caught up with the ex-friar and said, “I forgot to add, with a wife.” He laughed at his faux pax all the way back.
The Franciscan admonitions say that the brothers and sisters will blindly obey their superiors in all things, even if they know for a fact that something else is better for their soul. Years later, Aquinas would write that blind obedience was dangerous. Bonaventure, who was the superior general of the Franciscans and the Cardinal Bishop of Albano challenged Aquinas on this point. Aquinas explained that one can never obey a command to sin.
Bonaventure started to laugh and said, “You need to change that from ‘blind obedience’ to ‘foolish obedience’.” They’re not the same. It is said that both had a good laugh about the whole issue.
Tomorrow is the great Solemnity of Our Lady of the Angels of Portiuncula, the patroness of the Franciscan motherhouse in Assisi. There is a plenary indulgence attached to anyone who observes the solemnity. You don’t have to be a Franciscan.
Francis approached Pope Honorius III to ask for the indulgence. The pope was not to eager to grant it. However, he couldn’t exactly turn Francis down. Francis was his friend from before his day as pope. After trying every possible way to get out of it, he finally agreed.
As Francis turned to leave, Pope Honorius to him to wait for a written bull to prove that he had permission to preach the indulgence. Francis, in his usual casual and humorous manner waved the pope off and said, “Don’t worry about it. I have your word for it. Our Lady is the parchment on which your word is written, Christ is the notary and the angels are the witnesses. You can’t back out now.” He left.
When Bl. John Paul was attacked for the Assisi gathering, I believe it may have been the first one; but I’m not sure. He said to Cardinal Ratzinger, “Thank God I grew up Catholic in a Jewish community. I’m immune to guilt.” He was obviously making reference to the fact that Jews and Catholics are famous for laying on guilt trips.
St. Philip Neri would place animals on his shoulders while celebrating mass to keep from going into ecstasy. People would sit there and laugh, because the trick never worked.
When the war broke out between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta called her convent in Pakistan and ordered her sisters to return to the safety of Calcutta. The Mother Superior of the local convent begged her to let them stay and care for the people hurt by the war.
Mother listened very attentively. When Mother Superior finished her reasoning, she waited for Mother Teresa to say something authoritative, “You can stay” or “You must leave.” Instead, Mother Teresa said, “Call me when you’re dead,” and she hung up the phone and shrugged her shoulders.
Bl. Pierre Giorgio Frassatti was known for his wit and his ability to laugh at his own spirituality. St. Alberto Hurtado is another of those Jesuit saints who knew how to laugh at his own Catholicism.
None of these people took their Catholicism lightly. They just didn’t take themselves too seriously.
When I became superior of our community, I told the men in formation that anyone who did not have a sense of humor about our life and work cannot remain with us. The rule calls us to be the voice of Christ. Christ cried. People who cry also laugh. Christ experienced indignation. People who experience indignation also know myrth. There is no such thing as a one-sided coin.
Br. JR, FFV