You might know, from reading some of my previous articles on this site, that I believe a sense of humor is a gift straight from heaven. It’s a source of release, consolation, and comfort in times of stress and difficulty. I’m certain that some folks are quite surprised, perhaps even shocked, to hear someone utter a witty one-liner in the midst of painful and sorrowful events, but that’s what happens when God-given humor is honed to a high level of perfection.
When I was young, and people posed that routine question, “What do you want to be when you grow up,” I declared, without hesitation, “A comedian!” Tim Conway and Red Skelton were my childhood heroes. Their simple, humble style of comedy brought immeasurable joy into my life. Even the American College of Pediatricians says, “Finding ways to laugh through the hard times builds resilience and relationships in a family. The effects of laughter are both immediate and lasting for people of all ages.”
Did the Holy Family Laugh?
Many people are blessed with such families, the kind that foster support and resilience through healthy laughter – maybe yours is one of them. These are the households who visit a photographer for a professional portrait and sit through the sessions looking all poised and polished, but at the end (when they’re assured of a somber, civilized rendition of the group) their true spirit shines forth. They ask for a few more shots to be taken, and everyone does something goofy. Silly faces are displayed, rabbit ears are held up behind a sibling’s head, tongues come out, and by the end of it all, everyone is in a state of high hilarity. The outtakes are a more true representation of the family than any of the traditional poses. This led me to wondering…Did the Holy Family have times of silly fun?
In some of the first artistic portrayals of the Holy Family (by German artists in the 1300s), there was no light-heartedness implied. In later centuries, most of the Renaissance painters followed suit with reserved renderings. These are true and beautiful pieces of art, and many of us have one form or another hanging in our homes. However, I found myself imagining a sweet “aftershot” of the Holy Family, immersed in playful interaction with one another. We can’t turn to any scripture passages to find a narrative of the young family in the midst of mild merrymaking, but still, we can surely imagine some lively teasing and joyful laughter amongst the three of them. There were, in fact, a few of those later artists who chose a more down-to-earth portrayal of the Holy Family, like Bartolome Murillo’s painting, or DaVinci’s statue of the laughing Madonna and child.
But, is it wrong to envision the Holy Family in such a way? Is it disrespectful? I asked myself these questions, with a sincere desire to be duly reverent. Could I suggest such an idea for others to consider, that there is such a thing as a holy gift of humor, and imply that the Holy Family had full possession of such a gift? The answer came to me in an undeniable form. It was in a homily, heard while attending Mass hundreds of miles away from home. The priest began to speak about a “Divine Sense of Humor,” and I sat up wide-eyed in the pew and leaned forward to drink in every word. I could hardly believe what I was hearing – a direct answer to my discerning prayer! It turns out that the Venerable Fulton Sheen, presented a teaching on the divine sense of humor in 1959, on his television show, Life is Worth Living. Bishop Sheen had a finely tuned sense of humor himself, causing boisterous outbreaks of laughter in his studio audience (as well as in the homes of viewers all across the country) with his well placed and skillfully executed witticisms, often self-deprecating ones.
The Way to See Through Things
Venerable Fulton defines humor as “the way to see through things.” That translates into not taking the things of this world too seriously, and definitely not taking ourselves too seriously. Poets, artists, and humorists have this gift of sight, he claims. According to Sheen, Jesus himself never took anything seriously in this world except the saving of a soul. Christ was gentle and humble, and could see the Father in the created world around Him. Saints, too, and “saintly” people are often well-endowed with this divine sense of seeing the world as it truly is. Some of them are well-known for their wit and whimsy, examples include St. Philip Neri (shaving off half of his beard for the entertainment of his community); St. Lawrence (“I’m done on this side, flip me over.”); and St. Teresa of Avila (“Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few of them!”). And how about Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN? She was a comedian in a habit, making us laugh at her and at ourselves.
We must learn our lesson from them, living a life of detachment from the ephemeral, with a determined focus on the eternal. Armed with this philosophy, heaven becomes the focal point for us, and for everyone within our circle of influence. Genuine charity and humility emerge as our modus operandi. When that happens, our own divine sense of humor can become a shining light that will open ears to hear and bring souls to conversion, one heartfelt smile at a time.