I love this quote below from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. It actually alludes to humor and faith together, which is a little unusual. But more than that, it places humor correctly where it belongs in our faith.
We often think of humor at odds with such a thing as faith- because humor is often crude, rude or at the expense of another person’s downfall.
However, the key to understanding humor and faith is in the final words: “Maybe we could also fly a bit if we didn’t think we were so important.”
Let me digress a little to expand on this point. My parents recently got a new puppy. She is very small, very fluffy and very excitable. I am ever so slightly besotted. I can watch her for hours, finding myself doubled up with laughter at her as she tears around the house and garden at top speed, chasing her tail or digging holes in the garden with wild abandon. It is obvious that she has a pure, unadulterated joy of simply being alive.
My laughter is not at her in a malicious way, it is a laughter that is my own expression of the joy she finds in life, at the way she does not take herself seriously. She throws herself into life without a backwards glance or a thought of how she might look. I am, perhaps, a little envious of her lack of hang-ups and it lead me to wondering why. Of course, she is an animal, so she has a completely limited scope of life, no worries, no responsibilities and no free will to contend with.
But what I think is the crux of it all is that she has absolute trust that she is provided for. She trusts us that she is always going to be provided for, given food, a warm bed and love and attention. In this way, she is fully able to embrace life and enjoy it.
Going back to Pope Benedict’s quote, it is obvious that he feels humor is essential to his ministry, and by default, to our lives in general. When we think we are important and completely integral to our job or work, we lose our sense of perspective. We become too busy and important to take time off, to enjoy a break, to have fun.
We lose the sense that we are created, not the Creator. We become the god of our own life and suddenly, the pressure to run it and control it and have everything sorted become enormous. Everything is down to us now, all things must be our responsibility. When someone puts us down or momentarily ignores us, we can take it deeply personally.
When we experience disappointment in our work or studies or life at home, we can default to the idea that the bottom line is that we are no good, or a failure, or that there is no hope for us.
This is not the truth. The bottom line, no matter the situation, is that we are loved, we are not measured by our abilities or what we achieve. We are provided for and God has a plan for us. We do not have to be in charge constantly. There are times in our lives when it is clear that God is the only support network we need.
Of course, we are not expected to laugh our way through life and treat everything as a joke- far from it. Nor if someone is suffering from depression are we to expect them just to laugh it off. That is a different issue entirely. But in our day-to-day lives, are we a glass-half-empty or a glass-half-full type of person? Do we see hope in the daily grind?! Pope Francis puts it excellently in his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium:
Our lives are a glorious mess! Amid all our fears, amid our lack of courage and temptations to see everything worst case scenario, Christ encourages us to be like the child again- to find joy where it does not seem to be, to take delight in the little things, to believe in an ideal even if we struggle to fit it.
St Thomas More had a prayer for good humor. It starts:
And it goes on to say:
For St Thomas More, like Pope Benedict, the key to good humor is a sense of not taking oneself too seriously. Within that, it means not thinking that we are better than others or that everything about us depends on how well we do. It also means that we need a childlike (or puppylike!) trust in our Creator.
Imagine if something could just wipe away all the worrying that you do. Imagine living without any worries- what would you do now that you don’t do? How would your life change? Does it seem too naive a suggestion? Then consider what Christ tells us in Matthew’s gospel:
Having trust, therefore, that not everything depends on your outcome or productivity or ability to be or do good and discover what humility is really about- not groveling or being subservient, but remembering that we really are not better than other people around us. These two things can go a long way to discovering a new lightness and peace in our lives. Or, as Pope Benedict put it, flying a little bit.
Here are some questions to reflect on:
Do I ever take myself too seriously?
Do I ever put the outcome of my work or studies above the truth of who I am as a beloved child of God?
Do I put the outcome of my day, the productivity of my work above my relationships with others?
Do I ever stop, smile, and see myself through the eyes of a Father in heaven who loves me?