St. Teresa of Avila prayed, “From sour and sad-faced old saints, Good Lord deliver us!”
Teresa, who was known to dance around as she played her castanets, was born a few centuries too early to have met Bl. Piergiorgio Frassati (1901-1925), pictured above goofing around with his friends. But I imagine they’re good buddies now!
Hagiographies (lives of saints) aren’t known for their laughs, but I’ve unearthed some stories from the Ave Maria Press blog and other sources that show being virtuous doesn’t always mean being serious.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)
St. Bernard, founder of the Cistercians, liked to chuckle at his overly serious monks. One day, when opening a new abbey near Foigny, France, the monks found a swarm of pesky flies filling the church that was about to be dedicated. Bernard watched his monks swatting, shooing, coaxing—all with no success. Finally, he fixed his eyes on the swarming flies and loudly declared, “I hereby excommunicate all of you.” Bernard’s monks laughed with him but found hundreds of dead flies all over the floor the next morning.
St. Bernard was focused on God (instead of the flies!), which made him free to ease the anxiety of his brothers by making a joke. Sometimes we get upset over things that would be easier to handle if we looked for the humor in them.
St. John Bosco (1815-1888)
A young priest from a very poor background, John Bosco was a hero to Turin’s hordes of homeless boys. He charmed them with his juggling act, and with his magic tricks and acrobatics. As a boy, growing up without a father, John had learned circus skills to make more money for his mother and siblings. But Father John’s fellow priests thought he was unstable. He had to be, because no one would seriously want to spend time with the “worthless” poor boys who had been abandoned and left to fend for themselves.
Two of Father John’s fellow priests planned to commit him to a local insane asylum. When Father John caught wind of their plot, he played along just long enough. When his fellow clerics stepped into the carriage, expecting him to follow, he slammed the door, slapped the horses into motion and told the carriage driver—“Take them to the asylum! They’re expected.”
Instead of reacting with vengeance or fear, St. John Bosco made a joke to get his point across. (I can’t help wondering what happened after this incident….)
St. John XXIII (1881-1963)
In this short, round, and elderly Pope, the Church enjoyed one of its funniest holy men. When a reporter asked how many people worked in the Vatican, he said, “About half of them….”
Here are some more good ones from a pope who never lost his sense of humor:
Visiting a hospital he asked a boy what he wanted to be when he grew up. The boy said either a policeman or a pope. “I would go in for the police if I were you,” the Holy Father said. “Anyone can become a pope, look at me!”
“It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about the serious problems afflicting the world and I tell myself, I must talk to the pope about it. Then the next day when I wake up I remember that I am the pope.”
Not long after he was elected pope, our Saint was walking in the streets of Rome. A woman passed him and said to her friend, “My God, he’s so fat!” Overhearing what she said, he turned around and replied, “Madame, I trust you understand that the papal conclave is not exactly a beauty contest.”
He once wrote: “There are three ways to face ruin: women, gambling and farming. My father chose the most boring one.”
A Vatican official told the pope it would be “absolutely impossible” to open the Second Vatican Council by 1963. “Fine, we’ll open it in 1962,” he answered. And he did.
The jolly Pope had humility and a willingness to laugh at himself. As more and more humor in the media is targeted at belittling others, we can do our simple part to heal the culture — by just laughing at ourselves once in a while. I read once that the “proper matter for humor” is our own foibles. So, my fellow comedian, if you’re like me, you have lots of material to work with!
We’ll end with a couple of choice quotes from someone who’s not a saint (yet!)
Mother Angelica (1923-2016)
“Try to laugh a lot, because life is funny and everybody today is too serious. The only tragedy in the world, my friend, is sin.”
And my favorite:
Love always (and laugh when possible),