Perhaps no faith community knows how to party like the Catholics do. Church festivals! Fish fries! Bingo! Open-bar weddings attended by 45 different branches of cousins you never knew you had!
That’s all part of the package that makes up this tradition of ours.
Yet, so often in the day-to-day practice of our faith, that joy doesn’t express itself externally.
Of course there are times that call for solemnity and piety. Heck, I’m still irritated when people wear shorts to Mass. Decorum, people!
But really, shouldn’t sharing in the Good News of Jesus be something we can smile about? And dare I suggest, even laugh about?
The life of St. Francis and his brothers certainly points to faithfulness also leaving room for happiness. Maybe even a little wackiness if it suits the moment.
Take Brother Juniper, for instance. Our Saint of the Day feature explains:
“Once Juniper was taking care of a sick man who had a craving to eat pig’s feet. This helpful friar went to a nearby field, captured a pig and cut off one foot, and then served this meal to the sick man. The owner of the pig was furious and immediately went to Juniper’s superior. When Juniper saw his mistake, he apologized profusely. He also ended up talking this angry man into donating the rest of the pig to the friars!
“Another time Juniper had been commanded to quit giving part of his clothing to the half-naked people he met on the road. Desiring to obey his superior, Juniper once told a man in need that he couldn’t give the man his tunic, but he wouldn’t prevent the man from taking it either.”
Indeed, Juniper was a man of great generosity. But it’s hard to imagine he didn’t have his tongue securely in one cheek on more than a few occasions.
In “Francis: The Journey and the Dream,” Murray Bodo, O.F.M., describes Francis’ realization that being holy and being happy are not mutually exclusive:
“He saw the distinction between piety and goodness manifested quite clearly in his brothers. The holiest of them were anything but pious. They joked and laughed and took life much less seriously than saints were supposed to. And Francis loved them for it.”
So if it’s good enough for arguably the world’s most beloved saint, perhaps it should be good enough for us.
Ask yourself, when you talk about going to Mass or serving your parish or just discuss faith and religion in general, what do you convey? Are you excited about it? Are you joyful? Do your words and actions tell the world, “I believe in the Good News, and it is, in fact, really good news”?
Or do you find yourself bogging down in thoughts about sin and penance and imperfection?
If it’s the latter, maybe try to be a little more like Brother Juniper, “the little clown of God.”
As Father Bodo writes:
“Piety, after all, was something mainly external and goodness was in the heart. Perhaps, too, joy and enthusiasm for life, like charity, absolved a multitude of sins.”
Don’t forget to check out the July issue of Catholic Update: “Laughing with the Saints” by Jim Martin, S.J.!