Laughter, Man and God

“Laughter has something in it common with the ancient words of faith and inspiration; it unfreezes pride and unwinds secrecy; it makes people forget themselves in the presence of something greater than themselves.”

-G.K. Chesterton

In a recent read of the book Reasonable Pleasures: the Strange Coherences of Catholicism by Fr. James Schall, I was intrigued by the highlighting of the presence of laughter in our lives, not only for the fact that it is a positive pleasure that we partake of, but as another sort of proof of God’s existence in our lives. While this may seem to be a stretch at the least, it, in its proper context, seems to actually lay proof to the idea that we are destined for something else, and that someone else is going to help us get there.

One of the primary reasons that we laugh, at the root of it all, is because we recognize that things are not necessarily the way that they should be: there is something incongruous within the workings of our lives. When we laugh with our friends or family, more often than not it is because we have recognized something askew or odd. It is not simply the result of a joyous occasion- it is often because we see something is out of sorts. We recognize that something is not correctly ordered or that some element is missing in whatever the situation.

However, it is not that we are just laughing that a piece of the puzzle out of place- it is that we have come to accept and work in spite of it. In fact, so many of the things we laugh about are concerning ourselves- and as the quote above from Chesterton indicates, it is a sign of a proper placement of humility within ourselves- and we recognize that we have a greater goal in mind. We recognize that we have some way out of what we find ourselves in- namely Christ.

If we were to have no goal past this life- all the minor inconveniences and foibles that we have would seem to be cause for alarm and often the end in some respect. If we only existed in this life and were merely gone in the next, we would really be a part of a tragedy rather than a journey. For example, I wouldn’t be able to laugh about the fact that chronically overthink things. The fact that I accept the fact that I do this (to some degree anyway) is because I recognize that it is all a part of who I am and how I have been designed; in cooperation with God’s grace, it all falls in to place, even in spite of me. Christ is there at the end of the day for me, if I am willing to surrender my will to His.

If I were not okay with that particular feature of my personality- especially with God in view- it would likely turn me bitter. It would be a stark contrast to the example of the saints, at least so it seems. In their lives, we aren’t presented with melancholy men and women who just happened to be just holy enough when they died. These were men and women who saw the world in it’s brokenness- themselves included; it didn’t become an obstacle them. Often they acknowledged and treasured their brokenness, because they recognized that Christ fills the void. In the second reading for this Sunday, St. Paul recognizes his own brokenness too. This was with a different view than failure- but rather opportunity. We should be willing to do the very same. Let us too look at our own shortcomings, with a spirit of laughter if it so fits, and joyfully recognize that, if we are willing to let Christ in- He is the one that can make up the difference.

“I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

-2 Corinthians 12:9-10

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A False Sense of Security: Being Above Reproach

Imagine this- a war is raging on a battlefield in some foreign land. Instead of using conventional weaponry, however, it has been so decided amongst the most elite thinkers of men that using one’s mouth shall be the most select and meritorious method of fighting. It is determined that the side that hurls the most insulting things and puts the other side down the most wins. Thus the battles go- with ravenous shouting and screaming so loud that it can be heard for miles and for a length of days.

Absurd Idea? Absolutely. What am I getting at here?

It is this: one of the heaviest criticisms that is often thrown at Christianity today, let alone Catholicism, is that it is hypocritical- meaning its members know Christ’s teachings, and yet either use them to their own illicit gain, or they disregard them altogether and “punch their own ticket” so to speak in picking what they want to believe. To be honest, it seems to be more than evident that there is a legitimate grievance to be held here. Example one- some claim to uphold the dignity of the human person (whether in an immigrant, unborn, elderly… any person at all) all the while becoming involved in political badmouthing and social media disagreement and outrage. Two primary ways of this are either simply criticizing a certain political figure ad nausium, or simply taking part in ad hominem arguments against anyone else, simply because their viewpoint is different from yours. Another example- going to Church, yet losing your temper when Mass is over an hour long and there is a traffic jam outside of church.

If I dare to say so, there has been a large rash of outrageous and uncharitable ugliness taking place on many social media platforms as of late. One can really look upon their newsfeed with sorrow and distaste; it seems that hypocrisy has become a very valid concern for both Christians and non-Christians alike. Brothers and sisters, let’s carefully note one thing for each one of us- none of us have it “all figured out.” None of us is above our brothers and sisters. None of us have become the “guru of goodness.” None of us have reached the moral perfection of our Lord and Savior, let alone come close to being able to hold but a momentary spark to it. None of us have the right to criticize another for the hope of making ourselves seem better by comparison.

Each of us, in fact, are fallen. I’d think we each know that and can speak to the truth of that. Each of us need God in our lives, whether we like to admit it or not. Each of us are struggling to always keep Christ in our midst- and that is something that should offer an element of solidarity. If we use Christ as a ladder to remove ourselves from the rest of our brothers and sisters in Christ- haven’t we missed the point? If Christ is merely a way to put ourselves above reproach- haven’t we actually fallen further than before? Haven’t we turned Christ, who is our ladder out of sinfulness into a shovel- to bury others?

We all need a Savior- no matter who we are. This should really influence all that we do- so that we are not hypocritical but are realistic of our own weaknesses and are actually striving to come closer to God through them. This even feeds into how we use our social media- we don’t have to prove the villainy of our enemies. The challenge is loving them and calling others to do the same. The ultimate challenge is loving them as our neighbor. It is extremely easy to criticize others. It may be harder to beg forgiveness from our Father for others and remind ourselves that we too are in need of mercy, even moreso when we judge others. It is easy to throw around things against others in a war of words- but it is harder to find the truth in the midst of all- and that is the only place that we will find God, even in the midst of our trials and difficulties. Let us refuse to be a part of a negative sea of accusation, hypocrisy, sin and sorrow. Let us rather lead by example, begging God for forgiveness- and perhaps others will follow suit when they see that we are practicing what we preach. This will never be achieved by pointing out the flaws of others, but only by pointing each other towards Christ in some way and giving each other a boost to see Christ more clearly through our actions.

“Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector…”

“I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

-Luke 18:10,14

I Have Become All Things to All

As many of you know, this summer has quite easily become one of the more interesting summers I have had in my time as a seminarian. I am spending a good part of my summer this year in Cochabamba, Bolivia, working on my faculty with Spanish. Fortunately, I am not alone in my pursuits here, but am joined by Bishop Rice and also Allen Kirchner, a fellow seminarian for the diocese.  This is not necessarily a part of our formation that is considered “core,” that is, something that absolutely must be done as a part of my curriculum, but it is essential for effective ministry in our diocese, the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. This is easily seen by the amount of Spanish-Speaking parishioners that are spread across the diocese and are situated in many, if not most, of our  numerous parishes.

The experience, thus far, has been a challenge for sure. I have never been abroad, let alone even boarded a plane before this summer. In addition, I have certainly found myself at a loss for words many times when speaking in Spanish (though that capacity is expanding by the day). This is all in a country that is, essentially, Spanish-speaking. Though it is certainly challenging being immersed in the Spanish language day in and day out, I have found a new appreciation both for the language and people, and also for what it must be like for a Spanish speaker in the United States.

Even in the midst of all of this though, it rings clear that all people everywhere are still created to worship one God who transcends all language, space, and time. All people are saved by Christ’s eternal sacrifice on the Cross. All Catholics of all cultures share in the Body and the Blood of Christ at the Mass, no matter the culture or the language. And that is why it is so necessary to be immersed in the Spanish language this summer. As I progress in my seminary formation, I continue to grow in understanding my own call to minister to others. This call is often not a comfortable one- nor should it be. So often it calls us out of ourselves to reach those who are more in need than those who would be easiest to share Christ with. It is a calling to a privilege to share our Lord and His burning Passion for all people, which words will often fail to describe. It is a calling to do what it takes to shepherd all people; it is a calling to spread the Good News, so that all may come to know Christ and His Love in a powerful and unique way- an experience that will so often be sparked by a language, and yet become something so far removed from spoken word.

Please pray for the three of us in particular (in addition to all seminarians) as we study, that we may obtain the graces we need to study well and continue to grow into more effective ministers to those we serve!

“To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.”

-1 Corinthians 9:22-23

A Savior Who Exceeds Expectations

One of the constant themes of the Easter season is one of surprise- and he did not just surprise the guards at the tomb or just the Jews. Even the apostles simply didn’t expect Christ to rise the way that He did. In fact, they didn’t expect Him to have to suffer, to die, and then to rise after all of this had taken place. So much of what Christ came and did in the scripture was shocking, thought provoking, and even maddening for some at one point or another. Even His appearance to the men on the way to Emmaus wasn’t expected- and because of this, they could not see Christ until He shook them with a movement of their hearts through His own direction.

Christ still works in a very similar way in our time, and by extension, continues to defy our expectations of His interaction with us.

Take, for example, my own journey. Even in my own vocation, I expected that, after I entered the seminary, the path would be straight, narrow, and very clear; the implication of this scenario was that there was little that Christ could do to surprise me- He made clear His call to me (though it certainly took a lot of work on His part). Yet, there are almost daily opportunities where Christ asks for me to open myself in humility to something that I would not have ordinarily foreseen, or to look for where He dwells, especially in the unexpected places or circumstances. This has never worked to my disadvantage, but always, in some way, continues to evoke even greater things for me and for my future. This does not mean that Jesus doesn’t ask for difficult things, whether that is a greater surrender of my heart, my will, or my mind- it simply means that I must continue to exercise trust in greater degree, that these things are to my advantage, and that of others as well.

We must, as Christians, not simply box Jesus in by our expectations of Him. So often, our expectations are small, limited, short-sighted, or even harmful. After all- we are only finite, rational, body and soul composite creatures. His excelling of our expectations can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Are we ignoring Christ in our brothers and sisters? Are we ignoring Christ in His plans for us? Are we unaware of what God is doing for us, merely because we expect something else?

We must always be paying attention to Christ with a mind that is completely receptive to Christ’s beckoning. This may require a great degree of surrender on our part- but it is through that surrender that we learn greater love and trust in the one who ultimately came and broke through all expectation. This is all with the hope that we will eventually come into a life with God forever- one that is not only greater than we could have imagined, but certainly greater than we could have expected. My own path continues to exceed my own wildest expectations- and this is by a graced and blessed design- one that I could never imagine, and would never trade nor change. The same is certainly true for all of us who continue to seek Him with all of our hearts- and none of our expectations!