Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala (c. 1841-1871), “Taming the Donkey”
Some time ago I received a very interesting email from a fellow who makes his living as a stand-up comedian. He has come into the Catholic Church from a totally atheistic, non-believing background, finding his way through Buddhism and Eastern philosophies to Christianity and then Catholicism.
What interests me is that he tells me how atheistic the comedy circuit is. Religious people are regarded as dull dummies. Smart people are atheistic and funny. This is very sad because I think it should be exactly the other way around. I suspect by “smart and funny” what people really mean is that atheistic comedians are sarcastic, cynical, immoral and mocking of all things. There’s a certain humor in that, but it’s pretty dark and ultimately very sad. “Tears of the clown” and all that stuff.
Jim Gaffigan and Stephen Colbert are right up there, but why don’t we have more good Catholic comedians? Think about it: who else is better placed to have a laugh at all the shallow idiocy of this material world than a good Catholic? We’re the ones who should be able to see through the ambitious self-seeking corruption of politics, and all the shallow megalomania of the Hollywood celebrity culture.
It’s people who can really see the truth who can also see the absurdity of evil and the ultimate foolishness of error. Only those who have an eternal perspective can see the sad silliness of everything else. I don’t have problems with comedians mocking the world. I just wish they would.
Which brings me to the jongleur de Dieu—the old legend of the medieval juggler who wondered how he could serve God. So he took his juggler’s balls and baubles and set up in front of the image of the Blessed Virgin and juggled and tumbled and stood on his head for Jesus. That makes sense to me. I wish I could do the same, for the gospel stands the world on its head, and I reckon half the reason the Church doesn’t make sense to the world is that it is too busy trying to make itself sensible to the world.
Oh, the dear sweet sincere Christians who are trying so hard to make the Church “relevant” when all the time anyone who really wants to find faith is longing for a Church that is irrelevant because it is beautiful and radical and unexpected and subversive.
See what a little jongleur de Dieu was St. Thérèse when she cried, “You must be a whole saint or no saint at all!” and “There is no virtue in doing what is reasonable!” In fact, speaking of comedians, the Mother Superior described how much Therese delighted and entertained everyone with her irrepressible joy. She wrote about Therese, “She is a delight. She is a little comedian.”
Being a comedian then must be a great gift. It is marvelous to me to have a friend who does something so delightfully useless as to make crowds of people cry with laughing. I feel an affinity with him as I stand up week by week to preach my homilies and celebrate the Mass, for I feel I am doing something (in the world’s terms) which is delightfully useless too, and if the comedian delights in making people see the truth by crying with laughter, then maybe in a small way I can help people see the truth by making them laugh while crying, for I have seen the best laughter in the midst of tears and the brightest smiles in the midst of mourning—and I think my new friend knows what I mean because maybe we are both in our own ways touching the parts of people that are truly way down deep and really human.
For ‘human’ is linked with ‘humor’ and ‘humility’ and they all come from the word ‘humus’ which means earth from which we all have come and to which we will return, and if he brings them down to earth with laughter I want to bring them down to earth through the liturgy which first raised them up to heaven, and they were raised up to heaven to remind them of earth, and if that made them humble, then it also made them–like the humor–more human.
So here is a prayer on this joyful day:
Spare us good Lord from the never-smiling serious people, and spare us from the self-righteous and the insane, for those who are self-righteous are insane. Deliver us good Lord from those who take themselves seriously, and finally, Good Lord, bless and keep the po-faced and puritanically pious souls … far away from us. Amen.