Not long ago, in the course of a conversation, a person remarked to me: “But you Catholics are such gloomy persons!” I tried to refute the charge by smiling largely— probatur ridendo.
But my companion subsumed: “O! I don’t mean universally and in every individual case. But your religion — you know – your attitude, your temper, is severe and forbidding and all that.”
This saying seems typical. The days have gone by when Protestants believed that Catholic priests had horns and cloven feet; but the days will hardly come when Protestants will give up their notion that Catholicism and gloom are synonymous, and that the outward badge of our religion is an abiding frown.
Stripping the idea of all that is exaggerated in it, it does us honor, perhaps more honor than Catholics individually can in conscience accept; being a testimony to the serious and wise character of our lives. For obviously life is no jest to a man who believes in its purpose and its eternal duration; who reads its value in the blood of Christ, as our Catholic faith teaches us to do.
Indeed there is none of us but can wish sincerely that we merited a little better the title to somberness in the sense of Catholic seriousness and determination.
But what we are charged with is not, of course, this right sincerity and purposefulness, but an excess of seriousness, a depressing solemnity and heaviness — in a word, a lack of humor. Moreover, the charge is distinctively put against us, not as men, but as Catholics.
We are said to be gloomy by a necessity flowing from our worship, from our belief. It would further seem that not Protestants only, but even Catholics themselves occasionally entertain this notion of the harshness and narrowness and cheerless rigorism of our faith.
It may not be easy to show such as these that in truth our religion is in reality instinct with the subtlest, deepest, richest humor possible to men. Indeed so essential is great humor to Catholic faith that the practical presence or absence of this humor is not a bad test of a man’s vigor or weakness in faith.
Humor is the just appreciation of the incongruous things of life. That is a part definition, at least; for humor is an elusive quality, existing in the concrete, dealing with the concrete, surrounding living things and entering into them, as the oxygen of the air enters into and vivifies our blood.
Men feel its presence and recognize it and honor it and delight in it; but can no more analyze it than one can analyze life, which departs at the touch of the dissecting instrument.
One takes up “HenryIV,”or “Alice in Wonderland”or “The Frogs,” or “Three Men in a Boat,” or “Hudibras,” or “Mr. Dooley’s Philosophy,” — and grows mellow with them, and wise, and says: “What humor may be in the categories, I know not; but they who wrote these things are humorists, children of comprehension and of wisdom.”
They compel us, not to laugh, but to smile. They widen our horizon and draw out our sympathies. In gentleness and with great pity and love, we look from end to end of the earth and are filled with kindly merriment at the misfits we see.
But we know this, that humor is built on truth and knowledge. A man who knows only a fraction of himself and others cannot have that plenitude of humor of one who knows the whole. The humor that is bounded by this world is feeble beside that humor which draws from earth and heaven, from time and eternity.
Faith is the solution and interpretation of life, the bestower of knowledge and of wisdom more than knowledge. Faith widens our limited days here into endless days, and lays bare men’s souls and the secrets of God, and gives us that mastery of life which is needed to laugh at life, and shows us the relation of all things and their harmony, and what preserves that harmony and is admirable, and what jars with that harmony and is laughable.
Knowledge and power, wisdom and love, these are at the roots of all right humor and ring in every laugh that befits the soul of a man.
“Credo” — “I believe in God the Father Almighty” — can bring smiles where tears were, and light where darkness was, and courage and saneness of view where all was gloomy and distorted by sadness.
“The fashion of this world passeth away” — and we alone who know this are the truly light-hearted of the world. “You shall take none of these things with you” says St. Paul, and I have seen a man smile through his tears beside the grave of his son, because he knew that afterward he himself would leave in another grave the heartache begun at this one.
No, our faith does not lack humor. It abounds in humor; it is humor — the tenderest, most cheery, most lasting humor.
St. Lawrence, directing the roasting of his own body with the nicety of a cook; our Irish peasant who says: “Thanks be to God, my rheumatism is much worse to-day,” our nuns who can be merry in the abode of death; — these are some instances of the humor of faith.
In its fullness, perhaps only the saints have it — those serene, large beings, beneath whose awe-inspiring calmness runs an unbroken ripple of laughter at the follies and pettiness that surround them; whom no adversity disheartens and no sufferings sour; whose eyes are bright with eternal merriment looking on the fashion of this world which passeth away.
I have before me, while writing, the picture of a young man clad in cassock and surplice; a man of lean ascetic face; who holds in his hand a crucifix, and stands by a table on which rest a discarded coronet and a penitential scourge.
Beneath the picture are the words, “Quid hoc ad aeternitatum?” The picture is familiar to all of us, and represents that great saint and universal patron of Catholic youth, Aloysius Gonzaga. The legend under it is a pet saying of Aloysius, a pertinent question applied by him to the thousand and one minutiae of daily life — “How does this look in the light of eternity?”
We can imagine this boy saint, as he passed through the streets of Rome on his way to or from school, or to some hospital or church. An unbeliever would be chilled at his constraint and austerity. ”Another example of monkish, Catholic gloom—a zealot, a fanatic; a man bereft of all sanity or humaneness, looking at life in warped, crabbed manner!”
Yet the unbeliever would be the fanatic, the narrow-minded man; and Aloysius, the humorist. For if the gorge of our spectator friend rose; if he gave expression to his scorn in words; if even he spat upon this Jesuit bigot, Aloysius would have said to himself “Quid hoc ad aeternitatem?” (How does this look in the light of eternity?) and would have gone on his way with a smile, making merry in his heart.
Fancy a man who all day long, in every varying circumstance, was asking himself, “Quid hoc ad aternitatem?” (How does this look in the light of eternity?) What an infinity of laughable things he would see! What a wide, kindly, smiling view of life he would acquire!
Think of the countless occurrences that fret and annoy, that drive a man into himself and shut up his outlook over the world which the good God has given him, that make him petty and irritable and sour — how they would go down before such a question, as rank weeds before a scythe; how they would be lost sight of, as a swarm of gnats becomes invisible under the full light of an unclouded noon!
Whatever be the definition of humor — and it matters exactly nothing what it be — the essence of it is saneness, balance, breadth; and complete saneness, undisturbed balance, infinite breadth, are the gifts of faith and of faith only!
Knowledge stops at the edge of the earth. Faith goes on beyond the stars, illimitable, calm, all-comprehending. The wisdom of the world is a surface wisdom and breeds only a surface humor. The wisdom of faith reaches from heaven to hell, into the heart of all living; and when it smiles the angels of God smile with it.
The humor of men may be on the lips and in the mind only. The humor of faith must come from the heart, from the “understanding heart.”
St. Paul bids us “Rejoice in the Lord always: again, I say, rejoice.” For ours is the heritage of joy; since it is given us to know what God knows, and to love all that He loves, to feel the presence of His angels round about us, to consider life in its completeness, and to look forward unavertedly, beholding the brightness of eternal peace and the sea which is about the throne of God, where the world looks out upon only chaos and the night.
Our faith has a higher purpose than merely to make us wise and patient and kindly. The humor of life is not its object, but it is its true and certain concomitant; growing as it grows, waning as it wanes.
If it can with truth be said of us that we lack humor, we must blame the lack of it not upon our religion, our faith, but upon our unfaith, and our irreligion.
Apropos of this subject, the following item is interesting and instructive:
Dr. A. B. Richardson, for many years in charge of institutions for the insane — among others, the United States Hospital at Washington — was recently asked about the amount of insanity in his institutions that could fairly be attributed to religion. His answer is interesting:
“You have asked me a very easy question. I have tested that matter thoroughly. There are only two patients in this hospital whose insanity has any relation to religion; and I think, from their predisposition to insanity, that they would probably have become insane on some other subject, if they had not on religion.
Now, if you had asked me how many people in Ohio are kept by religion from insanity and out of these hospitals, you would have given me a question hard to answer; for they are a multitude.
The good cheer, bright hopes, rich consolations, good tempers, regular habits, and glad songs of religion are such an antidote for the causes of insanity that thousands of people in Ohio are preserved from insanity by them.
But for the beneficent influence of religion, the State would have to double the capacity of her hospitals in order to accommodate her insane patients.”
The most recent psychological researches are in agreement with Dr. Richardson’s views; and it is practically certain that religion has been bearing for years past one source of abhorrence for which it is in no way responsible. — Ave Maria.
Did you ever reflect that when you put your hand in your husband’s hand before the Church, giving him your heart and your life thenceforward, that God, who is ever by the side of those who believe and trust in Him, promised you a mighty wealth of grace to be all your own till death! -True Womanhood – Rev. Bernard O’Reilly
St Francis de Sales was a true gentleman and a knight. What did that mean…
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In With God in Russia, Ciszek reflects on his daily life as a prisoner, the labor he endured while working in the mines and on construction gangs, his unwavering faith in God, and his firm devotion to his vows and vocation. Enduring brutal conditions, Ciszek risked his life to offer spiritual guidance to fellow prisoners who could easily have exposed him for their own gains. He chronicles these experiences with grace, humility, and candor, from his secret work leading mass and hearing confessions within the prison grounds, to his participation in a major gulag uprising, to his own “resurrection”—his eventual release in a prisoner exchange in October 1963 which astonished all who had feared he was dead.
Powerful and inspirational, With God in Russia captures the heroic patience, endurance, and religious conviction of a man whose life embodied the Christian ideals that sustained him…..
Captured by a Russian army during World War II and convicted of being a “Vatican spy,” Jesuit Father Walter J. Ciszek spent 23 agonizing years in Soviet prisons and the labor camps of Siberia. Only through an utter reliance on God’s will did he manage to endure the extreme hardship. He tells of the courage he found in prayer–a courage that eased the loneliness, the pain, the frustration, the anguish, the fears, the despair. For, as Ciszek relates, the solace of spiritual contemplation gave him an inner serenity upon which he was able to draw amidst the “arrogance of evil” that surrounded him. Ciszek learns to accept the inhuman work in the infamous Siberian salt mines as a labor pleasing to God. And through that experience, he was able to turn the adverse forces of circumstance into a source of positive value and a means of drawing closer to the compassionate and never-forsaking Divine Spirit.
He Leadeth Me is a book to inspire all Christians to greater faith and trust in God–even in their darkest hour. As the author asks, “What can ultimately trouble the soul that accepts every moment of every day as a gift from the hands of God and strives always to do his will?”
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