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The Catholic Moment: It makes me laugh

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

By Michael Daley

Recently, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper, had a congratulatory article celebrating the Simpsons 20th anniversary. Yes, I mean the show about the beer-guzzling, nuclear plant working, incompetent, overweight and vulgar resident of Springfield, Homer Simpson.

In addition to its intriguing and intellectual title, “Aristotle’s Virtues and Homer’s Donut,” the piece describes the show as a “tender and irreverent, scandalous and ironic, boisterous and profound, philosophical — and sometimes even theological — nutty synthesis of pop culture and of the lukewarm and nihilistic American middle class.” Then, in a line you could miss if you weren’t paying attention, it says that without the show “today many would not know how to laugh.”
Though it’s hard to pick just one, of all the Simpsons episodes I’ve watched none has been more meaningful and substantive and funnier than “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Guest Star.” It is so good that if I were to ever be given the position of DRE, and this next statement could very well disqualify me from ever getting that job, I would make it mandatory viewing for those in the RCIA. For me it bridges what it meant, what it means and what it should mean to be Catholic. You’ll be hard-pressed to suppress your laughter.  Imagine that — the Vatican encouraging us to laugh…about religion. How else could one celebrate, on successive days, Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday? The health benefits of laughter have long been touted; it relieves stress, increases life expectancy and supports general wellness. Add humor to a religious tradition and it just can’t lose.

If you don’t believe me, take a visit to the University of Notre Dame. Once on campus ask to see the Word of Life mural. You might get some blank stares at first. Ask to see “Touchdown Jesus” and they’ll know just where to take you. No one has monopolized religion, athletics and humor better than Notre Dame. At the height of their rivalry with the University of Miami, an exasperated Miami chaplain said, “God doesn’t care who wins a football game.”
Then-Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz replied “But His mother does.” I’m sure Mary’s still chuckling and questioning her namesake’s mascot, a pugnacious Irishman, too.
As seriously as they took their discipleship in Jesus, the saints, at least the ones I like the best, had a lighter side as well. Take St. Lawrence, the fourth-century deacon martyred during a Roman persecution. In the midst of his torture on a gridiron, he is said to have cried out, “This side’s done. Turn me over.” He’s not the patron saint of comedians, roasters and butchers for nothing. When Blessed Pope John XXIII was asked how many people work in the Vatican, he replied, “About half.”
St. Teresa of Avila wasn’t above a quip of the tongue, either. Thrown into the mud while riding a carriage, she said, “Lord, why did you let this happen to me?” To which God responded: “That’s how I treat all my friends.” St. Teresa quickly retorted, “Then it’s no wonder you have so few of them.” If God has a sense of humor, surely the members of His church must as well.
Whether it’s the foibles and mistakes of its members, mispronounced prayers, billboards out in front of churches, etc…, Catholics have much to be thankful for. Chief amongst them are the multiple reasons to laugh and have such fun with our faith.

Daley is religion teacher at St. Xavier High School and a freelance writer.

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