Show Your Mirth!
Dare we even consider mirth as an essential part of evangelization?
Up for a joke? Well, I am. My wife not so much. And my daughter not at all, at least when it’s my joke. First she frowns, and then she gives me the “stink eye.”
Perhaps, gentle reader, you’d like a sample, the better to judge for yourself. Here’s one for your consideration: a riddle, which is making the rounds in our neighborhood, mostly because I’m telling it to everyone I see. Question: How does Superman wind his watch? Answer: Clark wise. My wife says that at least it’s short. I urge folks to share it with their friends, though I warn them that they’ll have fewer.
Okay, I tell “Dad jokes.” But they sometimes work. When they do, there’s an element of surprise, both in the joke and in my indulging in such humor. As an Anglo, I usually get a laugh from using the Mexican comic Chespirito’s line “No contaban con mi astucia.” (They didn’t expect my cunning.) It helps, too, if the joke’s mostly on me. The American comic Nate Bargatze’s a master of self-deprecation.
So, what doesn’t work when I tell Dad jokes? Mostly telling them too often and to the same hapless victims. Aristotle identified the wannabe comic who’s worn out his welcome as a “buffoon.” And my darling daughter would identify me as guilty!
In my defense I’ll assign her homework, a favorite ploy. The British Psychological Society recently published a piece wherein the scholar Marc Hye-Knudsen claims that “When considered properly, dad jokes…reveal a lot not just about how humor and joke-telling work but also about fathers’ psychology and their relationships with their children.” You bet!
Still, no less an authority than St. Thomas Aquinas would issue a caution. On the one hand, he promotes eutrapelia, the virtue of playfulness. We could all use a bit of fun. But on the other hand, he argues that even “jocose” lies in which “some little pleasure is intended” run counter to the good of truth.
So admonished, allow me to suggest a pardonable exercise of casuistry. A lie is a statement, is it not? So I customarily preface my jokes with an interrogative: “Would you believe that….? In the argot of the day, it works for me. I await the verdict of more scrupulous Thomists.
But beyond jokes and jocularity there lies something far greater and richer. It takes us from the silly to the sublime. Call it mirth. No one has praised it so worthily, indeed, so mirthfully, as G.K. Chesterton. In the closing lines of his master work Orthodoxy, he remarks that Jesus never concealed his tears. Nor did he hide his anger. “Yet,” says Chesterton, “there was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”
Might we not, in these dire days, show something of our mirth? Dare we even consider mirth as an essential part of evangelization? Why not, at just the right moment, Holy Water in hand, laugh out loud in Satan’s face? Why not, especially as we wait for Pentecost, express a delight in the very existence that God gives us? Whether young or old or somewhere in between, Gaudeamus! Pereat tristitia!
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