Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

What I Have Seen And Heard (November 11, 2010)

By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published November 11, 2010  | En Español

I enjoy visiting the parishes of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and having the occasion to encounter our people personally. Even those casual conversations that sometimes take place under unexpected circumstances often give me much food for thought and prayer.

After a confirmation ceremony the other day, a gentleman stopped me during the reception and asked me this question: “Archbishop, do you think that Jesus told jokes?” I told him that I was personally quite convinced that the Lord has a well-developed sense of humor, and I am equally certain that Jesus frequently laughed. And when I consider all of the members of the Church, those people that He has chosen to be His own, I am even more convinced that He can appreciate comedy.

After further reflection, I think that the man’s question was even more profound than it might have appeared to me on the surface: “Does the Lord call us to joy?”

Joy, according to a citation attributed to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.

People tell jokes because a humorous story usually makes others laugh. And the gift of laughter is a healing human experience. Jokes usually engender their humor by turning on a phrase or pointing out an incongruity in life. Joy is much more profound than mere laughter. Joy is the fruit of hope within the soul. It is the joy Christ Himself referred to when He told the disciples, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).

Our Catholic faith should lead us to a joy that is far more important than laughter. The saints were people of joy—even those who faced the harsh trials of martyrdom. They were people filled with the confidence of our faith and that led them to a serenity of heart. We are called to joy today and not in some far distant moment at the end of our lives.

The witness that we are called to give to the world is that our faith brings us hope and joy—even in the face of the many challenges that confront us each day.

Blessed John XXIII is a figure of great warmth and joy. His happiness radiated out to all those he met. His joy also made him very approachable and lovable by the people he encountered. His joy stressed his humility. One story about Blessed John XXIII tells how he once received a letter from a young boy named Bruno who wrote to him and said that he was uncertain about what he wanted to become when he grew up—either a policeman or a pope. Blessed John XXIII wrote back and suggested that the lad become a policeman since anyone could become a pope as he was the living proof. Such playful humility bespoke the greatness of that man’s soul and heart.

The man’s question posed to me at the confirmation reception may have raised the inquiry of Jesus’ sense of humor but also caused me to reflect on what St. John said that Jesus was promising His disciples on the night before He died for us. Even at that moment when He faced His own Passion and death, Jesus was speaking to the apostles of His joy. There is a lesson for us to learn regarding our approach to life and the problems that seem to surround us and at times even overwhelm us: Jesus calls the Church to manifest a hopeful joy for the world.

As His disciples, we are to offer the witness of hope in a world that is too often burdened with despair and fear. Maybe the gentleman wanted to think about the wonderful possibility that Christ came to bring us mirth, happiness or even laughter.

I believe that Christ has come to tell us all that we are fashioned for joy—His joy that has overcome the sadness and unhappiness that seem to be so pervasive. The great artists of the world have often depicted Christ at different moments in His life: as an infant, as a youth, during His Passion, on the cross, even in His risen glory. I wish that we had more artistic images of Christ with a great big grin on His face.