5/23/2013 2:01:00 PM Want to evangelize? Be happy and laugh
Catholic Sentinel photo
Women smile during a special Spanish-language Mass in 2008 at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, N.Y.
The cashier's greeting was just a run-on sentence:
I was checking out at a big-box electronics store I had stopped in for a small something-or-other gismo.
"Absolutely marvelous," I responded.
The checkout process came to a screeching halt. The clerk jerked her head up from the scanner. She looked stunned.
"Really?" she asked, the word sort of stumbling out.
"Really," I affirmed. My upbeat reply certainly hadn't been what she anticipated, nor obviously what she usually received. Then, as she completed the sale, we had a nice conversation about good things. When I left, she looked a little happier. She even smiled.
Surprised by her behavior? Don't be. People are hungry -- starving -- for a sense of good news, of happiness.
After all, there's a lot of grimness in life these days: the economy, terror, violence, greed, poverty, war.
Surely not a lot to be happy about. Now, look at that from a faith perspective ... well, OK, there's a lot of grimness in religion, too.
Sure, salvation is a pretty serious subject. And the face the church offers the world is often stern and unsmiling. Sometimes it's downright scolding, though I suppose not always without reason. Yet, too many people perceive the church, rightly or wrongly, as saying "no, no, no" a lot more than "yes, yes, yes."
Looking at it through that lens, faith doesn't always offer much in the way of happiness, despite its desire to proclaim the good news.
I know what you're saying: "But faith isn't supposed to be about fun!" Or is it? From a sense of evangelization, happiness is far more attractive than scolding.
This shouldn't be a revelation. In those first, heady days of Christianity, it was the joy followers experienced -- and expressed -- that grew the church.
No less than Tertullian of Carthage, one of Christianity's greatest apologists, acknowledged that it was the love that the early Christians showed for one another that drew in pagans into the community.
"See," he wrote in the third century, "how they love one another." Joy and happiness flow from that kind of communal love.
Perhaps faith shouldn't always be ha-ha funny -- though there is a place for that. However, faith ought to be something people enjoy. We have in Pope Francis a pope who seems to be enjoying himself. That's a good sign.
Still, if you want to make someone uncomfortable, say that Jesus surely laughed. But why not? Laughter is a human virtue, a basic emotion that separates us from the animals. Some people surely do get bent out of shape when you remind them that more than a few of his parables were actually knee-slappers to the audience that first heard them.
Laughter in church ought to go further than an occasional bad joke in Father's or Deacon's homily. Most often we can find it, as Tertullian did, in the community.
One year we celebrated a pastor's birthday by creating a huge banana split in an 18-foot canoe with untold gallons of ice cream. You should have heard the laughter during that adventure.
Bottom line, faith isn't all gloom and doom. We should smile and laugh because our faith is a faith of love. Remember, Jesuit Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin reminded us, joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God. You want to evangelize? Make your faith a happy faith and share it.
So, perhaps this column should end with a smile:
The IRS was auditing a pizza-shop owner, a devout Catholic. How, demanded the agent, could he justify deducting trips to Rome, Fatima, Lourdes and the Holy Land in one year.
The shop owner shrugged: "We deliver."
The writer is a former editor of The Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago and a deacon ordained for the Diocese of Joliet, Ill.