When I was studying abroad in Germany in 2010-11, I got a chance to go to Rome between semesters. There certainly are many things to do and see in Rome, and certainly the Vatican was at the top. I spent a whole day slowly walking through both St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museum. The most amazing thing about the Vatican is how much people are rushing ahead to see the famous things. At one point there was a literal crossroads- go right to see the Sistine Chapel, you know, the famous one painted by the non-pizza-eating, non-teenage-mutant-ninja-turtle Michelangelo. To the left however, just more paintings. I stood at that crossroads, going through what appeared to me to be a pretty standard gallery of pretty cool art. Until I came to it: perhaps the second most famous piece of art in the Vatican, The School of Athens by (also the non-pizza-eating, non-teenage-mutant-ninja-turtle) Raphael.
I of course saw the Sistine Chapel, which I am not going to put in a little image box next to this paragraph, because if you can't mentally imagine it at this point, I don't know that you deserve to see it here. However, the thing that I will always remember is seeing a little marker next to John Paul I's tomb deep in the crypt of St. Peter's Basillica, "The Smiling Pope." Well, never to be outdone, I now officially, publicly declare my intentions to be remembered thusly: Pastor Paul Richards-Kuan, "the Laughing Pastor."
Fr. Gregory Boyle, noted LA priest who founded Homeboy Industries, once gave an interview with Krista Tippet on her show "On Being." She began by asking him why he does what he does, his opening stuck with me, "I was educated by Jesuits, so I — for me, they were always sort of this combo burger of absolute hilarity and joy and the most fun people to be around. And they were prophetic. So, this was during the time of the Vietnam War. So we'd laugh a lot, and I'd go with them to protesting the war. So the combination of the prophetic and the hilarious — I loved that. So I thought, boy, I'll have what they're having, you know? So that's what I did. It's not very deep, but that's kind of — the reasons you join an organization like the Society of Jesus aren't the reasons you stay. But that kind of was my initial hook."
A combo burger of absolute hilarity and joy. What whimsical language. And yet, I might have to contest what Fr. Boyle said a little bit- is it shallow to see absolute joy and be attracted to it?
Another Jesuit, Fr. James Martin, wrote the book on faith and humor, Between Heaven and Mirth. There he writes, "Joy, humor, and laughter show one's faith in God. For Christians, an essentially hopeful outlook shows people that you believe in the Resurrection, in the power of life over death, and in the power of love over hatred. Don't you think that after the Resurrection Jesus's disciples were joyful? 'All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well,' as the fourteenth-century mystic Blessed Julian of Norwich said. For believers in general, humor shows your trust in God, who will ultimately make all things well. Joy reveals faith."
One person who is constantly joking and laughing is somebody I work with- Bill Kerley. Bill is best known by the Houston Chronicle as one of the most dedicated submitters of terrible one line jokes. For Christmas he decided to really spread the laughter by giving us all solar-powered dancing Jesus figurines. I personally stuck mine on my car dash. Now, every time I get in I am reminded of a goofy dancing version of Jesus. People comment, "look at that Jesus go," or "Dance Jesus Dance!" but they also sometimes start following along the dance of Jesus, his hips swinging with the power of the sun.
Now that Easter has come, now that we celebrate the joy of the Resurrection, are you dancing? Are you laughing and singing with joy? Do you live the kind of life that insists that you are full of joy?
Well if not, maybe you will be inspired by a dancing, wiggly, Jesus.