Jesuit Author has SHU Audience 'Laughing with the Saints'

News Story: October 5, 2008

Father James Martin, the associate editor of the national Catholic weekly, America, and the author of numerous books, discussed “Laughing with the Saints: Joy, Humor and Laughter in the Spiritual Life.” He spoke to an enthusiastic audience on Tuesday, September 23, in the University Commons and stayed on to sign copies of his recent memoir, My Life with the Saints.

A graduate of the Wharton School of Business and a former executive with GE Capital in Stamford, Father Martin liberally sprinkled his remarks with jokes and amusing anecdotes. He argued that while few believers associate laughter and mirth with the life of Jesus or the saints, it is joy that attracts others to the life of faith.

A Jesuit priest since 1999, Father Martin has ministered in Jamaica, New York City and Kenya. He quipped that “if you are deadly serious about your faith, you’re probably dead” and noted that saints from Augustine to Aquinas to Blessed Pope John XXIII have praised joking and playfulness. “Yet, who has heard a new bishop recommended for his great sense of humor?”

A gifted speaker and story-teller, Father Martin offered numerous examples of saints who enjoyed a good laugh, proclaiming that joy is a sure sign of the presence of God. Humor, he asserted, is a great evangelizer: “It brings people to joy in the risen Christ.” When a student for the Society of Jesus, he had the opportunity to meet the Jesuit superior general. Thinking to make an impression with the cleverness of his question, Father Martin asked him what he would recommend to increase vocations. The answer was profound and deceptively simple: “Live your own vocation joyfully.”

Humor, including the ability to laugh at oneself, is a great tool for humility as it reminds us all of our essential humanity. It sooths and welcomes as well, He recalled attending a retreat in Africa where at the final session, he realized he was the only man still in attendance, the other priests and brothers having left early. “There I was with a roomful of African sisters, a little afraid that what I would say might be misunderstood due to cultural and language differences. I explained that I was the only man in the room, when a voice from the back greeted me enthusiastically: ‘And blessed are you among women!’ I felt an immediate welcome.”

He argued that just as laughter is said to release endorphins in the body that heal and relax the physical self, so too must joy have that affect on the Body of Christ, the Church. We know that when guests are laughing, the gathering is a success, he said, and we look forward to a life of unending joy in the gathering of heaven. Father Martin pointed out that we have all heard of God’s great love for us. What is at least as valuable is recognizing that God likes us as well, and he encouraged his audience to imagine God looking at them, smiling.

Father Martin’s other books include Searching for God at Ground Zero and In Good Company: The Fast Track from the Corporate World to Poverty, Chastity and Obedience.