Humor

DONALD DEMARCO

Pope John Paul II is a living testament to the fact that holiness and humor are not mutually exclusive. There are sunny spots in the human heart which allow humor to be given and to be received. Good humor is sometimes the doctor's best medicine, and at other times, the Pope's best homily.

What often passes for humor these days is either vulgar, irreverent, cruel, or empty-headed. The initials of these four epithets spell VICE. The proper response to such errant attempts at humor is to say, "That's not funny!" Humor should be funny. But it should also be a virtue, that is, rooted in love. So planted, humor provides perspective, offers hope, pleases the heart, and elicits a smile. The initials of these four qualities (P.O.P.E.) remind us of a man among us whose humor is truly loving, and a virtue we can all enjoy.

Pope John Paul II's favorite joke, it is said, centers on the only two possible solutions to the Eastern European crisis, of which one is realistic, the other, miraculous. In the realistic solution, Our Lady of Czestochowa suddenly appears with all the angels and saints and inspires an immediate resolution to the crisis. In the miraculous solution, all the nations cooperate.


Media Darling

When TIME selected John Paul II as "Man of the Year" for 1994, the Pontiff thanked the magazine's delegation at a private audience in Rome, but added, somewhat mischievously, "I see that in the past, you have given this honor to Lech Walesa and to Pope John XXIII but also to Stalin and Hitler." Upon being assured that he was on TIME's "good list," not its bad one, he playfully replied, "I hope I always remain on the good list."

The Pope loves to poke fun at himself. On November 11, 1993, after addressing a group of workers in Rome, he slipped on a newly installed piece of carpeting in St. Peter's Basilica and fell several steps. Though in pain, he said to the crowd on his way out of the hall: "Sono caduto ma non sono scaduto" (I have fallen, but I have not been demoted). During a flight from Brussels to Rome (May 21, 1983), a journalist asked His Holiness about the risk of exposing himself to public criticism and objections. He responded by saying, "Even the Pope can learn something."

Once (August 16, 1972), prior to his becoming the Pope, Cardinal Wojtyla was climbing a mountain when he noticed the darkening skies and heard thunder in the distance. He joked to his guides, "I know three madmen: the first is myself, the second is my secretary, and the third is waiting for us at the summit."


Good Cheer

The late Sir John Gielgud, considered Britain's pre-eminent Hamlet, has remarked that John Paul has a perfect sense of timing. While in Krakow in June 1979, and being kept up until midnight by an enthusiastic crowd, the Holy Father said to the cheering throng: "You are asking for a word or two, so here they are Good night." During that same pilgrimage to Poland, a horde of youngsters kept shouting, "Sto lat, sto lat" (may you live to a hundred) until John Paul jokingly asked, "How can the Pope live to be a hundred when you shout him down? Will you let me speak?" After order was restored, he simply said, "I love you all."

While in Chicago in October 1979, tens of thousands of Polish-Americans continually serenaded him with Sto lat. Finally, John Paul said to them, playfully, "If we keep this up, they're going to think it's the Polish national anthem." To a gathering at Castel Gondolfo (April 17, 1995), John Paul answered repeated shouts of "Long live the Pope," by saying, "Long live everyone."


Polish Joker

Someone once remarked, by way of voicing disapproval of Wojtyla's affection for skiing, that no Italian cardinals were skiers. "That's strange," Cardinal Wojtyla said innocently, "in Poland, 40 percent of our cardinals are skiers." His detractor pointedly commented that there were only two Polish cardinals. "Oh yes," replied Wojtyla, "but in Poland, Cardinal Wyszynski counts for 60 percent." The Holy Father was telling a Polish joke on himself.

One of John Paul's biographers, and a close personal friend, John Szostak, has pointed out that John Paul has no objection to Polish jokes as long as they are not cruel. Szostak compiled a list of new Polish jokes for John Paul that was circulated on the occasion of his elevation to the papacy. One was about the first thing a new Polish Pope would do upon moving into the Vatican order wallpaper for the Sistine Chapel.


Christmas Vocation

The Pope's humor always provides perspective, offers hope, pleases the heart, and elicits a smile. The day after the Pope gave his Christmas message in 1979, hundreds of Romans returned to St. Peter's Square. They began to clap and call for their Pope. John Paul responded by praying the Angelus with them. Then, in a joking mood, he said to the throng: "I rejoice with you and I wonder why you have come. Perhaps you came to see if the Pope is at home on the second day of Christmas. And then I think you have come because today is a really beautiful day and attracts one outside. But the Pope has to stay at home because he never knows when people are coming to recite the Angelus. . . . Thank you all and a Merry Christmas to all . . . Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Pope John Paul II is a living testament to the fact that holiness and humor are not mutually exclusive. There are sunny spots in the human heart which allow humor to be given and to be received. Good humor is sometimes the doctor's best medicine, and at other times, the Pope's best homily.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

DeMarco, Donald. "Humor." Lay Witness.

Reprinted with permission of Lay Witness.

Lay Witness is the flagship publication of Catholics United for the Faith. Featuring articles written by leaders in the Catholic Church, each issue of Lay Witness keeps you informed on current events in the Church, the Holy Father's intentions for the month, and provides formation through biblical and catechetical articles with real-life applications for everyday Catholics.

THE AUTHOR

Donald DeMarco is Professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, CT and Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo Ontario. He has written hundreds of articles for various scholarly and popular journals, and is the author of twenty books, including The Heart of Virtue, The Many Faces of Virtue, Virtue's Alphabet: From Amiability to Zeal and Architects Of The Culture Of Death. Donald DeMarco is on the Advisory Board of The Catholic Educator's Resource Center.

Copyright 2004 LayWitness




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