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God To Man: Get Over Yourself

Lent is coming to a close. That news may prompt some people to say, "Thank God!" Lent is seen as a time of penance, of giving things up — and of, well, seriousness.

Most people think Christianity is like that year-round. Humorless. Depressing. Boring. Christianity is seen as a path of deadly seriousness, when it's supposed to be one of life-giving joy.

Part of this is due to the inability to see the value of humor in the spiritual life. Unfortunately, many religious people tend to take themselves way too seriously. You know, the "frozen chosen." That's one reason why humor — especially self-deprecating humor — is important.

So I like to tell jokes about Catholics, Jesuits and priests — since I'm all three. You know the one about the ecumenical group who all get food poisoning at a conference, die and go to heaven? God greets them all and says, "Welcome! Now all you Episcopalians, go into Waiting Room 5, but don't look into Room 1. Baptists into Room 4, but avoid Room 1. Methodists into Room 3 but stay away from Room 1. Presbyterians into Room 2, but steer clear of Room 1." And one of the Presbyterians says, "What's in Room 1?" And God says, "Oh, the Catholics. They think they're the only ones up here."

Why is it important to tell jokes about yourself? It reminds you that you don't know everything, you can't do everything, and that you're not God. Humility underlines your place in the universe.

God, I think, has a sense of humor, too. And if you doubt that, you're just not paying attention. Last month, for example, I was wondering if I really needed two woolen caps. Shouldn't one suffice? Maybe I should give one to the poor.

Anyway, on the way out of a barber shop one day, I reached into my pocket to pull out my hat and realized it had fallen out. I turned around and saw a homeless man putting it on. Who's to say that this wasn't God playfully telling me what I should have done in the first place.

But like I said, we persist in overlooking God's humor, even when it's right in front of us. It's like the guy who's late for a wedding and looking for a parking space. And he prays frantically, "Oh God, please open up a spot. Please! I'll go to church every Sunday." Suddenly a spot opens up right in front of him. And the guy says, "Oh, never mind, God. I found one."

James Martin is a Jesuit priest and author of My Life with the Saints.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

James Martin

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