Another Trappist, Thomas Merton, was asked if it was possible to tell if someone had truly undergone inner purification, becoming transformed into the image of Christ.
“It is very difficult to tell but usually it is accompanied by a wonderful sense of humour.”
Humour, the ability to laugh and not take ourselves too seriously, puts the grueling process of inner transformation into perspective. If I am self-centered instead of God-centered, everything becomes intense and dramatic. When I take my eyes off myself, my faith, my religious practices, my spiritual ‘progress,’ my sins and rather look at my Saviour, everything comes back into the proper perspective. I am filled with joy, the joy of the Lord.
There are many amusing stories about the saints which illustrate their joy. While on a journey to visit one of her convents, a donkey dumped St. Teresa of Avila into a stream of freezing cold water. Standing in her water-logged, heavy habit, she yelled at God,
“If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!”
Did you ever wonder how the plain, hard-working, celibate, 17th-century Shakers got their name? It is because they shook under the power of God and they danced with joy! One of their dancing songs is ‘Tis a Gift to be Simple
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
No wonder they were persecuted and chased out of Europe; they scandalized staid, proper, miserable Christians. Just like when King David danced before the Lord with complete abandonment.
As Catholics, do we look on with scorn when we see anyone who is happy, moving and dancing in the Spirit? Remember how God reacted not only to David but to his wife Michal;
[2 Samuel 6:17-22] As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal, daughter of Saul, watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.
When David returned home to bless his household, Michal, daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
David answered his wife, “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes….”
I am willing to wager that almost all religious, faithful Catholics would not model the joyful David but scowl along with his wife Michal at such a scene. Yet joy is not just for Pentecostals; joy is also for intelligent, sophisticated Catholics. As C.S. Lewis explains,
“Joy is the serious business of heaven”.
Even though icons and holy cards often depict the saints and the entire Holy Family looking miserable and weak with tears streaming down their pale faces, the truth is the saints lived in God’s Presence and in His joy. St. Francis of Assisi is the most famous joyful saint. Look at our pope, whose namesake is Francis; his very countenance radiates authenticity, kindness, joy and the love of God. It is time to allow God to change our mentality and spirituality into one that embraces the Resurrection and Pentecost, not just the Passion.
Nehemiah 8:10 Do not be grieved (sad, sorrowful), for the joy of the LORD is your strength.