Daily Doses of Humor
Levity in ministry allows us to remember our humanity
When I was a seminarian, I was assigned to a rather large suburban parish for the summer with a veteran parochial vicar known to be somewhat of a curmudgeon.
At one Sunday liturgy, we had a brand-new altar server who looked as nervous as could be for his first Mass. “Well,” said the parochial vicar, “it’s your first Mass; and you got stuck with the crabby, grouchy, grumpy, old priest to boot.” “Oh, I know,” said the young server without any expression on his face, “they told me all about you.”
The priest and I lost it, and we had a good laugh about that for the rest of the day and, ultimately, all summer long. It broke the ice in the room at that moment, calmed everyone down, and it helped us to put things in perspective.
So often we take ourselves too seriously or worry about what other people may think about us. Thankfully, God frequently gives us a dose of humility to remind us to relax and not get so caught up in the daily grind.
I experienced this firsthand when I was asked to cover a school liturgy for a local parish. When I arrived for the liturgy, one of the teachers met me in the parking lot and had a relieved expression on her face. “Father, thank God you are here; we are so happy that you were able to join us for Mass.”
“Well, it’s a pleasure,” I told her, as she led me to the sacristy to vest for Mass. “While you get ready; I’ll introduce you to the students,” she said.
“Boys and girls,” I heard her say, “I have a surprise; your favorite priest is here.”
At this point, I began to feel a sense of self-aggrandizement welling up. “Wow,” I thought, “these kids are excited to have me.”
“Oh,” shouted one boy, “It’s Father Joe!” “No, said the teacher. “Oh,” someone else said, “is it Father Tom?” “No again,” she replied. “It’s Father Mike!” “Who’s that?” I heard a few kids say. “Why couldn’t we get Father Joe?” Several others retorted.
Needless to say, my pride balloon was deflated fairly quick. However, it gave me something to chuckle over later when I met up with some priest friends for dinner.
Pope St. John XXIII was someone who knew the value of humility, and who also was able to be self-deprecating. He understood the great need to find enjoyment in life and to be able to have a sense of humor when things become tragic, stressful or querulous.
St. John XXIII, who was nicknamed “the Good Pope” because of his humor and lightheartedness, reportedly once visited a hospital and asked a young boy what he would like to be when he grew up. “I think that I would like to be a policeman or the pope,” the boy stated. “If that is the case, then I would be a policeman,” the good pope quipped; “anyone can become a pope — look at me!”
Perhaps if we all were able to find the enjoyment of life in many situations, we would be able to laugh instead of getting worked up. We might even be able to find God in a moment in which we often overlook him. A priest friend used to have a plaque in his kitchen that read, “The man who is able to laugh at himself will never cease to be amused.” The more I reflect on this, the more I realize how valuable this skill is for ministry and for daily life.
Ministry is fairly demanding and does take its toll on everyone at times. However, there also is a great joy to ministry as we recognize our human frailties and find the humor of situations that we, on most occasions, cannot control or alter. Levity allows us to remember our humanity, and it also enables us to be attractive to others who often look for someone who can empathize and demonstrate holiness as they allow God’s joy to shine.
May each and every day be an opportunity for all of us to enjoy our ministry more fully, and may we never miss God’s doses of humility.
FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the director of vocations for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.