Jesuit Uses Humor to Spread Religious Message

Fr. James Martin

University Ministry hosted guest lecturer Reverend James Martin, S.J. at the McLaren Conference Center, with over 200 in attendance, Monday, February 6, at 4:00 p.m.

In the opening remarks, Director of University Ministry Julia Dowdsaid USF faculty and staff are confronted with the following challenge, “How can colleges and universities address the needs of the whole human being—in mind, body, and spirit, in ways that best contribute to our future on this fragile planet?”
Monday’s lecture gave opportunities to think about internal quests for spirituality not strictly as a serious matter, but rather a journey where people can laugh along the way.

Official Chaplain for the Colbert Report, Martin is most commonly known for his entertaining approach to biblical rhetoric. On Monday, audience members laughed at jokes regarding the Jesuit order. They also seemed to nod in agreement of Martin’s sermon-like speech about applying humor to the practice of religion. He referred to Christianity in particular.

Martin’s addressed the need to include joy, humor, and laughter in the spiritual world. Yet Martin also said those values are not only needed in our personal spiritual lives, but also in the Catholic Church as a whole.
Martin said, “It’s not clear how it happened that joy, humor and laughter had been deemed inappropriate in religious circles, but I’m sure we’ve all met people that perceive that being religious means being deadly serious all the time—but if you’re deadly serious, you’re probably seriously dead.”

Audience members laughed, perhaps remembering their own past experiences of attending solemn masses where laughter was not encouraged.

For college students, Martin’s points invite spiritual dialogues across generations of different religions, since laughter and the seriousness with which faith is discussed goes beyond Christianity.

However, during what may have been perceived as “Jesuit comedian stand-up,” Martin spoke about why Jesus may have never been considered funny or associated with having a sense of humor.

Martin suggested two reasons for why this is often the case. Martin said some of the jokes discussed in the Bible might require knowledge of the cultural context of first century Judea. Also, some of the jokes might get lost in delivery due to lethargic presentations during Catholic mass. Martin suggested both reasons have contributed to the lack of humor found in the Bible.

Yet in some cases Martin said, “We’ve heard the jokes so many times they’ve become stale. It’s like a joke you’ve heard over and over again.

“Joy, humor, and laughter show your faith in God. Essentially having the positive outlook shows that you believe in what? The resurrection. Christ is risen,” Martin said.

The previous statement can also be applied to the Church’s desire to increase the number of people who wish to enter a life of vocation.

Martin said, “While seeking vocations we must live our lives joyfully. Why would anyone want to join a group of miserable people? We tend to forget that sometimes.” Martin’s assertion that Jesus must have also had a sense of humor was reinforced by Martin’s story of the disciple Nathaniel. He said that a sarcastic interaction between Jesus and him in the Bible was an early indication of Jesus’s sense of humor. “Jesus was fully human and to be fully human you have to have a sense of humor.” Martin said.

Seniors Natalie Luera and Mike Kuba, USF students who attended the event, said they both thought it was funny and entertaining. “I’ve never really heard someone talk about Catholicism and going to church in a humoristic way, because I’ve always associated my religion being super serious. And what I really enjoyed was it was true and thought-provoking,” Kuba said.

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