Katie Faley: Having fun and sharing joy point to God and are part of a holy life
Cause of Our Joy / By Katie Faley
Some of my favorite pictures of saints are those that portray them doing ordinary things. It makes holiness feel somehow more attainable.
I saw a group of pictures of Pope St. John Paul II when I was on a retreat in college. In one, the former pope is shaving his chin while sitting cross-legged on the grass. In another, he’s standing casually with a pair of skis. In many, he’s out for a hike with friends. In all of these images, a big, relaxed smile is plastered on his face.
These images remind us that having fun is a part of a holy life.
In September of this year, Pope Francis is set to canonize Pope John Paul I, known as “The Smiling Pope.” All you need to do is take one look at a picture of Pope John Paul I, and you’ll see how he got that nickname. He lived a life of simple joy.
Joy is a great gift from God. Where there is joy, there is God.
The soon-to-be-official sainthood of John Paul I got me thinking about some of the simplest forms of joy.
Though not a canonized saint, G.K. Chesterton — the author known for penning the Father Brown detective novels and a Catholic convert — called laughter a gift from God. He himself was known for having a quick wit and a light sense of humor.
In one of his famous works, “Orthodoxy,” Chesterton wrote, “For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.” Laughter, in Chesterton’s opinion, is a sign of wonder. And wonder leads to deeper spirituality.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton also found the humor in everyday life. Anyone who has ever worked with children knows that it can be frustrating. Children often aren’t the best listeners, can be naughty, and often say some ridiculous things. As a teacher, Elizabeth Seton encountered the challenges of children every day. But instead of allowing herself to lose patience, Elizabeth simply found the humor in the situation. When children were misbehaving, she would laugh to herself knowing that children are always going to get themselves into a little bit of trouble. For her, laughter was the best medicine to wild and hectic days.
Before he was Pope John Paul II, he was just Karol from Wadowice, Poland. As a young man, he was a member of an organized group of actors and poets. He had a creative mind that he enjoyed sharing with others. He found lots of close friends in this group through their shared love of the arts. Through his poems and plays, Karol managed to write simple theological metaphors. He used his God-given talents to bring the joy of God to others.
The pictures of Pope John Paul II also show us how much he loved the great outdoors. He went skiing, canoeing, hiking, camping. But what he also did was celebrate Mass outdoors with friends, read Scripture at the top of a mountain, and talk theology with friends while hiking through the woods. Karol used his hobbies to glorify God and give back to his Creator the gift that was given to him by God.
Pope Francis’ Argentinian culture fostered in him a particular love of dance. When asked by a child if he likes to dance, the pope gave a resounding, “Yes!” As a teenager, Pope Francis loved to dance the tango. He called dance an experience of joy and happiness.
He went on to say, “When someone is sad they can’t dance. Generally kids have a big asset: being happy. And because of this when they are young they dance and express the joy in their heart . . . . the people who can’t experience joy in their heart are always serious.”
Having fun is a sign of joy. And that fun points back to God — the Giver of joy. So, take it from the saints and other holy people: a life of holiness is not always a serious one. When we have the joy of Christ in our hearts, we can’t help but show it through a smile, a laugh, a well-loved activity, or a dance.
KATIE FALEY is a member of St. Mark Parish in Peoria and a writing coordinator for OSF HealthCare. She has a master’s degree in theology and theological studies from the University of Notre Dame. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.