Some experiences are more memorable than others, and one particular excursion in the 1980s has been hard to forget. After enjoying the summer months with family and friends in my Louisiana hometown, the time arrived for me to return to the Redemptorist seminary in Wisconsin. My mother and I were accompanied by her brother and sister-in-law for the customary farewell trip to the regional airport. The journey in the typical August heat was uneventful—that is, until the family car reached its final destination near the main entrance of the Baton Rouge airport.
My uncle and I opened the hood of the overheated Oldsmobile. To our untrained eyes, the inside looked and sounded like a compressed Willy Wonka factory oozing 30-weight chocolate motor oil. I was a seminarian preparing for ordination; he was a Certified Public Accountant. My hands anticipated the oils of a more sacred nature; my uncle’s hands operated under more sterile conditions with a No. 2 lead pencil and Texas Instrument calculator.
Nevertheless, we mechanically jiggled various hoses, while my mother and aunt fanned themselves in the abominable heat on a nearby bench. In between their hysterical laughter at our incompetence, they offered sound advice without solicitation. “Have ya’ll checked the battery?”
My uncle’s glasses steamed at this point. A cap that he had loosened released enough water vapor to fog his calculating vision. Suddenly, there was a gravelly screeching sound. Both of his feet had left the pavement when he leaned too far into the engine. All two hundred pounds of him.
The family automobile never drove the same after that trip.
To this day, the spectacle of my uncle blindly falling into the open hood of our car at the Baton Rouge airport provokes amusement among certain loved ones. This calamity was one of the few occasions when I was eager to distance myself from family members and leave them behind on the other side of security.
Consider the young Dominican novice under Blessed Jordan of Saxony (ca. 1190-1237), whose uncontrollable chuckle during community evening prayer caused the rest of his fellow novices to giggle. After completing the prayers and final blessing, Blessed Jordan said, “Laugh on! You may well laugh, for you have escaped from the Devil, who formerly held you in bondage. Laugh away, dear sons!”
Consider also the three young Redemptorist seminarians under Blessed Francis Seelos, who organized a “laughing society” that penalized its members with prayers for laughing when jokes were told. Blessed Francis joined the society one day out of curiosity, but had to immediately withdraw from the group because of his inability to stop laughing.
Many families tend to laugh about unpleasant experiences—although, admittedly, a sufficient amount of time often transpires before the incident can elicit humor. While “happy families are all alike,” wrote Tolstoy, “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The collective Christian family happily rejoices in the reality that our Founder began his public ministry at a party in Cana (cf. Jn. 2). Likewise, the company of saints revel in our Founder’s heavenly joy and they become the engine that helps transport that reality to earth. Moreover, their sanctity was attained not only through piety, but precisely because they retained their “joy and humor even in the midst of a very hard life” ( CCC #1676).
The communion of saints, to which we belong, is the ultimate “laughing society.” We can snicker at the Devil because our Savior has secured a place for us on the other side. “Laugh on!”
About Fr. Byron Miller, C.Ss.R.
Fr. Byron Miller, C.Ss.R., is the Executive Director of the National Seelos Shrine & the Seelos Center, in New Orleans.