Comedy is not anarchic; it is a defender of a more human order. William Lynch S.J.
Many years ago, as I sat among 300 other seminarians in the large amphitheatre classroom of the Gregorian University in Rome listening to a lecture by Fr. Tromp on the nature of the Trinity, I caught - out of the corner of my eye - some movement in the balcony which stretched along the front of the hall and over the high dais and lectern where Father Tromp was speaking. Now you have to realize these 300 seminarians came from every nation under the sun. There were Germans in red cassocks (possibly including a fellow now known as Benedict XVI), Frenchmen in blue sashes, Scots in the color of heather, Brazilians in green piping, Africans and Asians, all of whom were wearily trying to follow Fr. Tromp’s monotonous discourse.
But obviously they too saw what I saw, for now all eyes were raised to that balcony where the figure of an American seminarian had sidled along until he stood directly over the unsuspecting Fr. Tromp. This seminarian then produced a cup of soapy water and a bubble pipe and began to do you know what. Just at that moment Fr. Tromp had lifted his head and hand to make a point when down before him there fell a continuous flow of glistening, rainbow hued bubbles. He paused, looked up. Then the whole chamber roared with laughter. That seminarian had brought us all down to earth – having probably been inspired by the Trinity itself to do so, since Fr. Tromp was having a terrible time explaining it to us in the first place.
There were other such incidents – as when in the midst of a lecture on the Church in that same vast amphitheatre a groveling Capuchin friar carrying an armful of books came in late, slamming the door. As he passed right in front of the lecturer, he dropped all the books on the floor and spent all of what seemed forever trying to gather them up – only to drop the armful twice more with much clatter before reaching his seat high in the hall’s back row. We learned later that he was not a Capuchin friar at all but some wag from the English College dressed like a Capuchin - out to break up the monotony of the class.
Breaking the monotony! That’s what humor does, nor do I think we fully realize the redemptive importance of such humor in our lives. Of course, I don’t mean ridicule, for ridicule is not funny but the product of a mean streak characteristic of people too serious for their own good, like Bible-thumpers, ideologues and snide fellows posing as stand up comedians. And why are they inclined to ridicule? Because they’ve got everything figured out. Monotonously “correct” in their assessment of life, they have no compassion for its often hilarious complexity.
In the Gospels for February Jesus insists on going about healing, delivering Good News, “tidings of joy” to people far and wide; to shower a world of Pharisaical religion with rainbow-hued bubbles as did my seminarian friend of long ago. He came to initiate a Divine Comedy, bring joy to the faces of the oppressed. But he ran into resistance from the more sober scribes of this day, even at times from his disciples. And so what was meant to be a Divine Comedy ended in tragedy. A humorless world unamused by the mercy, the magnanimity of Christ would expel him from the amphtheatre of this world.
Except, come Easter, we shall all know who had the last laugh!