Saturday, December 27, 2003

Homily Humor - It ain't funny

It so happened that a boy was trying out for a football team. He wasn't very good and not very smart either so the coach told him he could be on the team if he could answer three questions. The first question was, "How many seconds are there in a year?" The boy thought a moment and answered, "Twelve. January 2nd, February 2nd, March 2nd, April 2nd. . .'. The coach thought he would have to give him credit for that, so he asked the second question, "How many days of the week start with the letter 'T'?" The boy said, "Two - today and tomorrow." The coach then asked him the third question, "How many d's in Yankee Doodle?" The boy answered, "A couple of thousand. De, de, de, de, de, de, de." (sung to the tune of Yankee Doodle.)

It so happened that a guy got on a bus in Chicago and it so happened that he asked the bus driver if the bus goes "to da loop." The driver says, "No, it goes beep beep."

It so happened that there was a church on the top of a high hill and there was a cemetery at the church. And it so happened they were having a funeral and as they were opening the door on the hearse, the casket fell out and starting sliding down the hill. It kept sliding down and down until it burst into the doors of a CVS drug store. The lid opened and the body sat up and said to the pharmacist, "Do you have anything to stop this coffin?"

If you were told these jokes, would you bother to repeat them to anyone other than a small child perhaps? Where did I hear these terrible jokes? All were told by our parish priest during homilies at Christmas Midnight Mass, the Feast of the Holy Family, and (gasp) on All Souls' Day respectively. I found the coffin joke on All Souls' Day especially distasteful since there were a number of families in attendance who had recently lost loved ones.

I like to laugh as much as anyone, but I find homily jokes offensive. Not only are they inappropriate, our pastor has the annoying habit of messing up the story and setting up each joke by repeatedly saying, "It so happened . . .". I am not opposed to employing humor from the ambo. It can be a very effective tool for capturing the audience and making a moral or spiritual point. We recently had a mission where the visiting priest told several very funny anecdotes about his own family, but there was a point to his story.

The congregation does not assemble to be entertained by a priest who turns the homily into a mindless lounge act, complete with a having visitors shout out where they are from (a la Bill Murray on the old SNL). Ironically, those who do come to be entertained are the ones in most need of a good homily. A good homily should be interesting, educational, thought provoking and spiritually enlightening.

Today, I received the December issue of This Rock magazine. In the editor's column, publisher Karl Keating laments about having to search for a new parish because he could no longer tolerate the way his priest celebrates the Mass. Mr. Keating says the following: "He also likes to use jokes as brackets around the liturgy. Although a gentle witticism might be appropriate in a homily, one should keep in mind that the Mass is the reenactment of Calvary, and I suspect that no one other than the Roman soldiers joked before or after that event." Amen, Karl.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Dad's Birthday

My Father was born December 9, 1903, one hundred years ago today. He died in 1975 and I still marvel at all the things he witnessed in his lifetime. He lived through two world wars and worked as a teller in a Chicago bank during the stock market crash of 1929. The Wright Brothers flew for the first time when Dad was barely a week old, and Americans walked on the moon six years before his death. Advancements in transportation, medicine, and technology during the twentieth century of progress are mind-boggling, and Dad lived through much of it.

He was a good father despite the fact that he was nearly 47 years old when I was born and 49 at the birth of my sister. He was 15 years older than my mother, his second wife. His first wife died of cancer in 1947, leaving him and my older brother to fend for themselves.

Dad was a Methodist, and my Mother a Catholic. They didn't discuss religion much in front of us, but occasionally Dad would let slip a little comment revealing his befuddlement with Catholic teaching. Mom's nephew was a young Catholic priest who my father would engage in very interesting theological discussion during his occasional visits. As a youngster, I didn't always understand what they were talking about, but I remember being mesmerized listening to them.

Dad remained a Protestant throughout his life. I often wonder if I could have brought him home to the Catholic Church if I knew then what I know now. No doubt such discussions would have been uncomfortable for both of us. Certain topics are much easier left untouched.

I miss him much and still awaken to very realistic dreams of him being here in the present. Perhaps he is. Happy Birthday Dad!