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.

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