I ran across a facebook post from my friend, and fellow Catholic beard enthusiast, Fr. Patrick Serna in regards to his unique sense of humor and why it is so important, especially in this year of Mercy. He has kindly given me permission to include it here. Here’s a little bit of context from his facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/j.p.serna.14/videos/10153656059290272/
Fr. J. Patrick Serna, pastor, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Sinton.
In the last week I’ve been extra crazy and silly with some new apps I found for my iphone. I get several public comments, and many private messages, telling me how lucky I am to always be so happy. There is more to it than that!
In the last 19 hours, I have gotten three notifications from funeral homes about new deaths and new funerals I will be performing. In that same time a dear friend called me about a baby who passed away unexpectedly. I will have my last local funeral here on Thursday, a wedding in College Station on Saturday, three masses on Sunday, and another local funeral on Monday.
Prayer and humor are my two main ways of avoiding depression and excessive sorrow.
Robin Williams once said: “All it takes is a beautiful fake smile to hide an injured soul and they will never notice how broken you really are.”
Robin Williams is one of the funniest guys to ever walk this earth, but in his core there was deep suffering and empathy for others who suffered.
A few weeks after my little brother had his 19th birthday, he underwent a surgery that was supposed to be quick and easy. This “simple” surgery put him into a coma because of bad calls with the anesthesia, and David died 7 days later.
My last conversation with David was the night before his surgery, in November 1992. David asked me: “Man, I can’t believe you really entered the seminary. Pat, tell me the truth, are you doing this to pull another joke?”
In my last conversation with David, I told him: “I joke about many things, but God is the one thing I don’t joke about. This is for real. I don’t want to do it but God keeps giving me signs.”
When David was in the coma I kept making deals with God. I kept telling God: “Please! If you do a miracle and bring my brother back, I promise not to fight you anymore, I promise to be a priest and not fight the call anymore!”
David died anyways.
My faith was tested severely, and I couldn’t understand why God would let the good ones live, yet let the bad killers and rapists live. For several years I suffered terrible panic attacks and insomnia, which is part of the reason I don’t seem to need much sleep anymore (except during other priests’ homilies or famous people’s speeches).
I asked Bishop Daniel Flores and Bishop Gracida to let me work in the desert missions of Coahuila, Mexico. The Holy Spirit was telling me that the healing for my wounds would come from there. I worked in those missions in summer 1993, after David died, then I went back for a full year. 1995-1996 was my time in Ocampo, San Miguel, La Rosita and La Encantada, it was the most healing year of my life, and many of my questions were answered.
During my work in the desert missions I learned much from Padre Roberto, and Padre Sylvestre, an old hard nosed Franciscan priest.
In Padre Roberto’s rectory I came to see his forms of self discipline and penance. Padre Roberto loved to nap or sleep on a bed, but he never touched a bed, he always slept on the hard dirt or concrete floor. No one else knew this about him but me, he never talked about his penances.
Padre Sylvestre, when I traveled with him, would wake up three or four times in the night to pray the rosary and use the discipline (a small whip) on his bare back. No one knew this but me, since I was there.
I lived with these holy warriors of God and I learned from them. In the missions I saw firsthand the frequency of sickness and death. In the USA and other wealthy countries, even the “poor” people are spoiled with first class hospitals, clinics, doctors, and medicine. In third world type places that I worked several summers and one full year, people frequently died from simple illnesses like blisters, tooth or gum infections, or a cough that went untreated which later became a deadly sinus infection.
While living with these two special priests, and the poor people, I saw that despite all the sickness and death, they had great peace and faith in God. They definitely grieved and cried, but they were not torn inside out like we are here, where or material wealth tricks us into thinking that death will wait.
Ever since high school I have been a big believer in reading the bible. In the missions I read the bible over and over, looking for answers to a good God who allows suffering and death. I found many answers in the bible and from prayer, and this is one of the answers:
“he [Jesus] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death….” 1 Corinthians 15:25-26.
So, if death is God’s ENEMY, then God is not to BLAME for sickness or death! We need to blame the devil, not God!
Jesus even says that the devil “was a murderer from the beginning….” John 8:44
We are told in John 11:35 that, after learning about the death of Lazarus, “Jesus wept.”
When there is sickness or death, God is not just watching, God is suffering and feeling the pain of the sick and dying one, He is also feeling the pain and suffering of those who stay behind to suffer. Jesus is a God who suffers WITH us, He is not just watching.
After my year in the missions, I told God that I would fight the devil with prayer, sacraments, and humor, since the devil only wants to bring sickness, death, and tears. The best way to mock the devil, and make fun of him, is to pray, read the stories of God in the bible, go to the sacraments, and laugh instead of cry, when you can.
My parishioners and former parishioners don’t need to know this, they already know. They see me crying, regularly, when I make home visits or hospital visits or death calls or funerals, even sometimes in the Sunday masses. Don’t mistake the humor for superficiality, there is something deeper going on!
Miguel Cervantes, author of “Don Quixote” wrote: “The most difficult character in a comedy is that of the fool, an a simpleton can never play that part.”
One of my favorite bible verses is this one… to me, it sums up what the devil is about, and what God is about:
“A thief [the devil] comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
When you see me being silly or foolish, don’t think I don’t take my identity or duties seriously. Quite the contrary.
Photo below: Me, in the ejidos of Coahuila, 1993. People lived and still live in these mud caves, and they would choke from the fires they would make in there for warmth and for cooking. The floors were muddy, sickness and death was frequent, but they were rich in God and the things of God. God gave me the answers I needed in those missions, and I am grateful.
In the next few days, I will try to bring healing, answers, and consolation, to some people whose lives are upside down right now. This is the year of mercy, all of us are called to bring comfort and consolation to those in need. You do not have to look far.