Christopher Lamb
26 April 2013, 9:00


The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) – the office historically responsible for the inquisition – is not something people publicly crack jokes about (excepting of course Monty Python and their take on the Spanish Inquisition).

happypopeNonetheless Pope Francis has managed to find a funny side to the bogeyman department seen as responsible for silencing theologians and disciplining errant nuns.

In a homily on Tuesday the Pope talked about Barnabas being sent on an ‘apostolic visitation’ to find out about what has happening among Christians in Antioch.

‘We might say this was the theological beginning of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,’ he joked.

The tone of Francis’ pontificate has also had a light-hearted feel – from the ‘Buona sera’, his first words on the balcony of St Peter’s when he was elected, to the ‘buon pranzo’ (have a good lunch) he routinely says to pilgrims following the Sunday Regina Coelis.

Being able to joke is a healthy sign. It suggests a confidence in oneself and in the office he holds, although in no way devalues the serious task he has ahead of him. It is also very clever. Given the high tension and sensitivity surrounding the CDF, what better way than to bring things down a notch by cracking a joke?

Cardinal Basil Hume, when Abbot of Ampleforth, once counselled his monks: ‘Take life seriously. Take God seriously. But don’t, please don’t, take yourselves too seriously.’

That is the key. Fine if you take your faith seriously. But if you cannot be self-deprecating about yourself or the institution to which you belong, then you are in trouble.

Comedian Eddie Izzard used to joke that Catholics are the only group of Christians who say the Alleluia without smiling.

This seriousness can lead to conflict between groups who are both convinced they have all the answers.

Of course faith is not a laughing matter and vigorous argument is important. But so often it seems that humour and religion are opposed. If the Pope can make us laugh a little, the Church will be a far healthier place.

Christopher Lamb is The Tablet’s Assistant Editor (Home News).

Above: Pope Francis. Photo: CNS