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Ultimately the reason we should rejoice in the love of laughter as we rejoice in the love of friends is that laughter, like love, is a gift of God…

There’s nothing worth the wear of winning

Than laughter and the love for friends.

1780-johann-zoffany-german-born-english-painter-1733-1810-a-group-of-gentlemenThese famous lines by Hilaire Belloc are personal favourites of mine but, of course, they are not meant to be taken too seriously.

Belloc, as a lifelong Catholic, knew all too well that there are many things worth the wear of winning apart from laughter and the love of friends. He knew, for instance, and above all, that the Kingdom of Heaven is worth the wear of winning and that the winning of such a kingdom is not possible without the wearing of the crown of thorns. He knew, as all Christians must, that it is not possible to win this most important prize unless we unite ourselves with the Man of Sorrows, taking up our cross of suffering that we might follow Him to the heaven-haven of the reward. Belloc not only knew this, he knew that his readers knew that he knew it. In other words, he knew that his readers would not take the whimsical lines quoted above too seriously. He knew that they would enjoy the humour. He knew that they would get the joke.

Belloc was, after all, the man who famously wrote his own rambunctious epitaph: “When I am dead, might it be said, his sins were scarlet but his books were read.” Such words are shocking, but only if we lack the necessary sense of humour. Who but Belloc, for instance, could have written a Christmas carol with the outrageous prayer that all his enemies should go to hell?

Belloc no more desired that his enemies should go to hell than he desired that he be remembered more for the scarletness of his sins than for the goodness of his virtue. If we fail to see this, if we fail to see the tongue in Belloc’s cheek, it is because of the humourless plank in our own eye.

Belloc and all kindred Christian spirits are bursting forth with the love of laughter because they are shining forth the love of friends, the greatest of whom is Christ. Why should we be surprised that those filled with the Holy Spirit of God are also filled with the good humour with which humility blesses them? Why should we be surprised that they are capering like jongleurs de Dieu and praising folly like fools for Christ? Why should we be surprised that those full of the joie de Dieu and the joie de la Foi are also full of the joie de vivre?

Ultimately the reason we should rejoice in the love of laughter as we rejoice in the love of friends is that laughter, like love, is a gift of God. It is indeed a mark of God’s image in man, as is love itself, and as is reason, and as are creativity and free will. We know that Man is made in God’s image because, like God, he loves; we know he is made in God’s image because, like God, he reasons; we know he is made in God’s image because, like God, he has the power to see beauty and to make beautiful things; we know that he is made in God’s image because, like God, his will is free from the slavery of instinct; and we know that he is made in God’s image because, like God, he can laugh.

At this point, it must be confessed that we do not usually visualize the face of God as one that is laughing. But is it really conceivable that a cosmos lightened and enlightened by the joy of laughter received such a blessing from a God who does not Himself possess the gift He is giving? Can we really believe that the God of love is not the God of laughter also? It is for this reason that Chesterton was convinced that God’s best kept secret is His mirth? It is for this reason that Chesterton quipped that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly and that the devil fell by the force of his own gravity. In this way we can see that humour goes hand in glove with humility, whereas pride is the sin of those, like the devil, who take themselves far too seriously.

It is true that there is proud and wicked humour, as there is proud and wicked “love,” proud and wicked “reason,” and proud and wicked art. Pride pollutes everything it touches, even the good things that God has given us as gifts designed to lead us to Him. If, however, we take ourselves lightly, enjoying the innocent laughter of the humble and spurning the bad jokes of the proud, we will fly like the angels to the place where there is nothing but laughter and the love of friends. In this sense, Belloc was absolutely right. There is indeed nothing worth the wear of winning than the laughter of Heaven and the love of friends to be found there.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Republished with gracious permission from the St. Austin Review (November/December 2016).

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