May 24, 2019


Joy brings healing and hope to those who suffer

Have you heard the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine”? It’s true. Depression and sadness impede healing. Laughter, which is made possible by gratitude, peace of mind and a genuine sense of joy and freedom, heals the heavy heart and promotes physical healing as well.

In Behold the Pierced One, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, speaks of the healing power of laughter as it is revealed in the biblical story of Abraham and his son Isaac. “As he climbs the mountain, Isaac sees that there is no animal for the sacrifice. He asks his father about this and is told that God will provide [Gn 22:8]. Not until the very moment when Abraham lifts up his knife to slay Isaac do we grasp how truly he spoke,” the pope says. “A ram is caught in the thicket and takes the place of Isaac as a sacrifice.”

How does this bittersweet story of Abraham’s anguished sacrifice and Isaac’s last-minute rescue by the lamb caught in the thicket show us the power of laughter?

Pope Benedict reminds us that the very name “Isaac” contains the Hebrew root for the word laughter, and is an allusion to “the sad, unbelieving laughter of Abraham and Sarah, who would not believe they could still have a son. But once the promise comes true, it turns into joyful laughter; crabbed loneliness is dissolved in the joy of fulfillment” (cf. Gn 17:17; Gn 18:12; Gn 21:6). Jewish tradition refers the laughter not only to Isaac’s parents, but to the boy himself. “Did he not have cause to laugh,” the pope asks, “when the sad and gruesome drama … suddenly brought liberty and redemption? This was a moment in which it was shown that the history of the world is not a tragedy, the inescapable tragedy of opposing forces, but divine comedy.” Isaac, the young man who thought his life was cruelly finished, was able to experience joy and to laugh.

Pope Benedict concludes his reflection by observing that “the Isaac of whom we are speaking is we ourselves.” You and I are the children of Abraham and Sarah. “We climb up the mountain of time,” the Holy Father says, “bearing with us the instruments of our own death.” Every step we take brings us closer to the moment when we will breathe our last. Does our life have meaning, or are we the victims of inescapable tragedy? Is our life a gift that inspires gratitude and joy, or are we the victims of a random and cruel fate?

If we are like Isaac, and can see with the eyes of faith, the Lamb caught in the thicket (who is Christ on the cross) is revealed to us. “In this Lamb, we actually do glimpse heaven,” the pope says, “and we see God’s gentleness, which is neither indifference nor weakness but power of the highest order.” The Holy Father continues, “Since we see the Lamb, we can laugh and give thanks. … Jesus is Isaac, who, risen from the dead, comes down from the mountain with the laughter of joy in his face. All the words of the Risen One manifest this joy—this laughter of redemption: if you see what I see and have seen, if you catch a glimpse of the whole picture, you will laugh” (cf. Jn 16:20)!

When my youngest daughter was first diagnosed with cancer five years ago, I didn’t see the whole picture—by a long shot. I saw only the apparent “inescapable tragedy” of a young woman with a 2-year-old daughter being struck by a cruel disease. Through the power of prayer—mine and many other people’s—my daughter is now cancer‑free, and I have now been given a glimpse of the whole picture. I have had an experience of healing, and of Easter joy, and I now know firsthand what Pope Benedict means by the “laughter of redemption.”

The intense suffering of family members and friends who have been stricken with diseases like cancer (but also spinal injuries, alcohol and drug addiction, heart disease and many other cruel afflictions) tempt us to depression and despair. How can God permit these good people to suffer so? But often enough, these very same people are the ones who remind us that laughter is the best medicine and that there is no healing power greater than authentic joy.

Let’s laugh together in the spirit of Easter joy whenever life seems cruel and depressing. Yes, the problems that are right in front of us in this particular moment are real, and they often seem overwhelming, but we are Easter people.

We have seen the gentleness of God, and we have caught a glimpse of the joy of heaven. And so we can laugh and be grateful. Alleluia!

—Daniel Conway

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