“…we Christians do combat, not against, but in favor of laughter.”

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mardigras

It seems incongruous to speak of Mardi gras in a theological meditation, because it is at best only indirectly a time in the Church year. But are we not somewhat schizophrenic in this regard? On the one hand, we are only too ready to say that it is precisely in Catholic countries that Mardi gras is most at home; on the other hand, we nevertheless ignore it both spiritually and theologically. Is it, then, one of those things that as Christians we cannot condone, but as humans we cannot deny? In that case we should ask: just how human is Christianity? Granted, Mardi gras is heathen in origin: fertility cult and exorcism merge in it. But it was the Church that had to step in and speak the exorcism that banned the demons who do violence to men and destroy their happiness. Then, after the exorcism, something unexpected, something new appeared—a merrymaking that it wholly exorcises. Mardi gras is to Ash Wednesday a time of laughter before the time of penance, a time of lighthearted self-irony, whose laughter speaks a truth that may well be closely akin to that of the Lenten preacher. Thus Mardi gras, when it has been exorcised, reminds us of the words of the Old Testament preacher: “…a time to weep, and a time to laugh”. For Christians, too, it is not always a time for penance. There is likewise a time for laughter. Yes, Christian exorcism has routed the masked demons and replaced them by the laughter that has been exorcised. All of us know how far removed from this ideal our present Mardi gras often is; how frequently it is mammon and its henchmen that reign there. That is why we Christians do combat, not against, but in favor of laughter. To struggle against demons and to laugh with those who laugh—these are inseparably united. The Christian has no need to be schizophrenic: Christian Faith is truly human.

—Joseph Ratzinger, from the book Co-Workers of the Truth

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