A Sense of Humour and the Fourth Degree

Today we read RB 7. 35 to 43: St Benedict’s Fourth Degree of Humility. The more I read this passage, the more I see in it. Humility, joy, patience, perseverance, generosity, obedience, these are all necessary for a monastic quality of living, whether we be monks and nuns or trying to live as Benedictine oblates or associates outside the cloister. There is just one thing missing from the text: a sense of humour.

The gentle jokes of the cloister (like the one in yesterday’s blog post) are a good way of relieving the tension of a fraught situation, making those who feel awkward a little more at home and helping everyone through moments of trial or difficulty. The trouble is, of course, that not everyone will see the joke. That is why the jokes must be gentle, not undermining anyone or making them feel small. It takes time to learn how to laugh at oneself, but it is a skill worth mastering. A sense of humour can contribute a great deal to community life, and when it is used in the right way can be genuinely edifying. Benedict urges the cellarer, when he has nothing else to give, to give a good word. There are times when just a smile or a little joke may be even better.