Birthdays should be a laughing matter

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. He has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

Charles Schulz once said, “Just remember: Once you’re over the hill, you begin to pick up speed.”

Ain’t that the truth? As I was clearing out a file the other day, I found this card from last year:

The front said: “Once upon a time, a very special person was born who was destined to change the world.”

Inside was this message: “Calm down! It’s not you; it’s Jesus. I think he’d want you to have a happy birthday, though.”

Well, this coming Wednesday, I’ve got another birthday rolling  in . . . and it honestly seems like the previous one was only a few weeks ago! 

Although I can’t control the passage of time, I sure can adjust my attitude toward growing older. Like the card above said, I do think Jesus would want me to have a happy birthday and to celebrate. And the older I get, the longer I drag out the celebration! 

Last Sunday’s Gospel reminded us that our God is “God of the living.” A birthday reminds me of the gift I most take for granted: being alive. A birthday makes me thankful, especially for my mom and dad, but also for the many people who have touched my life and formed me into the person I am today. 

In our world, which seems so often filled with bad news, we need reasons to celebrate the good more than ever. Particularly as Catholics, Pope Francis has invited us to rediscover the joy of the Gospel. He embodies that by his gentle smile and welcoming personality. He represents a corrective to an issue that bothered the late humorist Erma Bombeck.

Apparently, one Sunday in church, she was seated behind a small child who was turning around and smiling at everyone — not misbehaving, mind you, just smiling. 

Suddenly, the kid’s mom spun him around and “whispered” loudly, “Stop that grinning! You’re in church!” With that, she smacked his bottom and, when the tears streamed down his cheek, said, “That’s better!” Then, she returned to her prayers.

Bombeck’s reaction bears pondering:

“We sing, we make a joyful noise unto the Lord while our faces reflect the sadness of one who has just buried a rich aunt who left everything to her pregnant hamster.

“Suddenly, I was angry. It occurred to me the entire world is in tears and, if you’re not, then you’d better get with it. I wanted to grab this child with the tear-stained face close to me and tell him about my God, the happy God, the smiling God, the God who had to have a sense of humor to have created the likes of us. 

“What a fool, I thought, this woman sitting next to the only sign of hope — the only miracle — left in our civilization. If this child couldn’t smile in church, where was there left to go?” (Found in William J. Bausch’s “A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers.”)

My birthday reminds me of the joy I’m called to radiate because I’m a Christian . . . and so incredibly blessed. My birthday humbles me to acknowledge I couldn’t get through this life without the grace of God and the support of so many people. 

Each birthday, as I look forward to another year of life, I pray for “enough,” using these words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

“Health enough to make work a pleasure. 

Wealth enough to support my needs. 

Strength enough to battle with difficulties and overcome them. 

Grace enough to confess my sins and forsake them. 

Patience enough to toil until some good is accomplished. 

Charity enough to see some good in my neighbor. 

Love enough to move me to be useful and helpful to others. 

Faith enough to make real the things of God. 

Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future.”

Sure, I’m over the hill and picking up speed, but not without a joyful shout of “Wheeeeeeeee!”

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