Laughter, Mirror of the Soul

The world speaks one language called laughter. It is the shortest distance between people. It is the place where people of every continent, race, religion, and culture meet. Mark Twain got it perfectly when he said: “The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.” It brings people together. It is the one irresistible phenomenon that connects and opens the most distressed of hearts. Laughter is a powerful medicine. No one can do without this medicine for too long. A perfect dose of it creates a healthy and well-balanced person. While God remains the Prime Mover over the universal, laughter is the prime connector wherever there are people. Those who can tactfully handle the “serious” world and the “funny” world simultaneously rule the world. Laughter is the master key; it opens all doors. No heart is too grim; no person is inaccessible.Closeup portrait of a group of business people laughing

Laughter reveals the truth about the human person. Although the manner a person carries herself, speaks, acts, thinks, cries, what he believes, and gets involved in reveals a great deal about that person, laughter is the quickest way to know that person. Through laughter, the innermost secrets of the person’s soul are revealed. It is the mirror of the human soul. It touches the deepest layer of the soul. While a smile only touches the lips, laughter bursts forth from the soul, overflows, and bubbles around. Many trust and judge others by their laughs. Fyodor Dostoyevsky went so far as to say: “If a person laughs well, he’s a good person”. That means if he/she lets the heart expresses itself, the real self comes out. Our true color is a beautiful reality that is fundamental good. Laughter brings it out.

lllA sincere, genuine, effortless laughter is irresistible. Who does not like a person with an easy laugh? Who can be unmoved before the laughter of an innocent child? Who does not throw a smirk when he sees or hears a loud, deep, joyful laugh? It can bail a person out of anything. Ingrid Betancourt, a French journalist who was held in captivity for 6 years by the Columbian guerillas, asserts “I knew of no instruction manual for reaching a higher level of humanity and a greater wisdom, but I felt intuitively that laughter was the beginning of wisdom, as was indispensable for survival”. Apparently laughing was the only antidote to her misery in the jungle. She chose laughter in the midst of darkness and light was found. So laughter can empower us. In this sense comedian Craig Ferguson is right: “You gotta laugh because if you didn’t, you’d cry”. Laugh! It will change your interior disposition and your thoughts. Laughter gives rives to a new you—new world, new perspective, and new horizon. Learn to laugh and do it often. Cultivating a cheerful disposition is the most conducive mean to laughter.

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It is universally accepted and scientifically proven that there are many social and healthful expediencies to laughter. Just being around people who laugh often causes laughter and creates a better atmosphere. It is very contagious. Laughter is attractive. A good sense of humor is part of the top three features women look for in men. Having a good humor should be everyone’s priorities. Everyone knows how people who laugh easily create us by their laughter. As victor Hugo puts it: “Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face”. No one enjoys winter. Laughter is beneficial for relationships. Research shows that people who use laughter and smile when discussing a sensitive subject feel better in the immediacy and report higher levels of satisfaction in their relationship. Happier relationship means longer relationship.

If only we could always laugh. Life requires us to be serious. Those who laugh too much are not taken seriously. This is where the ancients’ view of laughter makes sense. From Plato to Aristotle to Kant, laughter is seen as disgraceful. They saw it as an emotion that overrides self-control. The Stoics and Aristotle concur with Plato; they believe that laughter should be permissible, but ordered. In this vein, St. Basil the Great wrote “raucous laughter… is indication of a disordered soul, and a lack of self-mastery”. All other theories are a footnote of Plato’s view of laughter. It is only in the last century has laughter accorded so great a value. So although it is a necessity, it is the sign of a good life, it must be exclaimed virtuously.

mI hope this did not start a negative view of laughter in your mind. I only wanted to present both sides. As you know, nothing good exists without a good rule. Self-control is the rule by while laughter is measured. A cheerful and joyful heart is a peak into the eternal chamber of God. God has a good sense of humor as we often say. It is believed that if we could grasp the universe as it truly is, we would have to laugh because it would be interesting seeing the divine wisdom behind it all. That’s why holy people who get a privileged glimpse into God’s mirror always have a good sense of human. They see purely and it is humorous.

In conclusion, while laughter is beneficial to the soul and a sign of happiness, it needs to be done with control and under the right circumstances. So when Dostoyevsky says that laughter reveals the man, he is right after all. It tells you what moves that person. So do laugh, but do it appropriately.

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The Friendship That Lasts

There’s nothing more beautiful in this life than a beautiful friendship. For Ben Sirach the sage, “a true friend is a sturdy shelter; he who has found one finds a treasure”. A true friend is beyond price; no amount can balance his worth. A loyal friend is like a medicine that keeps you in good health. Only those who fear the Lord can find such a friend (Sir. 6:114-7). Thomas Aquinas agrees. He says “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship” (Summa Theologica, Supplement Question 73, Article 1). Aristotle noted in the Nicomachean Ethics book VIII that a friendship based on virtue is the most glorious thing we can achieve on earth. Some go through life without ever finding one; these are grumpy and frustrated. Others do find one, but fail to recognize his value; these have experienced some good days. Still others find one, but only recognize his value after he loses that friendship. These kinds are in search of that true friendship. And the luckiest of them all do find a true friend and ipso facto recognize that gift and cherish it like the greatest pearl. That one is blessed indeed.

friendWho is a true friend? It is someone who is there, physically or in spirit, in moments of anguish, trials, adversity, joy and festive. It is someone who is not afraid to challenge you to become the most virtuous, disciplined, and the best you can be in life. A true friend is always honest and trustworthy. A true friend knows his friends. A true friend lets himself be known.If you want a true friend, become one yourself.

So it is really difficult to find a true friend, and it takes time to come to maturity. According to Cicero, “nothing in the world is harder to find than an excellent friend” (on friendship #21). Only the test of time allows us to know whether or not we have found one. Plutarch, the first century Roman philosopher, argues that a true friend stays true to the truth; a true friend is not a yes-man; he approves only what is good in his friend, and would even go so far as to hurt him for the good. Plutarch suggests that we test friendship by pretending to change back and forth to see whether he will follow indiscriminately. Not a bad idea!

For Cicero, goodness is what makes friendship work. Friendship can only exist between good people. By good, he means those whose actions and lives are unquestionable; those who are free from greed, lust, and violence; those who have the courage of their convictions (Essay on friendship #5). In this view, friendship is defined as a complete accord on all subjects human and divine, joined with mutual goodwill and affection. The latter is crucial for friendship. Without it, there may be a relationship, but not friendship. The former is what binds the friendship together. They help each other discover what is most important in life and they encourage each other to live it out. Aristotle views friendship as a necessity, but something rare to find. That view finds echo in Aristotle’s Nicomacheans ethics, he asserts that a friendship grounded on goodness has a lasting quality to it.

fraThe saints are the best of friends. Whereas you and I can be unbearable at times, the saints are always pleasant company. They don’t show off; they don’t blame; they show no petty humor; they don’t lecture us even when they should. They challenge, inspire, and encourage us by simply living their own lives to the fullest. By the examples of their lives, we are inspired to live the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives extraordinarily. Think of Pier Giorgio Frassati. He bore witness to his faith among his friends in the most exemplary ways. He did not force them into his way, but his beautiful life inspires them to adopt his way. His dedication to the poor made him outstanding among us all. How many of his friends did he influence to live a more humble, joyful, helpful, and meaningful life by his dedication? Goodness is contagious. Even a blind man knows when he is in the presence of a bright light.

Virtue precedes friendship. It is the standard by which we measure friendship. How can life be worth living without friends? There is nothing more delightful than to have a trusted friend to whom you can say everything with the same absolute confidence as to yourself. Without a friend to share one’s joy, prosperity is devalued by half. Misfortunes would be unbearable without a friend to feel them on one’s side (on friendship #6). The attitude of job’s three friends corroborates this view. When they heard of his troubles, they went and empathize with him and comfort him. They could hardly recognize him; they weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights without saying a word (Job 2:11-13). Friends such as these, everyone needs one. So true friendship enhances even the most unbearable misfortunes of life.job

Cicero, the greatest of the Roman orators, asserts that friendship embraces innumerable advantages. It is more expedient and universal than wealth, power, office, and honor. Where true friendship exists, it enhances prosperity, and relieves adversity of its burden by half (on friendship #6). A true friend is the image of a second self. Where one’s friend is one is; if his friend is rich, he is not poor; though he is weak, his friend’s strength is his; and in his friend’s life he enjoys a second life even after his own is finished. The Romans went so far as to say that whatever in nature and the universe was unchangeable was so in virtue of the binding force of friendship (friendship #7). There’s a lot to chew on here.

Choose your friends wisely. As the proverb goes, “you end up resembling whoever you spend most of your time with”. If you had a choice between St. Clare, St Joseph, and St. Francis and Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, and Bruno Mars, who would you choose? Is it not better to spend time with dead people who bring us to life and with live people who bring us to death? If you could choose between virtues and vices, spiritual growth and material growth, what would you choose? You have that choice. Choose wisely.

Befriend the saints and you will be the best of friend to your friends. Nothing is more precious than a spiritual friend because it does not seek its own advantage but the well-being of the other. That’s the selfless and unconditional love that’s born out of true friendship.

SHHH!!! QUIET!!!!

Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent (Prov. 17:28).

Silence is inspiring. We are bombarded with noise. We are so busy dealing with the noise, we barely find time to take care even of the necessities of life. It is a fact that we cannot escape the most burning and deepest questions of life such as who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going? What must I do to be happy? What is the meaning of my life? Who creates me? Did he create me for a purpose? What is that purpose? It is in silence that the answers to these questions emerge. Unless we become students at the school of silence, life’s frustrations are just unbearable. Silence is fundamental to our perennial happiness. We do harm to ourselves if we never step out of the noise to experience silence. Unless we purposefully choose holy solitude, we are courting loneliness. Cultivate the virtue of silence.blooming-flowers-648-2

Nature teaches us that it is in silence that life grows. It is in the silent night that trees, flowers, plants flourish; it is in silence that the most powerful forces– the stars, the moon and the sun— of the universe conduct their businesses. It is very telling that it is not in a palace or in the city that the King of kings was born, but in the silence of the night. We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. She points us to God .

We procure noise even when we are jogging in the countryside—totally unnecessary. We create noise in the car, in the market, in the street, and in our room. We almost cannot escape it, unless we want to. Being in the noise steals all opportunity to enjoy the sweetness of life. If we are not busy with television, it is the Internet, Facebook et al, the IPhone, and people. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all this? I do.

peacefulAllow me to propose silence as an alternative. it is in silence that we find clarity and a sense of meaning. It is in silence that life’s secret is revealed to us. It is in silence that we understand what God is telling us. It is in silence that our restless hearts find peace and leisure. Silence is the key to live life with passion and purpose. Silence is how you build yourself up to face the inevitable misfortunes of life. Silence is how you find what you need to do with your life, or the next step to take, or how to act and react to life’s curve balls. How can you deal with them without silence? Silence is golden. Do you realize when you are lost driving, you usually need to turn off the radio and ask everyone to be silence in order to find the right direction again? Do you ever wonder why? It is because it is in the classroom of silence the life’s puzzles are solved.

SONY DSCGrace yourself 15 minutes of silence everyday, and you will soon drink at the fountain of her delight. It is the most generous gift you can give to yourself. Disconnect— from electronic devices and people— to simply be quiet with you, yourself; I mean your self. It may be frightening at first, but it is needed if you are to find the right direction in/of life. It is going to be tough at first, but stay with it. Struggle with it. You can do this! All kinds of ideas are going to come rushing in your mind, dismiss them.

Finally, if you understand that man is not himself until he rests in God, then what is the best manner to rest in the transcendent God other than through silence? Silence lifts before the throne of God the deepest expression that cannot be expressed in words.

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That’s probably what St. Paul understood when he exclaimed: “we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (Rom. 8:26). That’s probably what incited St. Thomas Aquinas to see his masterpiece– the Summa Theologiae— as straw. That gives substance to The Psalmist’s cry: “Silence itself is your praise, O God” (Ps. 64). Moreover, the Greco-Romans, Judeo-Christian, and the Eastern tradition are in consonant that we are made for a life of contemplation. How is this possible other than in peaceful silence? Silence is necessary to reach happiness. Aristotle says in Nicomacheans ethics book X that happiness grows out of contemplation, and …wise man practices contemplation. Silence is the great teacher. The more one delves into her oceanic depth the more we can drink to our heart’s content. So if we are to learn the truth, silence is the road to travel. Embrace silence my dear!

WHY DO GOOD PEOPLE DO BAD THINGS?

The human person is fundamentally good, but sometimes he does bad things. That view underlines the works of all philosophers, historians, poets, theologians, scientists, and artists. They all sing, write, or speak about that veracity in one way or another. Their works unanimous point to our fallible nature and they all argue that discipline is the most efficient remedy to that malady; our nature must be ordered according to virtue for it tends to do both the good and the bad.

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           Life is an eternal fight to overcome temptation. Augustine attributes this reality to original sin where life is both a grace and a crippling burden. The latest sociological and psychological developments have given an even darker lecture to this reality: “no one stands taller than the generation in which he lives”, or man is the product of his time. Therefore, a good environment is necessary in order to not spin out of control. In the Republic, Plato presents us with the tripartite soul: The appetitive soul, it includes all our myriad desires for various pleasures, comforts, physical satisfactions, and bodily ease. The spirited part is the part that gets angry when it perceives an injustice being done. That part can maneuver itself to face adversity; it loves victory, winning, challenge, and honor. The rational part is the one that thinks, analyzes, looks ahead, rationally weighs options, and tries to gauge what is best and truest overall. According to Plato, in order to be as flourishing as we can, the rational part must rule over the other parts. Otherwise, there’s disorder. As if St Paul had read Plato, he describes our nature in language not unless Plato’s. The flesh and spirit roar against each other. “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh” (Gal 5:17). If for St. Paul God empowers us to win the battle against the spirit through faith in Jesus Christ, for Plato, only the rarest and the finest i.e. those who don’t give in to the desires of the flesh, are able to live the good life and so win the battle.

Aristotle beat the same drum as his predecessor Plato in his work called the Nichomachean Ethics. He maintains that the human person, given that he is rational, has a natural drive for human society (‘man is a political animal’), for knowledge (Man is a mimetic animal. he loves to use his imagination), for happiness (that’s innate in every human being), and for God (he naturally knows there’s a higher power that transcends him). The good life is a life that fulfills these natural drives, and directs them to their highest end. Therefore, a life animated by a desire to reach excellence must be cultivated.

ImageThus all these thinkers understand that it is necessary to make a masterpiece of ourselves, but that cannot be achieved without discipline, virtue, or grace; we have to be put in the right “framework”. Right framework—that’s education. That’s conversion. Education is the tool that allows a man to discover the flourishing life. Conversion is the discovery that God is the vine and we are just a branch that cannot bear fruit unless stuck on God. There is no conversion unless we encounter Jesus Christ—the man who shows us what it means to be human. That’s a route to follow another time.

Now consider this. According to the Department of Education, 1 in 3 black men, 1 in 6 Hispanics, and 1 in 20 white men will be incarcerated at some point in their lives. Is it because these people are criminal-minded people? Not at all! The reason is because they are not as well educated as everyone else. They are from the poorest neighborhood in the country where they are exposed to “unwishful occurrences”. The public schools in those areas are considered the worst in the country. Parents are not making enough to send their children in the good schools. Although they are working their hearts off, it is not even sufficient to sustain the family. Of course, that leads to broken home. They are very likely to drop out of school because they have little to no parental guidance. Of course, they are more likely to do more bad things. Of course, these people’s fallibility are higher than everyone else. That’s due to the poverty of their educational level. That’s the single greatest factor that almost always influences their behavior. Have you not checked the education level of the prison population? According to the Justice Department, 79% of prisoners do not have a high school diploma, and 19% of them have never been to school. I am convinced that with proper education, and with the right focus on the family and just employments, our society would be more peaceful; crime rates would plummet, everyone would be safer, and the economy would grow faster.

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We are all fallible. We all do bad things, but when we are given the right education, we get to focus on things other than violence. We get to focus on how to materialize that knowledge boiling in the depth of our soul. No other institution understands this better than Manhattan College. They run a program where they allow inmates to take classes in their college. That brilliant idea closes prisons’ doors. The result of their program is unspeakable. Not only does the inmates, upon their release, get to prove to society that they were simply fallible and so not fundamentally bad, but it also benefits society as a whole. The more educated a prisoner is the less likely he is to recidivate after incarceration. Lawmakers should reconsider their motivation to serve the common good. Instead of spending billions to build and maintain prisons, they should instead fight to keep men and women from being imprisoned, and to better insert them to society after prison. That’s only possible through better schools in the poor neighborhoods, and educating the incarcerated. We all enjoy peaceful time. We are all appalled by violence. We all need to stand together to put an end to it. The most efficient way to do this is to empower the family, which decreases the level of fallibility.