“Know any prayers for finding a husband?” asked a young woman.
She was standing in front of a table at which I was signing books, following an evening lecture in her parish.
“Not…really,” I said.
An elderly woman in line behind her piped up: “St. Anne, St. Anne, find me a man!”
She was quoting a prayer to the mother of Mary (i.e., Jesus’s grandmother). Then another woman further back in line laughed and shouted out, “As fast as you can!”
Lots of Catholic women have used that prayer over the centuries. (Maybe some men, too, though “St. Anne, St. Anne, find me a wife,” doesn’t rhyme as well.) It’s natural to desire a life partner and it’s natural to call on the saints – and on God – for help. Asking God for help is as old as the psalms – and maybe older. (And by the way, the saints don’t answer our prayers: God does that. The saints simply pray for us.)
But besides offering their prayers, the saints can do something else for those looking for a husband or wife. They can give us an example. Specifically, in the area of humor.
Many Catholics think of the saints as dour, gloomy and morose. And why not? Most statues, painting and mosaics of the saints make them look like they’ve just smelled a piece of bad cheese.
But most of the saints had a terrific sense of humor, which was informed by their deep faith. Blessed John XXIII, who was pope from 1958 to 1963, was once asked by a journalist, “How many people work in the Vatican?”
He said, “About half of them.”
St. Philip Neri, a 16th-century Italian saint, once walked around Rome with half his beard shaved off as a way of getting people to poke fun at him. And St. Teresa of Ávila, the 16th-century Carmelite, wrote, “I am more afraid of one unhappy sister than a crowd of evil spirits.”
But what can these humorous saints – who were, after all, celibate – teach single Catholics about finding a spouse?
First, humor is attractive. That’s a practical application of this virtue. We can tell jokes about ourselves to deflate our egos, which is always a good thing, since we all have a tendency to get puffed up. It’s good for your spiritual life. But it’s also attractive: People who laugh at themselves (in a healthy way, not in a denigrating way) show they have a sense of humility.
The saints’ self-deprecating humor enabled them to attract others around them. (How else would they have started all those religious orders?) From a single person’s point of view, who wants to get married to someone who is conceited or, as we used to say in high school, “stuck up”? Showing that you have a sense of humor about yourself is not only healthy, but attractive.
Second, humor is healing. The saints knew that a well-meaning joke can ease tension. Once, when John XXIII was speaking to a large group, the microphone went dead. Rather than castigating those involved he said, “Don’t worry: I didn’t say anything interesting anyway!”
And when a boyfriend or girlfriend is going through a tough time, healthy humor can be a blessing. Laughter aids the physical body by releasing endorphins, chemicals that relax the body and reduce feelings of frustration.
Laughter also reduces the production of the stress hormone cortisol; it even increases blood flow through the circulatory system. So laughter is a real gift to your partner.
Plus it helps them to listen better. Why? Because when they’re relaxed, they are more open. So: do you have something difficult to discuss regarding your relationship? If you have the discussion in the midst of a relationship characterized by humor, it might be heard more easily.
Third, humor offers perspective. Who are you more likely to be attracted to? The person who freaks out about every little thing – a flat tire, a spilled glass of wine, a waiter not bringing the check fast enough – or someone who can laugh at the little stuff?
Using humor shows that you have perspective on life: You know what to take seriously and what not to take so seriously. Also, humor gives you perspective: If you can laugh (with yourself or with others) about the crazy things that happen on dates or in relationships, you’ve got a better chance at being a healthier and more relaxed person – which, again, is attractive to others.
So for God’s sakes (and your own), laugh! You might even find that humor ends up helping you laugh later on…with your husband or wife.
Learn more about how to implement saintly humor in Father James Martin’s bestselling book Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life (HarperOne).