by Tom Mengler, St. Mary’s University President

President Tom Mengler and his wife Mona

Tom and Mona Mengler

On Christmas Eve, my wife, Mona, three of our four children and I attended Mass at Assumption Chapel. We were really pleased that both the Rev. Jim Tobin and the Rev. Tim Eden were present to celebrate Mass, and even more delighted when Father Jim began Mass with a joke.

Yes, a joke.

Not his best joke for sure, but everyone laughed, in part because we all love Father Jim and are grateful that he blesses us daily with his gentle wit, wisdom and loving kindness. Our laughter was full of joy and gratitude that so many of us were gathered together with our families in our beautiful chapel.

After our laughter died down, Father Jim questioned us: “What does this joke have to do with tonight’s Mass and the birth of our Savior?” He responded for us: “Absolutely nothing!” And we all laughed again, and then Father Jim and Father Tim got on to more important matters.

But I began to wonder about the accuracy of Father Jim’s assertion that his joke didn’t have much to do with Christmas Eve Mass. Then, a few days later, I wondered again when I was astonished to read that Pope Francis, at his Wednesday general audience at the Vatican, met with and was entertained by acrobats, clowns, carnival workers, street performers, musicians and magicians, along with a tiny black panther cub and rather large 6-month-old tiger (which Pope Francis nervously petted). Francis praised them all for being “artisans of wonder, beauty and celebration.” And he commented, “You cannot imagine what good you do, the good you sow.”

My wonder has changed to my belief that Father Jim’s joke had a great deal to do with Christmas Eve and the meaning of the birth of Christ. We are called to be joyful with God and with our neighbors. And that means, among other things, bringing warmth and welcome, fun and laughter to our relationships, our friendships.

I am frequently amazed at St. Mary’s alumni gatherings, especially reunions, by our graduates’ playfulness with and good-natured kidding of each other as they replay events — often embarrassing — that happened on campus 10, 25 and 50 years ago. I am also struck by the many lifelong friendships. I meet men and women who are bonded for life because of the deep friendships they developed as students at St. Mary’s.

Laughter and fun, in other words, are important parts of being joyful with God and forming lifelong friendships, whether in a classroom, residence hall, the Cotrell Learning Commons or The Pub.

Here’s my proposal, supported in part by the San Antonio Young Alumni Chapter and St. Mary’s University: Senior Night at the Pub, with discounted food and drink, will begin this semester — Thursday, Feb. 23; Thursday, March 2; and Thursday, April 27.

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