Feeling the Joy with Jesus

joyful hugA few years ago, a friend gave me some prints of the Laughing Jesus painting. When I saw it, I immediately started laughing. I wondered what it was about this image that made me laugh. Part of it was that Jesus seemed to have such a joyful countenance that one could really imagine him laughing, and it looked like “contagious laughter”—the kind where it’s impossible to resist joining in. It also made me a tiny bit uncomfortable seeing Jesus like this. It is so different from the common artists’ renditions of Jesus that we usually see. We are accustomed to seeing Jesus’ gentle smile as he sits surrounded by children, his intent gaze as he points to his Sacred Heart, and his pained expressions in Gethsemane and on the Cross. It is rare to see a picture of Jesus with an ear-to-ear grin, head tipped back in laughter. The piece challenges us to see Jesus as a real person with real human emotions—including happiness and joy.

It’s a challenge not unlike that which St. Ignatius invites us to in the Spiritual Exercises. Throughout the Exercises, he calls us ever deeper into personal relationship with Jesus. “I ask for what I desire. Here it will be to ask for the grace to be glad and to rejoice intensely because of the great glory and joy of Christ our Lord” (SE 221). He continues, encouraging retreatants to “take advantage of the light and the comforts of the season, for example the refreshing breezes of spring and summer, and the warmth of the sun and of a fire in winter, in so far as the soul thinks or can presume that these things may help it to rejoice in its Creator and Redeemer” (SE 229). Ignatius encourages an embodied experience of faith. The Christ he introduces us to is a person with whom we can laugh and cry, a friend with whom we can commiserate in sorrow and rejoice in gladness.

Elaborating upon Exercise 221 in his book, The Ignatian Adventure, Fr. Kevin O’Brien, SJ, notes that, “The Fourth Week reminds us that death, despair, violence, and sadness will not have the last word: joy does. Walking with the risen Lord, we appreciate how Easter is happening all the time, with joy surprising us everywhere.” Indeed, the Christian journey is not only suffering and tears; our journey ends in joy. St. Augustine said, “The Christian should be an Alleluia from head to foot.” Christ has conquered death.

Can you envision yourself with Jesus and the disciples after the Resurrection when, after the initial shock and awe of seeing the Risen Christ has subsided, you embrace him and each other in sheer joy? Do you feel that joy? Do you hear the ebullient laughter? Isn’t it contagious?

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Rebecca Ruiz holds a B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross and an M.A. from Tufts University. She has been trained as an Ignatian spiritual director through Fairfield University’s four-year formation program. Rebecca served in refugee resettlement for nearly 15 years and has also worked as an ethnomusicologist, composer, and writer. She and her husband have two sons and live at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. She strives, as St. Ignatius taught, to see God in all things and do “all things for the greater glory of God.”


  1. Laughter is part of the human spirit – if we could not laugh at God’s perfect creation me when I do something silly or the freedom to enjoy and laugh at each other or the situation I’m in. Falling on slippery ice..after assessing no injury. I can laugh for it’s silly or a baby makes me laugh. I really think God laughs at me – it brings joy to me. for tho I am His perfect creation, my free choice makes me imperfect, for my sin He died on the cross. Today as I pray and thank God for the gift of humor, I can go about my day reflecting on the graces and laughter He freely gives.

  2. I think it’s logical to presume that Jesus had a good sense of humor. People would not have been following him and inviting him for dinner if he had not been an enjoyable companion. I think he had charm was able to engage people and then teach them. I feel he probably laughs at me at times.

    • Hi Dolores,
      I agree! I really do feel that he must have had a charismatic personality and a great sense of humor to go along with it!

  3. After about a year of praying in the Ignatian manner, I was in church one afternoon doing my prayer. I was remembering about how hard I thought it would be to sit still and speak with God without moving, or getting distracted etc. Went back to prayer and about 30 seconds later my nose itched. I burst out laughing (no one else in church) and Jesus was laughing with me. First time I realized His sense of humor.

    • Hi Adair,
      Yes, it’s that age-old challenge of quieting ourselves and emptying our minds of distractions…it certainly can be difficult! How great that you didn’t latch onto those distractions and become discouraged but instead kept your efforts light-hearted and had an experience of laughing with Jesus!

  4. Good Morning, Rebecca,
    I have the “Laughing Jesus” print in my home and have given several as gifts. I also bought the small-card size and have given them to many people. The picture fills me with joy and “Yes” I can hear Jesus laughing with us. Blessings to you today, the Precious Present.


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