Whose side would Holy Father Benedict be on? William of Baskerville or the Venerable Yorge?The tenth degree of humility is that he be not ready and quick to laugh, for it is written, The fool lifts up his voice in laughter.
The question that St Benedict would want us to answer is, what purpose does laughter hold in the community? How does it build it up, edify it, bring it closer to God?
The fact of the matter, as St Paul would concur is that the Human soul is meant to rejoice! Again I say, rejoice! It's difficult to imagine joy without a smile, without laughter. But there is another laughter too, and this is more sinister.
A joke is that which everyone who hears it would find funny. To be the butt of a joke renders the joke meaningless, not only idle but destructive. Is is funny to tease a foolish monk for being afraid of a mouse? If the murophobic monastic sees the occurrence as funny and his colleagues honestly love him, then laughter is probably the appropriate response. However, if anyone think less of the monk because of his fear of mice, love is lost, and the humour is inappropriate.
Often we tell jokes at others' expense or, by our silence, we tacitly allow such unkind humour to propagate. This is the sort of laughter that St Benedict wants stamped out, and why he is so forcefully succinct in saying so. Derogatory laughter may puncture the balloon of the proud, but to take it upon ourselves to be that drawing-pin is an act of prideful presumption and thus completely contrary to the whole business of Humility.
Love will seek to ensure that others can live with joy in their hearts. This is not something that can arise easily, but must be worked at carefully and in the fear of the Love of God. The fool certainly lifts up his voice in laughter indifferent to the cost it has for others. Yet, for fear of false inference in Holy Scripture, the wise also can lift up his voice in laughter but only in situations which true wisdom discerns to be worth laughing at. Love is the key in this discernment. It will ensure that laughter has its proper place and is controlled.
In our practice of Humility, we must look carefully at the things we find funny. If they are at another's expense, we must consider seriously whether they are willing and indeed able to meet that expense. Most of the time, they cannot. In these situations, silence is best, and the humour re-educated in the Love of God. Love breeds true joy for everyone, not sorrow for a few.