If it ’twere not the Sixth Sunday of Easter, we would celebrate today one of the most joyful and idiosyncratic of saints, Philip Neri, (+1595), the founder of the Congregation of the Oratory named after him, first in Rome (the city of which he was called the ‘second Apostle’), with houses now throughout the world. Philip was known for his joyful, exuberant spirit, the antithesis of the sadness and ennui that so palls our modern world. After death, his heart was physically twice its normal size, so filled was he with the love of God. Father Philip was known to say that ‘he would have no sad saints around his house’, and when the rambunctious young people made too much noise, and his fellow priests complained, Philip would reply that ‘he would have them chop wood on my back, if it would keep them from sin’.
Father Philip was a much-needed antidote to the gloominess and grimness of the Calvinistic and Jansenistic dour and cheerless version of Christ’s message of salvation – not answer to hedonistic paganism, itself a form of frantic despair and glumness. For Catholics should be known for their cheerfulness and happiness, even if we carry some, or many, sorrows. For beneath the surface turbulence, at a deeper level, we should have that peace and joy that transcends understanding. In living out God’s will there is light, and the Light, at the end of the tunnel, however long and dark it may seem.
Pope John Paul’s message to youth (and his spirit resembled Saint Philip’s in many ways) was to cast into the deep, be not afraid, be who you are meant to be, that God always loves you and wants to bring you higher, to Himself. The only way we can be truly sad is to live apart from Him, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sanctifier, in Whom delights know no end.
The best way to fight acedia and sadness, the Fathers taught, was to give God that initial ‘yes’, an act of the will that at first may seem difficult, but, once given, we find that His yoke really is easy, and burden light. As Saint Thomas put it, even great and difficult works, if done with love, seem insignificant, and we will always want to do more, with that joy and zeal that should be the hallmarks of sanctity, to which we are all called.
So rejoice and be glad, for our salvation is always near at hand.
Saint Philip Neri, ora pro nobis!