I was struck by these words from yesterdays reading from Sirach 35:9. “With every gift show a cheerful face, and dedicate your tithe with gladness.” Cheerfulness and joy needs to be an important aspect of our life of a follower of Jesus.
Today we have the feast of Philip Neri. He founded the Congregation of the Oratory and is known as the patron saint of Joy because of his sense of humour, humility and kindly. He once said: ‘A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than one cast down’. Other sayings of his were, “A glad Spirit attains perfection more quickly than any other” and “Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us try harder to have a good life.” James Martin, an American Jesuit, in his book “Between Heaven and Mirth, Why joy, Humour and Laughter are at the heart if the spiritual life” says “it is difficult to measure to what extend joy and laughter have been denigrated, downplayed or deemed inappropriate throughout religious history..but it is not hard to see the effects of this downplaying, because you’re probably met people whom seem to think that being religious means been deadly serious all the time.”
Over his door Philip posted a small sign that read, “The House of Christian Mirth.” En route to a ceremony in his honour, he once shaved off half his beard, as a way of poking fun at himself.
Some were shocked by his friendliness and informality. He said that the path of perfection was for laypeople as much as for the clergy and as much as for the clergy and religious. He preached more about love and spiritual integrity than physical austerity. He was very fond of cats.
Pope Francis gave us this short prayer to St. Philip Neri that can help a soul weighed down by the anxieties of the world see the joy of the Gospel in a new way.
O holy St. Philip Neri, patron saint of joy, you who trusted Scripture’s promise that the Lord is always at hand and that we need not have anxiety about anything, in your compassion heal our worries and sorrows and lift the burdens from our hearts. We come to you as one whose heart swells with abundant love for God and all creation. Hear us, we pray, especially in this need (make your request here). Keep us safe through your loving intercession, and may the joy of the Holy Spirit which filled your heart, St. Philip, transform our lives and bring us peace.