“A priest, a rabbit and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender asks the rabbit “What’ll ya’ have?” The rabbit says “I dunno...I’m only here because of Autocorrect.”
Although previously not all that familiar with the life and legacy of Saint Philip Neri, the man whose Feast Say we celebrate today, I have from time to time come across his vitalizing quotes, no doubt having even used one or two of them in these Daily Reflections.
“There is nothing the devil fears so much, or so much tries to hinder, as prayer,“ he once said. Prayer was in fact one of his favorite subjects, as he considered prayerfulness to be one of the hallmark virtues of a good Catholic. Realizing that prayer doesn’t always come easy to some however, he once remarked “He who is unable to spend a long time together in prayer should often lift up his mind to God by short prayers. For if a little love finds entrance into one’s heart, the rest will follow.” This habit can of course be life changing, a great way for one to enter fully into a life rooted in the Spirit. https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/Seeking-Emulating-the-Love-of-the-Holy-Spirit.
Known as the “Second Apostle of Rome,“ second only of course to Saint Peter, the Rock upon which Jesus would build his Church, Saint Philip Neri also founded the Congregation of the Orator, a Priestly Order which claims among its members none other than Saint John Henry Newman, the most important English-speaking Roman Catholic theologian of the 19th Century, a man who joined the Communion of Saints in October of 2019.
But what really caught my attention about Saint Philip Neri is that he is the Patron Saint of both joy and humor, this due to his sanguine temperament and proclivity toward gags and the occasional practical joke. So with that in mind, I’d like to stray from today’s readings (Acts 20:17-27 & John 17:1-11) to instead focus on one of my favorite subjects, that of humor and the role it plays in the life of the vibrant Catholic. For those interested in an excellent reflection on today’s 1st Reading (John 17:1-11), one of my favorite Scripture Passages, I strongly recommend Father Paul Scalia’s Essay “Out of the World We’re In.” https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2020/05/24/out-of-this-world-were-in/
Saint Padre Pio once said “Joy, with peace, is the sister of charity. Serve the Lord with laughter.” As many of you know, this was a man who for 50 years bore the stigmata, the very wounds of the crucified Jesus. He was known to slog through 15-19 hours of confessions a day, nearly 5 million in his lifetime. Here was a man who selflessly and voluntarily mired himself waist-deep in the muck and rot of sin and vice on a daily basis in order to administer the healing Sacrament of Reconciliation. Yet he still urged the faithful to laugh and to encourage others to do the same.
Humor can knock down the walls of unapproachability and self-importance, potential obstacles ~ perceived or otherwise ~ that anyone who seeks to bring the truth of Jesus and his teachings into someone’s life is liable to face. “Angels can fly because they don’t take themselves too seriously,” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said, going on to conclude that “Perhaps we too could fly a little bit if we didn’t think we were so important.”
On the topic of recent Popes, Saint John XXIII https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/Saint-Pope-John-XXIII-A-Model-of-Grace-Fortutude-and-Compassion-At-a-Time-When-It-Was-Most-Needed was a strong proponent of laughter and simple humor. “How many people work in the Vatican your Eminency?” This was a question once posed to then-Pope John XXIII by a nervous young reporter. “About half” the Pope replied without skipping a beat. When a cardinal once griped that a rise in Vatican salaries meant that a particular usher earned as much as the cardinal, John XXIII remarked "That usher has 10 children! I hope the cardinal doesn't." Still yet another time in front of a large Papal Audience he commented "It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about the serious problems afflicting the world and I tell myself, I must talk to the pope about it. Then the next day when I wake up I remember that I am the pope."
St. Philip Neri was known to occasionally hang a sign on the door to his rectory that said “The House of Christian Mirth.” In all things, he maintained a light-hearted view of the world, using humor to keep from becoming too prideful or vain. He was known from time to time to shave off half his beard. Needless to say, the sight of a half-shaven man walking the streets of Florence, Italy was bound to draw attention, questions even. If a stranger approached him asking why he would do such a thing, his response was always the same. “Come to the Oratory tomorrow night and I’ll tell you all about it. Through humor, in this case that of the self-deprecating variety, he would open new doors through which to enter and subsequently evangelize. What a valuable lesson for us all.
In many ways, Saint Philip Neri’s life can best be summarized by an oft-cited quote of his. He would say “A heart filled with joy is more easily made perfect than one that is sad.” This proved true in the life of St. Philip Neri and was also a reason why many were attracted to him. Others saw the joy he had and wanted to know the source of that joy. He was always more than happy and very swift to tell them.
Billy Joel in his famous hit classic Only the Good Die Young, a somewhat controversial song for its time in that it was viewed as being derogatory towards devout Catholics, crooned “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the Saints.” The Piano Man obviously never met Saint Philip Neri.
The world we live in clearly needs a healthy and generous injection of both joy and humor. To sit on one’s couch barking at strangers on social media all day, a gloomy and senseless habit that far too many have fallen into, will cause one’s soul to slowly decay. This and other highly popular albeit toxic habits should be swapped for the pursuit of a joyful heart, one which finds humor in life. Pray for the gift of humor with the same fervor as you do the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. I’ve come to believe that humor is every bit as important as those precious and vital Seven Gifts.
“Give me a soul that knows not boredom, grumblings, sighs and laments, nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing called “I.” Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humor. Allow me the grace to accept a joke, to discover in life a little bit of joy, and to share it with others.” ~ Saint Thomas More