The Cruciform Roots of Ineradicable Christian Joy, 6th Friday of Easter, May 26, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Memorial of St. Philip Neri
May 26, 2017
Acts 18:9-18, Ps 47, Jn 16:20-23

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted during the homily: 

  • It’s easy to see why the Church gives us today’s Gospel passage on the day after the Ascension of the Lord. Jesus says to us today, “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice and no one will take your joy away from you.” These words certainly apply to what is to happen, we pray by God’s mercy, to each of us one day when we see Jesus in all his glory and we have a chance to rejoice with all the saints. But we know that these words were said during the Last Supper and were referring more precisely to what would happen over the course of the subsequent three days, that Jesus would be taken away from them, that they would mourn as many in the world would rejoice, but that when Jesus would return risen from the dead, they would indeed rejoice with a joy that would know no bounds or end.
  • But what I’d like to ponder today are two things that Jesus says to us in the Gospel that are central for our living our Catholic faith in light of Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension to God’s right hand where he’s gone to prepare a place for us. The first is his image of childbirth as an analogy of what he was about to endure and what we as Christians need to endure. To describe the passage from grief to joy, he said, “When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.” After the Fall, no woman looks forward to labor, but once a child is born, the pain of contractions and child birth are all relativized due to the great joy of holding her baby in her arms. In order to experience that joy, however, you have to go through birth pangs. You can’t have the joy of a mom without it. It’s similar in the spiritual life. In order to enter into the joy of Jesus’ resurrection, we need to enter into his labor, his contractions, his pangs to bring about a new world. We need to enter into his Passion, death and resurrection. One of the reasons why many people, including Catholics, don’t experience this joy is precisely because they haven’t entered into labor with Christ. They haven’t grieved with Jesus over the sins that brought about the pains of spiritual childbirth. Jesus permits us some sufferings precisely so that we can appreciate the joy that comes from his redeeming presence. There’s a similar pain in the life of spiritual motherhood or fatherhood exercised by parents as well as by religious and priests. St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “My children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you!”(Gal 4:19). We suffer until the presence, the love, the joy of Christ be brought to completion in others. In summary, in human life there’s a concomitant experience between the pangs of childbirth and the joy of possession, but the latter is meant to overwhelm the former.
  • That leads to the second point I want to capture from today’s Gospel is how Jesus says that when he comes back, “on that day you will not question me about anything.” They will have no more questions precisely because Jesus through his Resurrection — and all the more through his Ascension and eventual second coming — will become the definitive Answer to every fundamental question we have. If we’re wondering about the meaning of our or a loved one’s or a sick child’s suffering and death, we’re able to see that after the childbirth of those sufferings, even a life full of sufferings, there is to be a joy greater than a mom’s holding her first born child. The Resurrection of Jesus is what gives meaning to the pangs experienced by the martyrs, to the sufferings we experience in trying to live by or spread our faith.
  • We see both of these truths at work in the experience of St. Paul in today’s first reading. Soon after Paul arrived in Corinth and was rejected by the Jews in the Synagogue, Jesus appeared to him in a vision and said, “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you” and “I have many people in this city.” What was St. Paul afraid of? He wasn’t afraid of physical suffering. He had already had his share of beatings, stonings, perilous journeys, imprisonments and revilement. He was a little afraid, it seems, of preaching about this necessary childbirth we need in order to experience Christian joy. On Wednesday, we encountered St. Paul in Athens, when he gave an extraordinary rhetorical address announcing to the Athenians in the Areopagus the identity of the “unknown god” to whom they had erected an altar. But as beautiful as that philosophical and theological oratory was, it wasn’t particularly effective. Other than a few people, the vast majority politely blew him off, saying that they would hear about this from him on another day. And they did this because he was talking about Jesus’ having been raised from the dead. Paul didn’t even bother saying that this unknown God had be brutally crucified. After that failure, Paul crossed the isthmus into Corinth and, with God’s help, reached a conclusion. He gives witness to it in his first letter to the Church in Corinth, which came later. “When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God,” he wrote, “I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive [words of] wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God” (1 Cor 2:1-5). What was that power and wisdom? It’s Christ crucified and our need to be crucified with him. “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:22-24). As we see in the early preaching of St. Paul — different from St. Peter’s — Paul didn’t feature Christ’s crucifixion because he knew that it was a “scandal” to Jews (who would obviously struggle to accept that the Messiah, who was expected to evict occupying forces and reestablish the Davidic kingdom, would be publicly executed by that same occupying force, not to mention that he would both claim to be God and then be killed, something that they would have considered unfathomable) and a “folly” to Greek pagans (because wisdom was the art of living and dying well, and someone who couldn’t avoid crucifixion was obviously a fool). But after Athens, he resolved that rather than running away, he would begin to show how Jesus on the Cross was the power and wisdom of God, the power of divine love and the true wisdom of how to live and die so as to live forever. That’s what Jesus was telling him not to be afraid to proclaim. And St. Paul would proclaim it not principally with words but with his own life, entering into Jesus own childbirth to such a degree that he would be able to say to the Galatians later that he had been crucified with Christ and the life he now lived in the flesh he lived by faith in the Son of God who loved him and gave his life up for him (Gal 2:20). Jesus’ resurrection was the dramatic explanation, the definitive response, of the purpose of his and all suffering, and St. Paul was able to lead many on that passage from childbirth to joy. He would learn to rejoice even in his sufferings, writing to the Colossians, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past (Col 1:24-26). Not even his sufferings could take away his joy.
  • Today the Church, like divine clockwork, celebrates the feast of one of the most joy-filled saints of all time, the poster boy, we could say, of the “joy of the Gospel,” who shows us the missionary attractiveness of joy, the cruciform roots of joy, and the help of the Holy Spirit to give us the fruit of joy. When Philip Neri arrived in Rome in 1533 as an 18 year-old layman, the eternal city was in multiple levels of devastation. Most of the people were still in trauma from Charles V’s brutal ransacking of the city in 1527. The Renaissance had led to the rediscovery of much of pagan literature and with it, the intellectual and cultured classes had readopted pagan rituals and practices. The Church was in almost total disarray. Several of the Renaissance popes lived more in disgrace than grace. Cardinals were appointed not because of their holiness or sacred leadership but because of their bank accounts and bloodlines. Many pastors, desiring to live leisurely, subcontracted the care of souls to those who were unfit. The challenges that confronted Philip would make the serious issues we face today — the residue of so much bloodshed, two world wars, the sexual revolution, a distorted notion of freedom, the redefinition of marriage — seem comparatively almost idyllic. Yet, by his death in 1595, this vast metropolis had, to a large degree, returned not just to the practice of the faith but to fervent, joy-filled practice of the faith. What did St. Philip do to help turn it around? What can we learn from him to help us in our task of sharing the joy of the Gospel today? He shows us several elements:
    • The first is to open ourselves up to the love of God. When Philip arrived in Rome, he got a job as a tutor of two young boys that provided a room as well as a daily fare of bread, water and few olives. Philip spent most of his time in prayer and study, trying to conform his heart to the Lord’s. He begged God to give him what he needed. God didn’t let him down. On the vigil of Pentecost in 1544, when he was 28, as he was in the catacombs imploring the Holy Spirit to give him the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), he saw the third person of the Trinity take on the appearance of a ball of fire that entered his mouth, descended to his heart and caused an explosion of heat and love that an autopsy later demonstrated had broken outward two of his ribs and almost doubled the size of his heart. St. Paul once wrote to the Romans, “The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,” and that was literally true for St. Philip. For the rest of his life, the fire burned both spiritually and physically, so that no matter how cold outside he needed to have the windows open. People could hear his heart beating across Churches. He became a living example of each of the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-mastery. His docility to what God the Holy Spirit wanted to do in him and through him not only led to his becoming one of the greatest saints of all time but also to his helping vast multitudes respond to the sanctifying work of the same Holy Spirit. In the Collect beginning this Mass we begged for the same miraculous transformation: “O God, who never cease to bestow the glory of holiness on the faithful servants you raise up for yourself, graciously grant that the Holy Spirit may kindle in us that fire with which he wonderfully filled the heart of St. Philip Neri.” We’re asking for a heart transplant, so that we might live with a heart like St. Philip’s. That’s the heart of the new evangelization.
    • The second element of joy was cheerful friendship. Philip would go up to people on the streets, joke and laugh with them, win them over by his jovial goodness and ask, “Brothers, when are we going to start to do good?” Rather than preaching the Gospel at them, he was incarnating the joy of the good news for them, which inspired them to seek to do good alongside him. He planted a seed and let God do the watering. People liked Philip, because he knew how to have a good time. He was the quintessential exemplar of proposing not imposing the faith on people, because he was supremely confident that the faith was a proposal few could really resist when they saw the joy of it lived out. He started with natural goodness and tried to draw people toward spiritual greatness. Pope Francis wrote two years ago a letter for the 500th anniversary of St. Philip’s birth, saying that the way he approached his neighbor, “witnessing to all the love and mercy of the Lord, can constitute a valid example for bishops, priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful. From his first years in Rome, he exercised an apostolate of personal relation and friendship, which is the privileged way to open others up to encounter Jesus and the Gospel. As his biographer attests, ‘He approached this one and that one on the fly and soon everyone became his friends.’ He loved spontaneity, he shunned phoniness and formality, he chose the funniest means to educate others in the Christian virtues while at the same time proposing a healthy discipline to help the will welcome Christ in the concrete aspects of one’s life. His profound conviction was that the way of holiness if founded on the grace of an encounter with the Lord, accessible to everyone, of whatever state or condition, who welcomes Jesus with the amazement of children.”
    • Charity was the third source. He invited his new friends to help him in caring for the sick. They would volunteer each day as orderlies in hospitals, cleaning and changing patients, feeding them, and often preparing them for death. Medical care and sanitation are still problems in Italian public hospitals today; they were little more than germ factories in the 16th century. Philip and his friends, however, brought the Good Samaritan’s love to those whom few in society were willing to care for. And that started to transform all those who did it, and they saw the fruit of joy that comes from sincere loving.
    • The fourth element was what getting to know God and our faith better, what we’d call today adult education of the laity. Philip would get all his friends together for brief talks in his apartment on the lives of the saints and martyrs, on Church history, and on various applications of the faith to daily life. He would give many of the talks himself — which created a stir since he was at the time a layman — and invite others whom he thought capable to do the same. Later, these would develop into what he called the little Oratory, where everyone from the poor and illiterate to cardinals and Rome’s rich, famous and cultured would sit side-by-side. He equipped people for the mission Christ had given them and showed the enthusiasm that we should have for the truths of the faith, for the way things really are. People are made for the truth and Philip acted on that knowledge. Pope Francis, in his letter for St. Philip’s 500th birthday, wrote, “From his fervent experience of communion with the Lord Jesus the Oratory was born, characterized by an intense and joy-filled spiritual life of prayer, hearing and conversation about the Word of God, preparation to receive worthily the Sacraments, formation to the Christian life through the history of the Saints, the Church, and works of charity for the poorest of the poor.”
    • Fifth was Christian communion. He organized specifically Christian activities. You can’t replace something with nothing, and Philip knew that to draw the young away from pagan practices like the Saturnalia, there needed to be fun and attractive adventures of faith. So he started pilgrimages to the seven ancient basilicas in Rome, 40 hour devotions, musical groups and more. Many who at first might not have been drawn to the activities were attracted to the contagious enthusiasm of their organizer. Over time, however, these good activities formed them in virtue as much as the pagan activities had been forming them in vice. These happy peregrinations were also the occasion for many others to come to know about Philip and to join them. The holy sites to which they journeyed, and the holy actions of prayer and picnic in which they would engage along the way, were the means he used to get ordinary people back on the way who is Jesus leading people to eternal life. He helped them to see that these sanctuaries were their spiritual patrimony, the saints were their brothers and sisters in the faith, and that the spiritual treasures were their family heirlooms. That began to change the way they looked at what so many took for granted.
    • Sixth, was the joy of conversion and penance, which he experienced both as a disciple and as an apostle. After his spiritual director persuaded him that he could do even more good as a priest than he was doing as a layman, he was ordained at the age of 36, and from that point forward he began to be one of the greatest confessors and spiritual directors in the history of the Church. There’s no greater means given by God to help people turn their lives around than the Sacrament of Penance. From dawn until his noon Mass, and for several hours in the afternoon, Philip would hear confessions. In order to hear more confessions, he needed to cut down on the advice given to each penitent, so he would ask them to come to the little Oratory where they could learn at once many of the things he would otherwise need to repeat. Many of his medicinal penances remain legendary, like having a vain young man shave off half of his beard to grow in humility and an elderly spinster try to collect all the pillow feathers dropped from a tower to learn the irreparable damage done by gossip. Some great sinners, as well as popes and saints, became his regular penitents and directees. This shows that there’s always a one-on-one dimension to the new evangelization, in accompanying people along the path of holiness, and Philip made that time. Pope Francis wrote this morning, “Philip was the guide of so many, announcing the Gospel and dispensing the Sacarments. In particular he dedicated himself with great passion to the ministry of Confession, until the evening of his last day on earth. His preoccupation was constantly to follow the spiritual growth of his disciples, accompanying them through the difficulties of life and opening them up to Christian hope. His mission as a “chiseler of souls” was helped by the singular attractiveness of his personality, distinguished by human warmth, joy, meekness, and sweetness, all of which found their origin in his ardent experience of Christ and in the action of the Holy Spirit who had enlarged his heart.”
    • The seventh source of joy was evangelizing. St. Philip inspired a missionary spirit among the laity. He formed lay men and women so that they could go out and evangelize others and transform culture and society. They would read together St. Francis Xavier’s letters from India and resolve to make Rome their Indies and win it back for Christ. Philip knew that, without the laity, there was little chance priests and religious alone could turn around Rome. This novel approach of lay involvement would bring him to the attention and, for a time, discipline of the Inquisition. He was centuries ahead of his time. But it’s the same thing for us. If we’re going to turn around our culture, we need to focus on forming the people who are already coming so that they can go, with the Holy Spirit’s power, out as salt, light and leaven to turn around the face of the earth.
    • The last source of joy I’ll mention is the Mass. So great was St. Philip’s love for the Mass, so great was his penetration of the Mass, that whenever he began to think about it, he would go into ecstasy and even, some said, would levitate. His double-size heart would become like a hot-air balloon lifting him up toward God. For that reason, in preparation for Mass, he would have read to him joke or comic books to keep him from not entering into ecstatic prayer. Later on in life, when he was no longer able to celebrate public Masses, the server wound extinguish the candles after the consecration of the Precious Blood and come back two hours later, light the candles, pull on Philip’s chasuble and help him finish the Mass. Pope Francis focused on his love for the Jesus in the Eucharist in his letter. He wrote, “In our day, especially in the world of the young who were so dear to St. Philip, there’s a great need for persons who pray and know how to teach others to pray. With his ‘extremely intense love for the Blessed Sacrament without which he couldn’t live,’ as the documents of his canonization said, he teaches us that the Eucharist celebrated, adored and lived is the source from which one can speak to the heart of others. Indeed, ‘with Jesus Christ joy is ever born and reborn,’ as I wrote at the beginning of Evangelii Gaudium.” Philip was constantly going to Jesus in the Eucharist to find his joy and it was from their that Christ’s joy radiated in all that Philip said and did.
  • The Mass is a source of joy because every Mass we enter into Jesus’ childbirth, his labor pains, his eternal passage through suffering and death to the joy of new life. It’s here that we bring all our labor pains and end up, not by holding a beautiful baby in our hands — as happy an experience as that is for every one, including, or I should say, especially for us who are chaste celibates! — but something even greater. We get to hold Jesus Christ in our hands just like Mary and Joseph did, and then become one with Him on the inside. Many people don’t experience anywhere near the joy that this is supposed to give because they haven’t gone through the stage of grieve, the pains of their grievous sins, the wounds received by the grievous sins of others. But this is what the Mass makes possible. And during this second day of the Decenarium of the Holy Spirit, we can ponder the Gift of Courage as we pray in the Veni Creator Spiritus, the “firmans virtute perpeti,” that God the Holy Spirit may make us strong with his perpetual power, the power and wisdom of Christ crucified to Whom the Spirit wishes to conform us. As we unite ourselves to Christ’s delivery and Christ’s Eucharistic birth, he and the Spirit both say to us what Jesus said to Paul at the beginning of today’s first reading, “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you. For I am many people in this city” — how many people he has here in Manhattan! — and we rejoice to be one of those many and the instrument he wants to use, like he used St. Philip, to bring to him many more.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 ACTS 18:9-18

One night while Paul was in Corinth, the Lord said to him in a vision,
“Do not be afraid.
Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you.
No one will attack and harm you,
for I have many people in this city.”
He settled there for a year and a half
and taught the word of God among them.
But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia,
the Jews rose up together against Paul
and brought him to the tribunal, saying,
“This man is inducing people to worship God contrary to the law.”
When Paul was about to reply, Gallio spoke to the Jews,
“If it were a matter of some crime or malicious fraud,
I should with reason hear the complaint of you Jews;
but since it is a question of arguments over doctrine and titles
and your own law, see to it yourselves.
I do not wish to be a judge of such matters.”
And he drove them away from the tribunal.
They all seized Sosthenes, the synagogue official,
and beat him in full view of the tribunal.
But none of this was of concern to Gallio.
Paul remained for quite some time,
and after saying farewell to the brothers he sailed for Syria,
together with Priscilla and Aquila.
At Cenchreae he had shaved his head because he had taken a vow.

Responsorial Psalm PS 47:2-3, 4-5, 6-7

R. (8a) God is king of all the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
All you peoples, clap your hands,
shout to God with cries of gladness,
For the LORD, the Most High, the awesome,
is the great king over all the earth.
R. God is king of all the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
He brings people under us;
nations under our feet.
He chooses for us our inheritance,
the glory of Jacob, whom he loves.
R. God is king of all the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy;
the LORD, amid trumpet blasts.
Sing praise to God, sing praise;
sing praise to our king, sing praise.
R. God is king of all the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia SEE LK 24:46, 26

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead,
and so enter into his glory.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 16:20-23

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn,
while the world rejoices;
you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.
When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived;
but when she has given birth to a child,
she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy
that a child has been born into the world.
So you also are now in anguish.
But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy away from you.
On that day you will not question me about anything.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”