Missionary Saints – St. Philip Neri

“That My Joy May Be in You”
Joy. In his heart wrenching farewell discourse, our total, complete, maximum joy is the reason Jesus gives for His testimony to the Father’s Love: “I have told you these things so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11).
Joy is an infallible sign of the presence of God. Saint Philip Neri radiated Divine joy. His genuine cheerfulness shone through his eyes and his smile. It was reflected in his voice and most especially in his laugh. He exuded happiness and it was contagious: A 16th century contemporary of St. Philip Neri said, “When I met him on the street, he would pat my cheek and say, ‘Well how is Don Pellegrino?’ and leave me so full of joy I could not tell which way I was going.” It was said his company was so delightful it was like experiencing heaven on earth.

Not looking for joy in the mirror. 
How is it possible to find such happiness? Well, joy is not to found in the mirror, in a paycheck, in achievement or accolades. Saint Paul advises in his letter to the Church at Philippi, to focus instead on Jesus as the source of our joy. “Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith…We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort” (Philippians 3:1-3). Don’t rely on your own efforts to be the source of your happiness. There will be joy in your life when you realize that your identity does not lie in how good you are, but how great God is! It seems simple, but most truths are. Joy is discovered in God and in others with God. This was the secret to Saint Philip Neri’s happiness.

Prayer is the wellspring of joy 
The psalmist is clear: Awareness of God’s presence, His nearness to us is the source of our joy. “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11). And again, “You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine” (Psalm 4:7). Especially when the going gets tough, the Lord alone can refresh our spirit. “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy” (Psalm 94:19). Our joy is resurrected in God has redeemed us. “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to You because You have redeemed me” (Psalm 71:23).

“What are you smiling about?” 
Those who grin with glee are often asked, with a bit of disdain, what they are smiling about. As followers of Christ we are to be ready to give an answer for our reason for joy (1 Pt 3:15). Saint Philip Neri did this. He told folks, showed them, and invited them to experience for themselves the reason for his joy. This is missionary practice at its best! He spoke of how he came to know of the Lord’s love for him. His reflections were personal and compelling, as a friend would speak of the happiness they have with their best friend. He led tours of the basilicas in Rome, allowing the beauty of their art and architecture to reveal the wonderful mysteries of our faith. With pleasure he showed God’s compassion and mercy. His actions were cheerful, practical and sincere. Responding to unmet needs in his community, he created a hospital for pilgrims who took ill while in Rome. In addition to physical maladies, he tenderly tended to spiritual maladies in the confessional. He blissfully invited people to experience the cause of his joy, union with God, by teaching them how to pray. He wished for others to come to know the delight he experienced through practices of piety, such as the 40 hours devotion. He continually invited other to come and share in his joy.

Piety, playfulness, and practical help are keys to effective missional practice. 
Piety, playfulness, and practical help for body and soul – these were the keys to Saint Philip Neri’s fruitfulness in the mission field. Mission is not a recruitment plan or publicity campaign. It is inviting people to the presence of God. It is teaching people how to pray, how to listen and respond to the Divine who is all around and so near to us. It is bringing them the mercy of God, the joy of Reconciliation with God and neighbor. It is leading folks to Christ fully present, body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist. It is providing the necessities of life out of an awareness of the abundance of blessings of life with God. It is smiling at, laughing with, delighting in every single person we encounter. Jesus reveals the motivation for His mission when he said, “…that my joy may be in you.” The missionary has found joy in the Lord. The missionary wishes the same for all he or she encounters– that the missionary’s joy in knowing God’s love may be in them.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Saint Philip Neri, pray for us.