Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

The Smiling Saint

Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life; wherefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.
— St. Philip Neri, the Apostle of Rome

We have a tendency at times to be gloomy and pessimistic about the future of the Church.  Just imagine what it must have been like in the immediate aftermath of the Protestant Reformation--discord, war, confusion, and division the likes of which hadn't been seen in hundreds of years.  It was precisely in that environment that St. Philip Neri brought his unique brand of humor, joyfulness, and holiness to the city of Rome.

Philip Neri was known by everyone in the Rome as a man who could always be trusted to come with a smile on his face, a joke, and a sense of undeniable trust in God.  He used to send younger brothers in his oratory out to purchase communion wine and tell them that they had to taste every single wine in the city before they made a choice.  When they would return he would remind them that he only actually needed to purchase half a bottle.  During Lent he would shave half of his beard to remind people not to take themselves too seriously.  He would juggle, dance, and play practical jokes.

He was also a man of deep reflection and prayer.  During Philip's life there was great religious discord in many parts of Europe, but perhaps nowhere more than Elizabethan England.  It was very common in the 16th century for English Catholic priests to be executed by the government simply for crossing the Channel into the British Isles, so being a seminarian at the Venerable English College in Rome was essentially a death sentence.  When Philip would pass an English seminarian on the streets he would invariable tip his hat to them, letting them know of the deep respect he held for their risky and courageous vocation and likely future martyrdom.

Even during one of the most difficult periods in our Church's history Philip was a witness to levity and joy.  He reminds us that, if we truly trust in God's Providence, then even in trying times we can walk about with a smile on our face and a spring in our step and the full knowledge that in God all things will be well.  So follow of St. Philip Neri today and, even though life isn't always easy, remember that God is good and we can keep a smile on our face and share a joyful word for all those we meet.

Finding Happiness in Lent

Why on earth should I give up chocolate for Lent?  Why don't we eat meat on Fridays?  Why would God want me to give something up in order to follow Christ?

Those are reasonable questions and, if all we have are the external rules and traditions of our religion without any of the spirituality behind them, then some of our Lenten practices can easily seem old-fashioned, silly, or pointless.  When we look a little deeper, though, we find that our Lenten practices have a rich and profound connection to our own happiness and fulfillment.

The great spiritual master, St. Ignatius of Loyola, begins his spirituality with what he calls the "First Principle and Foundation".  It is essentially this--we were made to serve, love, and be with our God, so in life we seek to embrace things that help us to do that and get rid of things which get in the way.  This requires us to cultivate a certain indifference to the things of the world, so that we don't really care whether was are rich or poor, healthy or sick, popular or unpopular, whether we live a long life or a short life.  The one and only thing we care about is living a life that leads us towards God and, as St. Paul says, we learn to be content with whatever situation we are placed in and find God wherever we are.

This is, to a large extent, the project we all undertake during Lent.  We give up little things not necessarily because they are bad, but so that we train ourselves not to care so much about the extraneous parts of our life and care more about the purpose for which we were created.  We give up so that we learn to stop seeking happiness in things that will never give us true happiness--things like wealth, health, or popularity--and turn our attention towards that which will bring us lasting joy.  We open our hands, letting go of the things we cling to, so that they may be open to receive true blessing from God.

Don't be afraid to let go this Lent, to set aside things that often distract us, and focus on what really matters--serving, loving, and being with God no matter what your situation in life.

The Essence of Christianity

"Trust God and God will help you;
trust in him, and he will direct your way;
keep his fear and grow old therein."

Our Old Testament reading today comes from the Book of Sirach and in it the author is encouraging the Jewish people during a very difficult time in the history of their nation, encouraging them to patiently trust in God.

In his book Buddenbrooks, the German author Thomas Mann, while not religious himself, seeks to discover the essence of Christian faith.  He does so by recounting the journey of a Lutheran family through three generations during the long nineteenth century.  The story begins as the family is building up its fortune and credibility, a time of growth, excitement, and hard work.  During this stage we see that Christian faith is filled with excitement, vitality, and the hard but rewarding work of discovering and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ--faith can bring purpose and inspiration to our lives.  The second stage comes as the family is established but seeks to reflect on its own place, its own motives, its own relationships.  During these years we see that Christianity calls us to reflect on our own existence and come to a deeper self-knowledge--faith helps us realize our true self.  The third part of the novel recounts the decline of the family, following them as death, misfortune, and struggle overtake their lives.  Here we recognize that our God accompanies us through the trials and tribulations of life--faith gives us strength in difficult moments.

Our Faith may play a different role at different times of our lives, but we can never doubt that our Lord accompanies us through it all.  God is with us as we grow, as we come to a deeper knowledge of ourselves, and in our moments of trial.