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.