Image: Campbell Lake near Inuvik
Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Philip Neri, founder of the Congregation of the Oratorians and the patron saint of home missions. We pray in special way today for our benefactor, the organization, “Catholic Missions in Canada” who, through the intercession of their patron saint, Philip Neri, have contributed so much not only to our diocese but to Catholic Missions across Canada.
St. Philip Neri was a devout and zealous Roman who knew no bounds in sharing his faith, convinced even that he could, single-handedly, re-evangelize the whole of Rome. Encouraged by his confessor to become a priest, he became well known as a confessor himself, and as a great preacher, particularly for the humor that he brought to his sermons.
A cheerful, happy saint is not the common stereotype. We often think of saints as serious, overly pious, and dour. But why not happy? After all, according to St. Philip, “Cheerful people are led more easily to conversion.”
Our faith gives us every reason to be joyful, even in the difficult times of life. In our first reading today, we find Saint Paul convinced that he is about to be sent off to prison, but that seems to be of no consequence to him. His life, as he sees it, finds its meaning in being spent for the sake of the Gospel. Even the success of that mission is not his concern, only that he does his absolute best to share his faith and then the rest is left up to the Holy Spirit. For those on the outside it would seem that Paul has a very heavy burden to carry, but for Paul his spirit is light, and his responsibilities are no longer his to bear.
In the Gospel, Jesus prays to his father, and in the moments before he is about to be arrested, he prays not only for himself but also for his disciples. Jesus asks his Father to care for those that have been with him during his time of ministry on earth. He prays not only that they would have eternal life but that they would be protected and united in this life. As the cross looms before him Jesus only sees his own glorification and that he wants his followers to share in his joy, “That they may be one, as he and the Father are one”.
Of course, this does not mean that as Christians we are blind to the suffering in the world or even that our own lives do not contain difficult moments. But how we deal with those moments are shaped by our understanding that we are not alone in that suffering. We have our Christian community to support us and God is always with us. We also know that pain, suffering, even death does not have the final word. Because of Christ all of those negative things, that seemed once to have so much power over us, are no longer so frightening.
So, as you face the day, let God lift whatever may be weighing you down. Know that you are loved and protected by God and that God’s spirit is in you. Smile, laugh, be cheerful. Today is a gift and if you live your life joyfully you will certainly be a gift to those whose path you cross this day.