Thursday, May 26, 2011

St Philip Neri, Confessor

Wisdom 7:7-14 / Luke 12:35-40

We are often, and rightly, suspicious when something of value comes to us too easily. We know ourselves too well, and we know that whatever we have most wanted and whatever has been most for our good has been had not without a good deal of effort, struggle, or cost. To be sure, it was a cost happily paid, a struggle gladly engaged, and effort willingly made. Even so, we assert that good things come at a cost, and so whatever comes quickly and with ease is more than likely ill gotten.
This is why, no doubt, we can find ourselves resenting those who receive great and wonderful things not by lengthy trial or by years of tiresome service, but merely by the asking. All that time, all those sacrifices, and we still produce at best mediocre work, when at the same time others are, so far as we can see, the recipients of blessings well out of proportion to their merits. However, then we hear about King Solomon and his gift of wisdom. Ironically, while the aged Solomon was notable for his folly, it was this great king in his youth to whom the riches of divine wisdom were laid bare. That is, Solomon's wisdom, his intuitive grasp of the divine pattern in all things and how each thing, both in general and in its particulars, related to everything else and to God, came merely by the asking: I wished, and understanding was given me; and I called, and the spirit of wisdom came upon me.

While we may grit our teeth in envy, waiting hopefully that such as receive good and great things easily will have their reward in a well-earned fall from grace, we are in no way to be commended for these sentiments, rather this sin of envy. The Gospel, after all, is not about the vindication of injured right, nor about the reward of lengthy work and tireless service. The Good News of Jesus Christ is rather about God's calling back all of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve to share in the divine life. To see anyone depart from a life of sorrow or darkness and embrace Jesus Christ ought for those in the faith to be only a cause for joy.

So, if we have labored long and hard to serve God and keep his commandments, only to see others who labor far less enjoy a much grander and more manifest consolation from God, this too ought to be for us a reason not for resentment, but for delight. Our keeping of God's commandments, our being asked to keep faithful vigil through the first, second, even into the third watch of the night, was never meant to be a way to curry God's favor or to win points with the Almighty. We keep faithful vigil rather because of love, because the beloved delights to do the will of her Lover.

It is, as St Philip Neri reminds us, far easier for a joyful heart to be made perfect than for a downcast one. This is why our response to goodness anywhere ought to be joy, why God may well pass over giving us consolation for our labors. What Philip Neri knew, what he tried to encourage in his fellow priests in the Oratory, and what he teaches us, is that our very service, our being able to be of good use in good cheer to the beloved poor of God is, for those made alive in the risen Christ, itself the very cause of our joy. We are to run God's commandments, when He does enlarge our hearts, rather than follow his path in the hope of a solemn recognition for the good we have done.

The sole prayer we should have, the sole consolation we ought to seek, is the sort that enjoys at one and the same time, the Gift, the Giver, and all those whom the Giver loves. It is the consolation which we gain when we pray together with Philip Neri: O my God, my love! Thou art mine and I am wholly thine. O most adorable God! Thou who hast commanded that I should love Thee; why hast thou given me only one and so narrow a heart?

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