According to the great Italian Saint Philip Neri, “There is no surer or clearer proof of the love of God than adversity.”
His message certainly stands in stark opposition with what the modern world tells us will bring love. Creating viral videos on YouTube, increasing our followers on social media platforms, and possessing the latest Apple technology appear to be channels by which 21st century humanity may achieve happiness. Suffering is so medieval or ancient times!
Why does man need to suffer when technological advancements will eliminate disease and human ailments in the future?
The Christian approach to redemptive suffering stands counter-cultural. What is not necessarily controversial is surprise and intrigue. Less than a year ago, I discovered the unconventional St. Philip Neri. In fact, I learned that the Italian priest is actually the patron saint of joy and humor!
Mark Twain once wrote, “Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.” As a Catholic, I contend with his claim that humor is the greatest blessing, as that belongs to the gift of the sacraments (especially Eucharist and Confession), the American author was correct that good-natured wit and jocosity help humanity. At the end of a stressful day at work, what normally infuses life into my wife and I’s day, and sometimes week, is comedy.
Levity, lightness, and wit dominate Philip’s letters and maxims. He loved to banter with his friends and later in life even with notable Church leaders like St. Charles Borromeo and his friend CesareCardinal Baronius. Along with being the patron saint of joy and humor, I will briefly detail three reasons why Philip Neri could be your patron saint as well!
Humility Makes Us Human
A manager of mine once gave me interesting advice whenever he came across negative experiences from customers. “Remember the Q-TIP method—Quit taking it personal!” Perhaps it is because of the interesting mental imagery that came to mind or maybe my ears were clogged with earwax that I needed to keep using the “Q-TIP” method before I started to take that advice. A more likely answer is that setting my pride aside and listening to others is easier when reading the wisdom of holy individuals such as St. Philip Neri. Neri states,
“When a man is reproved for anything, he ought not to take it too much to heart, for we commit a greater fault by our sadness than by the sin for which we are reproved.”
The Italian saint writes frequently about the importance of humility and the joy that comes as a result of asking for that virtue from the Holy Spirit. Pride is considered to be the vice opposed to the virtue of humility. St. Philip Neri spoke about hubris in this way, “Excessive sadness seldom springs from any other source than pride.” God did not intend for humanity to be sad, but we were made to experience joy and communion. Excessive joy, the opposite of sadness, would spring from the reverse of pride—humility.
Along with the importance St. Philip Neri attaches to the humility, a virtue necessary for growing in the spiritual life, his writings demonstrate an attractive simplicity to living life. Living in today’s world we all could certainly learn to live with less. I particularly struggle with excess—binge watching Netflix, eating fast food, or struggles with too much negativity. According to him, “Avarice is the pest of the soul!” Learning about this joyful saint through his writings help limit these unhealthy desires in my life.
Wading through the mires of trials, self-doubts, and obstacles certainly seems confusing. I came across a gem of spiritual advice from St. Neri. In regards to tackling on the pressures and temptations of the world he wrote, “Persons who live in the world should persevere in coming to church to hear sermons, and remember to read spiritual books, especially the Lives of the Saints.” Weekly attendance of Mass helps sustain us through tough times. While at Sunday Liturgy, Neri provides a simple, but profound insight to combat the devil. He urges us, “at communion we ought to ask for the remedy of the vice to which we feel ourselves most inclined.” His pithy and modest maxims show that living in holiness need not be complicated.
Delight in Difficulties
Another hallmark of the writings of St. Philip Neri is his focus on satisfaction gained through encountering suffering with grace. He realizes that truth of redemptive suffering contains the path to authentic joy. The Italian priest penned, “Nothing more glorious can happen to a Christian, than to suffer for Christ.”
Our joy gained via difficulties does not originate from man. Neri reminds us that the Holy Spirit is the cause for our continual peace and joy in trials. The Enemy’s primary weapon is suffering in hopes we fall into despair. The opposite of despair or sadness is humility. According to Neri, “One of the very best means of obtaining humility, is sincere and frequent confession.” Whenever I receive those sacramental graces poured forth in the medicine box any suffering I encounter turns sweet instead of sour.
Over a year ago, I accidentally stumbled across the unconventional, yet witty life and works of St. Philip Neri. Humility pervades his writings. While you may not acknowledge it now, we all truly need to learn more about being humble in the age of “selfies”. The wit and cheerful tone of Neri’s letters will prompt the natural urge to pursue truth in the Cross of Jesus Christ. Joy and humor enliven the spirit. St. Philip Neri proclaims, “The cheerful are much easier to guide in the spiritual life than the melancholy.” If you prefer an easier, but still true, path to living Gospel maybe you should take up the Italian priest as your patron saint!
🌐 Civil unrest has shook the quaint town of Chicoineville recently. Weeks and weeks of quarantine (due to a mysterious virus) left the citizens in a tizzy.
🌐 Local parks and libraries shut their doors to prevent further spread of the disease. While this stopped more outbreaks the lockdowns inadvertently resulted in an exponential increase in shenanigans.
🌐 Food shortages occurred too. Yeast, flour, fruit, and eggs sold out like crazy. This meant no muffins.
Speaking of muffins, this is a continuation of the story dubbed “Muffingate”—a level 7 shenanigan event!
🚨 🚨 🚨 BREAKING NEWS 🚨🚨🚨
📍 Video footage was discovered to be manipulated. Police learned that the prime suspect in Muffingate, Avila Catherine Geraldine, doctored the surveillance (further analysis determined a few stuffed animals and a baby doll were strategically placed under a blanket to make it look like she never left her crib).
📍The prosecution wanted to move quickly to bring the case to court. However, the pandemic forced the mayor to suspend all government activities (this halted all court cases).
📍 While the virus has subsided and food supplies are returning back to normal, controversary stuck the nation’s police force. This caused a ripple effect all the way down to Chicoineville.
📍 The police department’s tactics for nabbing criminals and bail procedures came under fire. Pressure from the media forced Chicoine’s sheriff to lift restrictions on several ‘suspects’.
📍 ACGC was one of those impacted. She is no longer under house arrest. PRNT TV’s award-winning photographer Jenny Lynn captured this photo of the ‘muffin miscreant’ celebrating.
Notice her blue eyes. The same shade as blueberries (perhaps from eating too many blueberry muffins). Coincindence?! You be the judge. Text out “blueberry buffoonery” to 55555 to vote “Guilty” or “Not Guilty”.
📍 Alas, there is no vaccine to stop shenanigans.
📍 Stay with PRNT TV 📺 to receive full coverage on this new scandal “sweeping” across this small town.
📍Text “antics” to 55555 to get text updates and exclusive interviews with the sheriff, eyewitnesses, and first-responders.
📍This has been I.M. Shocked with PRNT News reporting. Thank you for watching (reading)!
Disclaimer: There is a sixth dimension that oftentimes interacts with mankind. It enters time and space unexpectedly and usually leads to mirth. Sometimes provoked by science, other times by faith, these experiences usually arrive in the mundane. This is the dimension of imagination. It is what I call…the Whimsical Zone!
Mark Twain wrote, “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” I am naturally a worrier. Anxiety cripples me during a stressful or confusing day at work or home. Pulling yourself out of fretfulness is like attempting to pull yourself out of a deep hole covered in ice—it just does not work. Earlier this week, I encountered a series of unexpected whimsical moments that elicited joy. I have written a few times on my encounters with the whimsical, capricious things that uplift my spirits. Most peculiarly, and alliteratively, these encounters with the jovial occur on Wednesdays!
Spot the Spot
Last Wednesday morning, I was reading Daredevil #23 when my three year-old crawled onto my lap to look at the pictures. Looking at the villain, Spot, he exclaimed and pointed to the white and black dotted figure, “Daddy, look a firetruck (dog)!” I suddenly busted out laughing and the grin on my face remained for at least 5 minutes! I immediately woke up my wife and told her.
My son thoroughly enjoys toy cars, especially fire engines. His penchant for pups stems from his obsessive watching of PawPatrol and his favorite character is a Dalmatian named Marshall. If you are a comic book geek like myself or simply are curious about this spotty villain Spot I will tell you this—his superpowers involve an ability to create portals that lead to an alternate dimension and instantly cross short distances. How cool is that?!
Nuts about Nutty Bars
Another whimsical wonder I witnessed this Wednesday occurred on the drive to work. I noticed a Little Debbie truck ahead of me in the left lane. I was a bit irritated because I was running late and the vehicle acted like the speed limit was under 20 mph. Switching lanes, I zoomed past it. I noticed the right side of the truck adorned with a picture of my favorite Little Debbie product—Nutty Bars. It took me a moment to realize that the truck’s wall read Nutty Bars instead of Nutty Buddy (a fairly recent name switch I was not happy with). This simple reminder of my favorite childhood snack instantly dispelled my annoyance.
What’s in a name?
St. Teresa of Avila wrote, “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.” Humility cures pride—the source of all evil and root of daily annoyances or irritations. Something minor, now in hindsight I recognize it to be little, that used to bother me was when people messed up my name calling me Michael instead of Matthew. This somewhat common occurrence happened to me again today. This time instead of finding it annoying I found a certain levity in the situation. I simply replied back with a happy face emoji! I am grateful to have grown in humility and learned to find the whimsical in a former annoyance.
Fanny pack Fanatic
American film director Terrence Malick declared, “Nostalgia is a powerful feeling; it can drown out anything.” Growing up in the 90s, many things lately have triggered my nostalgia—Pokémon, the N64, the carbonated drink Surge (yes I heard a reference to that the other day!), and revamped Disney movies. Arguably no item exemplifies the 90s culture, especially the corniness of it, as the fanny pack!
I received a text from my wife telling me of something epic she witnessed. I immediately called her back expecting to hear a milestone accomplishment from our baby or a funny thing our other kids said. “Matt, I just saw a lady at Walmart with a legit fanny pack!” she giggled over the phone. As a fan of organization, corniness, and nostalgia her news added to my whimsical Wednesday.
If you are experiencing a dull, dreary, or a Debbie-downer type of day please don’t lose hope. Always be on the lookout for the ordinary, yet quirky happenings around you. You don’t need something extravagant to turn your attitude around. Ask for the gift of humility from the Holy Spirit and keep your eyes peeled for the hilariously mundane.