Monsignor Armitage's Sermon for St Philip's Day
HOMILY: FEAST OF ST PHILIP NERI
OXFORD ORATORY 26TH MAY 2017
The author of the Book of Wisdom reflects:
“Therefore, I prayed, and understanding was given to me;
I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.
I loved her more than health and beauty
And I chose to have her rather than light
Because her radiance never ceases
I rejoiced in them all, because wisdom leads them:
But I did not know that she was their mother!”
In the Book of Proverbs we hear that "Wisdom hath built herself a house," Proverbs 9:1 This house, this temple of Wisdom, was, and ever is, Mary the Mother of God. The “Sedes Sapientia”” the Seat of Wisdom.
The consequence of accepting the gift of Wisdom into our hearts and letting this wisdom guide our lives, is joy. In the second reading St Paul encourages us to;
“Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice! Why? Because the Lord is at hand, have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God, and the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your minds and hearts in Jesus Christ.”
Three words we have heard .….. wisdom – which is the gift of God ….. Joy and Peace, ….. these are the consequences of following the example of Our Blessed Lady and letting “Wisdom build a house in my heart” … we become temples of the Holy Spirit, the source of all wisdom.
Joy is the most powerful proof of the presence of God in a person’s life.
People often ask me what is the message of Walsingham? Most people don’t know! It’s not about the statue, which didn’t appear until about 100 years after the apparition, it is clearly stated in the words of the Pynson Ballad;
Walsingham – in you is built new Nazareth
where shall be held in great memory,
the great joy of my salutation,
first of my joys – their foundation and origin,
root of mankind’s gracious redemption
When Gabriel gave me this news:
to be mother through humility
and God’s Son conceive in virginity.”
At the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel asks Our Lady to “rejoice”, why? …… because the “Lord is with you”. This is the cause of her joy.
In the Magnificat, Mary obeys the Angel when she says “My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”
Our Lady is joyful because of her encounter with “God her saviour” the Annunciation is her first joy, for she encounters the “root of mankind’s redemption”
There is an ancient devotion known as the “Joys of Mary”, this was very popular in medieval England. Each of her joys are an encounter with “God her saviour’”
The Annunciation – the Nativity – The Adoration of the Magi – the Resurrection – Pentecost- The Assumption
In one of the great Arthurian legends of the 14th Century, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, Sir Gawain talks of the strength in finds in the Mother of God:
No matter where he moved in melee or in battle
it was his fervent thought, through thick or thin,
that when he fought, his courage came from the five joys
the high Queen of Heaven had of her child.
(And so the noble knight would never wear his shield
till her image had been painted on the inner half;
for when he saw her face his courage never failed.)
His courage came from the “five joys the high Queen of Heaven had of her child!” He took theses joys into his heart and it gave him courage.
Mary’s Joys are all linked to the life of her redeemer, for Joy comes from an encounter with the Truth of God, giving us the inner peace, that the world cannot give.
Joy in our hearts comes from an encounter with the Living God,
In response to the desire of Richeldis to honour the Mother of God, Our Lady asked her to build a Holy House, and as we come to accept, in humility, Gods plan for our lives, we also build a “Holy House” in our hearts so that we, like Our Lady may first conceive the Lord in our hearts, before we show forth to others the power of God through our actions.
“Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8
Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God within, a fruit of the Holy Spirit flowing from the conviction that God loves us, dwells within us when we are in the state of grace, sustained by his providential care.
A man who could say “to preserve our cheerfulness, amid sickness and troubles is a sign of a right and good spirit” is a man who knows the joy of the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life.
St Philip predicted that if Catholics were really joyful, people would be bursting through the doors to invade our churches. Today the world, as much as any time in history is longing for this joy; a joy that we know the world cannot give. When the people of our time do not find joy in the followers of Christ, they seek to fulfill their desires and longings, with the pleasures and happiness of the material and superficial things of this world. Joy shows to the world that no matter the trials and tribulations that we face, the challenges and sufferings, when we take up our cross, and follow Jesus, there is a peace of heart and mind, that is an outward expression of the “peace that passes all understanding.” Joy is the outward expression of the peace in a man’s life and it is powerfully attractive. Saint John XXIII stated that in order for the Church to attract it must be attractive, and St Paul reminds us that the fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness and faithfulness” St Philip reminds us that:
“Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life. Therefore, the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.”
In an age of cynicism and sarcasm, not unlike our own St. Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, he was at peace with his Lord, …. this gave him great joy in his heart, and his outward demeanour was a cheerfulness in his ministry, always rejoicing in the Lord and leading others to discover the root of his joy, his love of God.
Deep down, every person wants to be happy, but often don’t know how; St Philips cheerful demeanour moved many to ask, “What’s his secret?” Blessed Paul VI in his encyclical Evangelii Nuntiani, presents the same question:
“Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith and joy in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one.”
There are men and women, and God knows there are many, who are fulfilled with limited goods. This is the road to misery. Only when we have truly given all to the Lord can we know real joy and share that joy with others.
In a word, God must take possession of our hearts by emptying it of all that is an obstacle to his overtaking it. The only attitude for us to have is adherence and availability we must be faithful to grace by submitting ourselves to the will of God.
To know Jesus Christ is everything; the rest is nothing. This knowledge alone leads to joy, love must guide us and nothing else.
“Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others”…. for “here we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up ….. in order to give life to others. That “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ”.EG
Two weeks ago we celebrated the centenary of the first apparition of Our Lady at Fatima to the shepherd children, where our Holy Father Pope Francis canonised Francisco and Jascinta, the first children ever canonised who were not martyred. St Francisco said “I am thinking about God, who is so sad because of so many sins! If only I could give Him joy!” Francisco want to the comforter of God by “giving him joy” His acts of reparation are nothing but an act of love not given as an imposition, but as a free act of love, from someone who wants to give joy to the one who loves and by whom he feels unconditionally loved.
Our Blessed Lady, St Philip and St Francisco share this common experience of knowing that they are loved unconditionally by their Lord, it gives such a joy in their lives that it is contagious to those who they meet attracting others to seek that love, for “The joy of the Lord is your strength” Neh 8:10
It is to the great honour of our country, that as a fruit of the ancient and deep devotion of the people of England to the Mother of God, Our Lady’s call at Walsingham was for us to “share her joy”.
Today we honour a saint known as the patron saint of Joy, and we celebrate the canonisation of the young boy who wanted to “give joy to the Lord” we like them, turn to the one who “rejoices in God my saviour” and pray that the will build our house on the true rock, a Holy house where we may rejoice with Mary and listen to her son as he tells us: “These things I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” John 15 :11