St. Philip Neri
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
When we hear God's Word and listen to Him speaking to us, our hearts are opened, and we are filled with the joy of His Holy Spirit. Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, is our witness to this truth. Hearing Paul preach in Philippi, she attends to the Word. She turns herself toward the Word, reaching out toward the Word, “and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying.” What does Lydia hear? She hears the truth revealed – the truth about her sin and the surety of God's mercy to sinners. Lydia and her household are baptized, and she offers Paul and his companions the hospitality of her home. Her invitation is an expression of joy, an act of charity born out of a new found freedom from slavery to sin. We can't miss the progression of events here: Lydia hears the Word; the Lord opens her heart to listen; she listens to the Word; she is convicted and convinced in the truth of the Spirit; and then she is baptized. Her baptism immediately leads her to express her joy, an act of charity. When we hear God's Word and listen to Him speaking to us, our hearts are opened, and we are filled with the joy of His Holy Spirit.
On this feast day of St. Philip Neri, the Apostle of Joy, we cannot miss the intimate connection btw listening to the Word and the presence of joy. When we turn ourselves toward God's Word and our hearts are opened to listen – to attend to His Word – we recognize the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. Here's a weak analogy to give you an image. Think of a laptop. It's on, but the screen is blank. When you “attend to” the laptop, when you press a key or click the mouse, the laptop “wakes up,” it doesn't turn on b/c it's already on – it animates, it comes alive. Here's another analogy. You crank your car. It's running but not moving. When you “attend to” the car by putting it in gear, the car moves. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit abides – He sleeps, idles – in the baptized. When we “attend to” the Spirit by listening to God's Word, by celebrating the sacraments, by praying, the Spirits wakes; He comes alive and blooms into joy. And joy, St. Thomas tells us, is an effect of charity. Joy is an act of love, a fruit of the Holy Spirit (ST.II-II.28.4).
You may have noticed that in my analogies the laptop had be turned on and the car cranked. IOW, before they are able to “come alive” by our attention, they have to be “on.” Before the Holy Spirit can “come alive” in us, we too must be “on.” How does this happen? In his exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis teaches us that God always takes the initiative. He loves us first. Francis writes, “God asks everything of us, yet at the same time he offers everything to us” (12). The first gift we receive from God is His love, Himself. This is what “turns us on.” This is what makes it possible for Lydia to hear Paul's preaching. Our relationship with God is always voluntary, always a willed act on your part. We must will to turn toward Him. He makes that willing possible but not compulsory. Jesus tells the disciples that they will be expelled from the synagogues and even killed. Those who commit these evil acts “will do this because they have not known either the Father or me.” They have not heard the Word nor have they turned themselves toward the Lord. Their hearts are closed to the truth of the Spirit. Our task – as enjoyers of the Spirit's abiding presence – is to testify to Christ, to bear witness to the freely offered mercy of the Father to sinners. Our example is Philip Neri. He lived in constant joy, a martyr to the power of the Spirit to open wide the most closely guarded heart.
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