26 May 2006

The odor of sanctity? A perfectly cooked heart!

6th Week of Easter 2006 (F)/St. Philip Neri: Acts 18.9-18; John 16.20-23
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

The Second Apostle of Rome and the saint of joy, Philip Neri, was a very odd man. Likely, he would find pictures of himself posted on today’s blogs with captions like “Another nutty priest being a hippy” or “Why won’t the bishops put a stop to this nonsense?” Philip had a certain way of bringing joy to stodgy hearts, crashing through reluctant spirits, and burning away pretension and guile. Story after story of this joyous priest emphasizes his joy in the Lord. My favorite: after his death, an autopsy revealed that he had died as a result of an enlarged heart—his heart had grown too big to be contained in his chest and it had broken free!

Will your heart grow too big for your ribs to contain? Will your joy in the Lord splash around in your soul until it sloshes over the sides and soaks those around you? Philip Neri often spoke of burning from within, a fire that had settled into his body and consumed him in the Lord’s love, a fire that passionately and patiently licked at his spirit until he could only burst out in sobbing ecstasy, pleading with Lord is give his fire of joy—just a little—to others.

What is this joy that so diligently and delightfully consumed Philip from the inside out? Aquinas teaches us that joy is the proper effect of charity, that is, joy follows love, joy is an act of love, the behavior one would expect from loving properly. The opposite of joy is sloth. Sloth is not just physical laziness as we tend to think, but, as Aquinas, paraphrasing John Damascene, argues, sloth “is an oppressive sorrow, which…so weighs upon man's mind, that he wants to do nothing”(ST II.II.35.1). Sloth is a sorrow, an aversion to the spiritual goods of love and joy, a sorrow that robs us of our passion for seeking, finding, and doing the good and from seeking, finding, and being with the Father—our final Good.

If sloth is an oppressive sorrow, then love is our liberating joy—we are freed from weeping and mourning our losses, our condition, our pasts, our pain; freed from our grief, our suffocating anguish and our frozen hearts unable to move in mercy for others. Jesus tells the disciples that they are mourning, weeping for his absence, enduring the pain of his murder on the cross, and the prospect that, despite his time with them after his death, he will ascend to the Father soon. Their sorrow makes sense—a woman in labor feels intense pain until the baby is born, then joy! The disciples’ sorrow will end: “…I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.”

What robs you of your joy? What is it in your life that prevents you from benefiting fully from the effects of the Father’s love for you? Sin, certainly. But what specifically? Do you nurse disappointment and grief? Do you wallow in being wounded? Have you become your wounds, living day-to-day as a sorrowful injury? Maybe it’s betrayal you nurture. Or has someone denied you something you feel entitled to? What do you mourn? Why do you weep? What are you getting out of your anguish, your anger, your grief?

Are you joyful? Will we open you up after death and find that your heart, having grown too large for your chest, has broken free and spilled its joy, its love into the world?

Pray that we find your heart nicely roasted, perfectly cooked in the fire of Christ’s joy.


  1. Dear Fr.,

    Thanks for the brief visit.

    I hope you scrolled down further for the great news.

  2. Hi Andy...

    Yes, congrats! I hope you have many happy years serving the Lord.

    Blessings...Fr. Philip, OP