While growing up, I remember seeing “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4) on the fridge every time I walked by. While telling my mom about this blog post, she said, “You have permission to use Philippians 4:4.” I joked, “I didn’t realize you had that verse trademarked.”
This jovial interaction represents the joy of one of the saints we celebrate this week: St. Philip Neri. He’s known as the patron saint of joy. St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is known as the Epistle of Joy, so it’s fitting to see his name in PHILIPpians!
What is joy?
The secular use of “joy” is typically synonymous with “happiness.” Happiness is subject to what’s happening around you. Joy, on the other hand, is subject to our free will in choosing to abide in God’s grace. In this state of grace, joy can be equated with love (or divine charity). Happiness and sadness are opposed to one another, while joy and sorrow can be held together, even though they appear to be in tension. Our hearts can be filled with sorrow for what breaks God’s heart while still “entering the joy of the Lord” (CCC 1720). The reason we can have joy in this world is because “God doesn’t abandon His creatures to themselves. He not only gives them being and existence, but also…sustains them. Recognizing this utter dependence on God increases our wisdom, freedom, joy, and confidence” (CCC 301).
“True happiness is found in God alone” (CCC 1723).
How can joy help us connect with others?
According to an article from the National Catholic Register, St. Philip “was known to show up to important events with half his beard shaved, give incorrect walking directions to his disciples, and read a book of jokes.” He believed that these behaviors helped him to connect with other people through being present and humble.
He taught that “a joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one.” St. Paul used joy in his evangelical efforts as well. He was fully aware of the brokenness in his story, and he couldn’t keep God’s grace to himself.
Love changes us and spreads like wildfire. St. Paul was knocked off a horse and given a new name. He went from threatening Christians with death to causing Christian conversions that brought new life. St. Philip became known as the “Apostle of Rome” and earned the respect of believers and non-believers because of the joy he exuded. His heart was physically enlarged because of his love and faith in the Lord…so much so that his ribs were broken!
Love has no room for fear. One of the most common fears is public speaking. Something that St. Philip and St. Paul did not fear was sharing the faith with people they encountered. They were missionaries of love passionately sharing the love of God that they discovered richly in their own lives. St. Philip said, “God doesn’t ask us to do the impossible. He asks us to do what is possible with God’s grace.”
How can we find joy in the face of evil in the world?
In the last days leading up to His passion, Jesus said, “So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (Jn 16:22). In the wild times we live in, joy sometimes can be hard to find. Discouragement and confusion are often tools of the devil as he tries to distract us from this promise of Christ: joy can ALWAYS be ours. Jesus used the most unimaginable instrument of torture as the awesome instrument of salvation. On Good Friday, the Devil thought he won. On Easter Sunday, God turned the Cross into a gift.
If you want to confuse the devil, be joyful. When St. Paul was imprisoned in Rome, one could think his ministry would cease. Instead of giving into discouragement, St. Paul wrote the Epistle of Joy to the people of Philippi thanking them for the blessing that they were to him and encouraging them in their faith.
St. Paul stared death in the face a number of times before his beheading in Rome, but we don’t have to have these dramatic experiences to embrace our mortality. St. Philip suggests that we “prepare for death and live each day as if it were our last. Fill up days with goodness and don’t let them be squandered.” When asked what time it was on his deathbed, St. Philip said, “It’s eight… in an hour it’ll be nine, then ten, eleven, and midnight.” His companions responded by giggling before going to sleep. His legacy even in his last moments is joy!
How can we be apostles of joy today?
St. Philip suggests, “Have all the fun you want, but just don’t offend God.” He also suggests, “Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything of you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength.”
St. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:4-9).
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with an abundance of the spiritual fruit of joy! We pray for the intercession of St. Philip and St. Paul to show us how to radiate joy no matter the circumstances around us.
St. Philip Neri, patron saint of joy, pray for us!
St. Paul the Apostle, writer of the Epistle of Joy, pray for us!