Thursday 26 May 2022 St Philip Neri Thursday before Ascension Sunday
Paul left Athens and went to Corinth, where he met a Jew called Aquila whose family came from Pontus. He and his wife Priscilla had recently left Italy because an edict of Claudius had expelled all the Jews from Rome. Paul went to visit them, and when he found they were tentmakers, of the same trade as himself, he lodged with them, and they worked together. Every sabbath he used to hold debates in the synagogues, trying to convert Jews as well as Greeks. After Silas and Timothy had arrived from Macedonia, Paul devoted all his time to preaching, declaring to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. When they turned against him and started to insult him, he took his cloak and shook it out in front of them, saying, ‘Your blood be on your own heads; from now on I can go to the pagans with a clear conscience.’ Then he left the synagogue and moved to the house next door that belonged to a worshipper of God called Justus. Crispus, president of the synagogue, and his whole household, all became believers in the Lord. A great many Corinthians who had heard him became believers and were baptised.
Psalm 97(98):1-4 The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘In a short time you will no longer see me, and then a short time later you will see me again.’ Then some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What does he mean, “In a short time you will no longer see me, and then a short time later you will see me again” and, “I am going to the Father”? What is this “short time”? We do not know what he means.’ Jesus knew that they wanted to question him, so he said, ‘You are asking one another what I meant by saying: In a short time you will no longer see me, and then a short time later you will see me again. ‘I tell you most solemnly, you will be weeping and wailing while the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.’
St Philip Neri was an enemy of solemnity and conventionality. When some of his more pompous penitents made their confession to him (he was famous as a confessor) he imposed salutary and deflating penances on them, such as walking through the streets of Rome carrying his cat (he was very fond of cats). When a novice showed signs of excessive seriousness, Philip stood on his head in front of him, to make him laugh. When people looked up to him too much, he did something ridiculous so that they should not respect someone who was no wiser – and no less sinful – than they were. Laughter is not much heard in churches, but Christians should laugh more than anyone else that God continues to love us despite the foolishness we make.
The Christian community in Corinth was troublesome and Paul’s relationship with them was not easy. Yet, God made Corinth a major centre of Paul’s missionary journey. “God’s foolishness is greater than human wisdom” as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:25.
The Jews considered the individual Resurrection of Jesus inconceivable. However, the slowness of the disciples to understand Jesus sees them chided for their unbelief. They fail to grasp the message that the Messiah can come to his glory only by means of suffering and death, and that his disciples must share with him in taking up their own cross. Again, we read Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “for the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Perhaps this feast of Philip Neri is an opportunity for us to celebrate with joy and laughter the inherent folly of our lives. In this laughter, may we find our deepest humility, for a moment at least, in seeing ourselves with the joy with which the all-wise God sees us.
San Filippo Neri era un nemico della solennità e della convenzionalità. Quando alcuni dei suoi penitenti più pomposi si confessavano da lui (era famoso come confessore), imponeva loro penitenze salutari e sgonfianti, come camminare per le strade di Roma portando con sé il gatto (era molto appassionato di gatti). Quando un novizio dava segni di eccessiva serietà, Filippo si metteva a testa in giù davanti a lui, per farlo ridere. Quando la gente lo ammirava troppo, faceva qualcosa di ridicolo perché non rispettassero qualcuno che non era più saggio – e non meno peccatore – di loro. Non si ride molto nelle chiese, ma i cristiani dovrebbero ridere più di chiunque altro del fatto che Dio continua ad amarci nonostante le nostre sciocchezze.
La comunità cristiana di Corinto era problematica e il rapporto di Paolo con loro non era facile. Eppure, Dio ha fatto di Corinto un centro importante del viaggio missionario di Paolo. “La stoltezza di Dio è più grande della sapienza umana”, come ci dice Paolo nella sua 1 Corinzi 1:25.
I Giudei consideravano inconcepibile la risurrezione individuale di Gesù. Tuttavia, la lentezza dei discepoli nel comprendere Gesù li vede rimproverati per la loro incredulità. Non riescono a cogliere il messaggio che il Messia può giungere alla sua gloria solo attraverso la sofferenza e la morte, e che i suoi discepoli devono condividere con lui il prendere la propria croce. Ancora una volta, leggiamo Paolo in 1 Corinzi 1:18, “perché il messaggio della croce è una stoltezza per quelli che muoiono, ma per noi che veniamo salvati è potenza di Dio”.
Forse questa festa di Filippo Neri è un’opportunità per celebrare con gioia e risate l’intrinseca follia delle nostre vite. In questa risata, possiamo trovare la nostra umiltà più profonda, almeno per un momento, nel vederci con la gioia con cui ci vede il Dio onnipotente.