If I had to choose one saint to pray for me, to look out for me, and to help me not to take myself too seriously, who showed the humorous side of holiness, then that saint would Philip Neri. Born in 1515 in Florence, he showed the impulsiveness and spontaneity of his character from the time he was a boy. His father was not successful financially and at eighteen Philip was sent to work with an older cousin, a good businessman. During this time, Philip found a favourite place to pray up in the fissure of a mountain that had been turned into a chapel. We don't know anything specific about his conversion, but during these hours of prayer he decided to leave worldly success behind and dedicate his life to God.
He went to Rome in 1533 where he was the live-in tutor of the sons of a fellow Florentine. He studied philosophy and theology until he thought his studies were interfering with his prayer life. He then stopped his studies, threw away his books, and lived as a hermit. Night was his special time of prayer. After dark he would go out in the streets, most often into the catacombs of St. Sebastiano to pray. During one of these times of prayer he felt a globe of light enter his mouth and sink into his heart. This experience gave him such energy to serve God that he went out to work at the hospital of the incurables, and starting speaking to others about God, everyone from beggars to bankers.
In 1548 Philip formed a confraternity with other laymen to minister to pilgrims who came to Rome without food or shelter. The spiritual director of the confraternity convinced Philip that he could do even more work as a priest. After receiving instruction, Philip was ordained in 1551.
At his new home, the church of San Girolamo, he founded an “Oratory”, where younger men especially came to him for the wisdom and direction they needed to grow spiritually. Philip understood that it wasn't enough to tell young people not to do something -- you had to give them something to do in its place. So at Carnival time, when the worst excesses were encouraged, Philip organized a pilgrimage to the Seven Churches with a picnic accompanied by instrumental music for the mid-day break. After walking twelve miles in one day they were too tired for temptation! In order to guide his followers, Philip made himself available to everyone at any hour -- even at night.
“Laughter as a Sign of Holiness” by Gerard Hughes
“An individual’s sense of humour will be one of the expressions of holiness. Intense seriousness and lack of humour is a danger sign in any religiously-inclined person. In the Church, a spirit of joy and merriment has been one of the special marks of those who are to be declared saints.”
Philip’s approach to sanctity was truly catholic, all-embracing and accompanied by a good laugh. Philip always wanted his followers to become not less but more human through their striving for holiness.
We often worry more about what others think that about what God thinks.
Do something today that you are afraid might make you look a little ridiculous.
Then reflect on how it makes you feel, and pray about your experience with God.
Lord, we take ourselves far too seriously most of the time. Help us to add humour to our perspective - remembering always that humour is one of your most precious gifts to us. Rid us of fear and negativity, and teach us to view situations through Your eyes and discover reasons to rejoice. May we grow in humble confidence, which sets free the gift of humour within us. Amen.