May 22 – On the sixth day of our novena to St. Philip Neri, we consider one of his most attractive qualities, cheerfulness. As usual, we’ll look at three aspects of this trait.
First – As with any virtue, cheerfulness/joy is not a matter of extremes. It exists as the middle way between two vices, in this case despair and what Bacci calls, “buffoonery.” Despair, we understand all too well. Buffoonery is not so much an unrestrained cheerfulness as is is an irrational cheerfulness. Imagine a group of middle school students on a sugar high late at night after a day at the amusement park… and you’ll be in the ballpark for understanding what buffoonery is. Cheerfulness, on the other hand, is reasonable. In the case of St. Philip, Bacci says, it was marked by a certain, “gravity,” or thoughtfulness. This gives cheerfulness longevity and purity so that we need never be ashamed of it.
Corollary to this, St. Philip’s cheerfulness was an evangelical tool of his Love. It was always sincere, but not always spontaneous. Sometimes, we can be sure from his biographies, it was a chosen response to great sadness. Philip often said that gloom is contrary to religion and to the Gospel. If we want to spread the Gospel in city culture, we need, sometimes to choose cheerfulness even when we don’t necessarily feel it. To this end, we might adopt a lesson from one of Philip’s favorite books, The Life of Blessed Giovanni Colombini by, Feo Belcari:
“It is my opinion that virtues are failing because we fail to speak enough of God, for I have seen an known that, as a natural consequence, the heart feels what the tongue utters; so he whose talk is of the world, grows lukewarm and worldly; he who speaks of Christ thinks of Christ.”
Because cheerfulness is a tool for evangelization, we should try to think of it as a gift to others… consequently, gloom may be thought of as a selfish indulgence.
Finally, the root of St. Philip’s cheerfulness was his constant faith that Divine Providence would bring him to heaven. If we believe in Providence and do our small part to maintain a good life, we will reach our goal one day. The more we think on that goal, the more our hearts cannot help but to leap with joy.
Bl. John Henry Newman’s Prayer for the Cheerfulness of St. Philip:
“Philip, my glorious advocate, who didst ever follow the precepts of the Apostle St. Paul in rejoicing always in all things, gain for me the grace of perfect resignation to God’s will, of indifference to matters of this world, and a constant sight of heaven; so that I ma never be disappointed at the Divine providences, never desponding, never sad, never fretful; that my countenance may always be cheerful, and my works kind and pleasant, as become ethos who, in whatever state of life they are, have the greatest of all goods, the favor of God and the prospect of eternal bliss. Amen.”