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Despite the inclement weather, there was a very nice crowd for last night's "School of St. Philip Neri"; and for those who braved the subzero temperatures a wonderful discussion ensued regarding St. Philip's joy and how he sought to lift people out of a state of melancholy which can be an impediment to spiritual growth.  What follows below is the podcast of the evening's discussion as well as the text that was used as an aid.  

Philip is often described as the cheerful or joyful Saint and, indeed, he was exactly that.  Yet, this cheerfulness went beyond being simply a natural aspect of Philip's personality.  While he seems to have been of a cheerful disposition from his youth, this natural quality was perfected by the grace of God in our holy patron and fostered by a life of deep prayer and virtue.

Philip understood that melancholy was an impediment to growth in the spiritual life and would use any number of means to lift his spiritual children out of it.  What often throws a person into sadness and despondency is an uneasy conscience.  Sin weighs a person down spiritually and emotionally.  The first and great means to restoring joyfulness in a soul is confession.  It is the return to the life of grace that sets the person on the path to joy.  Melancholy is not simply an emotional issue but a spiritual sickness.  Sin darkens the heart and once the light of Christ has returned the soul must strive to persevere in the life of virtue.  

Essential in this struggle to maintain cheerfulness is interior mortification.  If we do not deny our will and order our appetites our heart becomes a "nursery of temptations" and our lives and relationships become unsettled.

Additionally, Philip identified the multiplication of worldly goods as contributing to melancholy.  An abundance of goods, property, or money leads to an abundance of worries about how to manage it, protect it, or increase the amount of it.  Over-attention to worldly security can lead to the neglect of the pursuit of spiritual riches.

In the struggle with melancholy, we must not take ourselves too seriously.  To teach this, Philip would unexpectedly make someone sing a song or ask someone to go for a little run.  These simple actions would often be enough to break melancholy's hold and lighten the mood.

Be that as it may, Philip knew that such tactics had their limits.  There is a difference between not taking oneself too seriously and falling into the extreme of not taking anything serious at all - of falling into buffoonery.  As with any virtue, cheerfulness or joy must be shaped and directed by the grace of God, lest we destroy what little spirituality we have through dissipation.

Our holy Master, who was never seen to be melancholy or troubled, who was never too cheerful, but always maintained an equable gaiety, could not endure that we should be melancholy, but would always have us cheerful, for he says that melancholy is prejudicial to spirituality.

We should be the more careful not to yield to a melancholy disposition, as the holy Master had a certain especial liking for cheerful people, and assures us that the cheerful are more easily guided in the spiritual life than the melancholy.  The holy Father was accustomed to say, "Charity and gladness," or, "Charity and humility," and sometimes even availed himself of playfulness to drive away melancholy, giving person a slight box on the ear, saying, "I do not beat you, but the devil."  When taking leave of a Capuchin, whose spirit he had tried by mortification, seeing that he had preserved his cheerfulness, he said to him, "My son, persevere in this cheerfulness, for this is the true way to make progression saintly virtue."

To come to the remedies against melancholy: We must know that the first is to have a good conscience, wherefore the Saint prescribed the powerful means of a general confession; and after having freed the penitent from melancholy, charged him to sin to "Go, and sin no more."  Hence the good brother Battista Guerra often reminded the novices of St. Philip that they should maintain cheerfulness and preserve themselves from sin.

Another important remedy against melancholy will be to make ourselves familiar with the practice of interior mortification; because Saint Philip says that when anyone knows how to break his own will, and deny his soul its own desires, he has a good degree of virtue, and that the not doing so is to bear about with us a nursery of temptations, so that such persons will be easily angry, easily break up a friendship, and will rarely be cheerful, but generally melancholy and troubled at what befalls them.

Eagerness in accumulating money also causes melancholy, as we gather from what befell a disciple of the Saint, who had thus eagerly acquired money, to whom the holy Master said, "My son, before you had this property you had the face of an angel, and it gave me pleasure to look at you; but now you have changed your countenance, you have lost your wonted cheerfulness, and are melancholy; so look to yourself."  The docile disciple blushed, and profiting by the admonition he afterwards only studied how to enrich himself in another life.

When assailed by melancholy, let us employ our tongues in singing.  We have many examples of the holy Master having caused the melancholy to sing even with others, as we especially learn from the case of a noble Roman who was oppressed with melancholy, and whom Saint Philip caused to sing a little with F. Antonio Gallonio, in order to divert him.

At another time, the holy Father invited F. Francesco Bernardo, who was sad, to run with him, and at this invitation his melancholy left him.

Though cheerfulness was so pleasing to the holy Master, yet he was never pleased with dissipation, for he said that we must carefully guard against becoming dissipated, of giving into what he called a buffooning spirit, since buffoonery unfits a person for receiving greater spirituality from God, and roots up what little he has already acquired.

The School of St. Philip Neri

by Giuseppe Crispino and translated by Rev. F.W. Faber

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