4th Sunday of Lent
Dedication of a New Altar/Blessing of Church Renovations
St. Philip Neri Parish, Linthicum
March 14, 2021
St. Philip Neri: “The Saint of Joy”
I am delighted to return to St. Philip Neri on this Laetare Sunday to bless your beautifully renovated church and to dedicate your beautiful new altar. The church has truly undergone a wondrous transformation, and with you, I’d like to recognize the leadership of Fr. DeAscanis that has made all this possible. At the same time, I want to thank all those who provided their skill and expertise – architects, artisans, builders, construction workers, and many more. Above all, I wish to thank and congratulate you, the parish family of Philip Neri. Your love for your parish, coupled with a spirit of generosity, are etched in the beauty of this church which will serve well many generations of Catholics.
As you know, the Fourth Sunday of Lent is called “Laetare Sunday”. “Laetare” is a Latin word meaning, “to rejoice”, and so indeed we do rejoice, even in the midst of Lent, as we journey towards Easter. And how appropriate that this blessing and dedication take place on Laetare Sunday, for St. John Paul II called your parish patron, St. Philip Neri, “the saint of joy”. Hailing from the 16th century, St. Philip Neri delighted in God’s love and in being a child of God. At the heart of his joy was an intimate relationship with Jesus, nurtured by prayer. At age 29, while praying in the Catacombs of St. Sebastian in Rome, he had what some have described as “a personal Pentecost”, a spiritual event that kindled the fire of divine joy in his soul, a fire never to be extinguished. Before he founded the religious society known as the Oratorians, he founded the Oratory, a center of prayer, fellowship, discussion, and catechesis. It provided for many a way, a path to conversion, to confession, to life-long joy. Many were attracted to the Oratory precisely because of Philip’s joyful spirit. For Philip, there were no gloomy saints. As he put it, “Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life. Therefore, the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.”
Aided by the prayers of our patron, St. Philip Neri, we should rejoice heartily in today’s Gospel that brings us to the Source of our joy: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” St. Philip Neri remained joyous amid all the challenges of his life because he believed in the power of divine love and believed that that God earnestly calls us to share eternal life. Philip was joyful because he experienced “the immeasurable riches of God’s grace”, of which St. Paul speaks in today’s second reaching from the Letter to the Ephesians. Possessing an indomitable joy, he set out to evangelize those who did not believe in the Son of God, those who preferred darkness to light. He could not fail to share with others the fire of divine love that burned within him.
So, as Laetare Sunday signals that the approach of the great feast of Easter, let us ask St. Philip Neri to intercede for us, that today and every day, we might manifest joy, not merely as an expression of personal happiness, but rather as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, one of the sure signs that the grace of the Holy Spirit is at work in the depth of our hearts. Our joy will attract others to the faith, including those who have left our ranks.
The Power of Beauty
St. Philip taught us another lesson that is apropos for this happy day on which we bless this beautifully renovated church and dedicate a beautiful new altar. Our patron, St. Philip, teaches us the link between joy and beauty, for he understood the power of beauty to draw people to the beauty that is Christ. That is why the Oratory he founded was a place of beauty that employed the things of this world to portray and manifest the God who is all true, all good, and all beautiful, indeed the very Source of beauty.
It was this vision that guided the renovation of this church. Father DeAscanis and his team understand, as did St. Philip Neri, the power of beauty – architectural harmony, beautiful and tasteful art, careful lighting, and much more – to draw this parish family more intimately into the exquisite beauty of God Thrice Holy – the blessed Trinity – [they understood] the power of beauty to attract us to the glory of God shining on the face of Christ, and the beauty of divine love found so abundantly in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Let us rejoice, not only because of the external beauty of this parish church, but more importantly, the power of its newfound beauty to draw us closer to Christ who is truth, goodness, and beauty itself, he the only Son of God!
Our Own Renovation Projects
Even as we rejoice, however, let us not forget that Lent is still not over. We have two full weeks of Lent ahead of us, followed by Holy Week before we arrive at the full-fledged joy of the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday. For most of us, that means there is still a lot of work to do in repenting of sins and in making a good unburdening confession, in engaging in self-denial, and in going out of our way, à la Philip Neri, to serve the poor. It could be that Lenten resolutions that we embraced so eagerly on Ash Wednesday have fallen by the wayside amid the rough and tumble of daily life. It could be that the sins and faults we vowed to renounce have persisted.
If you find yourself in such a situation, then let this day be an inspiration for you! For just as this parish church underwent a careful and loving restoration, so too, we ourselves continually need to undergo a careful and loving renovation. St. Paul teaches us that we are temples of the Holy Spirit – not only our souls but our bodies are temples of the Spirit. Yet, if we are honest, we will see that repairs are necessary, and that, in many respects, we are lacking the divine beauty that God’s grace alone can bring about in us.
Let us not view the renovations that lie ahead of us with sadness or discouragement. Rather, like St. Philip Neri, and in the spirit of Laetare Sunday, let us be only too glad to allow the Holy Spirit access to our hearts, so that the fire of divine love might burn away all that is unworthy, all that is untrue, so that the fire of divine love might refashion the image of Christ in us that has been distorted and covered over by our sinfulness. This is a ‘divine renovation’ project we can all undertake, and undertake it we must! A good place to start (as St. Philip Neri would heartily agree) is the confessional where the Father who is rich in mercy wipes away our sins thanks to the merits of Christ crucified and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Dear friends, on this Laetare Sunday, we celebrate an amazing confluence of joy and beauty – the joy and beauty of Christ, reflected in St. Philip Neri himself and in this church named in his honor. May that same joy and beauty shine from deep within us so that in this world darkened by sin, St. Philip Neri Parish will always be a light brightly visible. And may God bless us and keep us always in his love!