Saint Philip Neri was educated by the Dominicans in Rome. As a layman he established a confraternity to care for the poor and the sick. He considered the life of a hermit but was ordained a diocesan priest in 1551 and became a popular confessor and spiritual director. Pope Gregory XIV tried to make Philip a cardinal but he declined. In 1575 he established the Congregation of the Oratory – a group of priests dedicated to preaching and teaching. Philip died in 1597 and was canonised in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV. Saint Philip is the patron saint of Rome.
We heard in the first reading how the Jews were clearly looking for a scapegoat for their troubles. They tried to have Paul punished for simply preaching a message that seemed to go against their own cherished traditions. Paul’s conversion and subsequent preaching were seriously challenging the status quo, and the Jews couldn’t bear to have him around.
But then something unexpected happened. When Paul’s case was dismissed, the people turned on one of their own spiritual leaders, Sosthenes, and began beating him. What he did, we don’t know, but that didn’t matter. Someone had to suffer their wrath.
Sadly, human behaviour hasn’t changed much in 2000 years. We get upset, and someone must take the blame to satisfy our discontent, even if it isn’t that person’s fault. Different groups of people, different religions, different countries are at fault, but never us.
But this isn’t the way Our Lord wants us to react. Rather than battling our way through an unstable culture of blame, he urges us to practice mercy. And the recent Year of Mercy should have taught us that compassion should trump condemnation, we should accept of our own shortcomings instead of demanding others change to suit us. When someone or something upsets us, can we show that Christ lives in us by our Christ-like reaction to it?
We all know that living in community has never been easy, and religious life only succeeds because we seek the good of the whole community and not just the good of myself as an individual. I keep talking about being able to see the bigger picture. By taking on God’s eternal perspective we can make annoying things seem less important. A quick prayer for the Sister who upsets us can give us a glimpse of them as God sees them; then the annoyances that can be so upsetting will shrink into insignificance.