The Epistle of Joy

3 November 2006: Friday of the 30th Week in Ordinary Time
Philippians 1, 1-11: St. Martin de Porres

The city of Philippi in Macedonia was founded in 368 BC by Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, and it is his name that it bears. It was built on an ancient city named Krēnidēs or the Well of Fountains. Surrounding the city were gold and silver mines that made it a commercial center of the ancient world. It was located strategically between Asia and Europe so that everyone who travels between the continents passes through the road to Philippi. It was here that Mark Antony defeated Julius Caesar's assassins, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus in AD 42, deciding the future of the Roman Empire.

Paul chose cities as great as Philippi to preach the Gospel. Paul reached Philippi in AD 52 in his second journey, and established close friendship with the Philippians than any other church he had visited. Paul had been proud that in his ministry he had never taken any help except from his own hands, except the Philippians. Paul received gifts from them even if he has left them for Thessalonica, Corinth and even when he was in prison in Rome. When they alone remembered him with a gift, Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians which we heard today, “My brethren whom I love and long for, my joy and crown in the Lord” (Phil 1, 1). Paul’s letter to the Philippians had been regarded as the loveliest letter Paul had written, and they called it the Epistle of Joy because the word joy and rejoice recurs a lot of times, perhaps, like the joy that we feel when we remember friends. The point of the letter of Paul to the Philippians then is joy and rejoicing.

This epistle of Paul lists down things that made him happy. First, the joy in prayer (1: 4): the quiet happiness we feel when we pray for those we love and when we are able to teach someone how to pray. For many parents, how did you feel when your children first recited a prayer which you taught them? Do you remember the first time they made the sign of the cross or even call God, Papa Jesus? Second, the joy of faith (1: 25). Christianity makes people happy: it gives peace, love, courage and hope when it is difficult to hope. It makes people live life better and see their sacrifices worthwhile. It gives people the meaning they search for. If Christianity does not make us happy then our faith is not authentic. Third, the joy of seeing fellow Christians together in fellowship (2: 2). We are happy when we see gatherings of people; when friends come together for coffee; when classmates flock together to discuss a difficult topic. When people are together, Christians rejoice. Fourth, there is joy in the news of a loved one (2: 28). Separation and departures are very much part of our lives. Goodbyes mark many of our days. How many times did we rejoice that a loved one who left the country has sent an email that he or she arrived safely? Or the times that after a great movie, one receives a text that he has arrived home and enjoyed your company? The joy of friendship between Paul and Timothy and the Philippians is manifested in Paul’s greeting. Fifth, the joy in a gift (4: 10). This joy is not just in the gift itself, as the thought that we were remembered and that someone cares.

Robert Louis Stevenson suffered poor health from childhood, and he died at 44. But he never allowed his sickness to overpower his spirit. He has a number of things that he does to make his life happy.

  1. Make up your mind to be happy. Learn to find pleasure in simple things.
  2. Make the best of your circumstances. No one has everything, and everyone has some sorrow mixed in with the gladness of life. The trick is to make the laughter outweigh the tears.
  3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t think that somehow you should be protected from misfortunes that befall other people.
  4. Don’t let criticism worry you. You can’t please everybody.
  5. Don’t let others set your standards. Be yourself.
  6. Do the things you enjoy doing, but don’t go into debt in the process.
  7. Don’t cherish enmities. Don’t hold grudges. Hatred poisons the soul.
  8. Have many interests. If you can’t travel, read about many places.
  9. Don’t spend your life brooding over sorrows or mistakes. Don’t be one who never gets over things.
  10. Do what you can for those less fortunate than yourself.
  11. Keep busy at something. A very busy person never has time to be unhappy.

So we are left with a question: If Paul has reasons to rejoice, and Robert Stevenson has ways to make him happy, what’s yours?

2 comments:

dewdrops said...

hi, fr. jboy! i hope you will also post your homily this evening (philippians and joy). thank you. I would like to share it with my friends.

Jessel Gerard said...

Hi dewdrops! Just posted it. This is it: the epistle of joy! thanks again!