Friday, 20 May 2011

Have a heart of laughter: I want you to be happy

Next week contains not one, not two, but three important feast days. In order: Tuesday 24th May is the Translation of St Dominic - this has nothing to do with languages. Dominic, before he died in 1221, expressed a desire to be buried 'at the feet of his brothers', and so he was buried at the entrance of the Church of St. Nicholas, Bologna. However, when the community expanded and a new Church was needed to house the brethren and the faithful, Dominic's tomb was left exposed to the weather. His tomb began to be worn down by the elements, and so, on this day in 1223, the Friars made the decision to 'translate' the remains of Dominic to a tomb inside their new Church. 

Wednesday 25th May is the Feast day of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart, the RSCJ sisters. In the midst of the French Revolution, Madeleine Sophie Barat founded a community based on the profound love of God. 

Thursday 26th May is the Feast day of St. Philip Neri, founder of the Oratorians. St Philip is perhaps most famous for his cheerful nature and his most generous heart. I have stolen the title of this post from the readings for his feast: I want you to be happy (Phil 4: 4 - 9)

Now, Cloister is a bit nervous about breaking her recent silence with a post about this holy trio. You see, I live in Oxford, about 5 minutes from The Oratory, 6 minutes from the home of the RSCJ sisters and a whole 7 minutes from the Dominican Priory. I am surrounded. Not only that, it is reasonably likely that a representative of each of these groups will, at some point, read this post. All in all, I had better keep it short and talk about the food soon.

'Nobody', Blaise Pascal once wrote, 'is as happy as a real Christian'.  I think, taken to together, the message of these three is the pure joy contained within a life of grace. 


'Happiness' is the first word you think of when you watch the Dominicans work together for any length of time. Dominic's successor, St. Jordan of Saxony is famous for his exuberance and wit. There is the story, I do not know where it is recorded, of St. Jordan bringing a group of novices into night prayer. One of the group got a fit of the giggles, you know how it is, and all the rest joined in. An older friar scolded them, and signalled for them to stop, but they just laughed harder. After the prayer was over, Jordan turned to the older friar and asked, 'who made you their Master?' Then, speaking to the young friars he said, 'laugh to your heart's content. It is only right that you should laugh after breaking the devil's thraldom...Laugh on, then, and be as merry as you please.'


In the midst of 17th Century France, as St. Madeleine was doing her work, Jansenism had become profoundly rooted in the French Church. This was a heretical theology which emphasised human depravity and predestination. They were a miserable bunch, to be honest, and taught that only a few were destined to be saved, denying the role of free will in the moral life. This, as far as I can see it, turned the human race into lemming-like doomed robots incapable of ever pleasing a distant and cold hearted God. St. Madeleine rebelled hard against such bleak images of humanity and the divine. She took as her inspiration the heart of Jesus, and saw there a heart on fire with love for the world. Such love was not a cause for downheartedness, but of great rejoicing. God had a human heart, like ours: warm, full of energy, gentle, generous and vulnerable. And, further, it came to us as gift.


St Philip (1515-1595), is remembered often for his humour and vivacity: 'A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one'. I love St. Philip because he was excellent at laughing at himself. There is a danger, particularly as a teacher of religion, of taking yourself too seriously. St. Philip lived a life that shows me how to avoid that :-) Also, sometimes, when times were tough, St. Philip's disciples would come to him with their doubts and complaints, but he would tell them, 'don't worry', be confident and trust in God. This was the source of the happiness and joy he is so famous for, and I hope it is the source of my happiness and joy too. Sometimes, when I walk through the door of The Oratory, particularly during Adoration, those words, 'don't worry', are the first I hear.


Three saints whose lives have deeply touched and formed the lives of my good friends hereabouts. Three saints who laughed. Three saints who made me laugh. Three saints who made my friends laugh. Laughing with joy changes lives, I know a few people who would testify to that. In the words of GK Chesteron, 'Solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy, hard to be light. Satan fell by force of gravity'. Go ahead, laugh, I double dare you.


Right, as is tradition, I am off to think up a little something to celebrate these three. I haven't thought of it yet, but I have a bit of time this weekend to get creative in the kitchen. I'll update this with a link to a recipe very soon. In the meantime, why not check out following: Godzdogz, All this life and heaven too and The Oratory

Ok - the food is here - hope you like it. You know, if not, just go and find your favourite thing and share it with a friend. :-) Joyful things for joyful people.

3 comments:

Silvana said...

What a lovely post! And THANK YOU for including Sophie in the holy trio, I'm sure she's delighted to be keeping such cheerful company ;)

Looking forward to the foodie post now. Madeleine Sophie was a Burgundian, and her father, a cooper, kept a vineyard. So whatever the recipe, slosh in a slug of burgundy, and enjoy the rest with your meal!

Dominic said...

Lovely Elaine. can't wait to see what you cook up for this weeks Heavenly Stars!! x

Dominic said...

If it's Burgundy for Madeleine-Sophie, then I guess there'll have to be a shot of Chianti in it somewhere for Filippo ;)