26th May. Monday in Week 6 of Easter
Saint Philip Neri, priest
Filippo Neri (1515-1595) was an Italian priest noted for founding a society of secular clergy called the “Congregation of the Oratory” or Oratorians.
First Reading: Acts 16:11-15
(When Paul arrives in Philippi, Lydia becomes the first European Christian.)
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
Gospel: John 15:26-16:4
(The Holy Spirit will support us in whatever comes; this is Jesus’ farewell promise.)
Jesus said to his disciples, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
“I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.
The first European Christians
Arriving in Europe, Paul experienced a major transition in his life and ministry. Up till now in Asia Minor (modern Syria and Turkey), he had been plagued by Jewish Christians who challenged his credentials as an apostle and contradicted his understanding of the gospel. Summoned by a vision to come to Macedonia (northern Greece), Paul stepped into a period of peace in his apostolic life. In Greece, he soon arrived in the city of Philippi and was graciously received by a wealthy woman named Lydia, who offered the use of her home as his working base.
Paul literally fell in love with these newly converted Philippian churchgoers. His epistle to them is the warmest and most delightful of his writings. He wrote: “I give thanks to my God every time I think of you, which is constantly, in every prayer I utter, rejoicing, as I plead on your behalf, at the way you have all continually helped promote the gospel from the very first day … I hold all of you dear … God himself can testify how much I long for each of you with the affection of Christ Jesus! (Phil 1:3-8).
Today’s passage from Acts, which describes Paul’s first days at Philippi, also helps to correct the notion that he was a misogynist. If he had been anti-feminist, how would a woman as sophisticated and discerning as the wealthy merchant Lydia have been won to Christianity by Paul’s message and then have offered him the use of her own house?
While living at Philippi, Paul seemed to be surrounded with contentment and success, at least at first. And yet today’s reading from John’s gospel mentions how Christians were to be expelled from religious assemblies and even be put to death by people who claimed to be serving God. This clash in themes may seem extreme, yet it is as real as life can be. Today, somewhere in the world, Christians are being driven from their homes and their churches, dragged before law courts and sentenced to long imprisonment and to death.
The church remembers all these experiences of life. In its embrace she encloses great suffering and overwhelming peace, not only the assurance that greater risks can be taken for the sake of others but also the realization that the Lord will balance whatever may otherwise tend to extremes. The Spirit who prompts all good actions and who consoles all sorrowing people, that same Spirit comes to us from the Father and bears witness on behalf of Jesus.