Once upon a time, an old time pastor gallops down the road, rushing to get to church on time. Suddenly his horse stumbles and pitches him to the ground. In the dirt with a broken leg, the pastor calls out, “All you saints in Heaven, help me get up on my horse!” Then, with superhuman effort, he leaps onto the horse’s back and falls off the other side. Once again on the ground, he calls to Heaven, “All right, just half of you this time!”
To use a word from St. Augustine, hilaritas is a sign of a saint.
Hilaritas, Latin, meaning “cheerfulness, joy, and contentedness.” In ancient Rome, hilaritas personified gaiety, joy and celebration. In the city’s ancient coinage hilaritas is pictured as a woman holding a palm branch in one hand and a cornucopia in the other hand. St. Augustine uses the word hilaritas as a hallmark of an excellent teacher. It is not easy to translate but he says that unless a person is enthusiastic and excited about a subject, even the best teachers will lose their students. And it even applies to priests!
Yes, hilaritas is a sign of a saint, but you know something…it is not easy. St. Anselm defines saints as “souls standing on tiptoe.” Those of us not content with the images in the mirror want to peer over the top to see the “more” of the kingdom.
A long time ago when I taught junior scripture at Benet Academy, I spent a lot of time on the Beatitudes. Some scholars say that these blessing-actions are real words from Christ himself. One day after reading them out loud, a young man raises his hand and declares, “Father, it sounds as if God wants losers.” I mention that when we are gentle; pure; dependent on God; humble and patient with resentment and suffering then I guess we are losers. These things do not make us famous, popular or rich. But according to the Lord, if we practice these virtues, we are saints. And the hilaritas soul standing on tiptoe is a sign of saint.
It is a hilaritas soul standing on tiptoe that leads St. Teresa of Avila to joust with God. Falling off her donkey into the mud, St. Teresa tells God that she knows now why he has few friends. It is a hilaritas soul standing on tiptoe that inspires our American saint St. Damian of Molokai to identify himself with fellow lepers in a homily. His congregation never knows that he contracts the disease until he says the words “we lepers.” It is a hilaritas soul standing on tiptoe that leads The Servant of God, Dorothy Day, to storm into a church after the suicide of a friend. At the bottom of the crucifix looking up at the figure of Jesus, Dorothy Day yells out: “Where are you ? I don’t see you. Is this what you want me to do? Well, you’re ugly. And, you smell!”
Blessed are you who continue to believe despite the pain of life. Blessed are you who live the lives of a hilaritas soul standing on tiptoe: people of enthusiasm and excitement who want more from our Christian faith! Whether we are dependent on God; humble and patient; gentle and pure; whether we put up with persecution and pray for our enemies. That is how we trade our Halloween masks for our white baptismal robes…we demonstrate our love for God and our neighbors. There is no room here for angry faces; there is no space for bitter lives. The opposite of hilaritas is a sadness; a sadness in the face of spiritual good. And it is one of the seven deadly sins. To paraphrase St. Thomas Aquinas, how can we be so sad when we know of Christ’s salvation for us?
Today we praise God for all those heroes and heroines who stood on their tiptoes to go deeper with their faith. There are countless men and women who lived holy hilaritas: holy enthusiasm and holy excitement about living the Gospel. The book of Revelation speaks of a great multitude who stand at the throne of God dressed in white robes and carrying palm branches. These are the saints who model hilaritas…they are called blessed…joyful…cheerful. What must it be like to join them someday?
Happy Feast Day! Happy Name Day, Everyone!
All Saints Day
November 1, 2015
Icon of St. Procopius
St. Procopius Abbey