By Denise Trull
As a drama director, I love this feast in particular because it celebrates the beauty of the minor characters. Those small, golden nugget personalities that enrich and carry the story forward without ever demanding to take center stage. And yet, in truth, without the minor characters, the play would not go on. Such a one is Philip.
There is a line in the movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, where Willie Wonka turns to Charlie Bucket and says with a bemused yet knowing smile: "And you, you're just happy to be here." Charlie, as you may recall, had no agenda like all the other greedy children. He just wondered, wide eyed, at the miracle that he even had a golden ticket to get into the glorious Candy Factory and he asks almost immediately if he can bring his grandfather to share his joy. Poor, simple, unsuspecting, always loving others more than himself. His utter surprise is what makes him so lovable a character and brings joy to Willie Wonka. He has no idea how beautiful he is.
For me, Philip is that person; just happy to be there. Happy to have been chosen by Jesus at all. He was so happy in fact, that he spent most of his time afterwards bringing other people to Jesus so they would be happy as well. This dear saint was courteous, approachable, easy to talk to. Jesus calls him early on in His mission. The call was swift, short, and sweet. It simply says that Jesus ‘found’ him in Bethsaida and said, “Follow me.” Philip needed no more. There was no convincing, cajoling, or explanation needed. Philip was all in from the first words out of Jesus’s mouth. I can’t help but think Jesus smiled at this newfound apostle. Philip was to be His spiritual Pied Piper singing “Come and See” to everyone he met. Jesus knew the heart of this friendly man, and the power his affability would have in bringing the “tougher nuts” into the fold.
For not even one sentence after his own call in the Gospel, he runs to find his friend Nathaniel, the curmudgeon. Nathaniel is grumpy, sitting under a tree, tired of everything and everyone -- maybe it was the heat. We might have given up at that point, but Philip is undaunted. He reveals his persistent humility and good cheer in working on this more cynical friend. He knew Nathaniel. He ignores his outer display. Philip was sure Jesus would fill Nathaniel with wonder if he could just get him up off the ground. He didn’t give up trying until the introductions were made.
This is the power of persistent affability. The one on one friendships that are the heart and soul of true evangelization. Those brave, courteous people we all know in our lives who are not afraid to seek us out, pull us up off the ground, give us a slight shove and cheerfully say over and over again, “Come and See” when we want to give up trying to find Christ in a world that hides Him so well. They are not flashy, they are not sons of thunder, they aren’t leaders, movers, or shakers. They are just happy to be there. And their happiness is infectious. We are blessed beyond measure if we have a Philip in our lives.
Our Philip might be that interesting man at the donut Sunday who sits down with newcomers and always finds something to talk about. The tentative newcomer ends by leaving with a chocolate Long John to go, the phone number of the Men’s club coordinator, a Mass schedule, three to four book recommendations and the happy consolation that comes with being a welcomed part of the community.
There is that older lady who holds sleeping babies, so a mom can go to communion in recollection and perhaps find the energy and courage to come back the next Sunday and the Sunday after that. Affability extended can help people be faithful.
There is that young college student who isn’t afraid to tell her confused but searching friend how beautiful the Mass is and won’t she come with her next time? That next Mass may lead to more questions, an introduction to the Pastor over wine in the patio and suddenly they are both spending week after week at RCIA. Friendliness leads to baptisms.
There is even that intrepid soul who sits through a Latin Mass with a helpless, wide eyed stranger and simply shows them when to sit and when to stand, who patiently translates the Latin for them so they can understand this strange mystery they longed for but were afraid to meet alone. Kindly affability leads to the discovery of beauty. These minor characters we don’t really notice most of the time are quite important to the story of our Church.
How many times did Philip have to pull Nathaniel off the ground even after he was called? How often did his friendliness and cheer keep the apostles going? It is quite an underestimated virtue, holy affability. Philip was all golden with it. Jesus was to use him often and Philip was always ready. Ready even when out of his comfort zone.
Philip knew Greeks, he knew Jews, he probably even knew Romans. He seemed to talk to everyone about what he was doing. He talked to them about Jesus and the miracles and what Jesus had said on the road that day. The Greeks were so taken with him, that they asked if he would introduce them to Jesus so they could talk with him. Jesus had to curb Philip’s enthusiasm by telling him it wasn’t yet time for that, but I am sure He smiled that in the fullness of time all these people might remember how kind and open Philip had been and enter the fold of believers on Pentecost Sunday.
Then there is the best story of all. Early on, after the Ascension and Pentecost, Philip finds himself walking along a road and is told by an Angel that there is a man who desperately needs some encouragement and instruction. An Ethiopian Eunuch in a gorgeous, richly decorated chariot. The scene is all at once poignant, charming, and artless.
The Eunuch calls out to him and opens the door. In jumps Philip and they have a very deep, Biblical exegesis that I myself would have loved to be privy to -- this rough clad, unschooled Galilean and this perfumed, richly dressed Ethiopian with a costly book in his lap. Philip answers all his questions. He ends up baptizing this richly clad Ethiopian right then and there, steps out of the chariot and promptly gets miraculously spirited away to another town because Jesus needs his affability somewhere else in a hurry. Friendliness knows no strangers. It leads to peace and conversion.
Philip was not a son of Thunder, he wasn't after fame, prestige, or to be part of any inner ring of importance. He was never let in on the "important" revelations like the great three, Peter, James, and John, but Jesus loved him for what he was -- the best evangelizer in the whole bunch. Was Jesus comforted at odd times, just watching this gregarious man at work bringing him sheep after sheep? Was he comforted by having someone so affable in His circle of friends.
One day this sweet man would die courageously for Jesus in martyrdom. I can’t help but think Philip was friendly to his persecutors up until the bitter end and perhaps his dying words to them, spoken in joy through suffering, might just have been “Come. And see.”