Friday, May 26, 2017
St. Philip Neri

Double (1954 Calendar): May 26

Philip Neri (1515-95), a native of Florence, settled in Rome. He thought of offering himself for the foreign missions, but a Benedictine friend told him that his apostolate was in Rome. Philip gathered some companions into a group that later became the renowned Congregation of the Oratory. In 1551 he was ordained to the priesthood. Philip's Oratory soon constituted the center of religious life in the Eternal City, and its founder fully deserved the title by which he was called: "Second Apostle of Rome." This lovable saint attracted the trust and affection of people in every walk of life by his abounding joy in the Lord.

The following is Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger:

Joy is the leading feature of the Paschal Season—a supernatural joy which springs from our delight at seeing the glorious triumph of our Emmanuel, and from the happiness we feel at our own deliverance from the bonds of death. This interior joy was the characteristic of the Saint whom we honor today. His heart was ever full of a jubilant enthusiasm for what regards God; so that we could truly apply to him those words of Scripture: A secure mind is like a continual feast (Prov. 15: 15). One of his later disciples, the illustrious Father Faber, tells us in his beautiful treatise, Growth in Holiness, that cheerfulness is one of the chief means for advancing in Christian perfection. We will therefore welcome with gladness and veneration the benevolent and light-hearted St. Philip Neri, the Apostle of Rome, and one of the greatest Saints produced by the Church in the 16th century.

Love of God—but a love of the most ardent kind, and one that communicated itself to all that came near him—was our Saint's characteristic virtue. All the Saints loved God; for the love of God is the first and greatest of the commandments: but St. Philip's whole life was, in an especial manner, the fulfillment of this divine precept. His entire existence seemed to be but one long transport of love for his Creator; and had it not been for a miracle of God's power and goodness, this burning love would have soon put an end to his mortal career. He was in his 29th year, when one day—it was within the Octave of Pentecost—he was seized with such a vehemence of divine charity that two of his ribs broke, thus making room for the action of the heart to respond freely to the intensity of the love of the soul. The fracture was never healed; it caused a protrusion which was distinctly observable; and owing to this miraculous enlargement of the region of the heart, St. Philip was enabled to live fifty years more, during which time he loved his God with a fervor and strength which would do honor to one already in Heaven.

This seraph in human flesh was a living answer to the insults heaped upon the Catholic Church by the so-called Reformation. Luther and Calvin had called Holy Church the harlot of Babylon; and yet She had, at that very time, such children as St. Teresa of Avila and St. Philip Neri of Rome, to offer to the admiration of mankind. But Protestantism cared little or nothing for piety or charity; its great object was throwing off the yoke of restraint. Under pretense of religious liberty, it persecuted them that adhered to the true Faith; it forced itself by violence where it could not enter by seduction; but it never aimed at or thought of leading men to love their God. The result was that wheresoever it imposed its errors, devotedness was at an end—we mean that devotedness which leads man to make sacrifices for God or for his neighbor. A very long period of time elapsed after the Reformation before Protestantism ever gave a thought to the infidels who abounded in various parts of the globe... but anything like the devotedness of Catholic institutions is an impossibility for Protestantism, were it only for this reason, that its principles are opposed to the Evangelical Counsels, which are the great sources of the spirit of sacrifice, and are prompted by a motive of the love of God.

Glory, then, to St. Philip Neri, one of the worthiest representatives of charity in the 16th century! It was owing to his zeal that Rome and Christendom at large were replenished with a new life by the frequentation of the Sacraments and by the exercises of Catholic piety. His word, his very look, used to excite people to devotion. His memory is still held in deep veneration, especially in Rome, where his Feast was kept with the greatest solemnity. He shares with Ss. Peter and Paul the honor of being Patron of the Holy City. Formerly, on his Feast, the Pope went, with great solemnity, to the Church of St. Mary in Vallicella, and paid the debt of gratitude which the Holy See owes to the Saint who accomplished such great things for the glory of our Holy Mother the Church.

St. Philip had the gift of miracles; and though seeking to be forgotten and despised, he was continually surrounded by people who besought him to pray for them, either in their temporal or spiritual concerns. Death itself was obedient to his command, as in the case of the young prince Paul Massimo. The young prince, when breathing his last, desired that St. Philip should be sent for, in order that he might assist him to die well. The Saint was offering Mass at the time. As soon as the Holy Sacrifice was over, he repaired to the palace; but he was too late—he found the father, sister and the whole family in tears. The young prince had died after an illness of 65 days, which he had borne with most edifying patience. St. Philip fell upon his knees; and, after a fervent prayer, he put his hand on the head of the corpse, and called the prince by his name.

Thus awakened from the sleep of death, Paul opened his eyes, and looking at St. Philip, said to him, "My Father!" He then added these words: "I only wished to go to confession." The assistants left the room, and St. Philip remained alone with the prince. After a few moments the family were called back; and in their presence, Paul began to speak to St. Philip regarding his mother and sister who had been taken from him by death, and whom he loved with the most tender affection. During the conversation, the prince's face regained all it had lost by sickness. His animation was that of one in perfect health. The Saint then asked him if he would wish to die again. "Oh yes," answered the prince, "most willingly; for I should then see my mother and sister in Heaven." "Take then,” said St. Philip, "take thy departure for Heaven, and pray to the Lord for me." At these words, the young prince expired once more, and entered into the joys of eternal life, leaving his family to mourn his departure, and venerate a Saint such as Philip.

He was almost continually visited by Our Lord with raptures and ecstasies; he was gifted with the spirit of prophecy, and could read the secrets of the conscience. His virtues were such as to draw souls to him by an irresistible charm. The youth of Rome, rich and poor, used to flock to him. Some he warned against danger; others he saved, after they had fallen. The poor and sick were the object of his unceasing care. He seemed to be everywhere in the city by his works of zeal, which gave an impulse to piety that has never been forgotten.

St. Philip was convinced that one of the principal means for maintaining the Christian spirit is preaching the word of God: hence he was most anxious to provide the faithful with apostolic men, who would draw them to God by good and solid preaching. He established, under the name of The Oratory, an institute, the object of which is to encourage Christian piety among the people. By founding it, St. Philip aimed at securing the services, zeal, and talent of priests who are not called to the Religious life, but who, by uniting their labors together, would produce great good to the souls of men.

Thus did he afford to priests, whose vocation did not lead them to the Religious state, the great advantages of a common rule and mutual good example, which are such powerful aids both in the service of God and in the exercise of pastoral duties. But the holy Apostle was a man of too much faith not to have an esteem of the Religious life as a state of perfection. He never lost an opportunity of encouraging a vocation to that holy state. The Religious Orders were indebted to him for so many members, that his intimate friend and admirer, St. Ignatius of Loyola, used playfully to compare him to a bell, which calls others to the chapel (of the Religious life), yet never goes in itself!

The awful crisis of the 16th century, through which the Christian world had to pass, and which robbed the Catholic Church of so many provinces, was a source of keenest grief to St. Philip during the whole of his life. His heart bled at seeing so many thousands of souls fall into the abyss of error and heresy. He took the deepest interest in the efforts that were made to reclaim those that had been led astray by the pretended Reformation. He kept a watchful eye on the tactics wherewith Protestantism sought to maintain its ground. The Centuries of Magdeburg, for example, suggested to his zeal a counterbalance of truth. The Centuries was a series of historical essays, whereby the Reformers sought to prove that the Catholic Church had changed the ancient faith, and introduced superstitious practices in the place of those that were used in the early ages of Christianity. A work like this, with its falsified quotations, its misrepresentation and its frequent invention of facts, was destined to do great injury; and St. Philip resolved to meet it by a work of profound erudition—a true history, compiled from authentic sources.

One of the fathers of his Oratory, Caesar Baronius, was just the man for such an undertaking; and St. Philip ordered him to take the field against the enemy. The Ecclesiastical Annals were the fruit of this happy thought; and Baronius himself, at the beginning of Book VIII, acknowledges that St. Philip was the originator of the work. Centuries have passed away since then. It is easy for us, with the means which we now have, to detect certain imperfections in the Annals; at the same time, it is acknowledged on all sides that they form by far the truest and finest History of the Church of the first 1200 years—which is as far as the learned Cardinal went. Heresy felt the injury it must needs sustain by such a History. The sickly and untrustworthy erudition of the Centuriators could not stand before an honest statement of facts; and we may safely assert that the progress of Protestantism was checked by the Annals of Baronius, which showed that the Church was then as She had ever been—the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3: 15).

St. Philip's sanctity and Baronius' learning secured the victory. Numerous conversions soon followed, consoling the Church for the losses She had sustained. And if in more recent times many have returned to the ancient Faith, it is but fair to attribute the movement (especially the Oxford movement), in part at least, to the success of the historical method begun by the Annals.


O God, who didst exalt blessed Philip, Thy Confessor, with Thy Saints in glory, mercifully grant, that we who rejoice in his festival may profit by the example of his virtues. Through our Lord . . .

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