Saint Philip Neri Feastday May 26

The following article is an excerpt from the chapter on St. Philip Neri from our book, “Defenders of the Faith.”

Apostle of the Laity, Philip begins to evangelize
Being of the Laity and never feeling worthy to be a priest, Philip Neri desired nothing but to serve as a lay man. He had been preaching in the hospitals, then on the street corners waiting for the office workers to leave for lunch or home. He would speak to them, instruct them with the true teachings of the Church. He taught with such love, such fire that more and more came, and stayed longer and longer, until they began following him, visiting the poor and the infirmed; and the Confraternity of the Laity was formed! The Confraternity was not only filled with these young people, now on fire for the Faith, but with the nobility.
The Apostolate took on the care of poor pilgrims coming to Rome for the Holy Year. Since most of them arrived sick, tired, without much to eat, having walked hundreds of miles under the worst conditions, they had need not only of a place to stay, but often a hospital. St. Philip and his Confraternity set up the first pilgrims’ houses in Rome, where they could stay a short time, convalesce or receive more intensive hospital care.
The time came for Philip Neri to become Father Philip Neri. His confessor convinced him he could do more good fighting the heresies and paganism destroying the very fiber of our Church and the Mystical Body of Christ, as a priest. He obeyed! He was ordained at thirty-six. His first Mass, he became so overcome with emotion, shaking almost uncontrollably, he could barely pour the wine and water into the chalice. At the moment of Consecration, when he elevated the Host, he had to lean against the altar for support, as he feared he would fall over if he did not brace himself. This would repeat itself at every Mass he said.
He was never too sick to celebrate the ongoing Sacrifice of the Cross every day. He united himself so deeply with the Lord, His last hours on the Cross, that at the moment of elevation, he would levitate, suspended over the altar for more than two hours. For this reason, toward the end of his life, in order to not attract attention to himself, rather than to the Mass and what is truly happening on the altar, he celebrated Mass privately in a little chapel adjacent to his room. His first biographer said he came upon St. Philip many times, elevated as high as six feet from the floor while saying the Mass.
One day, during the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass, as he was supplicating Jesus to give him the gift of patience, he heard an inner voice say, “You’ll have it; the road to Heaven is through the Cross.” The Lord was to soon show him the meaning behind his words! Father Philip Neri went to live in the Church of San Geròlamo[1] where he was persecuted by two bishops who inflicted the cruelest insults upon him, accusing him of deserting his family and the responsibilities connected with his former title and birthright. He bore it all with humility and patience.
He continued to preach, but now not only from the pulpit but from the confessional. During the forty hour devotions, which he loved, he preached so passionately about the God-Man Jesus Who was alive in the Monstrance that one day there were thirty conversions, young men who had come to church to ridicule Father Neri and disrupt the Mass, but after hearing him, converted and asked to go to confession. More and more people returned to the Sacraments after many years away from the Church. He began teaching in his private chamber; from this, more and more came, and before you know it the Congregation of the Oratory was formed. Philip Neri was thirty seven years old.
The Church is under siege, and the heretics are attacking the very lifeline of the Church, the Sacraments. How does St. Philip Neri respond to this abuse? He begins to preach on the necessity of receiving the Sacraments: The Sacrament of Baptism soon after the birth of a child; The Sacrament of Confirmation, the final initiation into the Church – the Sacrament which calls us to become Soldiers of Christ; The Sacrament of Extreme Unction,[2] the merciful last kiss of the Church; The Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion and the need of frequent reception of these Sacraments to be strong; the awesome sanctity of The Sacrament of Holy Orders; and the sacred union between husband and wife and Jesus the day they are united under the Sacrament of Matrimony.
His sermons attracted so many to the Sacraments, he often had to hear confessions into the wee hours of the night, sometimes ending with the rising of the morning sun. But he was so happy! Never too tired, he would wash his face, maybe catch a couple of hours of sleep and off he would go to the confessional to hear more hearts cleansed of their sins returning to Jesus. Philip Neri had all the gifts; one of which was the ability to read men’s hearts. When a penitent needed help making a good examination of conscience, and was struggling during confession, Philip Neri would reveal the penitent’s most hidden, innermost sins, and with that helped the penitent to make a good confession.
Philip Neri heard the call to go to India as a missionary. He immediately asked to go. The answer was: “Your India is Rome; it is to the Romans you are to bring the Word of God.” Although disappointed, he obeyed!
Philip Neri went after heretics with love but also firmness. No heretic was safe around him; the hardest hearts were softened and accepted Mother Church as the one True Church. There was a heretic who was awaiting being burned at the stake, as this was the punishment for heresy by the state, at this time. Nothing or no one could persuade him to renounce his errors and ask pardon of Mother Church. He obstinately refused all pleas made to him to save his life and immortal soul. He would hear nothing of it. Enter St. Philip! After he spoke to him gently and lovingly, the heretic repented, retracted publicly his errors and asked pardon of the Church; as a consequence he was saved from death.
Saint Philip Neri goes after the devil and his works
St. Philip Neri expelled demons! As Persiano Rosa, his confessor was dying, he was attacked by the devil who appeared in the form of a black dog. As soon as Philip Neri entered the room, Rosa asked him to pray for him. No sooner had Philip Neri knelt and begun praying, than the prince of hell fled, howling in anger and mortification.
The Carnival and its perversion enveloped and swallowed much of Rome’s society, the rich and the poor united in its debauchery. Philip Neri came up with a solution: He instituted the visitation of the seven churches of Rome, to be done during the Carnival. First members of the Confraternity processed; then others joined, first out of curiosity and then desire. As holiness is eternally beautiful, and evil everlastingly ugly, the young, tired of the depravity of the Carnival, were attracted by the solemnity of the procession and processors; soon more and more joined the holy parade to the seven churches.
Like Jesus, Father Philip Neri was always calling God’s creatures to be as He had designed them to be, not as the world had refashioned them. He asked Fiora[3] and some other penitents to take in orphans, clean them up, feed them and teach them how to live holy lives in the world.
Charity toward all, his heart bled most for the poor and the sick. One day, as he and one of his Confraternity were passing by the Coliseum, he came upon a person lying in the street, more dead than alive. The man called out, “Do I revolt you?” Father Philip Neri’s response was to ask his spiritual son to lift the man and bring him to their hospital.[4]
[1]Italian for St. Jerome
[2]Last Rights or Sacrament of the Sick
[3]means flower in Italian
[4]the one they had set up for just this purpose
For more information on St. Philip Neri and other Defenders of the Faith Click here
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