Saint Philip Neri
By George Martin
St. Philip Neri was born in Florence, Italy to a small poor family. He was born the very same year as St. Teresa of Avila, in 1515. St. Philip’s two favorite books were the New Testament and a book of riddles. When he was a boy, his name was Pippo Buono. One amusing story from the early life of St. Philip Neri is that when he was still a young boy he was at a friend’s barn. His parents were busy talking and his sisters were busy playing. Philip went into the barn and saw a donkey and he wanted to ride the donkey. So he got on the donkey to ride him but, when his sisters found him, the donkey was on top of Philip. When they got him up he was fine, but the donkey was limping!
When Philip grew up, he would constantly go to Rome to pray in all the churches in the city. Philip’s main reason for doing this was to beseech God to know what his vocation would be. His answer came one day while meditating. St. John the Baptist appeared to him. He felt this was a sign from God and applied himself to not just to his own salvation but to the salvation of others.
It is worth noting that while still a laymen Philip tried to convince many to join themselves to Christ by joining one of the many religious families. Because of this, St. Ignatius of Loyola called him ‘the Bell’ or ‘the Signal.’ St. Ignatius explained that while he called many to enter the religious life, he still remained in the world. St. Philip finally was ordained a priest on June 23, 1551, at the age of thirty-six.
I think that it is important to remember that while he became a priest relatively late in life, he had always spent his life calling others to holiness. Philip met with his share of difficulties when he became a priest. At the church where he was assigned, there were two mean sacristans, whose names were Arminio and Leone. They would constantly mock him and make things hard for him. One time while he was saying a Mass at another church for a priest, they hid all of the vestments but the black ones knowing that Philip wanted to celebrate the feast of a saint. When Philip came back to say Mass at his church, he was left using the black ones. Finally because Philip endured all these things with patience and meekness, he converted Arminio and Leone. If St. Philip were here, I believe he would tell us to be kinder and more patient with one another. It is only by our charity and suffering our difficulties patiently that we can assist each other in obtaining heaven.
Among the many things that St. Philip did is the writing of sonnets. Reading these has given me an insight of his desire to be united with God. He writes: “The soul derives from God her being high, in one keen instant out of nothing brought, not painfully through second causes wrought; how should she, then, submit to things that die?” Here St. Philip Neri, tells us that we owe everything to God. God created us and our immortal soul through no merit of our own. Our response should be that knowing how wonderful God is for doing such a great thing we should be detached to everything but Him.
One of the virtues St. Philip Neri embodied was humility. St. Philip loved humility and embraced it. He would often say when being praised for his sanctity: “May God make me what you call me! But alas, there are innumerable country girls and peasants who will find more glory in the eyes of God than Philip!”
St. Philip reminds us that every talent or gift comes from God. We have them not because of something we did but, because of the endless mercy of God. While reading this I am reminded of the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). We should realize God has given us certain gifts and that we are called as disciples in Christ to use these gifts in the service of God. As humble as St. Philip Neri was, he recognized his gifts from God and the great responsibility in using these gifts for his fellow men to win paradise.
I am certain that when St. Philip Neri died on May 25, 1595, he heard Our Lord say: “Well done, good and faithful servant, because you have been faithful in little things, I will place you over great things: enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:21).