Wednesday, November 5, 2014

SAINTATHON 2014: Day 3 - Saint Philip Neri

Hey, guys! It’s day three of our slog through the Saints, and you've already heard about some compelling characters! But today, I’m going to introduce y’all to my patron, a man with such awesome titles as "prophet of joy" and "second Apostle of Rome." So, who is this guy?

It's Saint Philip Neri! Yeah, I know he's kind of an odd Saint for a barely-an-adult gal like me. But I really love and identify with him. Why? Well, for starters, his official portrait looks like he was just told a really bad pun and the painter captured him mid-eyeroll.

What do you call a sleepwalking nun? A ROAMIN' Catholic! Get it, Phil? Get it??? 
But besides that, I really identify with pretty much every aspect of his life. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just concentrate on the three main points of affiliation. Phil (I can call him Phil; he’s my patron Saint) was a man of deep joy, overwhelming love for people, and strong, quiet faith.

Philip was a happy and happening dude. Even as a kid in Florence, he had the nickname of "Pippo Bueno" or "good little Phil," due to his cheerful, though puckish, nature. He was kind and helpful, but never above playing pranks or telling jokes. In Florence, he heard the preaching of both the fire-and-brimstone mystic Girolamo Savonarola, and the charming and humorous Piovano Arlotto. The sermons of these two men would be integral to Philip's aesthetic of joy and charity leading to spiritual reformation. Later, when Philip was well established in Rome, he said that "those with cheerful dispositions often find it easier to do good," and he lived by this maxim, and his other motto of charity and cheerfulness, his whole life long.

Saint Philip Neri (Artist's Rendering) 
Phil left Florence around 1532, at the age of 18, and after a few months of wandering around Italy, he went to Rome, and there lived almost as a beggar. But soon, he heard the call to serve the poor of Rome, both physically and spiritually. With the help of his friend, Persiano Rosa, he finished his studies, was ordained a priest, and set up the beginnings of the Oratorian order in his bedroom, giving weekly classes to the young men who came from all around to hear him speak. He dedicated his time to serving the poor, the sick, and pilgrims. You could often hear him saying, "Allegnamente!" ("Be cheerful!") His bright disposition and quick wit soon drew people of all stations to his side, and his humility and kindness, so in opposition to the vacuous opulence of the Renaissance, kept them there.
Of course, it’s not hard to attract people when they know you love them. And Philip did love them, every one of them. There’s something about holiness (real holiness, mind you, not the fake holiness that’s hallmarked by stuffiness and self-importance) that just enthralls people. So people flocked to him. Cardinals and shopkeepers, princes and street cleaners, great preachers and homeless children, all were swept into the whirl of love, joy, and faith that was Philip. He treated everyone with the same fatherly spirit of affection and encouragement. His daily walks around Rome soon became important events, where he would discuss matters of faith and morals with everyone from bishops to beggars.

He became close friends with Saint Ignatius of Loyola. His Oratory grew and grew, and became a place of conversation, laughter, and music. The great composers Animuccia and Palestrina often went to Philip for confession, and they almost always brought some musicians and singers to perform impromptu concerts for the Oratorians. He was a prolific confessor literally until the day he died and loved giving confessions, always happy to see the joy of hearts freed from sin. He was always very hard on sin but looked on the penitents with the love of a father. He even asked his parishioners go to confession every day! He said, "One of the very best means of obtaining humility, is sincere and frequent confession. In trying to get rid of bad habits, it is of the greatest importance not to put off going to confession after a fall, and also to keep to the same confessor."

This would be us if we all had daily confession. 
With all of the fame and accolades that Philip received, it was a wonder that he stayed as humble as he did. But Philip always knew his place as a child, albeit a disobedient one, of his God. He ordered his life around Christ and was devoted to Eucharistic adoration, prayer, and quiet time for meditation. He knew, though he reminded himself of it constantly, that no matter how famous he got on Earth, he should always prefer Heaven. Philip found God everywhere, from towering cathedrals and amazing paintings (Philip, like me, was partial to the work of Fra Angelico) to crashing ocean waves and rolling hills.

Philip looked for God in beauty, showing a truly Catholic imagination and appreciation for Heaven in the loveliness of Earth. He was very hard on his own sin, especially his pride. He had a simple and childlike faith, asking every day, "What can I do, my Jesus, to be doing your will?" He kept up a constant dialogue of prayer with his beloved Savior in his heart, though he was always ready to talk to any person who wanted to chat with the Saint. He was, to quote the biography by Father Paul Türks, "simultaneously the most distant and the most approachable of men."

Though Philip died in 1595, 401 years before I was born, I still connect with him in a deep and spiritual way. We both tend to be cheerful, no matter what’s going on in our lives. We both have a love for jokes and puns. We both make friends easily and just love being around people, though we also need solitude and quiet at times to talk to God. We both find God in both nature and in the beautiful creations of men. Philip even led me to two of my other favorite Saints, Saint Alphonsus Liguori (Doctor of the Church and Oratorian!) and Pope Saint John Paul II, who had a singular devotion to the Saint. The Oratorians are now a well-established order around the world and still serve the poor and sick with charity and cheerfulness every day. Several books have been written, and a movie has been made about Philip’s life. Saint Philip Neri continues to embolden, enlighten, and inspire people to this day.

Saint Philip Neri, pray for us!


Saint Stats:

Born: July 21, 1515

Died: May 25, 1595

Beatified: May 11, 1615

Canonized: March 12, 1622

Feast Day: May 26

Patronage: Rome, joy, humorists, the U.S. Army Special Forces and against arthritis and earthquakes

Further Reading:

The Maxims of Philip Neri, a delightful compilation of quotes and meditations for every single day of the year, can be bought as a book or simply read online.

Though there are several biographies of Neri, my favorite, and the one I used to research this post, is Philip Neri: The Fire of Joy, written by Father Paul Türks and translated by Father Daniel Utrecht, of the Oratory. Find it on Amazon here.

And if reading really isn't your thing but you have almost four hours to spare, the Italian movie on the life of St. Philip Neri, I Prefer Heaven, is superb. 

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