Monday, 26 May 2008

St. Philip Neri

I got the following from Universalis today; not only did it move me to tears, but it also made me laugh. There are many things we can take from this, especially the whole thing about hero worship. It's very common to put our faith in priests, people in power and not God himself.

When I was a seminarian, I remember walking into rooms at times and simply because I was training to be a priest, the room would center upon me. I have to confess that at the time I loved it... And then when I left, people looked on with such dissapointment, although they don't mean too. Then those who seemed to be your friends leave, because you're no longer what they knew you as, and it turns they didn't know you at all. It was then I knew I had a real problem with humility, so keep praying for me for that grace to be humble, but keep your worship for God and God alone. As the mid morning reading goes...

Be consecrated to me, because I, the Lord, am holy, and I will set you apart from all these peoples so that you may be mine.
Leviticus 20:26

Another thing I took from this was that we should be a force of joy radiating in the world and throughout it. Yes, be joyful because we are sinners redeemed by our loving saviour Jesus Christ.

Take courage, my children, call on God: he will deliver you from tyranny, from the hands of your enemies; for I look to the Eternal for your rescue, and joy has come to me from the Holy One at the mercy soon to reach you from your saviour, the Eternal.
Baruch 4:21-22

He was born in Florence in 1515. At the age of eighteen he went to Rome, and earned his living as a tutor. He undertook much-needed charitable work among the young men of the city, and started a brotherhood to help the sick poor and pilgrims.

He was advised that he could do more good as a priest, and was ordained in 1551. He built an oratory over the church of San Girolamo, where he invented services, consisting of spiritual readings and hymns, which were the origin of the oratorio (tradition is a good thing; but innovation also has its place). He continued to serve the young men of Rome, rich and poor alike, with religious discussions and by organising charitable enterprises. He had a particular care for the young students at the English College in Rome, studying for a missionary life and probable martyrdom in England.

He inspired other clergy to emulate him, and formed them into the Congregation of the Oratory. Oratorian foundations still flourish in many countries today. He died in Rome in 1595.



St Philip Neri was an enemy of solemnity and conventionality. When some of his more pompous penitents made their confession to him (he was famous as a confessor) he imposed salutary and deflating penances on them, such as walking through the streets of Rome carrying his cat (he was very fond of cats). When a novice showed signs of excessive seriousness, Philip stood on his head in front of him, to make him laugh. When people looked up to him too much, he did something ridiculous so that they should not respect someone who was no wiser – and no less sinful – than they were. In every case there was an excellent point to his pranks: to combat pride, or melancholy, or hero-worship.

Laughter is not much heard in churches: perhaps that is to be expected... but outside church, Christians should laugh more than anyone else – laugh from sheer joy, that God bothered to make us, and that he continues to love us despite the idiots we are. Everyone is a sinner, but Christians are sinners redeemed – an undeserved rescue that we make even less deserved by everything we do. It is too serious a matter to be serious about: all we can reasonably do is rejoice.

Very many of the saints, not just St Philip, have an abiding terror of being looked up to. For they know their imperfections better than anyone else, and being revered by other people is doubly bad. It is bad for the others, who should be revering God instead, and for themselves, because they might be tempted to believe their own image and believe themselves to be worthy.

We are not saints yet, but we, too, should beware. Uprightness and virtue do have their rewards, in self-respect and in respect from others, and it is easy to find ourselves aiming for the result rather than the cause. Let us aim for joy, rather than respectability. Let us make fools of ourselves from time to time, and thus see ourselves, for a moment, as the all-wise God sees us.

St. Philip Neri - Ora Pro Nobis

3 comments:

Cure of Ars said...

I don't trust cat lovers. I guess I'll have to let that pass since he is a saint and all. St. Philip sounds like a fun person to be around.

John Paul said...

Yeah - he's the sort of guy you'd love to be rector of a seminary or something.

Laurence said...

What a splendid Blog post!