A Word in Season
Saint of Joy, Philip Neri
Philip knew most people battled sin as it first played out in the mind—egoism, self-satisfaction, and pride. And he had a standard maxim for that too: "Sanctity lies within the space of three fingers," and Philip would dramatically lay his fingers across his forehead.
Followers of this joyful saint ranged from cardinals to nobility, to lowly vagabonds, to musicians and artists of the day. One notable member of the Oratory was the great Palestrina who composed beautiful hymns and other musical settings for the Oratory's congregations.
Philip knew that the power of beauty could draw others to the Beauty that is Christ. His personal authenticity and realism was a natural attraction too; he was the embodiment that reflected how the spirit and the world could be brought together. He was a faithful disciple who lived in the world without being consumed or ruled by it. His spirituality invited others to live Christ-centered lives. He would say, "The essential thing to do is to give oneself totally to God. He who wants anything other than Christ doesn't know what he wants."
Philip's amiability and access was to all; the key to his door was always found in the open. Yet at times, his ministry suffered at the hands of superiors who misunderstood his ways. Still, Philip always rendered obedience toward them, an obedience that came from the disciplined silence of his prayers. This shows us that Philip did not just skip along unscathed in life. He indeed knew hardship and struggles, but he also knew souls: "If you absolutely must overdo something, then overdo meekness, obedience, humility, and amiability, because all that is already good in itself."
There were healings that flowed from the prayers of this man. Pressed against his chest, one could feel the warmth radiating from his heart and some felt what seemed to be a tumor-like bulge around his heart. It was something he tried to hide for most of his life . . .
In the year 1593, I was called upon because Philip was sick. I observed a strong heartbeat and was told that was something of long standing, which he had since his youth. As I looked for the cause and examined his chest, I found this to be very enlarged and a tumour there, by the small ribs next to the heart. By the touch I could tell the ribs were protruding . . . After his death the facts became clearer. On opening his breast, one found that the ribs at this location were broken, and the bones separated from the cartilage. In this way it was possible for the beating of his heart to have room to expand and contract. I came to the conclusion that this was something supernatural . . . It was the means by which God prevented his heart from destroying itself on the hard ribs in its violent beating. Thus he was able to live, even with this malady, an extraordinarily long life. (Philip Neri, The Fire of Joy, p. 19)
Philip had experienced a physical touch of God that both rearranged his life and perfected his calling. His prayer as he touched the Host was often: "Behold my love!" or, "Lord, keep your eye on me today. I fear I might betray you."
How disarming is the love of God. And how inspiring is the soul who lives within that captivating Presence, abandoning oneself into the arms of God.
"Lord," prayed Philip, "as you know and as you will, so do with me."
St. Philip Neri, pray for us!
Pat Gohn is a Catholic writer, speaker, and the host of the Among Women Podcast and blog. Her book Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood is published by Ave Maria Press. Subscribe to “A Word in Season” via email or RSS.