The Italian priest St. Philip Neri (1515-1595) greatly contributed to the spiritual reformation of the Church in the sixteenth century. He was born in Florence to a wealthy family, and after receiving a good education, was apprenticed to a relative with a flourishing business which Philip was intended to inherit.
However, after having a mystical experience, Philip decided to devote himself entirely to religious matters. He went to Rome to study philosophy and theology, and supported himself by tutoring. Saddened by the immoral state of the city, Philip formed a group of young men who met regularly for prayer, study, and recreation. This “oratory” (named after the upper room where they met) was unique in combining a quest for virtue with laughter and an enjoyment of life. In 1551 Philip, at the urging of his confessor, was ordained a priest. He soon made a name for himself as a confessor, for he had the gift of reading hearts, and was gentle and friendly with penitents.
Philip continued his work with young men, several of whom were ordained priests; with their help, he established an order called the Congregation of the Oratory. There was some opposition to the Oratory, for people were suspicious of a group in which laymen were actively involved, and in which the members enjoyed themselves while serving God and His people; nonetheless, Philip and his followers continued to influence many people through their example. Because of the great spiritual renewal that resulted from his efforts, St. Philip Neri was called “the Apostle of the city of Rome.” He died in 1595, and was canonized in 1622.
1. Religion doesn’t have to be a somber and unpleasant experience. As St. Philip Neri realized, faith and virtue can be combined with humor and a wholesome enjoyment of life — for life is meant to be a gift from God, not a burden to be endured.
2. St. Philip showed that holiness is both possible and practical. He emphasized that all Catholics — not only priests and religious — have a role to play in the life of the Church, for one of the ways we glorify God while also growing in grace is by using the gifts He has given us.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Eleutherius (188), Pope, Martyr
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