Today is the feast of Philip Neri, an interesting saint. He was born in Florence Italy in 1515 (the year when Martin Luther, a Catholic priests teaching a course on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, begin saying we need only faith to be saved.) Philip’s family set him up with a prosperous business, but he ran away to Rome so that he could lose himself in studying. Although he gained a mastery of Theology and the Bible, he refused ordination to the priesthood. He wanted to be free for visiting sick people, and for welcoming scholarly minded men for discussions in his rooms.
Persuaded at thirty-four to accept ordination, he continued with daily discussions with people eager for learning. Many men who were later canonized as saints enjoyed afternoons with Philip. There was Ignatius of Loyola, Charles Borromeo, Francis DeSales, and Giovanni Palestrina. That last man composed sacred music which the Church cherishes along with its Gregorian Chant. Philip came to be known as the Apostle of Rome, and without his attending the Council of Trent, he was credited with contributing much of value.
Philip hated fame so much that he pulled silly tricks to get people to think ill of him. He took to carrying a monkey around on his shoulder to get people to scorn him. Still, his faith was so deep that in saying Mass he was often carried away, and people came to stare at the saint. This had him training altar boys to tug on his vestments and ring the bell when his praying took him away.Some of the high living Renaissance popes were ready to think Philip strange, but eventually they came to recognize his worth. In imitation of his lodgings in Rome houses of prayer and study were set up all over Europe. His followers came to recognized as Oratory priests. St. John Newman and many scholarly men today follow Philip’s example of serious prayer, study and discussions.