This Gospel is about Jesus welcoming sinners and eating with them. It has Jesus saying there will be joy among the angels at the repentance of even one sinner. This kindly way puts me in mind of a saint who was a contemporary of St. Charles Borromeo whose feast day we celebrated Tuesday. While Charles was a champion of righteousness and “uprighteousness,” his friend Philip Neri was a champion of the kind acceptance of human frailties.
Look at his story. Born in 1513 of a Florentine banker and a mother of the nobility, Philip received a secondary education from the Dominicans at the San Marco Cathedral in Florence . At eighteen he was sent to learn the trading business from a wealthy uncle in Naples, and he applied himself well for two years. But then, suddenly he sought permission to go to Rome to study theology with the Augustinian Fathers.
On completing those studies, and showing no preference for the priesthood, Philip became a modern copy of Socrates, taking to the streets, questioning souls everywhere about their relationship with God, and asking the well-to-do for the means to help people in dire need. By occupying himself that way for ten years, he was so successful in finding better livings for reluctant prostitutes, that the groups of women he saved came to speak of him as their father.
The many young scholars in Rome got on to following Philip about, finding him to be a delightful companion. They began spending their evenings in helpful chats with him. But in the mornings when they came on Philip attending Mass, they enjoyed just coming close, watching their friend lost in prayer.
Rome’s pastors, sharing the young people’s appreciation for him, persuaded a thirty-six year old Philip to take Holy Orders, and they secured an abandoned oratory where he and his following could spend their evenings studying, and sometimes singing.
In Rome, where things can be done quickly with the right backing, the pastors bent the papacy to recognize Philip and his followers as a new order in the Church. They became the Oratorians.
Philip would not let the men call him their superior. He liked everything on a working together basis. Charles Borromeo, by then raised to the rank of cardinal, strove to make Philip behave as a proper superior, but Philip would have none of it, taking his turn at doing the dishes.