Thursday, 5/25/ 16
Today we honor St. Phillip Neri who was such a charming man, that in place of a short homily about him. I want here to print a slightly longer version of his life.
Philip was born fifteen years before the stern Saint Charles Borromeo, but he outlived him by eleven years. They knew each other during the closing years of the Council of Trent, but they differed greatly in their recipes for bringing healthier life to the Church.
Of Philip’s Florentine parents, his father was a busy lawyer, while his mother was of the nobility. Up to age eighteen, Philip studied with the Dominicans at that San Marco Cathedral from where Savonarola had for thirty years ruled the city. And, throughout his life, Phillip spoke lovingly of the Dominican priests who gave him a strong grounding in the Arts and the Scriptures.
At eighteen, Philip was apprenticed to a wealthy uncle near Naples where he was to learn all about the world of Trade, and for a time he seemed happy with a prospect of taking over the successful business. Then, he suddenly abandoned that life, heading for Rome to resume his studies. There he followed an outline for religious studies drawn up by the Augustinian Fathers, and he supported himself tutoring wealthy children from Florence.
In three years, he completed that course with the Augustinian Fathers; then, to the surprise of family members in Florence and Naples, he took to the streets of Rome, combining the roles of a Socrates and that of a social worker. He would question people about their prayer life while he was working at relieving the sick and the homeless.
Philip’s likeable ways had upper class Florentine citizens happily aiding him in finding positions for the needy. Prominent among those were the women of Rome who were struggling to get out of prostitution. They all called him their father.
He attended Mass wherever it was available, he would stay on, lost in contemplating those words of St. John that “God is love.” Those hours of prayer had him tapping into the inner life of the Trinity.
While Philip was an apostle to the poor, he was also a delightful friend to Rome’s scholars. His ways were so appealing to young men that many of them joined him in serving the poor. Often spending their evenings with Philip, they took on enough of his feelings for the Trinity that they began calling themselves the congregation of the Blessed Trinity.
Philip’s street life made him so well known and liked by a circle of Rome’s pastors that in1551 when he was thirty-six they prevailed on him first to take minor orders. Then, on finding that his private Theology studies had supplied all that could be looked for, Rome’s pastors pushed him on to being ordained priest.
In 1556, those same friends provided him and his young scholars with an abandoned hall that they began referring to as their oratory.
As their oratory life took off Philip’s happy nature had him introducing music making into of those evenings at their hall of oratory. In 1559, Pope Pius IV, a Medici relative from Florence, gave formal standing to Philip’s group, calling them the Oratorians.
When Charles Borromeo, who had been raised to a cardinal’s rank, urged the Oratorians to become a formal religious order with the vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, Philip resisted. As well, he would not let his Oratorians take on lay brothers to handle their chores. When they came together to eat, all of them, including Philip, took turns at cleaning up.
When Oratory houses were set up in other parts of Rome and in other cities, each managed its own matters, and Philip refused their request that he serve as over-all superior. England’s St. Henry Newman was our best-known Oratorian, and he exemplified the type of zealous students for whom the Oratorians were founded.