26 May 2009

And I Will Raise Him Up...

As we get ever closer to the start of the “Year for Priests,” today the Church’s liturgical calendar presents to us a marvelous example of priestly ministry -- Saint Philip Neri. He was born in the year 1515 in Firenze. He lived a life of penance in service to the Lord as a parish priest.

Among those to whom he gave spiritual direction was the well-known composer, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, who perhaps is the greatest composer of liturgical music the world has ever known.

Saint Philip Neri loved children, and among his interests in patristics, liturgical and Church history, he was also an encourager of catechesis for the youth; and in Rome was a tutor to the children of Florentine nobility.

Even before entering the priesthood, Saint Philip Neri was exemplary in the practice of Eucharistic Adoration. In fact, as a layman he was a great adherer to the Forty Hours devotion which he continued to practice in his priesthood. How many faithful priests do we read about that were devoted to the practice of Eucharistic Adoration! It’s a mainstay to faithful priestly ministry; and really, it’s necessary for anyone desiring intimacy with the Most Holy Trinity.

When we think of great Confessors, most of us likely think of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina or Saint Jean Marie Vianney. At the time, the residents of Rome had sort of a laissez-faire attitude towards the Sacrament of Confession. But Saint Philip Neri was a lover of souls and was very influential in restoring frequent reception of the sacrament to that city. So much was his zeal for souls and the sacraments, it became necessary for him to spend as many hours in the Confessional as the aforementioned saints. Some of this time of hearing confessions was spent in his own living quarters. It is said that he would leave the key to his quarters by the door in the event that someone needed to make a confession at an unusual time in the twenty-four hour day. His long hours of hearing confessions is linked to his love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He wanted everyone to be cleansed in the Sacrament of Confession, that they may receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist worthily and with great devotion and love.

When there were no penitents, Saint Philip Neri would often spend that time sitting nearby the Confessional doing some spiritual reading, praying the Rosary, or praying the Divine Office, which he loved. Again, great practices and examples for faithful priestly ministry! Some of his penitents became rather holy themselves. They would sometimes meet with Father Philip, discuss some spiritual work, which was often from the writings of Saint John Cassian. After these gatherings they would take a nightly stroll to a church and assist with the hour of Matins.

He laid the foundation for the Congregation of the Oratory. These were meetings for those who desired to grow in Christian perfection. They have been described as meetings consisting of mental prayer, spiritual reading and discussion, the lives of the saints, Sacred Scripture, and concluding with the singing of hymns and prayer. It was Saint Philip Neri’s wish that priests of the Congregation say Mass everyday, as well as hear confessions on Wednesdays, Fridays and Feast days.

And now, Saint Philip Neri, the mystic! Going into ecstasy was quite common for him during the Sacrifice of the Mass. He actually found this kind of embarrassing and tried to hide these mystical graces. He would go into ecstasy at the mentioning of the Name “Jesus”. He would spend hours in mystical thanksgiving after receiving our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. And at the most intense moments of mystical grace, Saint Philip Neri would levitate above the altar during the celebration of Mass. Levitation, although quite unusual, is not exclusive to this great saint. Among others who experienced this higher grace include: Saint Joseph of Cupertino, Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Thomas Aquinas, to name only a handful.

Unfortunately for Saint Philip Neri, as he got older, he was not permitted to say Mass publicly because these ecstasies took its toll on him physically.

He is a role model for priests and anyone seeking to grow in their relationship with the Lord, because Saint Philip Neri was a man of prayer. Included in his devotional life was a most innocent and childlike love for the Blessed Mother.

Saint Philip Neri, pray for us!