Praised be Jesus Christ! Saint Philip Neri lived in Rome in the late 1500s (he died in 1595) and is still one of the all-time favorites of the Romans. The movie about his life, “I Prefer Heaven,” is one of the best depictions of holiness that you’ll ever see. Neri was a man of profound joy, which undoubtedly was the fruit of his complete trust in the Lord. Neri came to Rome hoping to become a Jesuit, but God had other plans. Neri soon found himself serving the street children, helping them to believe that even though they had so frequently been rejected by others, there was a God who loved them perfectly. Neri’s life is one of great insight, as he once asked a person who had confessed gossip to go and scatter chicken feathers on a windy day. When the person completed the task and came back to Neri, he told the penitent to now go and collect them. When the penitent said such a thing would be impossible because the feathers had spread so far and wide, Neri said such is the damage that gossip causes others... only God can heal it. Neri had a big heart, which is literally due to what theologians sometimes call a “transverberation.” This is the rare experience of a holy person whose heart is pierced by a mystical grace given by God. Saint Teresa of Avila experienced it, as did Saint Philip Neri. When he died they performed an autopsy and discovered that a couple of his ribs had been broken and then healed irregularly so as to make enough room for his literally enlarged heart. It’s no wonder that Neri would often go into ecstasy while celebrating Mass: the servers grew accustomed to him levitating after the consecration, and so would snuff out the candles and go outside to play soccer. After an hour or two they would return in time to re-light the candles and witness Neri come back down to finish the Mass and continue as if nothing had happened. Truly, Saint Philip Neri was a remarkable saint. However, lest you think that we have nothing in common with such a man, we must remember that the joy he lived is something that is accessible to every human being. But the difficulty is that such joy comes from God, and too many of us forget this and try to manufacture it ourselves. Mother Teresa discovered that if she put Jesus first, others second, that there was always enough left for her. Are we putting Jesus first? When do we say our first prayer of the day? The goal is to get up, kneel down by our bed and say a humble prayer of thanksgiving for the new day while begging God for the grace to live it well. If we do this, we’re off to the best start possible. Another sign of spiritual growth is that we begin to make sacrifices so that we can pray more often. I’m writing this during the NCAA March Madness season and shutting off the TV and walking over to the Adoration Chapel is more challenging than I’d like to admit. What are you willing to sacrifice so as to put Jesus more at the center of your life? Prayer is a battle: a battle to make it a priority, and sometimes a battle to focus while we’re actually praying. But a life like that of Saint Philip Neri shows that the fruits of faithfulness are worthy of the sacrifices we must make. Saint John’s is hosting 40 Hours this week (beginning on Thursday, ending on Saturday), which commemorates the time Jesus spent in the tomb so as to save us. The church will be opened for all of that time and Jesus would love to visit with you. Bring your hopes and your hurts; bring in your heart those who are close to God as well as those who seem to have given up on Him. You’ll find a strength, a hope, and a joy that are not of this world. Jesus promised these things... how can you say no to this Man?
Saint Philip Neri, pray for us, that we experience the joy God gives to those who serve with generous hearts!
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin