Philip Neri, whose feast is celebrated today, is an interesting saint. Some rank him with Peter and Paul, founders of the church of Rome, because Philip helped restore the Roman church then reeling from the Protestant reformation.
Philip came to Rome as a young man and fell in love with the city’s history and holy places. He spent long hours in its ancient churches as a priest and roamed the catacombs of St. Sebastian where early Christians were buried. He became a regular guide for pilgrims searching for their spiritual roots. A familiar figure on Roman streets, he engaged ordinary people, especially the young, who warmed to his cheerfulness and found hope in his simple words. He listened to them.
Uncovering forgotten lessons in the art and monuments of the city, Philip became a guide and inspiration to saints like Ignatius Loyola, Charles Borromeo and Pius V. He made new friends by sharing the beauty of the holy city, especially the great churches of St.Peter’s, St.Paul outside the Walls, St. Lawrence, St. Sebastian, Holy Cross, St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major, still the major pilgrim churches of the city today.
Protestants at the time were turning from theology to history to back up their claims against the Catholic Church, and Philip encouraged Catholic historians like Caesar Baronius to research the history of the church with fairness and accuracy. Baronius once said of him: “I love the man especially because he wants the truth and doesn’t permit falsehood of any kind.” He also supported Galileo: “The bible teaches the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.”
Philip thought that church reform could come about best by seeking the beauty of faith in its art, music and tradition. He promoted study of church history at a time when the Catholic Church needed to examine its traditions and roots. He brought gentleness, cheerfulness and friendship to Christian reform at a time when fierce controversy between Protestants and Catholics was the norm. He was unassuming. A biographer said “ his aim was to do much without appearing to do anything.”
He died in Rome on May 26, 1595, at eighty years of age.
The great scholar John Henry Newman was attracted to Philip Neri and entered the religious society he founded, the Oratorians.
Here’s one of his prayers I like: ” Let me get through today, and I shall not fear tomorrow.”