May 26 – Memorial for St. Philip Neri, priest
Philip Neri (1515-1595) came from a poor family, though he was related to Italian nobility. His father, Francisco Neri, worked as a notary. Philip’s brother died in childhood, but his two sisters, Caterina and Elisabetta survived. He was a pious youth, and was taught humanities by the Dominicans.
He moved to San Germano in 1533 to help some family with their business and while there, would escape to a local Dominican chapel in the mountains. He received word in a vision that he had an apostolate in Rome. He cut himself off from his family and went there, where he was befriended by Galeotto Caccia, who took him in and paid him to tutor his two sons. He wrote poetry in Latin and Italian, and studied philosophy and theology. When he tired of learning, he sold all his books and gave the money to the poor.
He began to visit and care for the sick and impoverished pilgrims. He founded a society of like-minded folk to do the same. He was a friend of St. Ignatius. A layman, he lived in the city as a hermit. During Easter season of 1544, while praying in the catacomb of San Sebastiano, he received a vision of a globe of fire that entered his chest and he experienced an ecstasy that physically enlarged his heart.
With Persiano Rose, he founded the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity. He began to preach, with many converts. In 1550, he considered retiring to the life of a solitary hermit, but received further visions that told him his mission was in Rome. Later, he considered missionary work in India, but further visions convinced him to stay in Rome.
He entered the priesthood in 1551, and heard confessions by the hour. He could tell penitents their sins before they confessed, and had the gift of conferring visions. He began working with youth, finding safe places for them to stay and becoming involved in their lives.
Pope Gregory XIV tried to make him a cardinal, but Philip declined. His popularity was such that he was accused of forming his own sect, but was cleared of this baseless charge. In 1575, he founded the Congregation of the Oratory, a group of priests dedicated to preaching and teaching, but which suffered from accusations of heresy because of the involvement of laymen as preachers. In later years, he was beset with several illnesses, each of which was in turn cured through prayer.
– Patron Saint Index
If any one of you is in trouble, he should pray; if anyone is feeling happy, he should sing a psalm. If one of you is ill, he should send for the elders of the church, and they must anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over him. The prayer of faith will save the sick man and the Lord will raise him up again; and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. So confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, and this will cure you; the heartfelt prayer of a good man works very powerfully. Elijah was a human being like ourselves – he prayed hard for it not to rain, and no rain fell for three-and-a-half years; then he prayed again and the sky gave rain and the earth gave crops.
My brothers, if one of you strays away from the truth, and another brings him back to it, he may be sure that anyone who can bring back a sinner from the wrong way that he has taken will be saving a soul from death and covering up a great number of sins.
People were bringing little children to Jesus, for him to touch them. The disciples turned them away, but when Jesus saw this he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ Then he put his arms round them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing.
“Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child, he will not enter it.”
When my father was alive, there was a verse that we often shared around the dinner table, almost like our family’s code of living – “the prayer of faith will save the sick person” (James 5:15). Dad should know because he was always sick. He was no saint in life, but in his final months, his faith was unshakeable. He firmly believed in the power of prayer to heal, to soothe and to deliver. His greatest gift to us was his conviction that nothing was impossible for God. He lived it, and in so doing, passed his fervour along to us kids, and all of the people in his prayer group at church.
It seemed like we were always praying for Dad. He was always vacillating between being critically ill and recovering from episodes of it. Because of him, I believe in the power of prayer. I’ve seen God’s hand too many times in Dad’s life to doubt His divine presence. I believe that He hears the fervent heart’s longings, that He sees good intentions and listens to the cries of His faithful. I believe that He lifts us up when we’re laid low, that He guides us to right paths, that He calms our distress. I believe it because I’ve felt it, and I’ve seen it.
Looking back now, Dad’s illness helped to build a community of prayer. And that community was strengthened every time those prayers were answered. Towards the end, Dad held on only as long as he needed to – to witness the birth of his grandson. I know Dad prayed fervently for that and God in His great mercy granted Dad’s wish. Dad died a few days after my sister’s son was born. I don’t believe that was a coincidence.
When Jesus said “… whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it”, I think he was talking about the kind of faith that my father had, that child-like conviction in God’s deliverance, whatever the odds. Dad engaged God in every aspect of his life, through prayer, thanksgiving and scripture reading. Old age and illness robbed him of his independence and mental faculties but it blessed him with something infinitely more valuable – his faith. Faith truly is the gift that multiplies upon itself, the gift that has been passed down from Dad to us, and now to Josh, his grandson. Some families have precious jewels, beautiful homes, vast tracts of land as heirlooms. Ours? We have Dad’s faith. And I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: We pray for the gift of that child-like faith that believes nothing is impossible for God.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for God’s great mercy, for His unfailing faithfulness to us, even when we are fearful and doubting.