"Considering my sins, I am a dead man, but having confidence in Father Philip, I hope to be saved" – thus said an early devotee of St Philip Neri while yet the saint lived; thus say I.
Four hundred and fifteen years ago this night, St Philip passed over from this world to the Father. Glory be to God!
It is strange the attraction he exercises over me, this saint whose character, so different to mine! yet so greatly appeals: in God's mysterious plan, this man totally inflamed by the Holy Ghost, this holy fool-for-Christ, by his example and doctrine and love and prayers sweetly and gently draws me upwards toward things divine.
How good it was to visit him in his sacred remains last September and in January again... it will be not so very long until God returns his soul to his body, which appears as if in a gentle sleep, and he will rise again with all the just to live and reign for ever and ever. God grant I be set on the right with them.
"The best ensue, the worst eschew, my heart is set; all goodly sport, for my comfort, who shall me let" – so all the more appropriately might St Philip have sung, in place of its true author, the terrible Henry VIII! He was ever active to gently and sweetly draw souls to God.
Here is the Traditional Preface of St Philip Neri, as conceded to his sons, the Oratorians, which sums up much of this:
Vere dignum, et justum est, æquum et salutare nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere, Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, æterne Deus. Qui beatum Philippum gratiæ tuæ muneribus, amoris igne æstuare fecisti: qua ineffabili charitate inflammatus, novam ad animarum lucrum Congregationem instituit, et quæ aliis dedit salutis monita, operum exhibitione complevit. Quæsumus clementiam tuam ut illius nos festivitate lætifices, exemplo piæ conversationis exerceas, verbo prædicationis erudias, grataque tibi supplicatione tuearis. Et ideo cum Angelis et Archangelis cum Thronis et Dominationibus cumque omni militia cœlestis exercitus, hymnum gloriæ tuæ canimus, sine fine dicentes: Sanctus...
(Truly it is worthy and just, right and salutary for us always and everywhere to give thanks unto thee, holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God. Who hast made blessed Philip by the gifts of thy grace to burn with the fire of love: enkindled by that ineffable charity, he instituted a new Congregation for the gain of souls, and those salutary precepts he gave others, he accomplished by the example of his deeds. We beseech therefore thy clemency, that thou mayest give us joy by his feast, exercise us by the example of his pious conduct, instruct us by the word of his preaching, and protect us by his thankful supplication unto thee. And therefore with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominations, and with every army of the host of heaven, we sing a hymn to thy glory, saying without end: Holy...)
The friend of the Bridegroom well knows that he must decrease, that Christ must increase evermore: St Philip's dictum was amare nescivi, to love to be unknown. How pleased he must have been with his faithful English son, Cardinal Newman, for accomplishing an amusing disappearing act: in preparation for his impending beatification by the Pope, the English Oratorians prepared a grand reliquary, and went off to disinter their Venerable, only to find – nothing! Loving to be unknown, Newman managed to rot away entirely, leaving only his shoes...
How entirely appropriate, then, that this year Whit Wednesday (in the 1962 Calendar) takes precedence of St Philip's feast on the 26th of May – St Philip, who lived permanently set on fire by the Holy Spirit, Who miraculously enlarged his heart beyond that of Phar Lap! The Collect of this day is entirely, marvellously appropriate:
Mentes nostras, quæsumus, Domine, Paraclitus, qui a te procedit, illuminet; et inducat in omnem, sicut tuus promisit Filius, veritatem: Qui tecum vivit... in unitate ejusdem...
(May the Paraclete, we beg, Lord, Who proceedeth from Thee, illumine our minds; and lead us into all truth, as Thy Son hath promised: Who with Thee liveth... in the unity of the same...)
How concisely is the entire Trinity invoked! We address the Father, asking Him that the Paraclete Who proceeds from Him may enlighten us, and lead us into all truth, as His Son promised us while on earth.
Good St Philip, pray for me, pray for us all: beg of God through Christ that He pour forth into our hearts also the gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost, that we nevermore be parted from the Lord.