SAINT PHILIP NERI (1515-1595), priest and founder – Patron saint of Rome and Gravina, Italy and the United States Army Special Forces
Today, the universal Church honors Saint Philip Neri, who was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy during the post-Renaissance period.
Philip was born in Florence, Italy, in 1515 into a poor family. At an early age and after being inspired to a life to which God was calling him, Philip abandoned the chance of becoming a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life to God.
After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination, for he spent the next 13 years in a vocation unusual at the time – that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and an apostolate in Rome, visiting and caring for the poor and sick.
He co-founded the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity and began to preach. Many people converted their hearts and re-embraced their faith thanks to Philip. During all of this time, he was a lay person and lived as a hermit in the city of Rome. A friend of his eventually convinced him to enter the priesthood, and he was ordained in 1551.
Father Neri would hear confessions by the hour, and many would come to him for his insightful counseling and advice. 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, in which a group of priests would live together in community dedicated to preaching the Word of God and teaching. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers.
And Father Neri was one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself.
His characteristic virtues were humility and cheerfulness. He was once quoted as saying “Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life. Therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.”
On May 27, 1595, Father Neri died from natural causes, while giving his fellow priests of the Oratory, who were attending to him, his final blessing. He was canonized a saint by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622.
Saint Philip Neri’s view of sanctity was truly universal, all-embracing, and always accompanied by a cheerful spirit. He excelled in his love of neighbor and personal holiness, along with a joyous service to God.
And due to his selfless service to others, his renown for his teaching skills and being an inspiration to so many people of his time, the United States Army Special Forces Command selected him as their patron saint in 2002.
We commemorate his feastday on May 26.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org, newadvent.org and sfa9.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Philip Neri)
“Father, You continually raise up Your faithful to the glory of holiness. In Your Love, kindle in us the fire of the Holy Spirit who so filled the heart of Saint Philip Neri.
“We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”