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A LIFE OF PRAYER AND ACHIEVEMENT

Father Francis's picture
Saint Philip Neri

The long road to ordination had many unexpected twists and turns for Philip Neri but he relied on prayer and trusted God to lead and guide him.

Born in 1515, one of the four children of a Florentine lawyer, he was sent as an 18 year old to live with a childless relation in San Germano who had a successful business, with the intention of eventually taking over the business. But he soon found that he was more interested in the spiritual life than in the commercial world and decided to go to Rome, no money and no idea of what he was going to do, but trusting in God to direct him.

He found lodgings with a fellow-Florentine who had two young sons and in return for his accommodation acted as their tutor. When not teaching he spent most of his time alone meditating and praying. Then he enrolled in a course in theology and philosophy and for three years he was a hardworking student – until he suddenly abandoned his studies, sold his books and turned to street preaching. He was particularly successful with some of the young Florentines, taking them with him on visits to the sick in the local hospitals and encouraging them to pray.

From these small beginnings Philip's work expanded in two directions. With the help of his confessor he founded a confraternity for poor laymen who met together for regular prayer. He also began to care for some of the huge numbers of needy pilgrims who were brought into the city. This good work resulted in the establishment of a hospital specifically for poor pilgrims and convalescents.

Philip had accomplished a great deal, but became convinced he could achieve even more as a priest. At the age of 36 he was ordained and went to live in community with other priests and found that he was able to help people through the sacrament of Confession. Perceptive and sympathetic he always encouraged his penitents to pray. Many of the people who approached him for advice were converted and for their benefit he set up prayer groups and spiritual conferences. These grew bigger and a special oratory room was built to accommodate them; they came to be known as 'Oratorians' because of their devotion to prayer. He drew up a simple Rule for his trainees: they were to live a communal life and follow the spiritual exercises he set for them. Other men joined and in 1575 the Congregation was formally approved by Pope Gregory Xlll.

Philip was noted for the joy he radiated around him. On 25 May 1595, the feast of Corpus Christi, he seemed to be in a particularly happy mood. He spent the day receiving visitors and hearing confessions, and that night he died peacefully, surrounded by friends. He was 80 years old.

When Philip Neri set out on his journey to Rome he could not know what work God had prepared for him, but he was willing to go wherever God led him. He once expressed the wish to go on a mission to India but Rome was to be his mission! Sometimes we have to take a risk and put ourselves in God's hands, and we may find His plans will be quite different from ours.

St. Philip Neri, Pray for us.