St. Philip Neri (1515-1595)

Artist: 
Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Artist's Narrative:
After a brief career in his native Florence, Philip Neri left the business world to pursue the spiritual longings of his heart in Rome. For seventeen years he lived a simple life as a layman there, gathering other young men around himself to pray and to help pilgrims and the sick. At 36 he was ordained a priest and was soon renowned as a skillful spiritual director and confessor. In an oratory built at San Girolamo, he continued to work with young men, sponsoring religious lectures and discussions, organizing work to help the suffering, and hosting performances of religious music, which evolved into what is now known as "oratorios." By 1575 he had formed the clergy who helped him in this work into the Congregation of the Oratory, a new form of Catholic religious life, whose members do not take the traditional vows.

Rome in Philip’s day was in a very demoralized state. First as a layman and then as a priest, he and his companions worked to restore a vigorous spirituality among the people of Rome.

He maintained that spiritual perfection was meant as much for lay people as for clergy and religious. He stressed love, gentleness, cheerfulness, and humility, rather than physical austerity. In time he became known as the "Apostle of Rome." St. Philip is known more than most saints for his cheerfulness and his sense of humor. Like the "holy fools" of the Orthodox Church, he often resorted to unconventional behavior -- such as shaving off half of his beard -- in order to make a point. Many were shocked by such behavior. In this icon he is shown with a small dog he filched from one of the cardinals in Rome. Arrogant young aristocrats who came to him for guidance often found themselves walking this little dog -- thus learning a bit of humility and sense of proportion. He told jokes and appreciated laughter.

His feast day is May 26.

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