Choosing the better part

Choosing the better part

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Strive to enter the narrow gate


        The tone of our gospel today is rather terse and ominous.  But, as always, Jesus speaks not as a pessimist but as a realist.  He may tell us the sad truth; but he offers it as an invitation to choose something better for ourselves - and invitation to change our direction.  The truth may not be pleasant or easy, but if accepted and followed will lead us to freedom. 
       We hear today that the entrance gate to the kingdom is narrow and there are few of us who find it and fewer still who choose to travel the rough road to life.  Jesus declares, in no uncertain terms, that entry to the kingdom can never be automatic, but is the result of a struggle.  "Keep on striving to enter," he says. The word for striving is the word from which the English word agony is derived.  The struggle to "enter" is so intense that it can be described as an agony of soul and spirit.
      As professed Christians, then, we run a certain danger.  We can deceive ourselves.  The name Christian alone can create a false sense of security - as though granting us instant access to the kingdom.   But the reality is that many who seek to gain entrance will be shut out - - much to their surprise.  They will be so surprised, Jesus tells us, that they will begin to defend themselves: "We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets." These words couldn't be more challenging for us as Catholics, for many of us will undoubtedly seek to defend ourselves in the same manner: "We ate and drank in your presence, we have received the Eucharist.  Every Sunday, sometimes more often, we listened to your word as it has been proclaimed to us."
      Yet, as with those in the gospel, we may be unaware that we often eat and drink to our own condemnation.  We may show by the way we live our lives that we have not embraced Christ's teaching, that we prefer what this world has to offer over the kingdom, that our faith is a sham.  Perhaps our actions have made us unrecognizable as children of God.  Maybe the only response God will be able to give us is: "Depart from me all you who are workers of iniquity," because that is what we have been and made ourselves.

        What Jesus wants us to understand in all of this is the dramatic quality of our lives and our choices.  God desires our salvation.  The path has already been marked out: Christ is the Way, the sure road, into the actual living presence of the Creator.  But we alone decide the way our soul shall go.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

St. Philip Neri on Conversation

It is in the common elements of daily life that sanctity is gained or lost.  St. Philip Neri was particularly conscious of this and so was attentive to things such as conversation, which is the topic of the following conference.  Truthfulness, sincerity, honesty, humility and patience were all to be guarded in one's speech.  This can be difficult given that we tend in our day to view sins of speech a small matters.  In an age when conversation is marked crassness, sarcasm, exaggeration, vanity, duplicity and vulgarity, we must be particularly vigilant.  Philip once again proves to be a master teacher in this regard; setting the example for his disciples.

Philip was sparing in his speech - never giving way to idle conversations and speaking little and simply so as not to put on airs or draw attention to himself or his gifts.  As a lover of silence, he avoided discussion about new or curious things or matters of politics and litigation.  He would remind others at such times that "adversity befalls us because of our sins" and that they would do well to remedy these while giving no attention to the rest.

Propriety and modesty were to be practice so as not to lead oneself or others into what is profane.  Never should purity of heart be sacrificed for the sake of clarity or under the pretense of condemning vice.  Nor should one for a moment jeopardize his own spiritual state by remaining in the company of those who use obscenities in their speech.

When engaging others, we should rather always seek to guide the discussion to spiritual matters and for their and our edification; such as Paradise or the Passion of our Lord.  Yet, even here we must avoid all honor, singularity, and applause but approach these matters with humility and simplicity.  One must guard against seeking a reputation for being spiritual and avoid drawing undue attention to themselves.  Let all ostentation be an enemy.  We must instead "love to be unknown and to be accounted as nothing."

Truth must always be spoken even when it tells against us.  Fear of loss of reputation or esteem in the eyes of others should not be our concern but rather love of the truth.  If we question anything it should be our own perception of the truth.  When vexed and harmed by the actions of others, we must be quick to excuse them or attribute such things to ignorance; guarding our good opinion of the other and trusting that God in His providence works through the frailty of others for the good.

Whenever we have to speak to anyone, whatever their social status, let us follow the example of Saint Philip, who could not endure to receive honor, and would not allow anyone to stand uncovered in his presence.

Let us imitate the playfulness of the holy Master in speaking, and the truthfulness and sincerity of his conversation, for he disliked dealing with double-faced persons who were not genuine and sincere in their transactions.  Let our words be without affectation, which the Saint greatly abhorred.

Let us, as did the Saint, avoid all secular ceremonies and courtly compliments, showing ourselves to be, like him, the friends of Christian simplicity.  Our Saint was sometimes observed not to give a title, but a simple "you" to persons of rank, and not to attend them to the stairs when they came to visit him.  Baronius was consequently an enemy to compliments and courtly etiquettes and many times corrected his secretary from writing too elegantly.

It will be commendable in us to speak little and of necessary things, thus to imitate the holy Father, of whom Marcello Ferri says, "During the forty-three years that I was his unworthy spiritual child, I never heard him utter an unnecessary word in any of his conversations."  This was noticeable by F. Giovenale, in whose own mouth there was never found an idle or unnecessary word.  His brother, Giovanni Matteo, also spoke little and simply.

F. Antonio Gallon gives us a bright example of modesty in speaking, for, having well copied the example of Saint Philip, it is said in his life that his modesty was so great that more could not be desired in a young virgin.

Let us avoid idle and useless discourses, as conversations about new and curious things, following the example of F. Giovanni Matteo, who loved silence, and the little which he said was always on spiritual subjects, for he always gracefully changed useless conversations.  When the topic was war, litigation, or any such matter, he endeavored to make the speakers understand that "adversity befalls us on account of our sins", and that they should try to remedy this, and give themselves no trouble about the rest.

Brother Giovanni Battista Guerra was very careful not to lose his time in idle conversation.  It is also related of a disciple, a lay-brother of the Congregation, that in the business of his office he never intermitted his spiritual exercises, but, excluding all conversation on idle, new, or useless subjects, he always had some devout prayer in his mouth; and that he especially used to sing a song taught him by Saint Philip:
By deeds, by deeds, not words alone
Shall we our God's dear law fulfill;
A pure desire will reach His throne,
But deeds are incense sweeter still.

We must be careful not to utter profane words, remembering that no word that bore the least shadow  of impropriety ever issued from the saintly mouth of our holy Father.  Neither, when sick, did he express any necessity which could not have been uttered with propriety.

This holy modesty is especially mentioned by F. Pietro Consoling, whose conversation was far removed from all profaneness; he could not endure that the least indelicate word should be uttered in his presence, citing this counsel of the Apostle, "But obscenity, and all uncleanness,  . . . let it not so much as be named among you."  Above all, he detested the imprudence of those preachers who, under the pretense of blaming vice, use words which are not perfectly delicate, adding that had Saint Philip heard any of his people fall into any such imprudence, he would have publicly interrupted him in his discourse.  The holy father once forbade an intimate acquaintance ever to come again into his presence, simply because he had uttered an indecent word before him.

Our discourse must be of spiritual things, and our desire to produce spiritual fruit in our hearers, for our glorious Saint, when young and a layman, greatly desired the spiritual good of his neighbor, and endeavored to procure it.  So, when going to the squares or shops, he began gracefully to discourse on spiritual things with all persons, saying,, "Well, brothers, when shall we begin to do good?" persuading them to fly from sin and avoid dangerous occasions and practices.

Germanico Fedeli says that he spoke in public, and in private, on subjects calculated to excite the affections, as of Paradise, of the Passion and death of Christ, and of the love which He bore to man.  We have seen above the declaration of Marcello Ferro, that for forty three years he had never heard a single word that was not spiritual proceed from the lips of Saint Philip.

After this most profitable example, those who are devoted to Saint Philip, particularly priests, should avail themselves of whatever opportunities may occur to introduce spiritual conversation, which is so effectual that was tried by the disciples of the Saint - for instance, by F. Giovenale, by whose familiar conversations God wrought the daily conversion of sinners.

Besides which, such conversations excite fervor in our own souls, as is related of the Saint, who discoursed familiarly on the things of God, with the associates of the Confraternity of the Santissima Trinita dei Pellegrini, thus inflaming each other with the desire of Christian perfection.  In practicing this important instruction, we must conform ourselves to the example of Saint Philip, who, when he discoursed on spiritual subjects, was observed to be altogether mortified and of a humble and meek spirit.

Although we are to avoid idle and profane conversation, and our discourse must only be of virtuous and profitable things, we must, nevertheless, know that Saint Philip, in order to avoid that honor and applause which he abhorred as a pestilence, did not generally converse on spiritual subjects with persons who had the reputation of being spiritual, excepting when they asked his counsel; nor did he speak of letters with literary men.

F. Pietro Consolini, Saint Philip's true imitator, was most sparing in speaking of spiritual matters, especially with spiritual people, and if others spoke to him of them, he would pleasantly change the discourse.  He sincerely thought himself unable to enlighten others, and well knew that we often come away from such conversations vain of ourselves and advanced in the esteem of our hearers, and that the end of such discourse is generally rather to gain credit  for our own spirituality than to profit by that of our companion.  A novice having one day by his importunity extracted from him some instructions respecting prayer, he had hardly gratified him, when he felt remorse at having done so, and said, "Poor me!  What nonsense you have made me talk! you have bewitched me:" thus confounding himself for having spoken of what he did not understand; and when someone said to him that we must sometimes introduce spiritual conversation for the good of our neighbor, he replied that we must procure for our neighbor's good by prayer at the foot of the Crucifix, and by penances, and not by fine words and playing the master.  He further confessed that he could not understand how someone who had hardly entered on the spiritual life assumed a magisterial gravity, which he said would hardly be becoming in Saint Basil the Great.

Let all ostentation be rejected by us, and let us observe the maxim of our Saint, that the true servant of God must not boast of his knowledge.  The Saint himself, in conversation, studiously avoided ostentation, of which he was the decided enemy.
When we have to speak and give particular replies to the questions which may be put to us, we must, with all care and study, conceal our talents, profiting by that saying of Saint Philip, "The true servant of God should try to attain knowledge, but not to display it."  

This was the practice of the Saint himself, who, when asked to give counsel, gave such replies that they seemed, as it were, given at random, but, nevertheless, were given with great judgment and on the most solid grounds.  Cardinal Ottavio Bandini thus said, "he was so candid a man, and so pure in his conversation, that often, through the freedom that he used, and the simplicity of his words movements and gestures, he seemed to be in jest; but when you reflected on what he had said, you would discover that all was spirituality and Christian cheerfulness."

In fact, he used every means to conceal his spirit, and, some years before his death, having given up public discourses because he melted into tears like wax before fire, he said that he did not know how to preach, because he had not the talent. He was also wont to cover his knowledge with the mantle of stupidity.

Let us, as far as we can, avoid speaking of ourselves without necessity, regulating ourselves by the example of the Saint, who always abhorred speaking of himself unnecessarily, and was never accustomed to say, "I said," or, "I did."

He especially exhorts us not to display what is good in ourselves, whether in jest or in earnest.  Still more must we avoid contending with those to whom we speak, and must never insist on our own opinion, for the holy Master was the capital enemy of emulation and contention.

When questioned, it will be an excellent thing, before answering, to raise our minds up to God, that He may suggest our replies, since the Saint, when questioned, never replied to anyone without previously praying interiorly.

The skill of F. Antonio Gallonio in concealing his talents in conversation was very great, for though he was versed in the sciences, and had such a lively genius and such application to study, that at the age of eighteen he was master and reader in Theology, yet out of love for that "To be unknown and to be accounted as nothing" so much insisted on by our holy Master, after he entered the Congregation, he shrouded his knowledge from the eyes of others, occasionally speaking of scientific matters in improper terms like an ignorant person, so that many really supposed him to be a man of little learning, and others that he hardly knew the Latin language, which was exactly what he wanted.  And, to increase this idea of his ignorance, he used to keep his books in a closed case, that no one might judge of his capacity by seeing them.  

F. Giulio Savioli was the same, for he always abhorred and changed any conversation which redounded to his own praise, and, to those who did not know his family, used to say that he was a poor priest from the province of Padua.

Neither must we on any account omit to cite the example of F. Pietro Consolini; in imitation of this great Father, we must divert the conversation  from subjects on which we have experience and on which we can speak with credit to ourselves, since he not only never discussed on scientific subjects, but changed the conversation when other introduced them, though he was most accomplished in human literature, in philosophy, in medicine, in theology, in the Sacred Scriptures, in ecclesiastical history, in Hebrew, in Greek, and in every kind of knowledge, and he did all this in order to conceal his talents.

We should use the method adopted by F. Pietro himself for turning away such discourse, who used, on occasions in which recreation and conversation could not be avoided, to have six or seven occurrences which had taken place in Rome many years before, and these he used to relate, whether a-propos or not, and perhaps twenty times or more to those who had not heard them, thus at once mortifying himself and others.

When compelled to make some reply, we may still conceal our talents, imitating the same F. Pietro, who, when requested to give some spiritual instruction, used to say, "My son, go to your Father Confessor; go to Ananias; he can tell you what is right better than I;" but when he felt himself obliged to give some instruction, he would say, "I remember that the holy Father did so and so in such a case," or "I think, had you asked the holy Father, he would have replied;" thus concealing that he himself was the author of the counsel.

We must above all things be careful not to tell lies, of which the Saint was the capital enemy, and expressly admonishes us to avoid them like the pestilence.  We must guard against them like Baronius, who often said, "Lord, take not Thou word of truth utterly out of my mouth," and as he was most sincere and true-hearted in his conversation he could never imagine that others told lies.

Truth should always be spoken, even though it tells against us; Baronius practiced this; in all things he dispassionately loved truth, and loved it steadily when it told against himself.

Not only must we abstain from the detestable vice of murmuring but, like our Saint, we must grieve when we hear others murmur and endeavor to prevent it as far as we are permitted.  Murmurs were so displeasing to the holy Father, that he told F. Antonio Gallonio, that whenever he heard them, he should kneel down in the midst of the murmurers at such and such a thing," just as if he himself had been the murmurer, and by this means he would convince them of their error.

When anything vexatious or unbecoming is related to us, we must always try to excuse or interpret it in good part.  Saint Philip not only did this, but wished that others with whom he conversed would do the same.

The good disciple Giulio Savioli fulfilled the Saint's injunction, and we may learn the practice of this important instruction from him, for he practiced it very frequently.  The good Father united to the love of God the most heartfelt love of his neighbor.  He used always to interpret kindly the actions of others; nor did he give credit to anyone who spoke ill of another, whoever it might be, saying, "It is not as you say; take care, it cannot be;" and, when the fact was inexcusable, he used the saying of Saint Bernard, "Excuse the intention, if you cannot excuse the act; think ignorance, subreption, custom."

Let us profit by the exhortation which the holy Father gives us to stay at home, as he calls it, that is, in our interior, considering our own actions, and not go out to examine the lives of others or to judge their actions.  Even when our neighbor's actions seem faulty, we must not lay aside our good opinion of him, but imitate in this the good disciple Pietro Consolini, who used to say, "How do I know what may be within, however things may appear without, of what God means to work in that soul?"

Let us always revere the judgments of God, but without passing our own judgment, being warned by the following example.  A prelate who had persecuted the saint, died suddenly.  The Saint could not endure to hear a word said against him, but on the contrary, when one of his penitents, going to confession, wished to enter into the judgments of God as regarded his death, the Saint immediately stopped his mouth, bidding him be quiet.

Giuseppe Crispino
The School of St. Philip Neri








Sunday, May 8, 2016

St. Philip Neri on the Love of God

Desire for God, a longing for Him and His love, is at the heart of the spiritual life.  To desire means to have a clear sense of lack and incompleteness.  It drives us on in the pursuit of God's love and the pursuit of perfection.  The more we desire God, the more we desire to please Him.  Lack of desire reveals a lack of love and leads to mediocrity.  

St. Philip burned with the love quite literally - his heart inflamed by the Spirit of love beat so loudly that it shook the room and when he drew others to his breast they were immediately consoled by the warmth of its love.  


Philip's profound wish was that others might be set ablaze - consumed and inflamed by this Divine love. We must not be lukewarm but rather yearn for the sanctity and perfection of the saints to be made manifest in our lives and actions. We must never measure ourselves according to our own judgment by always according to the Divine standard: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."   We must seek and be driven in the pursuit of this command; despite our weakness constantly striving for holiness and ceaseless praying for the grace that is needed to attain it.  So ardent must this desire become that it should even steal sleep from us - our hearts longing for what God alone can satisfy.  And like so many of the saints, Philip saw the measure of one's love for God as revealed in the desire to suffer for Him.


The love of God, which is the foundation and root of all virtues, was found in such a pre-eminent degree in Saint Philip that the flame which consumed his soul was visible even in his body, so that sometimes, when he was saying Office, or after any other spiritual act, sparks of fire were seen to issue from his face and eyes.  He desired that the hearts of others should also be inflamed with this Divine love, and sometimes expressed such wishes as these: "May Saint Anthony's fire burn you!" by which he meant to express a wish that the person, like St. Anthony, might glow with Divine love.


F. Giulio Savioli, since he was inflamed by this heavenly fire, desired that all others would glow with the same Divine love.  This is what he meant by saying, when he went to St. Peter's, where he frequently went, "When, when shall I see this great palace burning? Fire! fire!"   The holy Master said to others, "May you be killed," that is, for the faith, by means of holy martyrdom.



So great was the progress made in the love of God in the School of St. Philip that even some members of the external Oratory were inflamed by it.  Martin Altieri, a Roman nobleman, one of St. Philip's children, like another Moses, could not speak of God from the overflowing of this love.

In exciting ourselves to this holy love, it will be useful to reflect that our holy Father, though rich in merit, when he saw young persons, considering that they had time to do good, used to say, "Happy are you who have time to do good, which I have not done."


Let us first endeavor ever to have fixed in our mind that maxim of the saint, the repetition of which can never be superfluous, that "Whatever love is given to creatures, is so much taken from God," and let us practice the instructions given us on the subject by the holy Master, which are as follows:


"Desire to do great things for God's service, and not be content with mediocrity in goodness, but wish to surpass even Saint Peter and Saint Paul in sanctity, though it may be unattainable, ought to be desired, since we may, at least in desire, perform what we cannot do in fact.  Never be contented with any degree of perfection to which you may have attained, for the pattern which Christ places before our eyes is the Eternal Father Himself, 'Be thou therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.'  No one must ever imagine that he has done any good." The holy Father himself, thought ladened with merits, when he confessed, was wont to say with abundance of tears, "I have never done any good."


We must thoroughly bear in mind what the Saint said, that perfection cannot be acquired without great labor; therefore, in the ways of God, we must always urge ourselves from good to better.


To obtain from God his holy love, the following ejaculations of Saint Philip should be familiar to us.  "When shall I love Thee with a filial love?  O Jesus, be to me Jesus: I do not love Thee.  O may Lord, grant me grace to love Thee, not from fear, but from love.  O my Jesus, I desire to love Thee.  I have never loved Thee, but I desire to love Thee, O my Jesus.  I shall never love Thee, except Thou help me, O my Jesus. O my Jesus, I desire to love Thee, but I know not how."


F. Pietro Consoling was also in the habit of asking for Divine love by ejaculatory prayer.  He frequently implored it by the following ejaculations.  "Wound my soul with a greater love of Thee.  Strike my hard should with the love of Thee.  Create a clean heart in me, O Lord.  O Lord Jesus, by the most Sacred mystery of Thy Body, and by They five wounds, from which the Blood which Thou has shed for me didst flow, have mercy on according as Thou knows my necessities of soul and body. Receive me according to Thy word, that I may live, and disappoint not my hope, but take pity on me, O my mercy."  This he uttered with the most ardent emotion, when the Sacred Host was elevated by the celebrant; and this, "Thou art my help and my refuge.  O my God, I will hope in Thee."


Whoever wishes for a sign whether he be advanced in the love of God, may find one given by the holy Father Philip in these words:  "When a soul is truly enamored of God, it cannot sleep at night, but passes the time in tears and sighs and tender affections, and is constrained to say, "O Lord, suffer me to sleep."


He, indeed, often experienced this for frequently, when contemplating God, he was unable to sleep, "and," adds the holy Master, "the greatness of our love of God is known by the desire we have to suffer for Him."  From this desire a person may take the measure of his love of God.  If the desire to suffer much be very great, the love is great; if little, it is little; and if there be no such desire, then, according to the maxim of Saint Philip, there will be no love.


The School of Saint Philip Neri
by Giuseppe Crispino

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

School of St. Philip Neri: Stayers at home


The great benefit which the soul derives from retirement and the virtue of silence is clearly shown by the desire which David implored them of God: "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth"' and by the admonition of Saint James the Apostle, that he must not esteem himself religious who does not bridle the tongue. "If any man think himself to be religious, not bridling his tongue but deceiving his own heart, this man's religion is vain."

Let us therefore esteem silence to be a most important thing.  The mother of silence is retirement, and Saint Philip, who had to pass his life in the midst of Rome, which seemed opposed to retirement, which is generally only to be found in the deserts, was warned by God, by a special revelation, that he should live like a hermit there.  The Saint obeyed, as did also his companions, of whom F. Pietro Consolini said, that the first Fathers of the Congregation were stayers at home, and that F. Cesare Baronius said  to himself, "Stay at home Cesare," that he might not be unlike the holy Master, who was most careful to stay at home, either in the church or in his cell, and never left the house unless constrained to do so on works of charity.

Though, according to Tarugi, a spiritual man should, like Saint Catherine of Siena, form in his heart a cell, in which to retire frequently when in the midst of worldly occupations; and though, if a man cannot retire into himself and there find that peace which the Holy Spirit gives good consciences, he will never derive it from persons or places; still we should delight in retirement as far as becomes our state, since St. Philip, from his youth up, as far as he could, lived in solitude.  His life was esteemed eremitical, and he was always most addicted to retirement.

Let us mortify ourselves sometimes by imitating the Saint who separated himself from intercourse with men and avoided conversations however innocent.

Silence is connected to retirement, and this, so far as it was in accordance with the Institute, was especially loved by Saint Philip during his whole life.  We should love it, like F. Flaminio Ricci, devoting at least some hours of the day to its observance.

Amongst other innumerable good effects which this silence produced in Saint Philip, we are told that it greatly assisted him in the contemplation of divine things.

To produce another example, F. Alessandro Fedeli greatly loved retirement, prayer and contemplation, in which he found his delight and his advantage.  Brother Battista Flores says of him, "The affection which he bore the exercises of the Oratory made him a friend of silence and solitude, a lover of home and of his room and he disliked to go far from his nest; also that Cardinal Antoniano, who was most familiar with the congregation, used to call him the "Silent one." 


School of St. Philip Neri: Mary, My Love and Consolation



In professing devotion, we must, if we would be conformed to our holy Father Philip, render deep devotion  to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  To this devotion no incitement is necessary, for it promotes itself, since the Virgin Mary is the gate of heaven and the holy Fathers agree in declaring that "None may be saved, except through Mary."  But we must not omit to tell how devoted the holy Master was to her.

Philip, as we shall see, had a tender affection for Mary and spoke of her as a child would a mother.  His was more than a detached devotion; bur rather a relationship that occupied his time and to which he invested so much of himself.  Knowing her importance in his life, Philip sought to give free reign to his love for her; conversing with her through sweet colloquies and by remaining often whole nights in prayer before her image in the many churches of Rome.  

Mary was his constant source of consolation in times of illness and came to attend to him at the time of his death.

This devotion he passed on to his children by teaching them many short prayers and chaplets that could be said repeatedly throughout the day and in the midst of their labors. He guided his penitents to her as a refuge in times of temptation and they often felt consolation merely through the touch of his rosary, which had been said so often.

So frequently had he been the recipient of graces through her, Philip demanded that images of Our Lady should don the altars of the Church.  Indeed, it was through a vision of her having supported the roof the Church which had been badly damaged by fire that disaster was averted. 

Finally, Philip, when referred to as he who established the Congregation of the Oratory, would immediately correct the speaker by saying that Mary was the true Founder and Protector of the Community.

Our Blessed Lady is, as S. Bernard teaches us, the neck by which all spiritual goods descend from Christ the head, into the mystical body of the Holy Church. Philip, therefore, was so devoted to her, that he had her name continually in his mouth, calling her his love and his consolation, and preaching her up everywhere as the dispensatrix of all the graces which the goodness of God concedes to the sons of Adam. His affection towards her was so tender, that he used to speak of her as little children speak of their mother, calling her, “Mamma mia.” He frequently visited her images in the churches of Rome, remaining before them a long while, giving vent and relief to the fulness of his devotion towards her. He often spent whole nights in his prayers, indulging in the sweetest colloquies with her. He was once seriously ill at S. Girolamo della Carità, and the physicians had ordered that he should not be left alone at night, but that some one should remain always in the room with him. One night Father Giovanni Antonio Lucci sat up with him; and as it was summer, and the room extremely small, the heat was so intense that he did not think he could persevere at his post during the night, and, therefore, went to his duty with no good will. Nevertheless he spent the time with so much sweetness and satisfaction, that when the Ave Maria rang in the morning, he thought it was the evening Ave, the night had passed so quickly; for in fact, the Saint not supposing that there was any one to hear him, did nothing but converse with our Blessed Lady in such affectionate terms, that it actually seemed as if she was present, and discoursing with him face to face.

He had also two ejaculations which he was continually making in her honour. The first was, “Virgin Mary, Mother of God, pray to Jesus for me,” sometimes lengthened thus, “Pray to Jesus thy Son for me a sinner:” the second was simply, “Virgin Mother;” for he said that in these words all the possible praises of the Madonna were briefly comprised; because, first of all, she was called by her name Mary, and those two great titles were given her of Virgin and Mother, and then that other unspeakable one of Mother of God; and lastly, the most holy fruit of her womb was named,- Jesus, the bare mention of which name has power to soften and melt the heart. Of those two prayers he taught his penitents to make a chaplet, repeating one or other of them sixty-three times, with the Pater Noster, to the great profit of their souls. He himself carried beads almost always in his hand, in order to use this devotion, which was so acceptable to the Divine Goodness, that many of those who used it confessed that it was a singular aid to them in their temptations. A layman of our congregation was very much molested by evil thoughts about our Blessed Lady’s virginity; he mentioned his temptation to the Saint, who proposed this devotion to him as a remedy; he obeyed, and in a short time was entirely freed from that annoyance.

Philip professed that he had received infinite favours from our Blessed Lady, and particularly that in praying before an image of her he was delivered from many horrible things with which the devil attempted to frighten him. He had a grateful remembrance of these benefits which he had received from her; and when they were erecting the altars in the church, he ordered that a mystery of our Saviour should be painted on each of them, and that the Madonna was to appear in the mystery. So after the beatification of the Saint, when the fathers had to expose his picture in his chapel, they decided that the picture of our Blessed Lady should be painted there, because they remembered how, like another S. Bernardino of Siena, he was enamoured of her.

While they were building the church, Giovanni Antonio Lucci, who superintended the work, had left a piece of roof above a part of the old church, where there was an ancient picture of our Blessed Lady, very devotional, the same which is now at the high altar. He had done this in order that mass might be said under it, and the Blessed Sacrament reserved. One morning the holy father sent for him in great haste, and ordered him to have the roof taken off immediately, because he had seen that it would have fallen that very night just passed, if the glorious Virgin had not held it up with her own hands. Giovanni Antonio immediately went with some workmen to execute the obedience, and found that the principal beam had started from the wall, and was apparently self-supported in the air, so that all who saw it cried out, “A miracle! a miracle!”

Our Blessed Lady corresponded to the devotion of Philip, in giving him a church dedicated in her most Holy name, that the son who was so devoted to her might not be removed from his mother; and before he died she favoured him with that wonderful apparition of which we shall speak fully in its place, and which left him so full of sweetness, and of devotion towards her, that during the short time that he survived, he could never satiate himself with crying out over and over again, “O my sons, be devoted to the Madonna, be devotees of Mary!”

Monday, June 1, 2015

School of St. Philip Neri: Not he who shall begin, but he that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved


We continue during this 500th anniversary of St. Philip Neri's birth to consider his life and teachings.  In the most gentle and thoughtful fashion, Philip sought to revitalize the faith of Catholics that had grown slack from neglect and from lack of guidance.  He had the capacity to present the fullness of the spiritual traditions of the Church in the most appealing manner.  Rooted in experience and common sense, Philip's teaching was both accessible and practical.  

Such is the topic at hand: Perseverance.  Having begun the spiritual life or even appearing to have made great strides is of little consequence.  The important thing is to persevere to the end of one's life.  This means to be measured in one's thinking and action, making use of discretion and understanding that spiritual development and growth does not take place in a day.  It is a great labor we undertake and those lacking wisdom and prudence will often quit the course.  

Beyond this, the path must not be taken alone but rather with a trusted guide and Confessor.  The most important of these guides who nurtures us and educates us in the mysteries of the faith is Mary, the Mother of God.  

Our food for the journey must be the grace of the Sacraments, in particular frequent confession and daily Mass whenever there is no impediment to such discipline.  

While never relinquishing our resolutions, Philip counsels moderation in the spiritual disciplines we take upon ourselves; always sure never to overestimate our strength.  It is better to attend to those practices well tried and that will bear fruit for us in time. 

Finally, it is love of the virtues pursued that bring us to the desired end.  We must hold on in the struggle and in the midst of failures; not seeking consolation for ourselves but rather to please God who alone can bring us to a happy end.

The principal lesson which the holy Father gave, and which he frequently repeated as the most important since the fulfillment of all the rest depends upon it, was the necessity of holy perseverance. Therefore, let these words of Christ, which St. Philip had constantly in his mouth sink into our hearts, and be indelibly impressed upon them: "Not he who shall begin, but he that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved."  The holy Father used to say that to begin to walk in the spiritual life was no great matter, but that perseverance was the important thing.

MEANS OF PERSEVERANCE

Saint Philip declares discretion to be the best means for attaining holy perseverance and perfection.  Therefore, we must not wish to do everything in one day, nor desire to become saints in four days, since perfection cannot be acquired without great labor.  The Saint used to laugh at people who, having a little spirituality, think it a great thing, and said that it seemed to him more difficult to moderate those who wish to do too much, than to excite those who do too little.

The holy Master exhorts us continually to entreat the Lord, of His goodness, to grant us this gift of perseverance, and we may say, every day, five Paters and five Aves,  which the holy Father introduced into evening prayers of the Oratory, that His Divine Majesty may grant us perseverance in His holy service.

The Saint declared that for the acquisition of this holy gift of perseverance, perseverance in prayer is one of the best means, as also the never leaving a Confessor after having once chosen him with mature deliberation and much prayer.

He exhorts us to have a devotion to the Most Holy Mother of God, this devotion being, as he says, necessary to our beginning and ending well.  For this same end of perseverance, the holy Master exhorts us to hear Mass every morning when there is no impediment.  Let us frequently renew our good resolutions, nor ever relinquish them, whatever temptations may arise.

The Saint says that it is not well to burden ourself with many spiritual exercises, adding that some persons by degrees take up the practice of saying so many rosaries and offices, that, after a time, they grow weary and discontinue them, or, if they continue, say them without devotion.  He counsels us to take a little upon us, but never to intermit that little, for if the devil can induce us only to omit an exercise, he can easily make us omit a second, and then a third, till at last we come to do nothing; therefore, Saint Philip goes on to say, "Do not let a day pass without doing some good during it."  We must not pass over our devotions on every slight occasion.

As to young persons, the holy Father says that it is necessary to their perseverance in virtue that they should avoid evil deeds and accompany their good practices by the frequent use of the Sacraments.   Nor must we readily believe them when they show great spirituality, for, when Saint Philip was told of some young people who seemed to walk well in the spiritual way, he replied, "Let them be fledged, and we shall then see how they shall fly," adding that he would undertake to lead a person into great spirituality, but that perseverance was the important thing.

THE THINGS IN WHICH WE SHOULD ESPECIALLY PERSEVERE

Saint Philip exhorts us to guard against small faults, and gives this as a reason for doing so, that if we once begin to go back and despise those faults, the conscience becomes bloated, and all goes to ruin.

We must frequent the holy Sacraments and never omit confession on the appointed days.  We should hear Mass every morning when there is no impediment to our doing so; and this, as has been said, is one of the means of obtaining perseverance.  We must read spiritual books, especially the Lives of the Saints.  We must frequent the Oratory, which means that we must persevere in its exercises . . . 

FRUITS OF PERSEVERANCE

Our loving and holy Father Philip urges us to persevere through motives of love, and encourages us by these words: "By persevering in contending against our own passions, for the love of virtue, without experiencing any sensible sweetness, we shall in time, even in this world, attain to a tranquil, quiet, and all but angelic life, without feeling trouble or anxiety at anything whatever.  

But the inestimable gains of persevering do not terminate here, for the holy Father adds a declaration which should continually excite us to holy perseverance: "The Lord," says the Saint, "never sends death to a spiritual man without first making him aware of it, and sending him an extraordinary measure of spirituality."  Hence F. Giovanni Matteo Ancina, in his last illness, exhorted those who visited him to lead good lives, "for," said he, "if we do not send before us the light of good works, we shall find ourselves in the dark at the hour of death."

The School of St. Philip Neri
Giuseppe Crispino




Monday, April 6, 2015

"Cowards are the Victors": St. Philip Neri on Chastity

Once again St. Philip Neri proves to be the best of spiritual guides; particularly regarding his teachings on the struggle for chastity.  Philip sought to maintain purity throughout the whole course of his life (at times through rather rigorous means) and kept unsullied the gift of his virginity.  Despite his rigor, Philip did not suffer from scrupulosity; nor did he have a negative view of the human person or sexuality.  Rather, he humbly understood the power of human desire and relentless nature of temptations that arise from the appetites.  If he gave himself no leeway in maintaining strict mental and physical discipline and seemed not merely reserved in his relationships with members of the opposite sex but one might say severe, it was because he knew that no matter what age or how pure of heart one might be that the devil will never miss an opportunity to stir the bodily appetites which are a part of the human experience.

Philip held the virtue of Chastity in the highest regard and the quest for purity of heart as the immediate and essential aim of the spiritual life; so much so that he held no one in esteem (even the seemingly virtuous) if they were at all unchaste.  His teaching was simple and straightforward, yet not easy.  There are three kinds of temptations against purity: "one from the devil, which is overcome by prayer, another which arises from excess in eating, which is overcome by abstinence; and a third which arises from looking at women and conversing with them, and this is overcome by shunning occasions of sin, chiefly by bridling the sight."  Below, we have the fitting remedies for all these temptations as taught by St. Philip

Again, the thinking and language behind these teachings may seem coarse and severe but we must remember what Philip himself offered as a reason for this: "All sins displease God, but most of all those contrary to purity, and they are very difficult to cure."  Beyond this, it is helpful to understand that his understanding was shaped by the desert fathers, in particular St. John Cassian, who placed purity of heart as the immediate aim of the spiritual life; for through it and through maintaining physical chastity one develops a greater freedom in loving God and others.  It is in rigorously purifying the passions that desire becomes rightly ordered and with it the capacity for true intimacy.

OF THE OCCASIONS OF SIN WHICH WE MUST AVOID IF WE WOULD PRESERVE OUR CHASTITY

We must be vigilantly diligent in avoiding occasions of sin, for Saint Philip reminds us of that doctrine so much inculcated by the Saints, that whereas some temptations are vanquished by conflict, and others by contempt, temptations against purity can only be overcome by flight.  Our Saint, therefore, used to say that in this conflict, cowards are the most secure, because in the wars of this world, cowards fly.

We must scrupulously observe custody of the eyes, which the Saint did in such a manner that he did not look at women even in the confessional, as was attested by a most beautiful penitent of his, who delcared that during the thirty years in which he had been her Confessor, she had never perceived that he had looked at her once.  Now as the Saint was ordained a Priest at the age of thirty-six, he must then have been nearly seventy years of age; whence we may draw some other instructions which he inculcated, saying, "Whilst a man can raise his eyelids, he should not trust in any age."

MEANS OF DEFENCE AGAINST TEMPTATIONS

The instructions of the holy Master for the preservation of chastity are as follows.

1. Be humble; for the Saint declares humility to be the true safeguard of chastity; so that we must endeavor to pursue this virtue in an especial manner.

2. You need a good and experienced confessor.

3. Be frequent in prayer.

4. Use this ejaculation: "I trust in God, I trust in the goodness of God."

5. Often say from the heart, "O Lord, trust not in me; for if Thou help me not, I shall surely fall:" or "O Lord, look for nought but evil from me."

6. Frequent the holy Sacraments.

Use of the ejaculation which Saint Philip teaches us to use under sensual temptations: "O Virgin Mary, Mother of God! pray to Jesus, thy Son, for me a sinner.  Virgin and Mother!" for all who have used it have found it very efficacious.

We should have a particular affection for those Saints who have been distinguished for purity, as F. Gallonio had, who, by the counsel of the holy Master undertook from devotion to write histories of the Roman Virgins, and derived great spiritual profit from his labors.

This is another motive for affectionate devotion to the Saint, who gives us this further advice: "When we hear of anyone's fall, we must excite ourselves to compassion and not to anger;" for he said that one of the best means of keeping ourselves chaste is to have compassion on those who fall through frailty; never to boast of our own escapes, but humbly to refer all to the mercy of God; and he assures us that want of compassion in such cases is the sure presage of a fall.

In regard to nocturnal tempations, the holy Father exhorts us, when going to bed, to say the hymn "Te lucis ante terminum," adding that he always said it when he went to bed.

The holy Father especially warns us against feeding the body delicately: this the Saint also taught by his actions, for he mortified his flesh by abstinence - one of the principal helps for maintaining the preserving purity; and for the same purpose it will be very desirable to take the discipline three times a week, as prescribed by Saint Philip to the members of the Congregation and to the brothers of the external Oratory.  This was confirmed by the saying of Marcello Ferri, his spiritual son, who, asking Saint Philip how he could possess chastity, "Master, what must I do to possess chastity?" the Saint replied that he must mortify the flesh; and for this purpose, he showed him the iron chains with which he disciplined himself.

REMEDIES AGAINST TEMPTATIONS WHEN THEY BESET US

To certain temptations which present themselves to the mind in this manner: "If you had such a facility or such an opportunity of offending against modesty, what would you do?" the holy Master counsels us to reply, "I do not know what I would do; but I know well what I ought to do:" and he commends this manner of reply more than saying absolutely, "I would not do it; I would not say it," because this would be to have presumption in ourselves.

When we feel tempted, let us have recourse to the powerful means of holy prayer, by which Saint Philip overcame, and by his example instructs us to do likewise; as once, when passing the Colosseum, as the Sacred Legend tells us, the devil tried to raise filthy images in his mind; but, having recourse to his usual remedy of prayer, he remained victor in the battle.  "When," says the Saint, "a man feels temptation, let him have recourse to the Lord, devoutly repeating that ejaculation so much esteemed by the holy Fathers of the desert,  "O God, come to my assistance, O Lord, make haste to help me;" or this verse, "Create a clean heart within me, O God, and renew a right spirit within my bowels."

1. Kiss the ground.

2. Fly from idleness as far as you are able.

The holy Master also prescribes that, when a temptation arises, the person should call to mind his former consolations in prayer, by doing which he will easily surmount the temptation.

He should disclose his thoughts to his Confessor with all freedom, for this the holy Master declares to be a sovereign means for the preservation of chastity; for, by disclosure to the physician, the wound is healed.

An excellent and powerful remedy in these attacks is to invoke the aid of our loving Father Saint Philip, since many, by conversing with him, preserved their chastity, and very many received the same grace when the Saint only drew them to his breast.

F. Antonio Gallonio, who was always free from sensual temptations, said that the holy old man used to pinch him here and there on his sides with such force as to give him great pain; and he thought that he had received this great favor from the touch of his holy hands; also by threatening the tempter that they would accuse him to Saint Philip, his spiritual children were completely freed from these temptations.

In doing this, they executed a counsel which he had given them, and which all his devoted children may imagine to be addressed to themselves.  The counsel is this: "When you feel yourself tempted in such a manner, say to the devil, "I will accuse you to Philip;" and that the temptations then ceased.

He warned them, however, to repeat these words simply, and without reasoning, knowing how much the devil fears words spoken in faith and holy simplicity.

Now, if our Saint was so powerful on earth, how far more so must he be in Heaven!  Surely there he can obtain for us the effects of this and other instructions which flowed from his mouth, so that in our need we may invoke his help in the following manner:

"To thee, O holy and Virgin Father, to whom the noxious vice of impurity was so displeasing, I thine unworthy servant commend myself, imploring they powerful help.  Behold, the enemy assails me; already he begins to increase the number of his burning goads and piercing shafts; I accuse him to thee, I invoke thy miraculous name, Philip, Philip!  Now is the time to give the aid of thy powerful patronage to my soul, which is in danger of falling into the hands of the filthy enemy.  Defend it, holy Father, for thou canst do so."

Giuseppe Crispano

The School of Saint Philip Neri