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