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!”