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