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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.

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Despite the inclement weather, there was a very nice crowd for last night's "School of St. Philip Neri"; and for those who braved the subzero temperatures a wonderful discussion ensued regarding St. Philip's joy and how he sought to lift people out of a state of melancholy which can be an impediment to spiritual growth.  What follows below is the podcast of the evening's discussion as well as the text that was used as an aid.  

Philip is often described as the cheerful or joyful Saint and, indeed, he was exactly that.  Yet, this cheerfulness went beyond being simply a natural aspect of Philip's personality.  While he seems to have been of a cheerful disposition from his youth, this natural quality was perfected by the grace of God in our holy patron and fostered by a life of deep prayer and virtue.

Philip understood that melancholy was an impediment to growth in the spiritual life and would use any number of means to lift his spiritual children out of it.  What often throws a person into sadness and despondency is an uneasy conscience.  Sin weighs a person down spiritually and emotionally.  The first and great means to restoring joyfulness in a soul is confession.  It is the return to the life of grace that sets the person on the path to joy.  Melancholy is not simply an emotional issue but a spiritual sickness.  Sin darkens the heart and once the light of Christ has returned the soul must strive to persevere in the life of virtue.  

Essential in this struggle to maintain cheerfulness is interior mortification.  If we do not deny our will and order our appetites our heart becomes a "nursery of temptations" and our lives and relationships become unsettled.

Additionally, Philip identified the multiplication of worldly goods as contributing to melancholy.  An abundance of goods, property, or money leads to an abundance of worries about how to manage it, protect it, or increase the amount of it.  Over-attention to worldly security can lead to the neglect of the pursuit of spiritual riches.

In the struggle with melancholy, we must not take ourselves too seriously.  To teach this, Philip would unexpectedly make someone sing a song or ask someone to go for a little run.  These simple actions would often be enough to break melancholy's hold and lighten the mood.

Be that as it may, Philip knew that such tactics had their limits.  There is a difference between not taking oneself too seriously and falling into the extreme of not taking anything serious at all - of falling into buffoonery.  As with any virtue, cheerfulness or joy must be shaped and directed by the grace of God, lest we destroy what little spirituality we have through dissipation.

Our holy Master, who was never seen to be melancholy or troubled, who was never too cheerful, but always maintained an equable gaiety, could not endure that we should be melancholy, but would always have us cheerful, for he says that melancholy is prejudicial to spirituality.

We should be the more careful not to yield to a melancholy disposition, as the holy Master had a certain especial liking for cheerful people, and assures us that the cheerful are more easily guided in the spiritual life than the melancholy.  The holy Father was accustomed to say, "Charity and gladness," or, "Charity and humility," and sometimes even availed himself of playfulness to drive away melancholy, giving person a slight box on the ear, saying, "I do not beat you, but the devil."  When taking leave of a Capuchin, whose spirit he had tried by mortification, seeing that he had preserved his cheerfulness, he said to him, "My son, persevere in this cheerfulness, for this is the true way to make progression saintly virtue."

To come to the remedies against melancholy: We must know that the first is to have a good conscience, wherefore the Saint prescribed the powerful means of a general confession; and after having freed the penitent from melancholy, charged him to sin to "Go, and sin no more."  Hence the good brother Battista Guerra often reminded the novices of St. Philip that they should maintain cheerfulness and preserve themselves from sin.

Another important remedy against melancholy will be to make ourselves familiar with the practice of interior mortification; because Saint Philip says that when anyone knows how to break his own will, and deny his soul its own desires, he has a good degree of virtue, and that the not doing so is to bear about with us a nursery of temptations, so that such persons will be easily angry, easily break up a friendship, and will rarely be cheerful, but generally melancholy and troubled at what befalls them.

Eagerness in accumulating money also causes melancholy, as we gather from what befell a disciple of the Saint, who had thus eagerly acquired money, to whom the holy Master said, "My son, before you had this property you had the face of an angel, and it gave me pleasure to look at you; but now you have changed your countenance, you have lost your wonted cheerfulness, and are melancholy; so look to yourself."  The docile disciple blushed, and profiting by the admonition he afterwards only studied how to enrich himself in another life.

When assailed by melancholy, let us employ our tongues in singing.  We have many examples of the holy Master having caused the melancholy to sing even with others, as we especially learn from the case of a noble Roman who was oppressed with melancholy, and whom Saint Philip caused to sing a little with F. Antonio Gallonio, in order to divert him.

At another time, the holy Father invited F. Francesco Bernardo, who was sad, to run with him, and at this invitation his melancholy left him.

Though cheerfulness was so pleasing to the holy Master, yet he was never pleased with dissipation, for he said that we must carefully guard against becoming dissipated, of giving into what he called a buffooning spirit, since buffoonery unfits a person for receiving greater spirituality from God, and roots up what little he has already acquired.

The School of St. Philip Neri

by Giuseppe Crispino and translated by Rev. F.W. Faber

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Last night we had our first meeting of the School of St. Philip Neri.  The evening began with a brief introduction about St. Philip and the nature of the Oratory; especially in relation to the Secular Oratory, the fraternal association of the faithful for which the Congregation of the Oratory was established.  As a layman, Philip was directed by his confessor to seek Holy Orders in order to serve the group of disciples that had gathered with him to discuss the faith, serve the pilgrims in Rome and care for the incurables in the hospitals.

After praying the Litany of St. Philip Neri and discussing a short excerpt from a biography of his life (edited by Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman to be read in the refectory of the Oratory before meals), the group considered in depth a Lesson on the relationship between Confessor and Penitent from The School of Saint Philip Neri by Giuseppe Crispino.  
This major work by F Giuseppe Crispino, a Neapolitan secular priest of the 17th century, covering all aspects of Oratorian spirituality and life, was originally translated by Fr Faber in 1850.  As always St. Philip proves to be the wisest of guides in the spiritual life.  Below is a podcast of the group along with the text that was considered.

 

The holy Master, St. Philip, exhorts the penitent to choose one particular director, and to think well and pray before choosing him, in order as the Saint himself observes, that he may find one who shall be “good, learned, discreet, and experienced.”  The penitent, therefore, must ascertain whether the Confessor has these qualities required by St. Philip . . . It is also expedient never to change the Confessor, and the holy Master expressed this opinion: “Let any one who would persevere in the spiritual life, always confess to the same person.”  Nor was he pleased when persons went to another Confessor.  Such changes make the consciences of the penitent restless, as is particularly related of a penitent of the holy Father; who, the first time that he confessed to another, fell into profound melancholy and anxiety of conscience; so that, to free himself from this, and to recover his serenity, his only remedy was to return to his first Confessor, and to disclose his unfaithfulness in going to another.

The holy Master, then would never permit the Confessor to be changed on slight grounds, but said, “When once chosen, let him never be changed, but for most urgent reasons.”

The penitent must resolve to place himself as a dead body in the hands of his Confessor, according to the expression of that Servant of God, Giovanni Battista Foligno; who thus placed himself in the hands of St. Philip that he might do with him what he pleased; and who minutely observed the precepts of the Saint, with such unspeakable profit to his soul, that even during his lifetime he was called “The Blessed Giovanni Battista.”

The penitent must imagine that St. Philip addresses to him the same exhortation as to Cesare Tommasi, who says, “He exhorted me always to shun sin, and to endeavor to be without it, if I wished to be in the grace of God.”

Under occasions of sin, we should reflect on the abhorrence of sin expressed by our holy Master, who said, “Rather than commit one mortal sin, I would willingly be quartered, and die a most cruel death.”  Should a person fall into some sin, let him reflect that his soul has become altogether deformed, and therefore run directly to the feet of his Confessor for the removal of that deformity; which was even externally visible to the eyes of St. Philip, who one day said to a person who had been to confession, “Son you have changed your face, and have a better countenance;” words which the Saint often used when sinners returned from the state of sin to the grace of God.

Should there be relapses, still let the penitent return to his Confessor with the same readiness; since this was the remedy prescribed by St. Philip, to deliver a penitent from a sin in which he was so deeply immersed, that he fell into it almost every day; but, as on every backsliding, he always returned to confession, he, as the Saint himself declares, in a short time became a very angel.

To cure a spiritual person, who had fallen into a marked fault, after having long walked in the ways of God, the holy Master said, that there was no better remedy than to exhort him to manifest the fall to some person of good life, in whom he had especial confidence; since, by that act of humility, God would restore him to his former state.

Our holy Father was so enamored of purity of conscience and of unreserved manifestation to the Confessor, that, in consequence of the great benefit which souls derive from frequent confession, he inculcated it by word and example, for he confessed every day with abundant tears.

Neither let any one regard occupation as an excuse; for in the time of St. Philip, many persons who were occupied went to confession before day break: and by the grace of God Confessors will never be wanting who will study their lessons in this school; and who, after the example of the holy Father, will conform themselves to the inclinations of penitents, and be at all times ready for their convenience.

The holy Master says and counsels, that, in confession, the penitent should first accuse himself of those grievous sins, of which he is most ashamed, since in this way he will most confound the devil, and make the most profitable confession.

He must never, through human respect, conceal any sin, however trivial it may appear.

He must never trust in himself, but always confer with his spiritual Father, and commend himself to the prayers of all.

He must have great faith in his spiritual Father, disclosing the slightest matter to him, since the Lord will never permit him to err, in anything which is of importance to his penitent’s salvation.  When the devil cannot succeed in tempting a person to grievous sin, he endeavors with all his power to introduce distrust between the Confessor and the penitent; for by this means he gradually acquires no little gain, since, as our holy Father himself shows by the example of Carlo Mazzei, the devil is afraid of the Spiritual Father.  In those cases where the penitent cannot have access to his Confessor, it is well that he should act on what he supposes would be his pleasure; but at the first opportunity he must confer with him, to secure himself from error.

Vows must never be made without consent of the Spiritual Father: and for the tranquillity of the penitent’s conscience, as well as to avoid the burden of many obligations, the holy Father thought it well that the person desiring to make the vow, would do so conditionally, as “If I should remember it;” or in some such manner.

Disciplines, and other austerities of the same kind, must never be used without the Confessor’s permission, “for,” adds the Saint, “whoever uses them on his own judgment, either injures his constitution, or becomes proud by fancying that he has done some great thing; and we must never so attach ourselves to the means, as to forget the end, which is charity and the love of God.”

Let the penitent obey his Confessor as God, discovering to him all his affections with freedom, sincerity, and simplicity, and take no resolution without his counsel; and the holy Master adds, “that whoever thus acts, may be assured that he will not be obliged to render an account of his actions to God.”  This obedience was first practiced and afterwards taught by our holy Master, who, though he alleged his incapacity and insufficiency, yet, nevertheless, became a Priest in obedience, and took on himself the charge of confessions, instead of going to the Indies, to which mission he was especially attached by that love of God which caused him to burn with desire of shedding his blood for the Holy Faith; to say nothing of many other acts of prompt obedience which are recorded in his life.  We should take example from all this, and always obey our Spiritual Father, even when he commands things contrary to the penitent’s own idea of his inability.

The penitent must never constrain the Confessor to give a reluctant permission, and, as regards this, F. Pietro Consolini greatly deplored the injury now done to obedience in the practice of confessions; since, instead of the profound humility and obedience required of the penitent in this Sacrament; it now is (to use his own words) “so monstrously managed, that whereas the Confessor once guided the Penitent, Penitents now direct Confessors, and try to bend them to their own pleasure.”  Let the penitent be careful never to abuse the Sacrament of Penance through interested motives by going to confession to obtain alms from the Confessor.  St. Philip detected this abuse, and once perceiving in his spirit that a certain woman only came for bread; he said to her, “My good woman, go, and God be with you, for there is no bread for you here.”  Nor would he hear her confessions any more.


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Last night the School of St. Philip Neri enjoyed a wonderful evening together as we discussed Philip's counsel on the preparation for and reception of Holy Communion.  Once again Philip proved to be a wise teacher and guide and we found ourselves greatly challenged to approach the altar with humility and awe and to seek to shape a life that is truly Eucharistic centered.  Below is the podcast of the event and the text we considered from "The School of St. Philip Neri" translated by Fr. Faber.

The following Lessons, of which today’s post is the second, are chiefly addressed to those Christians who, having well studied the life and virtues of the glorious Father St. Philip Neri, are eager to feel a strong devotion to him, and to adopt him as their advocate and intercessor with God, in all their spiritual and temporal necessities. It is my hope to explore these Lessons in depth in the years to come with the Secular Oratorians of Pittsburgh in order that we might all come to know St. Philip more personally and see the beauty of his spirituality and his love for God.

Saint Philip Neri, like all the great priest-saints, was so devoted to confession (as described in the first Lesson) precisely because of his love for the Holy Eucharist. He wanted everyone to love Christ as he deserves to be loved and to receive him worthily and fruitfully. Everything he did, from preaching, catechesis, and his work with youth to confession and spiritual direction, had one end — to lead people to union with Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

Furthermore, Saint Philip knew and taught that charity in all its manifestations flows directly from the Eucharist and leads the Christian back to a more perfect offering of the sacrifice. In other words, for Philip the Eucharist, in a sense, was perpetuated in time and manifested its fruitfulness whenever his penitents visited the sick or helped the poor. Saint Philip teaches us that the spiritual life is one and that the Eucharist is the integrating center of everything that a person does.

In a time when the Eucharist is received indiscriminately and often without preparation or with a response of gratitude and increased spiritual fervor, St. Philip remains a wonderful guide.

We cannot adequately speak of the wonderful effects of which Holy Communion produces in those who frequently and worthily communicate. They may be tasted, but never expressed. Let us taste, and see how sweet is the Bread of Angels. It will stimulate us to know, that through the frequent participation of this Most Divine Sacrament, many penitents of our holy Father became men of holy life and the highest perfection. Our holy Father himself refers to this in his letter addressed to Madonna Fiore: “I desire that you may flourish, that is, that the flower (a play on her name) may produce good fruit, the fruit of humility, the fruit of patience, the fruit of all virtues, and that you should be the abode and receptacle of all virtues, as frequent communicants are wont to be.” The holy Master, therefore, wished that not only the Priests, but also the lay-brothers, should frequently receive this Most Holy Sacrament, following his own practice as a layman, which was to communicate every morning. On becoming a Priest, he offered Mass daily, and even when ill, he communicated every morning.

The same rule respecting time cannot be given to all as it depends on the pleasure of the Confessor. Some penitents of the holy Father communicated every eight days, many on every Festival, others three times a week, and some, though few, every day.

When any one is about to communicate, let him ask permission of his Confessor and tell him some days before. St. Philip wished that penitents should do this three or four days become Communion; and he also said, that no one should communicate without the permission of his Confessor, since, frequently to communicate out of our own heads, might occasion great temptations which could not always be resisted.

We must approach this holy banquet with great desire, and always with some particular motive of devotion, not from custom or routine, according to the intention of St. Philip, who, when his spiritual children asked permission to communicate, “Sitientes, Sitientes, venire ad aquas.” He wished that they should first acquire the thirst, and then approach the Fountain of Eternal Life.

Although no preparation for Communion can ever be called sufficient, we must nevertheless take care never to approach this Holy Bread negligently, or through habit, but use all possible preparation. Some penitents of the hoy Master went with the Saint on Saturday nights, and on the Vigil of Festivals, either to the Church of the Dominicans, or that of the Capuchins, where they assisted in Choir with the Friars at Matins, spending the whole night, as the Sacred Legend says, in preparation for Holy Communion on the morrow.

The holy Master says, that whoever goes to Holy Communion should follow the spirit which he had in prayer, and not seek for new meditations. he should also prepare for more temptations than usual, for the Lord will not suffer him to remain idle. In the act of receiving the Most Holy Sacrament, let him imitate the holy Master, who, when about to communicate, said with all affection, “O Lord, I protest that I am good for nothing but to do evil;” and when receiving the Holy Viaticum, he repeated “Domine, no sum dignus,” with extreme devotion, saying, “O my Lord, I am not worthy, neither was I ever worthy. I have never done any good.” The holy Master exhorts us to ask in Communion a remedy for that vice to which we are most inclined. After Holy Communion, He exhorts us to preserve a devout remembrance of the great favor which we have received in being made partakers of the Heavenly Food, and show ourselves reverently grateful to the Divine Goodness. So much did the holy Father insist on this, that when his spiritual children communicated, he made them perform some additional act of devotion for some days after, that they might derive fruit from the Sacrament, such as to recite the Pater and Ave with extended arms, or some little chaplet of these prayers, which he himself taught (of which we shall speak in the Lesson on devotion), or other similar things. On a Communion-day, we must try to perform some extra work of piety, since St. Philip, having communicated his spiritual children, sent them to different hospitals to visit and serve the sick, respecting which visits and service, instruction will be given in another Lesson of this Book.

The School of Saint Philip Neri by Giuseppe Crispino
This major work by F Giuseppe Crispino, a Neapolitan secular priest of the 17th century, covering all aspects of Oratorian spirituality and life, was originally translated by Fr Faber in 1850.

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