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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

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Saint Peter's Square
Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Year of Faith. The desire for God.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The journey of reflection that we are making together during this Year of Faith leads us to meditate today on a fascinating aspect of the human and the Christian experience: man carries within himself a mysterious desire for God. In a very significant way, the Catechism of the Catholic Church opens precisely with the following consideration: “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (n. 27).

A statement like this, that even today in many cultural contexts seems quite acceptable, even obvious, might, however, be taken as a provocation in the West’s secularized culture. Many of our contemporaries might actually object that they have no such desire for God. For large sectors of society he is no longer the one longed for or desired but rather a reality that leaves them indifferent, one on which there is no need even to comment. In reality, what we have defined as “the desire for God” has not entirely disappeared and it still appears today, in many ways, in the heart of man. Human desire always tends to certain concrete goods, often anything but spiritual, and yet it has to face the question of what is truly “the” good, and thus is confronted with something other than itself, something man cannot build but he is called to recognize. What can really satisfy man’s desire?

In my first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, I sought to analyze how such dynamism can be found in the experience of human love, an experience that in our age is more easily perceived as a moment of ecstasy, of leaving oneself, like a place in which man feels overcome by a desire that surpasses him. Through love, a man and a woman experience in a new way, thanks to each other, the greatness and beauty of life and of what is real. If what is experienced is not a mere illusion, if I truly want the good of the other as a means for my own good, then I must be willing not to be self-centred, to place myself at the other’s service, even to the point of self-denial. The answer to the question on the meaning of the experience of love then passes through the purification and healing of the will, required in loving the other. We must cultivate, encourage, and also correct ourselves, so that this good can truly be loved.

Thus the initial ecstasy becomes a pilgrimage, “an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God” (Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, n. 6). Through this journey one will be able to deepen gradually one’s knowledge of that love, initially experienced. And the mystery that it represents will become more and more defined: in fact, not even the beloved is capable of satisfying the desire that dwells in the human heart. In fact, the more authentic one’s love for the other is, the more it reveals the question of its origin and its destiny, of the possibility that it may endure for ever. Therefore, the human experience of love has in itself a dynamism that refers beyond the self, it is the experience of a good that leads to being drawn out and finding oneself before the mystery that encompasses the whole of existence.

One could make similar observation about other human experiences as well, such as friendship, encountering beauty, loving knowledge: every good experienced by man projects him toward the mystery that surrounds the human being; every desire that springs up in the human heart echoes a fundamental desire that is never fully satisfied. Undoubtedly by such a deep desire, hidden, even enigmatic, one cannot arrive directly at faith. Men and women, after all, know well what does not satisfy them, but they cannot imagine or define what the happiness they long for in their hearts would be like. One cannot know God based on human desire alone. From this point of view he remains a mystery: man is the seeker of the Absolute, seeking with small and hesitant steps. And yet, already the experience of desire, of a “restless heart” as St Augustine called it, is very meaningful. It tells us that man is, deep down, a religious being (cf. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 28), a “beggar of God”. We can say with the words of Pascal: “Man infinitely surpasses man” (Pensées, ed. Chevalier 438; ed. Brunschvicg 434). Eyes recognize things when they are illuminated. From this comes a desire to know the light itself, what makes the things of the world shine and with them ignites the sense of beauty.

We must therefore maintain that it is possible also in this age, seemingly so blocked to the transcendent dimension, to begin a journey toward the true religious meaning of life, that shows how the gift of faith is not senseless, is not irrational. It would be very useful, to that end, to foster a kind of pedagogy of desire, both for the journey of one who does not yet believe and for the one who has already received the gift of faith. It should be a pedagogy that covers at least two aspects. In the first place, to discover or rediscover the taste of the authentic joy of life. Not all satisfactions have the same effect on us: some leave a positive after-taste, able to calm the soul and make us more active and generous. Others, however, after the initial delight, seem to disappoint the expectations that they had awakened and sometimes leave behind them a sense of bitterness, dissatisfaction or emptiness. Instilling in someone from a young age the taste for true joy, in every area of life – family, friendship, solidarity with those who suffer, self-renunciation for the sake of the other, love of knowledge, art, the beauty of nature — all this means exercising the inner taste and producing antibodies that can fight the trivialization and the dulling widespread today. Adults too need to rediscover this joy, to desire authenticity, to purify themselves of the mediocrity that might infest them. It will then become easier to drop or reject everything that although attractive proves to be, in fact, insipid, a source of indifference and not of freedom. And this will bring out that desire for God of which we are speaking. 

A second aspect that goes hand in hand with the preceding one is never to be content with what you have achieved. It is precisely the truest joy that unleashes in us the healthy restlessness that leads us to be more demanding — to want a higher good, a deeper good — and at the same time to perceive ever more clearly that no finite thing can fill our heart. In this way we will learn to strive, unarmed, for the good that we cannot build or attain by our own power; and we will learn to not be discouraged by the difficulty or the obstacles that come from our sin.

In this regard, we must not forget that the dynamism of desire is always open to redemption. Even when it strays from the path, when it follows artificial paradises and seems to lose the capacity of yearning for the true good. Even in the abyss of sin, that ember is never fully extinguished in man. It allows him to recognize the true good, to savour it, and thus to start out again on a path of ascent; God, by the gift of his grace, never denies man his help. We all, moreover, need to set out on the path of purification and healing of desire. We are pilgrims, heading for the heavenly homeland, toward that full and eternal good that nothing will be able to take away from us. This is not, then, about suffocating the longing that dwells in the heart of man, but about freeing it, so that it can reach its true height. When in desire one opens the window to God, this is already a sign of the presence of faith in the soul, faith that is a grace of God. St Augustine always says: “so God, by deferring our hope, stretched our desire; by the desiring, stretches the mind; by stretching, makes it more capacious” (Commentary on the First Letter of John, 4,6: PL 35, 2009).

On this pilgrimage, let us feel like brothers and sisters of all men, travelling companions even of those who do not believe, of those who are seeking, of those who are sincerely wondering about the dynamism of their own aspiration for the true and the good. Let us pray, in this Year of Faith, that God may show his face to all those who seek him with a sincere heart. Thank you.


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On Stability in the Oratory

Selections from Blessed John Henry Newman’s Oratory Papers,

(Chapter Address, January/February 1856)

The Congregation is to be the home of the Oratorian. The Italians, I believe, have no word for home – nor is it an idea which readily enters in the mind of a foreigner, at least not so readily as into the mind of an Englishman, It is remarkable then that the Oratorian Fathers should have gone out of their way to express the idea by the metaphorical word nido or nest… The Congregation, according to St. Philip’s institution, is never to be so large that the members do not know each other. They are to be “bound together by that body of love, which daily intercourse creates, and thereby all are to know the ways of each, and feel a reverence for ‘countenances of familiar friends.’” Familiar faces, exciting reverence, daily intercourse,knowledge of each other’s ways, mutual love, what is this but a description of home?

St. Philip himself affords us an instance of that attachment to his home or nest, which was a characteristic of his Congregation after him.For thirty years and more he lived in one small room at St. Girolamo, and he did not quit Rome for more than sixty years… We know how unwilling he was to leave his old familiar abode, when the Congregation was placed in the Chiesa Nuova; the command of the Pope was necessary to move him, and when he moved, he seemed by his way of moving to take a good humoured vengeance on his spiritual children who had brought the Pope upon him.

Another remark may be made. As the Oratory is the home of the individual Father, so the town in which it is placed is the home of theOratory. A Congregation is a sort of native body in a town. It is not a body of foreign priests but at least in great measure, it is, as it were, the growth and fruit of a place…. The Oratory is thus emphatically a local institution; it acts on and is influenced by the town in which it is found, it is the representative of no distant of foreign interest, but lives among and is contented with its own people.

(Remarks on the Oratorian Vocation, 18 August 1856)

Our perfection is not wrought out either by the sacrifice of human affection or personal attachments. On the contrary, a love for each other, a love of the Oratory as a home, is one of the chief characteristics,bonds, and duties of its Fathers.

First of all, their vocation is to a fixed place, and, I may say, to a particular body. Regulars may consider themselves wanderers upon the face of the earth; such is not a Father of the Oratory. In spite of that detachment, which St. Philip esteemed so highly, he bids us, in his rule, “bind ourselves more closely to each other in love,” by “daily intercourse,” and “daily knowledge of one another’s way,” and even by the very look of “familiar countenances.” Accordingly, each house is said to be a “family,” and the Superior is “the Father.”

This is the reason, says the Rule, why the community must not be large; for then this distinct knowledge and loving intimacy of one with another cannot be. Brockie enlarges on this point. “The type of the Italian Oratory,” he says, “according to the mind of St. Philip, was a sort of holy family, having its own private house, and made up of just so many brothers as might be able to know and love each other well. The custom of years, known faces, similarity of character, all that creates human love, becomes that bond of union and perseverance which the founders of Orders and Religions place in the vow of absolute and perpetual obedience. Accordingly, it is a local, nay a domestic institution.”

Residence has inconsequence ever been enforced as a cardinal point in the Oratory…. And this residence, I say, is treated, not simply as a duty, but as a necessary bond of the community in the absence of vows, promoting as it does, a triple attachment, to the place and neighborhood,to the Fathers, and to one’s own room.… St. Philip himself was a remarkable instance of this attachment [to one’s own room]. St. Girolamo wash is old long-possessed nido or nest,in which he had experienced summers heat and winter’s cold, the jealousy and spite of enemies, and the throng and affection of generations of happy penitents. An attachment like this became a tradition of the Oratory; and the word nido is the term expressing it.

(Letter to the Oratorian Fathers, 31 August 1856)

One of the sure signs of the presence of the Spirit of God is peace. The Saints have gone through many fierce trials; I do not read that they were restless; or if they were ever so, I do not find that it came into the idea or definition of their saintliness. No two saints can be so different from each other as St. Philip and St. Ignatius – one so unassuming, the other so imperial. They are both indifferent ways inexpressibly calm – the calmness of St. Philip too the form of cheerfulness, that of St. Ignatius the form of majesty. What we do calmly, has weight.… The first element in St. Philip’s spirit is rest and peace.

(Chapter Address, 27 September 1856)

It is the saying of holy men that, if we wish to be perfect,we have nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well.I think this is an instruction which may be of great practical use to persons like ourselves who make a profession of aiming at perfection. It is easy to have vague ideas what perfection is, which serve well enough to talk about it,when we do not intend to aim at it – but as soon as a person really desires and sets about seeking it himself, he is dissatisfied with an thing but what is tangible and clear, and constitutes some sort of direction towards the practice of it.

He then is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly –and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection. We are perfect, if we do perfectly our duties as members of the Oratory. I insist on this, because I think it will simplify our views, and fix our exertions on a definite aim. If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say – first – Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising – give your first thoughts to God –make a good meditation – say or hear Mass and communicate with devotion – made a good thanksgiving – say carefully all the prayers which you are bound to say– say the Office attentively, do the work of the day, whatever it is,diligently and for God – make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Say theAngelus devoutly – eat and drink to God’s glory – say the Rosary well, be recollected – keep out bad thoughts. Make your evening meditation well –examine yourself duly. Go do bed in due time, and you are already perfect.

Prayer to St. PhilipNeri

Look down from heaven, Holy Father, from the loftiness of that mountain to the lowliness of this valley; from that harbor of quietness and tranquility to this calamitous sea. And now that the darkness of this world hinders no more those kindly eyes of thine from looking clearly into all things, look down and visit, O most diligent keeper, this vineyard which thy right hand planted with so much labor, anxiety and peril. To thee then we fly;from thee we seek for aid; to thee we give our whole selves unreservedly. Thee we adopt as our patron and defender; undertake the cause of our salvation,protect thy clients. To thee we appeal as our leader; rule thine army fighting against the assaults of the devil. To thee, kindest of pilots, we give up the rudder of our lives; steer this little ship of thine, and, placed as thou art on high, keep us off all the rocks of evil desires, that with thee for our pilot and guide, we may safely come to the port of eternal bliss. Amen.


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From The School of St. Philip Neri, “Of Tribulations, Persecutions, Adversities, and the Passions of the Soul”

The present Lesson on Tribulations being exceedingly important, it is necessary that we should attentively lend our heart, rather than our ear, to the advice and maxims given by our holy Master on the subject. He supplies a noble introduction to this Lesson by saying, “Nothing can be more glorious for a Christian than to suffer for Christ. There cannot be a greater distress to one who truly loves God than the not having opportunities to suffer for Him. The greatness of a man’s love for God may be known by the greatness of his desire to suffer for the love of Him. Nor is there a more clear and certain proof of the love of God than adversity.” Tarugi justly said that the hand of the Lord is most lavish in granting gifts and abundant spirituality when heavy tribulations approach and are impending over us.

But to return to the holy Master. He says that nothing more easily produces contempt of the world, and more unites the soul to God than the being troubled and afflicted; and, to induce us to seek this union, he says, “We must seek Christ where Christ is not, that is, in crosses and tribulations, in which He is not now, for He is in glory.”

This truth was well known and practiced in the holy School of Saint Philip. The great disciple Fr. Giovenale greatly valued tribulations, and looked at them with a very different eye from that of the world. He esteemed them so much, that, recognizing in them a certain sign of predestination, he said that tribulations are a pledge that a man is in the grace of God. And, for this reason, he used to recommend himself with particular confidence to the prayers of the afflicted, as the persons most beloved and favored by God.

If, to the eyes of the worldly, afflicted persons seem to wear a sad and distressed countenance, those who look upon them with the eyes of Saint Philip, will see their faces shining like those of angels. We learn this by the following example, given by Cardinal Frederick Borromeo.

A person fell into such a heavy affliction that few could be worse. It lasted long, and at the end of seven or eight days, Father Philip said that he saw his face completely changed, so that it seemed to be that of another person, and he said to him, “See, you have never before had that face: thank God very much for the tribulation; and I will thank Him too, for I see your face shining like that of an angel.”

The holy Master so much desired to impress this truth on the hearts of his people, that even after his death he wished to teach it, for when, on his flight to heaven, he appeared to a nun in the monastery of Saint Martha, he showed her a field full of thorns, saying to her, “If you would come where I am, you must pass through this;” meaning through tribulations.

If, then, tribulations are such necessary and ineffable blessings to the soul, how can we ever bare to complain of them? We should be most careful not to say that we cannot bear the adversity, for the holy Father reproves this, telling us to say, in such cases, that we are unworthy that the Lord should visit us with such blessings.

One tribulation alone ought to trouble us, and that is what the holy Master thus expresses: “The greatest tribulation which a servant of God can have is the being without tribulation, and they may justly be called unhappy who are not admitted into this school.”

The holy Master taught these doctrines not only in word, but in practice, for whatever has been related of his suffering falls far short of the truth, since they were for the most part concealed, as the Saint himself confessed to Domenico Migliacci, to whom, when speaking of his persecutions in San Girolamo, he said, “O Domenico, if you did but know wat I have suffered in that place.”

Since, then, according to the holy instructions and example of our Saint, we are disposed to bear afflictions with patience, let us know that patience is acquired by suffering tribulation, for when Saint Philip was imploring patience before the Crucified One, he heard an interior voice say to him, “Ask me not for patience, for know that I have given it to thee; but I would have thee acquire it by these means.”

In times of persecution, insult, unkindness, and other tribulations, the person should humble himself, imitating the holy Father, who on such occasions used to say, “Was I humble, God would not send me this. This tribulation is sent me, as God is willing to make me humble and patient; and when I have derived the fruit which God intends, and have been well mortified, the persecution will cease, When God sees that I am humble, He will remove this Cross from me.”

The holy Father, to exhort us to bear adversity with patience, tells us not to lose courage, for God is wont to weave human life of alternate sorrows and consolations, at least interior ones. We should never seek to fly from a cross, for we shall surely find a greater, and there cannot be a better thing than to make a virtue out of necessity; whereas men, for the most part, make their own crosses. Saint Philip also confirmed this instruction by his example, for when entreated by his people to leave the church of San Girolamo, where he had received affronts and insults, he relied that he could not do so on any account, that he might not fly from the cross which God had sent him in that place.

Fr. Giovanni Matteo Ancina says of those crosses which we suffer without fault, “The cross which we endure without fault is most precious, and the arms of Christ are a red cross on a white field, that is the cross accompanied by innocence.”

But though the holy Father teaches us that the great advantage that we may derive from tribulations, which make the Christian happy, are the most certain indication of the love of God, he nevertheless counsels us not to ask tribulations from God in the presumption that we shall be able to bear them, but desires us to use great caution in this, adding that man does no small thing who bears what God daily sends him.

Prayer to St. Philip Neri

Look down from heaven, Holy Father, from the loftiness of that mountain to the lowliness of this valley; from that harbor of quietness and tranquility to this calamitous sea. And now that the darkness of this world hinders no more those kindly eyes of thine from looking clearly into all things, look down and visit, O most diligent keeper, this vineyard which thy right hand planted with so much labor, anxiety and peril. To thee then we fly; from thee we seek for aid; to thee we give our whole selves unreservedly. Thee we adopt as our patron and defender; undertake the cause of our salvation, protect thy clients. To thee we appeal as our leader; rule thine army fighting against the assaults of the devil. To thee, kindest of pilots, we give up the rudder of our lives; steer this little ship of thine, and, placed as thou art on high, keep us off all the rocks of evil desires, that with thee for our pilot and guide, we may safely come to the port of eternal bliss. Amen.


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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." 


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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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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.


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."


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.


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


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