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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.


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


Last night the Secular Oratorians gathered to discuss St. Philip Neri's teaching on mortification and how it can be applied to our daily lives and adapted to various stations of life.  Along with the podcast, you will find below a selection from Bacci's biography of Philip on the mortifications that he used to exercise his spiritual children as well as a description of Philip's specific approach both to Exterior and Interior mortification. These have been provided so that you may more easily follow along with the discussion.  


Philip, as we have many times remarked already, was as anxious for the spiritual advancement of those beneath his care, as he was for his own; and one of the most constant exercises in which he occupied them was that of mortification. It would fill a whole book if I were to enumerate the different acts of mortification in which he tried them; it will be enough to mention a few of his most ordinary devices in that way. He used repeatedly to send his penitents, even though they were noble and distinguished persons, to ask alms at the church doors, where there was the greatest concourse of people, neither did he allow them to have their faces covered as the Sacconi have, so that they might not he known. He made them sweep the steps and street in front of the churches, and then carry the sweepings away. He ordered them to beg at sermons, a thing which was not usual in those times, and was considered disgraceful. When he built the rooms at San Girolamo, he made his penitents carry a good part of the materials, like common masons’ labourers. At other times he sent them to private houses to beg morsels of bread for the love of God; and he once ordered one of his spiritual children, who had got a new coat on, and took a vain pleasure in his fine clothes, to go to the door of Santa Maria Maggiore to ask alms, forbidding him to eat any thing that day but what was given him out of charity; and he then sent others on purpose to tease and mock him. Sometimes he sent them to the choir of the Dominicans to hear compline, and ordered them to he at full length, like corpses, on some benches, until the Salve Regina was finished. He had also a great many pairs of spectacles, although he very seldom used any at all; and he would sometimes put one pair on one person, another on another, especially if they were boys, and order them to go and do several things with the spectacles on. The inventions of this sort which he hit upon were almost numberless; but the end of all of them was to keep his spiritual children humble, and make them regardless of what others said or thought of them.

He made Father Francesco Bozzi lie flat on his face in church, in front of his confessional, in the morning while his penitents came to confession, and he kept him there for a considerable space of time. Another morning he did the same to Giovan Battista Ligera, a priest who was given to low spirits and scrupulosity. Anna Borromeo, who was also plagued by scruples, having confessed to the Saint one morning, came back presently afterwards to confess over again. Philip mortified her publicly in the church in the presence of several persons, by driving her away without hearing her confession, and reproaching her in a loud tone of voice. The lady, without changing countenance, turned modestly away, and left the church without making an answer in self-defence.

Another time he sent a young man to ring a bell through the Campo di Fiore and the street de’ Giubbonari, most populous places, in the most inhabited part of Rome; the artisans, attracted by the unusual sound, took him for a madman, and hissed him. Another time he sent one of his penitents through Rome with a great box lid fastened to his shoulders, on which was written in great letters, “For having eaten curds and whey!”

One day Philip went with several of his penitents to visit Cardinal Alessandrino, and before taking leave he said to the cardinal, “Monsignore, I wish you would give me something for these children of mine.” The cardinal, who understood the Saint thoroughly, knew very well that he was seeking an opportunity to mortify them; upon which he went immediately to a cupboard, and took out a large cake, and gave it to him. Philip thanked him, saying, “This is just what I wanted;” and as soon as they got out of the palace he broke the cake into several pieces, and gave a piece to each of them, ordering them all to begin eating, and so they went through the streets of Rome all munching the cake together, as if they were keeping time one with the other.

One of his penitents wishing to leave off the toupee, as was usual in those times, the Saint would not only not allow him to do so, but commanded him to have it trimmed; and to mortify him still further, he told him to go to Fra. Felice, the Capuchin, and that he would have the charity to dress his hair for him. The good penitent went accordingly, and Fra. Felice, who was in league with the Saint, instead of trimming him, shaved the whole of his head, which he bore with the most patient good humour. Another of his penitents, called Alberto Legnajuolo, asked the Saint’s leave to wear a hair shirt; the Saint said, “By all means, but on condition you wear it outside your gown.” The penitent readily obeyed, and wore it in this way till his death, so that people nicknamed him Berto of the hair shirt.

One of the most influential people at court had a dog, which he petted immensely, caressing it in the most extraordinary way, as he had quite a passion for animals. It happened that one morning a gentleman brought this dog with him to San Girolamo, and Philip beginning to caress it, the dog took such a fancy to him that it would not leave his rooms, although the Saint sent it back to its master time after time. At first the master of the animal was very much displeased at this, so he petted the dog more than ever to hinder it from running away, and even kept it tied for some days. At last, seeing that it always ran off to San Girolamo as soon as it was let loose, although Philip had nothing to give it but a bit of bread, he was quite struck with the animal’s attachment to the Saint, and said laughingly, in allusion to some of his gentlemen who by Philip’s persuasion had left the court in order to serve God more perfectly, “Father Philip is not content with taking men from me, but he must needs take even my animals away.” The holy father made great use of this dog in mortifying his spiritual children. Although it was very large, he made some of his penitents, even men of rank, carry it in their arms through the streets; he set others to wash and comb it; and others to lead it tied with a chain or cord through Rome, when he himself went out walking, so that it served to mortify Philip himself, as well as those who led it, for the dog was always trying to get ahead, and dragging his leaders after him, so that they looked like so many blind men led by a dog. The various mortifications in which this dog played its part, lasted for fourteen years; and they were so burdensome that Cardinal Tarugi used to call the animal, “The cruel scourge of human minds;” it would never leave Philip, and died in his room at last.

For the same end, that is, to serve as an occasion for mortifications, he left a cat at San Girolamo, when he went to live at the Vallicella; and for six years together he sent some of his people every day to look after her, and also to go to the shambles to buy meat for her; and when they came back, even though cardinals, prelates, or nobles, wore present, he always asked after the cat, whether they had made her comfortable, how she was, if she had eaten cheerfully, with many other minute questions, as if it had been a matter of the greatest importance.

When Cesaro Baronius first fell into his hands, he set to work training him in a disregard and contempt of himself and men’s opinion of him; and for this purpose he used often to send him to the public-house with a bottle large enough to hold more than six mugs full, and then he bade him ask for half a pint of wine to put into this huge bottle, but that first of all they were to wash the bottle out, and then he was to insist upon going into the cellar to see it drawn himself, and sometimes he was to ask them to give him change for a tester, and sometimes for a gold crown; and when Baronius began to put into execution all these precautions, the publicans, thinking he was making game of them, abused him lustily, and often threatened to give him a sound thrashing. When Baronius was a priest, and lived at S. Giovanni de’ Fiorentini, Philip used often to make him carry the cross before the dead bodies through the streets, by way of mortification.

He made several go about with a berretta of white cloth upon their heads, and others with a huge hat and a cord passing under the chin after the antique fashion. On others he put a large rosary, like a hermit’s, round their neck, and made them go to Church in that costume; and on others he put beards of taffety and gold lace. He often made F. Pietro Consolini wear purple taffety with threads of gold round his hat, and made him walk about Rome with it; and he repeatedly sent Giuliano Magaluffi into the refectory during supper, with a monkey shouldering a gun and with a berretta on its head, commanding him to walk about the refectory in that way. Thus he gave one mortification to one person, and another to another, as he judged expedient, continually repeating, “My children, mortify yourselves in little things, that you may the more easily be able to mortify yourselves in great ones afterwards.”

Neither can we in this matter think it less than wonderful that Philip never laid a mortification on any one, however extravagant it might be, without its being willingly accepted, or without its producing the fruit in the penitent’s soul at which the Saint was aiming. In fact, he knew who were capable of bearing such burdens and who were not. There were some who were thirty or forty years with him, and yet he never gave them one single mortification, in deed or word; others had scarcely come under him before he began to impose the most extravagant things upon them. But he had not only the gift of discerning those who were capable of submitting to mortifications, but also the nature of the mortifications to which they would submit, and in what degree of virtue they were at the time: and so he dealt with them as they could bear it, mortifying them or not as he thought best. To some he gave very severe mortifications, to others moderate ones, to others very little ones, according as he saw good for them, making it a great point that they should submit with alacrity.

As members of the Secular Oratory and students of the “School of St. Philip Neri”, we find in our holy Patron the greatest of spiritual guides.  Though living in the midst of the city of Rome, St. Philip embodied the ascetic discipline of the Desert Fathers and shared their understanding of the human person and the need to control the appetites and transform the passions.  Having studied the writings of St. John Cassian and St. John Climacus and put into practice their teachings from his youth, Philip became an adept spiritual guide for his disciples and remains so for those who look to his example and seek his counsel today. 


Exterior mortification, the chastening of the body through fasting, vigils, and other bodily penances, is absolutely necessary for making progress in holiness.  We must control our appetites and humble the body.  This Philip did throughout the entirety of his life, even into old age.  He warned that we must not pamper the body and to those who questioned the practice, Philip reminded in no uncertain terms: “Heaven is not for cowards!”


However, while exterior mortification is necessary, Philip also counseled that it should be practiced discreetly and only with the permission of one’s Confessor.  One should not trust in private judgment in this regard for danger of falling into pride or injuring one’s health.


Furthermore, as necessary as such exterior mortification may be they are only a prelude to and of secondary importance to interior mortification which involves the subjugating of the will and understanding.  Often the most difficult mortifications involve remaining silent when criticized and not making excuses when judged harshly, accepting work that is repugnant to us, and not seeking the praise of others or avoiding seeming the fool in their eyes.


On Exterior Mortification:


Bodily mortification is greatly needed by everyone who desires to make progress in perfection.  Saint Philip, therefore, speaking of this mortification, says that exterior mortifications greatly assist in the acquisition of such as are interior and other virtues, and that without mortification we can do nothing.  Therefore, let him who desires to be a faithful follower of the Saint know what he ought to practice, according to the examples and instructions of the holy Master.


He must not feed his body delicately, if he would imitate Saint Philip, who sharply chastised his, disciplining himself almost every day . . .


We must never easily indulge in the use of delicacies, either on account of age or from any other cause, but be incited by the example of our holy Master, who, notwithstanding his decrepid age, so augmented his abstinences and macerated still more his worn out body that, in the last years of his life, it had become so shriveled that nothing seemed left but skin and bone; but when someone said that he should consider his decrepitude, the holy man replied, “Paradise is not made for cowards.”


We must try to conceal our penances, after the example of our holy Master, who changed the conversation when anyone spoke to him of his rigorous disciplines, which they thought too severe, and turned it into another channel.


We must, as the holy Master admonishes us, beware of taking disciplines, or doing similar things, without the permission of our Confessor; for whoever does this on his own judgment should know that, according to the opinion of the holy Master, he will injure his constitution or become proud, thinking that he has done some great thing; and he subjoins this maxim, that true perfection consists in captivating our own will and acting according to that of our superiors.  He was thus wont to tell his people that he made no account of abstinences, fasts or anything else performed in self-will; but that they must be careful to mortify their reason even in little things, if they hoped to overcome in greater things, and make progress in the path of virtue. . .  .  These bodily penances must be made with discretion, since the holy Master warns us that the devil sometimes cunningly incites spiritual men to penance and to bodily austerities, to the end that, by performing them indiscreetly, they may weaken themselves in such a way that either they can no longer attend to works of greater profit, or else that, terrified by the illnesses that they incur, they may abandon their accustomed exercises and turn their backs on the service of God.


But although these bodily mortifications are commended and inculcated, the holy Master, nevertheless in order to show the far greater advantage of interior mortification, said that we must not attach ourselves to the means as to forget the end, which is charity, the love of God, and the mortification of the understanding : and that it avails far more to mortify a passion, however small it may be, than to use many abstinences, fasts, and disciplines: and he more highly esteemed those persons who, attending moderately to the mortification of the body, used all diligence in mortifying their will and their understanding, even in little things, than those who gave themselves up entirely to corporeal rigors and austerities.


On Interior mortification:


The holy Master was accustomed to say: “The sanctity of a man lies within the space of three fingers;” and when he said this he touched his forehead, and then added in explanation, “The most important thing of all is to mortify the understanding (razionale)” – a word very familiar with him.


This razionale is to be mortified in small things, if we desire to overcome in greater, and to make progress in the way of virtue.  The Saint frequently repeated, “My sons, mortify yourselves in little things, that you may hereafter be able to mortify yourselves in greater.”  By the mortification of the razionale Saint Philip means, as the good disciple Alessandro Fideli explains it, that a man must contend against himself and conquer his own affections, subjugate his passions, and never do his own will, excepting under obedience.  Baronius used to say, in reference to this subject, “Nothing is so pleasing to God as the renunciation of our own will.”  On other occasions the holy Master explained the point in question by saying, “A man must not reason too much; he must not reason anything: he must not play the prudent. . . .  .


The holy Master so highly valued this virtue of mortification that he always had on his lips the sentence of Saint Bernard: “to despise the world; to despise no one, to despise oneself, to despise being despised.”


When a person is accused of what he has not done, he must mortify himself by making no reply or excuse.  The holy Master was extremely displeased when anyone excused himself, for he said that anyone who really desired to become a Saint ought (excepting in some few cases) never excuse himself, but always to acknowledge himself to have been in fault, although he should be unjustly blamed; and he used to call self-excusing persons, “My Lady Eve.”


If we must sometimes be employed in business repugnant to our own will and which seems contrary to human prudence, we should endeavor to mortify ourselves.  Likewise, in conversation, a person may have a fitting exercise of mortification either by not telling anything which would result in his own praise, or by feigning ignorance of what he knows.  The more mortifications such as these are multiplied and repeated and touch us to the quick, the great should be our cheerfulness of heart in receiving them.


We should the more sedulously seek to acquire interior mortification, as Saint Philip says, “When anyone can break his own will, and renounce the desires of his soul, he is in a good degree of virtue, and the not doing of this is the origin of many temptations.”  In that case, a person will be easily offended and break up a friendship, and will seldom be cheerful, but generally melancholy and disturbed at what happens to him.  So taught the Master by word and deed, for it is recorded of him, that, by the exercise of mortification, he had gained the entire mastery over his natural passions; and he had disciples so truly mortified, that they relished the fruit of mortification.  



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


On Confession

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.


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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