St. Philip Neri was born in Florence, Italy, in 1515. As a child, his nickname was “Good little Phil.” He was always so cheerful and friendly that everyone he met loved him. Philip went to Rome as a teenager. He studied theology and philosophy for three years and was a good student. Above all, Philip was a very active Christian. He lived simply and worked hard. But he also did much good for the people around him. He helped poor children. He donated his time to the sick. He was a friend to people who were troubled and lonely. In fact, he reached out to everybody he could for the love of Jesus.
Philip helped start an organisation of lay people to take care of needy pilgrims. That ministry gradually continued as a famous hospital in Rome. The priest who guided him realised that Philip was doing so much to help the Christians of Rome become fervent again. But it was obvious that Philip had the call to be a priest. He was ordained in 1551, at the age of 36, and quickly became sought after as a confessor. He was available for the sacrament of Reconciliation for several hours every day. The lines of people who came to him grew longer. But Father Philip was never in a hurry. He never ran out of patience and gentleness.
People began to notice that he could read their minds at times. He could also in some circumstances predict the future. The Lord even worked miracles through him. But all Philip wanted to do was bring Jesus to the people. To avoid their admiration, he acted silly once in a while. He wanted people to laugh and forget that they thought he was holy.
Philip was making a difference in Rome. He founded a society of priests called the Oratorians, and the whole city was renewing its faith and devotion. Once he started to think about being a missionary to far–off lands. He was very impressed by the life of St. Francis Xavier, who had died in 1552 at the gate of China. Philip had been a priest for just one year at the time of St. Xavier’s death. Should he leave Rome and volunteer for the missions? A holy Cistercian monk told him, “Rome is to be your mission land.” In fact, Father Philip had become known as “the apostle of Rome.”
Philip spent the last five years of his life offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation to the people. He died at the age of 80 in 1595. He was proclaimed a saint by Pope Gregory XV in 1622.
Cheerfulness is an important part of holiness. St. Philip Neri’s story teaches us that the way to be really happy is to put God and other people first in our lives. If we only think about ourselves we’ll never feel satisfied.
St. Philip Neri pray for us.