Born: July 21st, 1515
Died: May 26th, 1595
FEast: May 26th
Rome, laughter, humor, joy
St. Philip Neri
Philip was the son of an Italian lawyer, and from a very young age, he was known as a cheerful, respectful boy. He was raised with an education from a nearby Dominican monastery, but he thought nothing of religious life until years later when he was sent to assist his uncle who was a wealthy merchant. Philip was expected to inherit the business, but, after a change of heart, decided to instead more deeply pursue his faith and move to Rome.
Philip spent a few years there, both as a tutor and as a student himself, spending much time in solitary prayer. He also began to care for the sick and impoverished members of Rome, as well as ministering to sex workers. For 17 years he participated in these activities, traveling around the city as a "home missionary", gladly educating and speaking to anyone who would invite him in. He soon met and befriended St. Ignatius of Loyola, Pope Pius V, and St. Charles Borromeo, but in addition, he had a large group of followers who were also laypeople that were inspired by what he was doing.
Philip was known to be so friendly and to have such a great sense of humor that he easily struck up conversations with anyone. "A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one," he said. He was also so convincing, apparently, that many meetings ended with him leading these new friends to help him in his care for the members of society.
To establish a better system for this, Philip and Father Persiano Rossa founded a group of laymen who would care for pilgrims that came to the city, as well as try to meet the needs of recently discharged hospital patients who could not yet work.
It was only at the age of 34 that Philip was finally persuaded into becoming a priest. He thought of going to India as a missionary, but realized how much more needed to be done in his own hometown, first!
Philip soon began the foundations for the "Congregation of the Priests of the Oratory" - a religious institute that required only that one might share a common table and practice spiritual exercises. Members did not take a vow for life or have to give up their property. He also led discussions and group meetings for anyone interested in the faith, and often led picnics with music to different churches. His new methods were met with much criticism, especially when non-religious life were able to participate in the Masses and popular, current songs were sung in the services rather than ancient hymns.
Philip met people where they were when he tried to aid them, and lived very much involved in the world in order to give it better help. He dressed nicely, knew what was going on in current events, was always after knowledge and understanding, lived in modern-looking accommodations (though they were not lavish), used popular language and unconventional types of prayer, and was very tactful. While he was a prominent figure in the Counter-Reformation, there were many things he still desired to change about the Church.
After what he made to be a normal day, Philip Neri passed away at the age of 80. After he passed, it was also discovered he'd been living with two broken ribs for many years.
It’s beautiful to see a saint who knew how to really laugh and could celebrate well. Remind us how God looked over his creation and found it so good, and we should, too. Help us to enjoy this life while we can and Show us how our struggles can be lightened with the help of God’s gifts of laughter and light, and let us bring that gift to others.
Philip had to be portrayed laughing in this image, of course. I wanted his smile to be warm and welcoming with nothing intimidating about him. The sun/star symbol on his shirt also represents the warmth and light that I am sure he radiated on all those around him.