The Life of St. Philip Neri, Part 2
Philip Neri was just 18 years old when he arrived in Rome. The city had been devastated by the sack of 1527, and the Church found herself diminished by scandal and clerical worldliness, struggling to respond to the Protestant reformers and to the decadence of the Renaissance. The Rome that Philip found was a miserable place, a shadow of its former self. Philip, moved with compassion and led by the Holy Spirit, sought out the seeds of renewal that the Eternal City held within it. In the evenings, he withdrew to pray in the catacombs of St. Sebastian, one of the burial places of the early Christian martyrs. There, alone with God, he experienced the transforming power of divine love.
On the vigil of Pentecost in 1544, while in fervent prayer to the Holy Spirit, Philip was overcome by the force of the Spirit, and he saw a ball of fire enter through his mouth and lodge in his heart. The intensity of this flame of God’s love caused him to cry out, “Enough, Lord, enough! I cannot take any more.” It was an experience comparable to the stigmata of St. Francis, and its effects were similarly permanent. The Holy Spirit ruled his entire life.
For the rest of his life, a warmth radiated from Philip’s heart, so strong that he was known to go out with his cassock unbuttoned in the middle of winter. Troubled souls were calmed just by drawing near to Philip’s heart and experiencing in his warmth the fire of divine love. He also experienced palpitations so violent that his whole body shook, and they affected the people and objects around him. Later, as a priest, he struggled to contain this shaking in order to celebrate Mass and to preach. After Philip’s death, an examination revealed the extent of the physical effects of his Pentecost experience: permanently broken ribs, making room for the beating of a greatly expanded heart.
All of this took place while Philip was still a layman. He was not ordained a priest until 1551, at age 36, at the behest of his confessor, Persiano Rosa. The hallmarks of his priesthood are the subject of next week’s article.
Note: This article is part of our ongoing series on St. Philip Neri and the Oratory, in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Philip.
Please direct any questions or comments to Fr. Jeff.