St Philip Neri
“Living and Learning together with a joyous heart”
If one had to choose one saint who showed the humorous side of holiness that would Philip Neri.
Born in 1515 in Florence, he showed the impulsiveness and spontaneity of his character from the time he was a boy. He went to Rome in 1533 where he was the live-in tutor of the sons of a fellow Florentine. He studied philosophy and theology until he thought his studies were interfering with his prayer life. He then stopped his studies, threw away his books, and lived as a kind of hermit.
In 1548 Philip formed a confraternity with other laymen to minister to pilgrims who came to Rome without food or shelter. The spiritual director of the confraternity convinced Philip that he could do even more work as a priest. After receiving instruction from this priest, Philip was ordained in 1551.
In order to guide his followers, Philip made himself available to everyone at any hour — even at night. He said some of the most devout people were those who had come to him at night. When others complained, Philip answered, “They can chop wood on my back so long as they do not sin.”
Philip was known to be spontaneous and unpredictable, charming and humorous. He seemed to sense the different ways to bring people to God.
There are stories of him wearing ridiculous clothes or walking around with half his beard shaved off. The greater his reputation for holiness the sillier he wanted to seem. When some people came from Poland to see the great saint, they found him listening to another priest read to him from joke books.
Philip was very serious about prayer, spending hours in prayer. He was so easily carried away that he refused to preach in public and could not celebrate Mass with others around. But he when asked how to pray his answer was, “Be humble and obedient and the Holy Spirit will teach you.”
Philip died in 1595 after a long illness at the age of eighty years.
In his footsteps:
We often worry more about what others think that about what God thinks. Our fear of people laughing at us often stops us from trying new things or serving God. Do something today that you are afraid might make you look a little ridiculous. Then reflect on how it makes you feel. Pray about your experience with God.
Saint Philip Neri, we take ourselves far too seriously most of the time. Help us to add humor to our perspective — remembering always that humor is a gift from God. Amen