Tomorrow, May 26th, is the Feast Day of St. Philip Neri, who was born into eternal life 419 years ago. Happy Birthday, St. Philip! You might know that your scribe will be moving to Star of the Sea Parish in San Francisco August 1, hoping to establish an Oratory of St. Philip. We hope to form a community of priests and brothers who live as St. Philip did in his Roman parish of Santa Maria in Vallicella (St. Mary’s of the Little Valley) during the Renaissance.
How did St. Philip live? Well, he was a mystic, an extraordinary saint given wondrous gifts. He was given, above all, an almost unbelievably burning love for Jesus, such that upon his death his heart was found to have grown to three times its normal size, breaking several ribs. During the Mass, his heart beat rapidly as he went into ecstasy, and he sometimes floated a few inches above the marble floor. It was enough, for someone suffering from a burden on his heart, for Father Philip to press that man’s head to his own heart, to relieve his sorrow and grant great joy.
It is this supernatural joy that we hope to live among our small band of brothers in San Francisco. It is the joy of knowing Jesus, of knowing that God the Father sees us and loves us and provides for us. It is the joy of knowing the Holy Spirit of God within ourselves and each other. In today’s first reading, from Acts 8, another Philip (the Apostle), goes to Samaria to “proclaim the Christ to them.” With one accord, we read, the people paid attention, and “there was great joy in that city.” If only we, too, following Philip the Apostle and Philip Neri the “Apostle of Rome,” could become apostles of San Francisco! If only, through their intercession and by the grace of God, we too, secular priests that we are, could radiate that joy to an often sad and dysfunctional but beautiful city! San Francisco is not so different from the Rome of Philip’s time or the Samaria of Philip’s time. I believe everyone can radiate the joy of knowing that we are loved, and loved infinitely. It depends on prayer, really. If you are having difficulty in your marriage, pray, and you will find the joy again. If you have sickness in your body, or distress at work, or in your family, or find your state in life empty, pray to God, and you will recover that joy. It is for joy that God made us.
I thank God for my family here in Pennsylvania (how much love and joy we had these past few days!), and I thank him for my future family in San Francisco. Happy St. Philip’s Day!