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“Well, brothers, when shall we begin to do good?”
St Philip Neri was known to start conversation with this thought-provoking question. His warm and personal approach made it easy for people to relate to him. They were drawn to his jovial and unassuming personality. And, although he was assuredly a living saint, his radical love for God did not push the world away. He was unique. He wasn’t necessarily a great scholar, although he taught all those that gathered around him.
He wasn’t really a preacher, although his words and actions inspired a whole generation to love God more. He disliked politics of any sort, but his wisdom was sought after by leaders in the Church, and it was his intervention that saved the Henry the IV of France from excommunication. In his humility, he was reluctant to receive Holy Orders but once he did, he went on to attract a group of priests to him, with whom he eventually founded the Congregation of the Priests of the Oratory.
When reflecting on the life of St Philip Neri, I am intrigued by the idea that I do not think he had any idea that this is how his life would turn out. In his wildest dreams, he could not have imagined that he would become the spiritual father of a generation, the counselor of popes and a canonized Saint that I am writing about today in 2023. So, how did this happen? How did this man, born into a beautifully unremarkable life end up living such a remarkable vocation?
He, like St. Therese, presents to us an example of littleness. He shows us the great good that can come from doing small things well, rooting every little action in love.
St Philip Neri exemplifies what can happen when we totally abandon ourselves to the Lord. He became a saint by giving himself over to loving God. Once he allowed himself to be totally captivated and controlled by God, once his life no longer became his own, and ironically, he discovered true freedom.
Like a young Philip Neri, as a young person I too was searching for who I was and how I was to make my way in this world. It is only in relationship with God that I have been able to find purpose and meaning in life. It is in friendship with Him, in daily prayer and seeking His will that I can try to give a “yes” to all my daily crosses. And, though some days I might only whisper a “yes,” I believe that God is in control of the suffering and joys and is carefully weaving the unique tapestry of my life, even though I cannot see the overall design.
This is what gives me the confidence to continue to live my beautifully unremarkable life and, like St Philip Neri, ask myself and my friends around me, “So, when shall we begin to do good”?