|St Philip Neri|
ST. PHILIP NERI (1515-95)
Brompton Stock (Matthiola incana)
History of the Plant’s Name
This biennial has been been called ‘Brompton’ Stock since the 18th century when it was bred by George London and Henry Wise in a nursery in Brompton Park, where the museums of South Kensington now stand, in other words just down the road from Brompton Oratory. The plant produces crimson, pink, lavender, mauve or white, scented flowers from March to May on sturdy, branching stems. This sturdiness is possibly the origin of the name ‘stock’ for this word also means ‘tree trunk'.
St Philip Neri and the Brompton Stock
I have chosen the Brompton Stock for St. Philip because he is the sound trunk from which sprang his English legacy, famously residing at Brompton Oratory in London. Developed by Fr Faber, this Oratory, together with that of Birmingham, had been founded by Cardinal John Henry Newman, England’s most eminent Oratorian. The performance of the ‘oratorio’ has come to be regarded as a very English musical activity, and it is perhaps surprising that it developed from the services of the first Oratorians in Rome, which made full use of musical and artistic resources (Palestrina was among St Philip’s penitents), and the English Oratories still work hard to maintains a high standard of liturgical music.
When he was 18 he left for Rome and, while tutoring his landlord’s two sons, began to live almost as a hermit, studying theology and philosophy and spending whole nights in prayer, often in the catacombs. There, one night in 1544, he had a shattering ‘vision’ in which it seemed that a globe of fire entered his mouth and dilated his heart. The experience apparently left permanent physical effects, for at his autopsy his heart was found to be so enlarged that several of his ribs had broken to accommodate it. But at the time of the ‘vision’ Philip felt that the globe of fire was the Holy Spirit filling him with a love that he was unable to endure. Perhaps that is what made him turn from study to the active apostolate, at first informally, by engaging the young in conversation, encouraging them to turn aside from sin and to accompany him in the service of the sick and on visits to the churches of Rome. In 1548 he founded a confraternity to look after the many pilgrims who visited Rome and later to care for poor convalescents.
St Philip Neri was ordained in 1551 and at first lived in community with a group of secular priests at San Girolamo della Carita. Here he showed extraordinary skill and power as a confessor, and was always to regard the confessional as a means to conversion of life in his penitents, and therefore as the foundation of an incorrupt society in both Church and State. (St Ignatius of Loyola who met and befriended him, held the same view, as did the entire group who had founded the Society of Jesus about 20 years earlier.) At one time, inspired by St. Francis Xavier, Philip thought of becoming a missionary. He was discouraged from this by a Cistercian monk who told him that Rome was to be his mission field, and this probably explains why he is sometimes called ‘the second Apostle of Rome’.
Saint Philip Neri is noted for his charitable works, love of his neighbour and evangelical simplicity, but perhaps above all for his extraordinarily attractive personality and for his joy in the service of God. The second Office reading on his feast day is from St. Augustine’s ‘Sermon 171’ and is entitled ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’. St Philip set this example of happiness. And yet we know how much discomfort, if not pain, he must have suffered from the time of his ‘vision’ as a young man. One of his maxims was: “It is easier to guide cheerful persons in the spiritual life than melancholy ones.” One has the feeling that no one could have been melancholy in his presence for long. Perhaps that was his secret.
- Thanksgiving for the lives of St Philip Neri, Cardinal (now blessed) John Henry Newman and Fr Faber;
- Thanksgiving for our sense of humour, and the ability to be cheerful in the face of difficulties;
- That we may follow the example of St. Philip and be joyful in our Christian lives, so that our behaviour may draw others to joy in Our Lord;
- For the members of our English Oratories and the up-building of their communities;
- For the priests and people in parishes and institutions who have St Philip Neri as their patron
(copyright Jane Mossedew ‘Crown of the Year’ 2005)
Saint Philip, we implore your prayers. Amen
Posted by Thoughts from an Oasis of French Catholicism