St Philip and the Holy Spirit
Happy Feast! Each evening as we have prepared for St Philip’s day, the Fathers and a small congregation have gathered for the Novena in Preparation for the feast. The novena prayers are simple and heartfelt, calling on our Father’s aid for this little corner of the Lord’s vineyard which is never without need of help. As part of those devotions we read from St Philip’s life, giving us a sense of the fruits as well as the cause of Our Holy Father’s sanctity. It is particularly apt that this great feast falls around the time of Pentecost since the greatest cause of that holiness, and the turning point in his life, was shown on the Vigil of Pentecost, 1544, when praying in the catacombs of St Sebastian on the Via Appia in Rome. The Holy Spirit appeared to him as a ball of flame, entered into him and remained within his heart, a Pentecostal fire, for the rest of his life. From that moment he was changed — also physically, his heart was after all enlarged so much his ribs remained broken his entire life. He was taken over by the Spirit.
We, each of us, have our own Pentecosts. We receive the Holy Spirit at Baptism when our soul becomes a temple of his dwelling, and we receive Him again at our Confirmation with power, bringing His seven-fold gifts with renewed strength. But each time we call on the help of the Holy Spirit too, He comes to us to help us. Whilst our personal Pentecosts are not accompanied by tongues of fire, by the gift of languages, and other manifestations which were so clearly seen in the early Church, the effect on us is the same. The Holy Spirit comes to us to be for us a Paraclete, an “along-sider,” a friend for the campaign of life. Whereas an evil spirit, should it take over a poor soul, de-humanises that person, controls them and turns them into an automaton, the exact opposite is true with the Spirit of God. When the Holy Spirit takes possession of us we become more the person God wants us to be, we become even more truly ourselves, we become freer. The Spirit gives us a taste for the things of God, He tunes us in to God’s wavelength and makes us more amenable to the commands of the divine will, which seeks to bring about our good and the good of those around us. In short, He sanctifies us.
St Philip’s life is a good place to look for evidence of what that Holy Spirit can do in a well disposed soul — of course to an exceptional degree. If, in St Philip’s life, we see a certain compassion, courage, and a hatred of sin, all tied to his profound devotion (particularly to the Mass) and a radiant, beautiful joy, we see the work the Holy Spirit wants to do in us too. So many of St Philip’s characteristics and gifts are for him alone — what a tedious world it would be if we went around imitating his silliness without the saintliness to excuse it! But we should all imitate him in his prayerfulness, in his love of learning of the things of God, in his devotion to the Blessed Eucharist and in his zeal for winning souls for the Lord — this is what his Oratory, after all, is for: transforming men and women in the world into saints.
And whilst we pray that our ribs remain unbroken, we pray this St Philip’s day that our hearts will be enlarged with God’s own charity. We might pray that the Holy Spirit, that Pentecostal fire, who will see all those good works brought to fulfilment, may renew and kindle His flame within us. May it be said of each of us one day, please God, that after the pattern of St Philip, we too are on our way to be saints of “gentleness and kindness, cheerful in penance, and in precept winning” all those souls God sends to be in our life. And may St Philip at the last welcome us home to that better city of which we are citizens now and will be forever.