Wednesday 14 December 2022

‘How good a thing it is to be a Son of St Philip’

At the start of Lady Kerr’s biography of Blessed Antony Grassi — whose feast we celebrate this Thursday — she tells us that his life contained “nothing…remarkable.” Perhaps we can see what she means: he was born in Fermo in 1592 and died there in 1671; from his childhood, he wanted to join the Oratory there, and so he did at the age of 17, remaining in the Congregation until his death. In that time, he barely left Fermo and its environs, except for a pilgrimage to Rome for the Holy Year of 1625.

To think of his life as unremarkable, however, is quite unfair: he was certainly remarkable for his holiness of life, for his devotion to the Sacraments — especially the Mass — and, above all, for his devotion to St Philip. Fr Flaminio Ricci, sometime Provost of the Roman Oratory and one of St Philip’s closest disciples, was originally from Fermo and returned there a number of times during Antony’s youth to convalesce after a series of illnesses. It was he who impressed on the young Antony a picture of St Philip and his spirit. His devotion to our Holy Father was only made more fervent during his pilgrimage to Rome, where he became well acquainted with Fr Pietro Consolini,  a Father of the Roman Oratory who was one of St Philip’s most intimate disciples during his lifetime. He made it his task to follow St Philip’s Rule and his spirit ad litteram — to the letter — and his perfection in Oratorian life was recognised by his community when they elected him Provost thirteen successive times, in which office he remained from 1635 until his death.

Blessed Antony’s life was indeed unexciting, even unremarkable. He was not the great Apostle of Rome like St Philip, nor the Apostle of Ceylon like St Joseph Vaz; he was neither a bishop like Blessed Juvenal nor a martyr like Blessed Salvio. He was, quite simply, a son of St Philip. His example shows us that we do not need exalted positions or remarkable experiences to become saints: all we must do is, like him, pursue holiness and obedience to God’s will in whatever walk of life we find ourselves.

Blessed Antony Grassi, pray for us.