Saturday 1 June 2019

Bishop Michael Campbell's St Philip's Day Sermon

The Martyrology entry for the feast of St. Philip Neri reads as follows:

The Memorial of St. Philip Neri, Priest: devoting his care to rescuing young men from evil, he founded the Oratory at Rome, where they might perform spiritual reading, music, and works of charity; he shone with love for his neighbour with Gospel simplicity and a joyful spirit, with the utmost zeal, and with the burning fervour of his service to God.

Not a bad summary of one’s life!

The thought of St. Philip Neri always cheers me up, and inevitably brings a smile to my face. I think the reason for this is the realisation that is how we ought to be, and perhaps often aren’t — joyful in the Lord, in the awareness that he is near, so there is no need to be unduly worried or preoccupied, despite what is happening in the world around us, or for that matter the Church.

The feast of St. Philip Neri underscores in a powerful way how almighty God can take a human being with all that person’s quirks and foibles, strengths and weaknesses and, as in St. Philip’s case, make him a real and lasting instrument of his grace. It also reassures us of God’s great love for us, notwithstanding our weaknesses and shortcomings. In the words of the Lord to Saint Paul: “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2Cor 12:9) Echoing the first letter of Saint John, St. Augustine says that we can only love because we have been first loved. Our capacity to love God and others is a gift of God, an act of pure grace.

The familiar symbol of the vine and the branches, and the necessary fruitfulness which comes from unity with Christ, is the gospel chosen for today’s feast, with its clear application to the life and ministry of Philip Neri. Philip bore much fruit in his day with those he gathered around him, and through his inspiration the family of the Oratory which he founded continues to bear that fruit of which Christ speaks. Like every saint, Philip Neri was of his time and place, but with God’s grace he made the most of the opportunities which came his way.

Here lies a lesson for us who are the Church of today: let’s be joyful and accepting of the times, the moment of history, in which God has placed us. I am reminded of a sentence from St. Paul in this regard: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2Cor. 10:5). The wonderful tradition of the Oratory, going back directly to St. Philip himself, of excellence in music and great reverence for the sacred liturgy, embodies that Spirit of wisdom prayed for in our first reading. We take what is finest and best in human culture and higher aspiration and offer them to God in Christ. What the philosophers named the transcendentals, “the good, the true and the beautiful” become part of our liturgical worship to the supreme, triune God.

Congratulations to the Oratorian family on their patronal feast. May the charism of St. Philip continue to flourish among them, especially in that simplicity of life, joyfulness of spirit, and love of God and neighbour, so precious to St. Philip Neri. Amen!