A Humorous Saint
His name is Philip Neri. He was comical.
Yet there was 'method in his madness' as
Shakespeare would say. Once he shaved off
half his beard and went into the sanctuary
and started preaching! You can imagine the
comments and the sarcasm of the audience!
The reason? He realized that hero worship
is dangerous for a Christian. So when he
saw people looking too much at him he did
something absurd! When a number of people
came from Poland to see this 'holy' priest,
he sat down with a friend reading cartoons
and laughing heartily!
He used the same unconventional methods with
his penitents. To cure the arrogance of one,
he told him to go around the streets of Rome
carrying his cat!
To shake the resistance of a hardened criminal,
he grabbed him by the collar and threw him
to the ground! This move shocked so much
the man that he made a full confession immediately!
He had a friend who was too serious. He obliged
him to go and sing a penitential psalm (Miserere)
during a wedding party! This friend eventually
became a Cardinal!
Another priest gave a very beautiful sermon.
Fearing that the praise that the people were
lavishing on him, can puff him up, he ordered
him to repeat the same sermon six times in
the same Church. The word got around that
this priest only knows one sermon that he
prattles on and on!
A well known member of the congregation he
founded, Baronius, wanted to speak regularly
about hellfire and eternal punishment. Philip
changed completely his orientation by insisting
that he should speak about Church history.
This Baronius took him so seriously that
he became one of the leading Church historians
of the time!
"Can I wear a hair shirt?" was
the simple question one man asked Philip.
"Yes, of course", answered the
priest, "but only on condition that
you wear it outside your clothes!" What
better way to acquire humility than to allow
yourself to be humiliated!!
"Cheerfulness strengthens the heart
and makes us persevere in a good life. Therefore
the servant of God ought always to be in
good spirits." This is what Philip said
and this is what he believed. And so when
a novice showed signs of excessive seriousness,
Philip stood on his head in front of him,
to make him laugh!
Mind you, he was no simpleton. As a boy from
a noble family in Florence, he studied the
humanities under the best scholars. Nor was
he without faults. Once in irritation, he
shoved his sister Caterina because she kept
interrupting him and his other sister, Elisabetta,
while they were reciting psalms together.
One can imagine the cries and the whimpering
On another occasion, eight-year-old Philip,
seeing a donkey laden with much fruit, jumped
on its back. This was the straw that broke
the donkey's back. The beast bolted and both
of them tumbled into a deep cellar. Providentially,
he sustained no injuries but the master of
the donkey was not happy when he saw all
his fruit scattered all over.
When he was eighteen, he left his kinsman's
house, to set out for Rome without money
or plan, trusting entirely to God's providence.
He did not tell anyone of his decision to
transfer himself. Not even his father. He
made a step forward in the unknown relying
on nothing but his God. He wanted to start
a new life.
He was tried by fierce temptations. And yet
he continued. After two years living alone
in intimacy with Him, he began to frequent
shops, warehouses, and public places of Rome,
melting the hearts of those whom he chanced
to meet, and exhorting them to serve God.
Many of his disciples formed the nucleus
of what afterwards became the brotherhood
of the Little Oratory.
In the catacombs of Saint Sebastian, he had
an experience which affected him deeply.
Just a few days before Pentecost of the year
1544 there appeared what seemed to be a globe
of fire that entered his mouth and afterwards
he felt a dilation of the heart. Immediately
he was filled with such outbursts of divine
love that he fell to the ground exclaiming,
"Enough, enough, Lord, I can bear no
more!" When he had come to himself and
risen up, he discovered a swelling over his
heart! Under the sudden impulse of love,
his heart expanded and broke two ribs!
When he started organizing meetings at which
there were prayers, hymns, readings from
Scripture and from the Fathers of the Church,
followed by a catechesis, he was denounced
as a setter up of new sects! History has
a tendency to repeat itself, no?!
Philip died in 1595 at the age of eighty
The simple suggestion of this saint is to
add humor to our perspective if we want to
be credible Christians! Laugh quickly. Laugh
heartily. Laugh often. It is good for your
body, mind and spirit ... and it's just plain
fun! A God who still bothers about us and
keeps loving us despite the idiots we are,
is a truly remarkable God.
Let us aim at joy today!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission
hereby granted for any non-commercial
provided that the content is unaltered
its original state, if this copyright