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Pope St John Paul II's homily at Mass in the Chiesa Nuova
dedicated to St Mary ni Vallicella, Rome, Saturday 26 Mary 1979 - also in French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Beloved Brothers and Sisters!
I could not fail to visit this holy place, loved by the Romans, to venerate the one who was designated "The Apostle of Rome", St Philip Neri, the Joint Patron Saint of this noble City.

My coming was a duty, it was a need of the soul and it was also an anxious expectation! In this Church, where St Philip Neri's body rests, I address first of all my most cordial greeting to the priests, his confreres.

But then with special love I greet you the faithful, and in you I intend to reach all the faithful of Rome, the city of St Philip Neri, which he loved and benefited so much, and in which his living and sanctifying memory is still present.

You know that in the period in which he stayed in Rome, from 1534, when he arrived an unknown and poor pilgrim, to 1595, the year of his blessed death, St Philip Neri had a very deep love for Rome! For Rome he lived, worked, studied, suffered, prayed, loved, died! He had Rome in his mind, his heart, his concerns, his plans, his institutions, his joys and also his sorrows! For Rome, St Philip was a man of culture and charity, of study and organization, of teaching and prayer. For Rome, he was a holy priest, a tireless confessor, a brilliant educator and a friend of all, and particularly he was an expert counsellor and a delicate director of consciences. Popes and cardinals, bishops and priests, princes and politicians, religious and artists, had recourse to him: illustrious persons, such as the historian Cesare Baronio and the famous composer Palestrina, St Charles Borromeo and St Ignatius of Loyola, and Cardinal Federico Borromeo, confided in his heart, the heart of a father and friend.

But that poor, little room in his apartment was above all the goal of an immense multitude of humble persons of the people, the suffering, the disinherited, the outcasts of society, young people, children, who flocked to him, so as to receive advice, forgiveness, peace, encouragement, material and spiritual aid. St Philip's beneficial activity was such and so great that the Magistrature of Rome decreed to give a chalice to his church every year on the anniversary of his death, as a sign of veneration and gratitude.

Living in a dramatic age, intoxicated by the discoveries of human genius and of classical and pagan art, but which was going through a radical crisis owing to the change in mentality, St Philip, a man of deep faith and a fervent, brilliant and far-sighted priest, endowed also with special charisms, was able to maintain intact the deposit of truth received and handed it down, complete and pure, living it entirely and proclaiming it without compromise.

For this reason his message is always a topical one and we must listen to him and follow his example.

In the precious mine of his teachings and the anecdotes about his life, always so interesting and fascinating, some perspectives can be said to be particularly relevant for the world today.

1. The humility of the intelligence. This is St Philip's first appeal. In fact, a fundamental danger is the pride of intelligence. St Philip saw it flourishing in a frightful way in that independent and rebellious age, and therefore he laid particular stress on the humility of reason and on interior penitence. Intelligence is a gift from God which makes man similar to Him; but intelligence must accept its limits.

The intelligence must reach the necessary and absolute Principle which governs the universe; recognize the historical proofs which show the divinity of Jesus Christ and the divine mission of the Church; and then stop before the mystery of God, who, being infinite, always remains obscure in his nature and in his operations. Intelligence must accept his law, which is a law of love and salvation and abandon itself trustfully to his plan, which, being eternal, transcends every human perspective ontologically.

St Philip emphasized this sense of humility before God. Putting his hand to his forehead, he was accustomed to say: "Holiness lies in the space of three fingers!", meaning that it depends essentially on the humility of the intelligence.

2. Christian coherence. This is the second teaching of St Philip, a very valid one and still relevant today.

With Christian wisdom he was able to draw from the principles of faith the deep reasons for his activity and his whole life. And from this logic of faith there arose spontaneously a life-style marked by joy, trust, serenity, healthy optimism, which is not trivial and insensitive easy-goingness, but is a transcendent vision of history, an eschatological vision of human reality. From this interior joy, there sprang the extraordinary strength of his apostolate and his delicate and proverbial humour, for which he was called the "saint of joy" and his house was known as the "house of gaiety". On this gentle and austere, joyful and committed life-style, he founded the "Oratory", which spread all over the world and which, among so many other merits, had also that of the development of music and sacred song.

St Paul wrote: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance" (Phil 4, 4-5). Such was St Philip: a man of joy and forbearance.

God grant that each of us may also be able to enjoy this joy which springs from convinced and lived Christian faith.

3. The pedagogy of "grace". This is a third teaching of our saint, which is extremely topical and necessary.

St Philip, in full respect of individual personalities, based his "educational project" on the reality of "grace" and developed it along five main guidelines: 1) delicate knowledge of every individual child and youth through patient and affectionate listening; 2) the enlightening of the mind with the truths of faith by means of readings and meditations; 3) eucharistic and Marian devotion; 4) love/charity towards neighbour; 5) play in its most varied manifestations.

The world of today is in extreme need of sensitive and qualified educators, who will teach their pupils to overcome the sadness and the sense of loneliness and incommunicability which torments so many young people and sometimes even destroys them. Like St Philip, you, too, parents and educators, teach "whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise" (Phil 4, 8).

Beloved Faithful of Rome!

How many things we can and must learn from our great Saint! He speaks to each of us: "Cor ad cor loquitur", as said the great Cardinal Newman, converted from Anglicanism.

When, after long and meticulous historical researches and after interior suffering, he was obliged by the evidence of the proofs to embrace Catholicism and enter the Church of Rome, becoming acquainted with the life and spirituality of St Philip, he became so enamoured of him, because of his depth, balance and discretion, that he wished to become an Oratorian priest. He founded the first Oratory in England, always followed his example, as his admirable addresses bear witness, and called him "my personal Father and Patron Saint". He concluded his most famous work: "Apologia pro vita sua" with the name of St Philip.

For us, too, St Philip continues to be our "Father". Let us invoke him! Let us listen to him! One of his most lovable characteristics was his tender love for the Blessed Virgin, whom he frequently invoked as "Mater gratiae", with complete and filial confidence. He would say, full of tenderness for the Mother of Heaven: "This reason alone should be enough to keep a member of the faithful joyful, the knowledge that he has the Virgin Mary praying for him, close to God" (P.G. Bacci, Vita di San Filippo Neri Fiorentino).

Let us listen to him, St Philip Neri, convinced that he who loved Rome so much when he was alive, continues to protect and help his sons.

And now, before beginning the liturgy of the Sacrifice, let us think for a moment of what happened in our beloved city of Rome a few days ago: the atrocious death of a young Somalian, who had emigrated here, an unknowing victim of an absurd act, has raised a movement of indignation and protest all over the world and has rent also my Father's heart.

And now, let us raise a prayer for the poor deceased and for all the victims of cruelty and human violence, and above all let us promise, each one personally in his own sphere and under his own responsibility, to live the Gospel with absolute faithfulness, following in the footsteps of St Philip Neri.

Pope Francis's Message on the 5th Centenary of the Birth of St Philip Neri
- also in French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

To the Reverend Fr Mario Alberto Avilés, c.o.
Procurator General of the Confederation of the Oratory of St Philip Neri

The fifth centenary of the birth of St Philip Neri, born in Florence on 21 July 1515, offers me the happy occasion to spiritually join the entire Confederation of the Oratory, to remember the one who lived in the Urbs for 60 years, earning the epithet “Apostle of Rome”. His existential path was deeply marked by the relationship with the person of Jesus Christ and by the commitment to guide to Him the souls entrusted to his spiritual care. On the point of death he advised: “He who wishes for anything but Christ, does not know what he wishes; he who asks for anything but Christ, does not know what he is asking”. From this fervid experience of communion with the Lord Jesus was born the Oratory, an ecclesial organization characterized by intense and joyous spiritual life: prayer, conversation and listening to the Word of God, preparation for a worthy reception of the Sacraments, formation in the Christian life through the history of the Saints and of the Church, works of charity in support of the poor.

Thanks also to the apostolate of St Philip, the commitment to the salvation of souls returned to be a priority in the Church’s action; it was again understood that Pastors must be with the people in order to guide them and support them in the faith. Philip led so many, proclaiming the Gospel and dispensing the Sacraments. In particular, he dedicated himself intensely to the ministry of Confession, until the evening of his last earthly day. His concern was that of constantly following the spiritual growth of his disciples, accompanying them in the hardships of life and opening them to Christian hope. His mission as “chiseler of souls” was certainly helped by the unique attractive force of his person, distinguished by human warmth, joy, meekness and gentleness. These particular attributes of his originated in the ardent experience of Christ and in the action of the Divine Spirit who expanded his heart.

In his teaching method, Fr Philip availed himself of the fruitfulness of contrasts: enamoured of private and solitary oration, he taught how to pray in fraternal communion in the Oratory; extremely ascetic in his penance, which was also corporal, he proposed the exercise of interior mortification marked by joy and the serenity of play; a passionate proclaimer of the Word of God, he was a preacher of few words, limiting himself to mere phrases when emotion gripped him. This was the secret that made him an authentic father and teacher of souls. His spiritual fatherhood shone through all of his work, characterized by trust in people, by spurning dark and dreary colours, by a festive spirit and joy, by the conviction that grace does not quell nature but heals it, strengthens it and perfects it.

St Philip Neri also remains a luminous model of the Church’s on-going mission in the world. The perspective of his approach to neighbour in witnessing to all to the love and mercy of the Lord can serve as a valuable example to bishops, priests, consecrated people and lay faithful. Since the very first years of his life in Rome, he exercised an apostolate of personal relationships and friendship, as the privileged way to open people to the encounter with Jesus and the Gospel. His biographer thus attests: “He approached in a simple fashion, now this one, then that one, and everyone quickly became his friends”. He loved spontaneity, avoided artifice, chose the most entertaining ways to educate in Christian virtue. At the same time he proposed a healthy discipline which entailed the exercise of willingness to receive Christ concretely into one’s life. His deep conviction was that the path of holiness is rooted in the grace of an encounter — that with the Lord — accessible to who ever, of whatever status or condition, receives Him with the astonishment of children.

The Church’s permanent state of mission requires that you, spiritual sons of St Philip Neri, not be content with a mediocre life; on the contrary, in the manner of the school of your Founder, you are called to be men of prayer and witnesses to draw people to Christ. Today, most of all among young people, so dear to Fr Philip, there is great need for people who pray and can teach others to pray. With his “intense love for the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, without which he could not live” — as a text from the process of his canonization declared — he teaches us that the Eucharist, celebrated, adored and lived, is the source to draw from in order to speak to the heart of men. Indeed, “with Christ joy is constantly born anew” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1). May this joy, characteristic of the oratorian spirit, always be the underlying spirit of your community and of your apostolate.

St Philip turned lovingly to Our Lady with the invocation “Mother Virgin, Virgin Mother”, certain that these two titles express the essential of Mary. May she accompany you on the journey of ever stronger adherence to Christ and in the commitment to an ever truer zeal in witnessing and preaching the Gospel. While I ask you to pray for me and for my ministry, I accompany these reflections with a special Apostolic Blessing, which I impart wholeheartedly to all the members of the Oratorian Congregations, to the laity of the secular Oratories and to those who are associated with your spiritual family.

From the Vatican, 26 May 2015