Plinio Corręa de Oliveira


Saint Philip Neri’s “Counter-Carnival”

Taking Things Seriously Is to Act

Like Saint Paul






Saint of the Day, Monday, October 8, 1973

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Let us take a biographical note on Saint Philip Neri.

Saint Philip Neri was born in Florence on July 15, 1515, and died on May 25, 1595. They say that for thirty years, he spent all his nights in the catacombs. When he found a church closed, he said his prayers by its door. He was seen reading by moonlight more than once.

It is a poetic image: a pious young student, a future saint, surrounded by virtue, reading in the moonlight.

Note that there was no public lighting on the streets at that time. General lighting began in the 17th century. On the other hand, given the high price of candles, it was costly to have lighting inside the house, which forced people to go to bed early.

It was a sign of virtue for a boy to read by moonlight, risking losing his eyesight. In Rome, that was more poetic because it was on top of ruins. Sitting on top of an old Roman column’s capital, stroking a stone lion’s head brought from Egypt, with some plants growing in the middle, that whole atmosphere of ancient, pre-“Garibaldian” and even less “Mussolinian” Rome, with a picturesque and artistic disorder.

On Pentecost day, 1545, he felt his heart burn as he pleaded with the Holy Spirit to bestow his gifts on him; unable to bear that excessive burning, he fell to the ground. When he got up, he put his hand to his chest: his love was so great that his chest had swelled and become more distant from his heart.

Upon his death in 1595, doctors opened his chest to examine that miracle and found that two of his ribs had broken over the heart and had not healed, such was his enthusiastic love of God.

After that blessed Pentecost, the saint experienced continual heart palpitation whenever he occupied himself with divine things.

Many noble characters entered religious orders stimulated by the example of this simple layman. St. Ignatius of Loyola, who knew him, upbraided him affectionately for remaining a layman and compared him to a bell that called everyone into the Church but never entered.

You see a lovely, light, and graceful joshing of one saint with another. That could be a conversation between a saint so imbued with the gifts of the Holy Spirit with another to whom Our Lady had dictated the Spiritual Exercises in the cave of Manresa.

That was a conversation between great saints next to which today’s chitchat is an expressionless and worthless babble.

One night, as he was going, according to his custom, to the house of a noble but ruined person to take some provisions, he saw a carriage on his way and fell into a deep hole as he stepped aside to make way for the carriage. But the angel of the poor man he was going to help was watching over him and miraculously lifted him in the air and prevented him from falling into the hole.

At that time, the streets were very poorly paved.

That is a little reminiscent of our Saturday meeting on the Angels. You see Saint Philip Neri walking through the streets of Rome, taking alms to a poor man and the poor man’s Guardian Angel accompanying him.

You may ask: “But why didn’t his own Guardian Angel help him but the Guardian Angel of the poor?”

First, because the poor man was interested in seeing his benefactor get there; secondly, because in this way,  God wanted to show how grateful He was for the alms Philip would give the poor.

Doing good to the poor entitles us to special assistance from God Our Lord.

Now, if doing good to the poor – who have few or no monetary assets – does so much good, so is to assist those without goods of the soul by giving good advice, doing apostolate, bringing someone for the TFP, cornering a revolutionary against the wall with a powerful argument so he loses his prestige and cannot harm others.

How many times, for example, going to a place to do apostolate, we could ask the Guardian Angel of the person to help us in the task of helping him. It is a beautiful and noble thought.

Philip built the magnificent Holy Trinity Hospital, which, in the Jubilee of 1600, fed more than 400 pilgrims for three days.

The mere sight of Jews made him shed torrents of tears; he applied himself with all his might to obtain their conversion.

Jews are generally wealthy compared to us Catholics, but he saw the Jews’ wealth and wept because he thought they were much more unhappy than those with less money who have the gift of Faith.

The lesson here is that Faith is worth more than fortune.

One day he entered the church of Saint John Lateran with a Milanese nobleman. Arriving at the Blessed Sacrament, both knelt. However, a man of this noble’s retinue kept standing with his hat on his head amid his praying companions. He was a Jew. Seeing that, the saint went to him and said:

“My good man, adore and say to Him: “If you are Christ, the true Son of God; enlighten my soul that I may become a Christian.”

“I cannot do that,” the Jew replied, “because I am not allowed to doubt my religion.”

But Philip turned to the nobleman and his servants:

“Come, my brothers, let us help this man; by our prayers, he will surely become a Christian.”

The Jew could not resist those prayers and received the Baptism within a few days.

It was the prayer of a great saint!

One of his first collaborators was Cesare de Baron, the famous Cardinal Baronius, born in Sora in the year 1538, who became famous with the Latin name Baronius.

Saint Philip Neri redoubled his prayers, especially during carnival. With an imposing mass of the faithful, he went on pilgrimage to the seven basilicas of Rome to protest against the immorality of his fellow citizens.

Here you see the combative man. A wild carnival party is going through the city. He organizes processions across the same city as an act of reparation to God. That is not just a bunch of shy little church sermons against carnival–even these have disappeared–but a counter-carnival: Let us hold processions to protest against carnival. That is to fight!

The cardinal vicar summoned the saint and, after having reproached him strongly for his pilgrimages, forbade him to hear confessions for 15 days.

The vicar suddenly died before lifting the penalty. Called on to judge the issue, Pope Paul IV ordered the saint to resume his exercises and asked for his prayers.

One of his penitents, having left Rome for Naples against his advice, was stopped by corsairs and jumped into the sea to escape their blows. Almost drowning, he cried out to Saint Philip Neri, asking for help. The saint immediately appeared to him surrounded by a luminous halo, pulled him out of the water by his hair, and dragged him to shore over the waves.

It is a great miracle.

As they held daily lectures at the Oratory, the seat of his apostolate, the saint decided that one of his workers should write the entire history of the Church from Jesus Christ to the present time, summarize the Acts of the Martyrs, the lives of the saints, the writings of the Fathers, the succession of Pontiffs, and the Orders of Councils year by year to refute Protestant historians called the “Magdeburg Centurions.”

He urged Cardinal Baronius to take up this work, but the sage recoiled from the immense task. Accepting neither apologies nor prayers, Philip pressed Cardinal Baronius to do it. Baronius still hesitated, claiming there were wiser and holier men and appointed Onunfio de Pavinius to do the work. But Saint Philip Neri was adamant:

 “Do as I command you, and let me take care of the rest. If your work seems difficult to you, confide in God, and He Himself will do it.”

At that order, Baronius was immersed in perplexity. One night, he had this vision: it seemed that he had gone to speak to the said Onunfio de Pavinius to beg him to continue his Ecclesiastical History, but Pavinius refused. Suddenly, Saint Philip Neri appeared to him and questioned him in a stern voice:

“Cease, Baronius; it is not Pavinium but you who will write the Annals of the Church.”

The sage was defeated. The following day he threw himself at the feet of Saint Philip Neri to announce that he would begin writing his History.

Cardinal Baronius was under St. Philip because he belonged to the Congregation of the Oratory. His work became famous in the life of the Church and is one of the great works of Catholic culture.

Pope Clement VIII contracted a deadly disease and summoned Saint Philip Neri. As the saint entered his room, the Pope healed immediately.

In May 1594, a violent fever gripped the saint. They thought that he was lost. When everyone around him was in despair, suddenly lifted by an unknown force, the sick man was taken from his bed and momentarily suspended between heaven and earth. The Holy Virgin had visited her beloved son, who had visited so many sick people and restored him to life and health.

Have you ever imagined entering the room of a dying person and finding him suspended between heaven and earth? And suddenly he sits up in bed and says, “I’m fine”?

These are extraordinary events. Witnessing them would do us a lot of good. However, miracles won’t do us any good for as long as we do not become used to taking everything entirely seriously. They produce a fleeting impression, but we return to our previous state of mind.

We need to get better used to taking everything entirely seriously, for otherwise, it will not work. It is no use saying, “Dr. Plinio, [seeing such miracles], I would have such a shock that I would never forget.” I would answer: That is true; you would never forget but never take it seriously.

Not forgetting is one thing, and taking it seriously is another. We need to ask Our Lady for the grace of acquiring the habit of taking things entirely seriously.

Taking it seriously is what St. Paul did on the road to Damascus. He fell to the ground and immediately asked, “Lord, what doest Thou want me to do?” In other words, taking something seriously is to see, judge, and act. He saw he had done wrong, heard the voice of God, and wanted to do something about it.

Yet, despite his huge desire to get going, Our Lady put him into a Chinese river. He becomes blind and bedridden. “Later, we’ll see what I want you to do.” He had three excellent days of spiritual retreat with his eyes closed, seeing nothing. Finally, he was taken wherever Our Lady wanted.

That is taking things seriously: “Fine, now I’ve figured it out and will do it by hook or crook.”

A year later, he suddenly started vomiting blood. The moment Cardinal Baronius finished saying the prayer for the dying, many people saw St. Philip ascend to heaven enveloped in enormous glory.

By a special privilege, Saint Philip saw holiness shine in the faces of the saints. He observed that, particularly on St. Charles Borromeo.

You see that he met various saints, walked among saints, and saw holiness shine in their faces.

Poor us! If we wanted to see holiness resplendent in saintly faces, what saints could we look at? We are orphans in this sad 20th century!

He especially noted that light in Saint Charles Borromeo and Saint Ignatius Loyola, of whom he said, “The beauty of his soul is such that it shines on his face; I saw rays of light come out of his face.”

How wonderful it is to look at a man and see light rays! A saint is looking at another saint!

If we could look at one saint looking at another saint, how much good their gazes would do us as long as we took things seriously.

Saint Philip looked for humiliations amid the honors that his holiness attracted. He pretended to be a fool. Meeting Saint Felix of Cantalicius, a Capuchin, on his way to begging in the streets of Rome, he asked for a bottle and began to drink, arousing the hilarity of passers-by. Another day, he shaved his head only on one side.

To humiliate himself.

In Europe, we are stunned by the sheer number of saints. Saint Felix de Cantalicius is buried in the church of Saint Suzanna on Via Veneto, in a small side altar with this plaque: “St. Felix de Cantalicius is buried here.”

Here we would build a cathedral to house the remains of Saint Felix de Cantalicius.

So many saints lived in Europe that no cathedrals would suffice. Such was the flowering of Catholic Europe of bygone days.

How impressive it is to see saints walking among themselves, knowing each other, meeting together, seeing one’s light reflect on another, working miracles!

So you understand what a night and dreadful catacomb we find ourselves in! It is not a catacomb but a ditch. A catacomb is clean; a manhole is filthy!

Blessed Catherine de Ricci, a Dominican, was in the city of Prato; Saint Philip Neri was in Rome.

God gave him the privilege of bilocation so that the blessed lady could see him and converse with him. The nun attested to that event, and Saint Philip agreed that everything she had said was true. He said he had talked with her without her going to Rome or his going to Prato.

He bilocated; bilocation is a very rare phenomenon that happens to very few saints.

Saint Camillus de Lellis, another contemporary of Saint Philip, founded the Congregation of Fathers for the Assistance of the Dying. Saint Philip, while visiting a sick man, exhorted him and saw Angels inspiring the words he was recommending to that soul. The man went to heaven.

On Corpus Christi Day 1595, Saint Philip, after praying the Office, said Mass and heard for the last time the confession of numerous penitents to whom he recommended especially to read the lives of the saints. He then lay down on his bed, saying, “I need to die.”

They called a doctor who examined him and said he was in better spirits than ever. He expired three hours later, kindly assisted by Cardinal Baronius and was received by the Queen of Heaven.

The sixteenth century was the century of Protestantism and the Renaissance, yet it still had so many saints.

Now you can figure out what the 20th century is. How deep the world has fallen, how advanced the Revolution is for such a desert to exist! What do you see as you look around?...

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