The Archbishops of both Westminster and Birmingham used the occasion of their homilies on the Feast of St Philip Neri, Wednesday 26 May, to compare the characteristics of St Philip and Cardinal Newman. The momentum towards the September beatification of the holy English cardinal could be felt in what both pastors had to say.
Preaching at the London Oratory Archbishop Vincent Nichols said: “St Philip is known as a saint of great joy. Yet this was not a superficial joy.”
In his homily at The Oratory of St Philip Neri in Edgbaston Archbishop Bernard Longley described St Philip, Founder of the Congregation of the Oratory and Cardinal Newman, as: “Wise, joyful and prayerful priests”.
St Philip Neri, 1515-1595, the man from Florence, known as the “Apostle of Rome” became a priest in 1551 and formed the Oratory. Fr Philip gathered together a group of laymen who held services consisting of spiritual readings and hymns and performed charitable works including visiting the sick and poor in Rome.
After his ordination as a Catholic priest Fr Newman joined the Oratory of St Philip Neri and on 1 February 1848 he established the English Congregation of the Oratory at Old Oscott, renamed Maryvale, situated on the outskirts of Birmingham. Dr Newman and his community moved into the new Oratory House in Edgbaston during February 1852. Cardinal Newman was to die in his room there on Monday 11 August 1890.
The Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman will be beatified by Pope Benedict XVI during Mass at Coventry Airport, in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, on the morning of Sunday 19 September 2010. From then on he will be known as Blessed John Henry Newman.
Archbishop Longley said in his homily on the Patronal Feast of The Oratory: “During this Year for Priests it is encouraging to remember St Philip as a wise, joyful and prayerful priest. Many have followed his inspiring example. The Venerable John Henry Newman was so strongly influenced by what he saw in St Philip’s way of life that it became the pattern of his own life and priestly ministry for many years here in Birmingham.
“St Philip Neri, too. drew companions to share this life of common prayer, joyful priestly service and the daily search for God’s wisdom in the midst of human affairs. As we prepare for Cardinal Newman’s Beatification these are still important signposts for the Church’s life in this city and for the particular role of the Oratory.”
Earlier in his homily Archbishop Bernard Longley had stated: “There are certain characteristics of St Philip Neri, the Founder and Patron of The Oratory, that brighten this festival and that benefit us as we try to imitate his faith.
“St Philip Neri sought the wisdom of God, reminding us of Solomon’s own desire for this gift: ‘I prayed, and understanding was given me; I entreated and the spirit of wisdom came to me.’ Such wisdom is the fruit of obedience to God and those who knew St Philip recognised the presence of God’s wisdom in his life and priestly ministry.
“Wisdom is one of the reasons that people sought out St Philip, particularly as a spiritual guide and confessor. But this shows his insight into human character, and his wisdom drew people back to him for guidance in their lives. He was a wise priest.
“In his demeanour St Philip was noted for his cheerfulness – a joy that sprang from within. This gift was something more than a fortunate natural disposition – it had its roots above all in St Philip’s faith and in his closeness to Christ: ‘the Lord is very near.’
“It bore fruit in the way of life he established and is witnessed to by the readiness of his first companions to share that way of life. This happiness of St Philip has continued to inspire those who have joined him and followed his way of life as Oratorians, because it is above all a fruit of the Holy Spirit. He was a joyful priest.
“For St Philip both of these gifts, wisdom and happiness, are the fruit of a dedicated life of prayer. He knew the truth of St Paul’s words: ‘If there is anything you need, pray for it’ and St John’s Gospel emphasises this point: ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall get it.’”
Archbishop Bernard Longley concluded: “Wise and joyful priestly ministry springs from the commitment to prayer and above all from our Lord’s commitment to us in prayer: ‘Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty.’ Let us pray tonight, in the year of Cardinal Newman’s Beatification, that St Philip’s prayer for this Oratory may bear much fruit and let us heed the wisdom of his teaching: ‘The true way to advance in holy virtues is to persevere in a holy cheerfulness'”
Archbishop Vincent Nichols in his homily at the London Oratory said: “St Philip Neri is known as a saint of great joy. Yet this was not a superficial joy. Such joy flows from our being close to Christ, ‘remaining in him’, as we heard in the Gospel. The ‘sap’ of the vine is the life of the Holy Spirit within us, moving and shaping our response to all things. As we said in the prayer of the Mass, St Philip’s heart ‘was filled and inflamed by the fire of the Holy Spirit’ and we ask that our hearts will be, too.”
The Archbishop of Westminster continued: “St Philip’s vocation began with his work in the lay apostolate, caring for the pilgrims in Rome. This service, or ‘diaconia’, is always a key characteristic of the Church, and indeed, of the life of every priest and bishop.
“There are some other indicators from the life of St Philip: he always declined ecclesiastical honours; he insisted on a life of chastity, based on humility and lived with joy; we are told that he deliberately cultivated some eccentricities ‘in order not to fall victim of the admiration of the people’; he bore criticism and censure patiently.”
Archbishop Nichols added: “Perhaps there are indications here why Cardinal Newman found such inspiration in the life of St Philip. Newman came to a deep appreciation of the importance of the lay vocation in the life of the Church. Like St Philip, he too was attracted by a pattern of life within a community of prayer, study and pastoral care, for this was a consistent pattern in the life of the Cardinal.”
© Peter Jennings