The task seems lofty at first glance. With controversies of all sorts in society today, the charge to love like Christ is even greater. However, the Body of Christ has been in trying times throughout the ages, and it’s the ability of holy men and women to magnanimously love that makes a difference in society.
Today, the Church celebrates a saint that is a perfect example for the faithful of living out the call of the New Evangelization: St. Philip Neri, the Apostle of Joy. St. Philip Neri, a radical saint of the 16th Century, was known for his humility, obscure and hilarious means of mortification, pastoral care, humor, and charm. The legend and stories of St. Philip Neri are plentiful and cannot all be spoken of in this short post, but his charity is worth mentioning for those who are attempting to live out the call of the New Evangelization.
Philip was known to have a strong devotion to the Holy Spirit. At the age of 29, before the feast of Pentecost, Philip was praying for a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit when he saw a globe of fire enter his mouth, move down his chest, and travel to his heart. At that moment, Philip experienced an immense amount of joy, as if his heart had expanded. The saint had been filled with the love of God!
Throughout the rest of his life, when Philip was ministering to people in the confessional, celebrating Mass, or performing acts of charity, his heart would violently palpitate. Oftentimes, Philip would embrace his penitents and hold them close to his chest. The faithful would receive an immense amount of consolation from the embrace and this practice became known as “the most effective way of being delivered from temptation.”
St. Philip Neri was known as the Apostle of Joy because his aim was love, and the Holy Spirit, the Flame of Love, was the driver in his mission. Philip died at the age of 80, dedicating his entire life to mercy, love, and joy. The many stories that follow him affirm that claim. He was dedicated to the Sacrament of Confession and would be available for Confession at all hours. Dispensing the mercy of Christ, Philip spent his last day on this side of heaven hearing confessions from the people he served and loved. Those he ministered to claim they could not be sorrowful or depressed around Philip; he exuded a constant flow of Christ’s joy. During an evaluation to determine Philip’s cause of death, the examiner found Philip’s heart to be twice the size of an average heart, causing the ribs around the heart to break and curve out. The love of God had been made manifest physically within him.
Today could you imagine a Church with followers whose hearts, like Philip’s, are enlarged with love for neighbor? This is the call of the New Evangelization—to spread Christ’s fragrance of love everywhere, “for we are the aroma of Christ” (2 Cor 2:15). The Church is in a unique time. Our intellectual arguments often mean little, but our actions and witness of love are powerful. The New Evangelization calls us to be little Apostles of Joy. Wherever we are and wherever we go, we are to love.
Cardinal Ratzinger explained that evangelization is teaching people the path to happiness. “To evangelize means: to show this path—to teach the art of living,” he said (Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers, 12 December 2000). St. Philip Neri taught those around him the art of living a joyful, humble life, motivated by the love of Christ. To live the New Evangelization, we are to have a heart like his, witnessing and walking with others and teaching the art of living.
The Body of Christ must be propelled by the love of God. Today, let us invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts in a deeper way so we might gain a greater capacity to love like our joyful friend, St. Philip Neri. May we be a people of love with enlarged hearts for Christ, spreading joy to all.
“The love of God makes us do great things.” –St. Philip Neri
For more resources on the New Evangelization, click here.