Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This year, the sixth Sunday of Easter coincides with May 26, a day on which we normally would celebrate the feast of St. Philip Neri. He is known as the second apostle of Rome (St. Peter, of course, being the first!), for his many years of teaching the Catholic faith and encouraging the people of that city to lives of prayer, worship, and virtue. Philip was known for his service to the sick and poor, his ministry to outcasts and prostitutes, and for his ability to meet people as they went about their daily lives and engage them in conversation about the divine. He met St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1544, and many of his students and followers eventually became Jesuits. Among those who were counted among his followers was Giovanni Palestrina, who would become one of the most influential composers of liturgical music in history. So successful was Philip Neri, that it became necessary to build a new church to hold all the people who came for his sermons, Masses, and other services. That church, built in 1577, is still known as. the “Chiesa Nuova,” or “New Church.” By Roman standards, it is still new!
St. Philip Neri was especially devoted to the Eucharist. He was known to go into a state of spiritual ecstasy while celebrating Mass. A deep desire of his heart was for all people to know, reverence, adore, and love Jesus who is present in the Eucharist. Famously, he once noticed people leaving the church after receiving Holy Communion but before Mass had ended. He called two of his altar servers over and sent them out after the people who had left, ringing bells as they walked along. The boys followed the early departures down the street until they turned and asked why they were being followed. The boys responded that the saintly pastor had sent them so that the presence of the Eucharist would be announced as those who had just received passed by. It was an effective way to keep people from leaving Mass early! While noted for his love for the Church’s liturgy, St. Philip Neri was also known for his encouraging (and living) a fervent, private devotional life of prayer. “Let me get through today, and I shall not fear tomorrow” is one example of the short, pious exclamations for which he was known.
This great saint and apostle of Rome is a good example for us to follow. His love for the Eucharist – both during Mass and outside of the liturgy – is a beautiful reminder to us that our Lord remains always present with us and for us in the Tabernacle. His zeal for encountering people, no matter their background, is a reminder that our Lord remains present to the world through us. Jesus reminds us in the Gospel this weekend that the Holy Spirit will be sent to remind the Apostles (and us) of all that He taught. This same Spirit will inspire the Apostles to go out, proclaiming the Good News to the whole world. St. Philip Neri, having received the Holy Spirit, went out to proclaim the Gospel, to make Christ present in the streets and homes of the city of Rome. He made Christ present because he was first nourished by Christ present in the Eucharist, by the Church’s liturgy, which opened his heart to receive the Holy Spirit. So may it be for us – may our reception of Jesus in the Eucharist make us living tabernacles, so that we might bring the presence of Christ to every person we meet, so that filled by the Holy Spirit we might share the Gospel with the whole world!