St Philip Neri

(entered heaven in 1595)

Dear Pippin,

As you go to start off your summer job, I beg you to keep one thing in mind: God has a plan for your life.  He has a mission that he is hoping you will accomplish, that he created you for.  If you fulfill it, you will achieve the deep happiness you yearn for (in this life and the next), God will be glorified, some small (or large, who knows?) portion of the world will be filled with Christ’s light and peace, and the Church will be forever enriched.  Just make up your mind that you will spend this summer, as well as the next three years of college, not only “having a good time” (Do you realize that that is the most common phrase in your emails?), but preparing yourself conscientiously to take up your role in God’s plan, and keeping your eyes and ears open to discover what it is.  I think you can take a lesson in this regard from today’s saint.

Philip Neri abandoned a promising Florentine clerkship to move to Rome, where he spent two years almost entirely in prayer and sacrifice, forsaking the pleasures of the world in hopes to discover how he was to serve the Lord.  He became so close to God, so filled with zeal, that he almost single-handedly ignited a religious revival among the corrupt and worldly people and clergy of the Eternal City.  He is still today known as the Second Apostle of Rome even though he was born in Florence (obviously, Peter and Paul were the First Apostles of Rome).  He started all kinds of ministries, spent entire days in the confessional (he would tell people their sins even before they confessed them), and acted as spiritual adviser to a steady stream of repentant cardinals, clergy, laity, and even a Pope or two.  He had put his relationship with God first and kept it there, and that’s all God needed in order to insure that his eighty years of earthly life were filled with incomparable joy, immense love, and incredible apostolic fruit.

Now, you should know at least couple more details (though it would be well worth your while to read a full biography on this truly remarkable man) in order to draw out the right lesson.  His first move to Rome was undertaken after he arrived at the conviction that God had a job for him to do there.  The conviction came in the form of a vision during prayer, in which God basically told him that he had work to do in Rome.  During the rest of his life, which he spent entirely in that city, he often felt moved to leave, to go off and live as a hermit (this was a deep and ardent desire), or to go to India on the missions – but every time such feelings came along God reminded him, in his heart, in prayer, that his mission was in Rome.  And so it was.  And so he has come to be known as the Apostle of Rome.

God knew that Rome was a mess, and he was set on cleaning it up, and he chose St Philip to help him – actually, he created St Philip to help him.  And he also equipped him for the task.  While Philip was still a layman, he was praying in the Catacombs of St Sebastian in Rome when he had a vision of the Holy Spirit coming to him in the form of a flaming ball that penetrated his chest – it threw him into ecstasy, one that actually, physically enlarged the Saint’s heart, so much so that upon his death an autopsy revealed not only an oversize heart, but also some ribs that had been broken and grown around it.

God has a plan for your life too.  And he will equip you for it.  He just needs you to want to discover it, and be docile to his will, day after day.  I think you can do it.

Your devoted uncle,


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