Excerpts from "The Mission of St. Philip"

[Sermons Preached on Various Occasions, Sermon 12, Part 2, on St. Philip Neri, founder of the Oratory. Preached Jan. 18, 1850, in the Oratory, Birmingham, on occasion of its first Anniversary.]

O touching and most genuine traits of our sweetest and dearest Father, and most impressive lesson to us, and remarkable contrast to the spirit of the vehement friar of St. Mark's! [Savonarola] Philip had shown them from a boy. One {231} of the first things told us of him in his very childhood is, that "he never spoke lightly, as boys do, of becoming a priest or a religious; he concealed the wish of his heart, and from childhood upwards he eschewed display, of which he ever had a special hatred." Things which other saints have allowed in themselves, or rather have felt a duty, he could not abide. He did not ask to be opposed, to be maligned, to be persecuted, but simply to be overlooked, to be despised. Neglect was the badge which he desired for himself and for his own. "To despise the whole world," he said, "to despise no member of it, to despise oneself, to despise being despised." He took great pleasure in being undervalued and made little of, according to the Apostle's sentiment, "If any man among you seem to be wise, let him become a fool, that he may be wise." And hence you know, when he became so famous in his old age, and every one was thinking of him mysteriously, and looking at him with awe, and solemnly repeating Father Philip's words and rehearsing Father Philip's deeds, and bringing strangers to see him, it was the most cruel of penances to him, and he was ever behaving himself ridiculously on purpose, and putting them out, from his intense hatred and impatience of being turned into a show. "He was always trying," says his biographer, "either by gestures, or motions, or words, or some facetious levity, to hide his great devotion; and when he had done any virtuous action, he would do something simple to cover it."

.       .       .       .       .       .       .

Would that we, his children of this Oratory, were able—I do not say individually, but even collectively, nor in some one generation, but even in that whole period during which it is destined to continue here—would that we were able to do a work such as his! At least we may take what he was for our pattern, whatever be the standard of our powers and the measure of our success. And certainly it is a consolation that thus much we can say in our own behalf,—that we have gone about his work in the way most likely to gain his blessing upon us, because most like his own. We have not chosen for ourselves any scene of exertion where we might make a noise, but have willingly taken that humble place of service which our Superiors chose for us. The desire of our hearts and our duty went together here. We have deliberately set ourselves down in a populous district, unknown to the great world, and have commenced, as St. Philip did, by ministering chiefly to the poor and lowly. We have gone where we could get no reward from society for our deeds, nor admiration from the acute or learned for our words. We have determined, through God's mercy, not to have the praise or the popularity that the world can give, but, according to our Father's own precept, "to love to be unknown."

May this spirit ever rule us more and more! For me, my dear Fathers of the Oratory, did you ask me, and were I able, to gain some boon for you from St. Philip, which might distinguish you and your successors for the time to come, persecution I would not dare to supplicate for you, as holy men have sometimes supplicated; for the work of the Oratory is a tranquil work, and requires {242} peace and security to do it well. Nor would I ask for you calumny and reproach, for to be slandered is to be talked about, and to some minds notoriety itself is a gratification and a snare. But I would beg for you this privilege, that the public world might never know you for praise or for blame, that you should do a good deal of hard work in your generation, and prosecute many useful labours, and effect a number of religious purposes, and send many souls to heaven, and take men by surprise, how much you were really doing, when they happened to come near enough to see it; but that by the world you should be overlooked, that you should not be known out of your place, that you should work for God alone with a pure heart and single eye, without the distractions of human applause, and should make Him your sole hope, and His eternal heaven your sole aim, and have your reward, not partly here, but fully and entirely hereafter.

Blessed shall you and I be, my dear Fathers, if we learn to live now in the presence of Saints and Angels, who are to be our everlasting companions hereafter. Blessed are we, if we converse habitually with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,—with the Apostles, Martyrs, and great Fathers of the early Church,—with Sebastian, Laurence, and Cecilia,—with Athanasius, Ambrose, and Augustine, with Philip, whose children we are,—with our guardian angels and our patron saints, careless what men think about us, so that their scorn of us involves no injury to our community, and their misconception of us is no hindrance to their own conversion.

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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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