May 26th is the feast of our Holy Father Saint Philip, Apostle of Rome and Founder of the Congregation of the Oratory. On that day in 1595 his soul left this world and was taken to heaven.

While still a layman Philip had a life-changing experience in the Roman catacombs. In 1544 on the vigil of Pentecost he was alone in the catacombs praying for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He saw a globe of fire coming towards him. He felt it entering his mouth and sinking down into him. It enlarged his heart. The experience left him consumed with both a physical heat and a spiritual fervour, neither of which ever left him. After his death the body was opened and examined; his heart was found to be twice the normal size, and two of his ribs on the left side had been forced outwards from their natural position in the ribcage. This enlargement of the heart and dislocation of the ribs had caused an external protrusion in his chest the size of a large clenched fist.

After that personal Pentecost Philip’s life was richly imbued with miracles, spiritual favours, and precognition. Those gifts were put at the service of his extensive pastoral apostolate. Many penitents discovered his unnerving ability to know their sins before they had found the courage to confess them. He drew many souls to conversion of life, and was a major spiritual influence in the much needed reform of the Church in 16th century Rome.

His preferred way of offering the Eucharistic sacrifice was to celebrate a quiet Low Mass at a side altar or in a private chapel. He did not like his face to be seen while saying Mass. He spent several hours each day hearing confessions, and several further hours each day and night in his personal prayer, in addition to the public spiritual exercises of the Oratory every weekday afternoon and evening.

When we are first getting to know St Philip he may well have a good laugh with us. Then, as we spend more time in his company we find him more serious. With the kindness of a true father he will gently help us to deepen our spiritual life. He will help us to go to confession more thoroughly, to celebrate and attend Mass more prayerfully, to pray the rosary more devotedly, and to serve Christ in the poor and the sick more generously: a blessing I wish for us all.