Following St. Philip Neri All The Way, All Saints Day, November 1, 1999

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Tomb of St. Philip, Chiesa Nuova, Rome
NAC Jubilee Apostolate Mass
Solemnity of All Saints
November 1, 1999
Rev 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Matt 5:1-12a

How appropriate it is to celebrate this Mass inaugurating the Novena for Divine Assistance for your Jubilee Apostolate here at the tomb of St. Philip Neri on the Feast of All Saints! St. Philip, the Apostle of Rome, who guided so many pilgrims to Rome’s great holy sites during the 1500s. But what became the famous seven Churches, and the countless other places Philip brought his band of pilgrims, were not the real destinations. They were means. Way stations. Oases in the valley of tears, on the much greater pilgrimage that St. Philip was guiding them — the pilgrimage to heaven. Heaven was the ultimate destination of all St. Philip’s work among them, as it was for all of the saints we celebrate today. And so it shall be for you.

We can all learn a great deal from St. Philip, both in the ultimate destination, the churches that became his symbols and means, and the starting point he took with most of those he encountered. We will proceed in reverse order. Heaven was the ultimate destination of the pilgrimage he was taking people on. The first pilgrims to Rome were all called Veronicisti, because they were coming to St. Peter’s to see Veronica’s veil — an image of Christ’s face, which is what we all hope to see in heaven. People in the 16th century had lost faith, hope, enthusiasm for this destination. After the sack of Rome, after the split in western Christianity, Romans and many Christians had lost their hope. They were living debauched lives. Like St. Francis who rebuilt the Church by rebuilding the living stones of Christians, so St. Philip wanted to get people to return to the faith in Jesus, the faith in his promises and love. So, too, you will come across alot of people who, after a century of so much bloodshed, two world wars, pansexualism, etc., have lost a good deal of hope in the reality of God’s promises. Your goal, too, is through the means of this apostolate to be the instrument, the signpost, leading them back to Jesus and to the kingdom he has prepared for them.

He saw countless people going to the Saturnalia and other debauched neo-pagan celebrations. Like the early Church, Philip knew that he just couldn’t preach against these events, he couldn’t just fight to suppress them, for then they would be buried alive and rise again in several analogous problematic instantiations. Rather he wanted to supplant them with good things. Hence he started the 40 hour devotions and the pilgrimage to the holy sites here in Rome. These holy sites, and holy actions of prayer and picnic, were the means he used to get ordinary people back on the way who is Jesus leading people to eternal life. These holy sites were their spiritual patrimony, the saints were their brothers and sisters in the faith, and Philip helped them to feel that. So, too, your goal is to convince them that they are the great inheritors of extraordinary family heirlooms. That these saints they’re visiting aren’t just Roman saints, but their saints; the Church’s not just Italian churches, but their Roman Catholic Churches, that the great mysteries for whom the Christian saints lived and died are the very same mysteries that they are entitled to participate in by their baptism.

Thirdly, the starting point. St. Philip here perhaps gives us his greatest counsel. Even though he had such lofty hopes for them, he began where they were at. He would meet them on the street corners, tell them some jokes, and try to get them to internalize the fact that they want, that they need, Jesus in their lives. His famous question was “So, brothers, when are we going to start to do good? to be good?” He did not do it in a judgmental way. He just allowed that seed to be planted and let God do the watering. People liked Philip, because he knew how to have a good time. He was the quintessential exemplar of proposing not imposing the faith on people, because he was supremely confident that the faith was a proposal few could really resist when they saw the joy of it lived out. Your great temptation in this apostolate will be to want to see concrete results, to try to give your pilgrims too much, to impatiently work too fast to try to help them experience a conversion, maybe to assume too much, to be “too spiritual” to the detriment of being “natural,” to allow the apostolate to be merely a crucial but very small step on the way to heaven rather than a huge one.

Today in the presence of all the angels and saints, we ask St. Philip to help all of us become truly good and humble guides, joyful apostles of this city of Rome, the city of so many great saints and so many sinners. May St. Philip, who on Pentecost 1544 was filled at the Catacombs of St. Sebastian with a ball of fire of the Holy Spirit, intercede for each of us so that we, too, might be filled with the Holy Spirit and made faithful witnesses to how much God loves us and all those we will meet over the course of the Great Jubilee.