On this third day of the novena to St. Philip, Bl. John Henry Newman invites us to contemplate what it meant to Philip to pray.
Referencing Bacci’s biography of our saint, Newman mentions a number of dimensions to Philip’s prayer. Three catch my eye.
First, where does prayer come from? How do we get it started? Philip often told his students, “Be humble and obedient and the Holy Spirit will teach you to pray.” While humility and obedience can (and should) be harmonious experiences, we know that normally they’re challenging. Trying our best to observe both virtues, will often lead to a VERY sincere prayer, “HELP!” Don’t discount that… Indeed, it’s when we don’t ask for help… when we don’t acknowledge our smallness before the Father that we run into problems. Overtime the person praying learns to explore the inner contours of this, “Help” prayer and so begins a deeper dialogue with the Lord leading to self-knowledge and knowledge of him.
Second, Philip was constantly at prayer. “If he gave way to the habit of prayer in even the most trifling degree, he became lost in contemplation.” Bacci tells us. That word, “habit,” is important for us to hold on to. Just as vices are bad habits, virtues are good habits, and prayer among them. There are special times for focused prayer; setting aside a holy hour, or attending a liturgy like mass or a penance service. But there’s another kind of constant prayer that takes place throughout one’s day. Little phrases thrown up to God. We call these, “aspirations.” And the more constant they become, the more habitual, the happier we are.
Third, Philip’s prayer was deeply evangelical (i.e. “of the Holy Spirit”) and marked, in this, by two objectives. First, He delighted to be in love with the third Person of the Trinity… which is beautiful in itself… But for our purposes his second objective is key: Philip constantly asked the Holy Spirit for gifts to do great works of healing, mercy, even miracles. He taught his followers to do likewise and they went out producing great fruits for building up the Church. The lesson – Ask… Ask constantly… and Ask BIG… if you do, great things can happen for new evangelization.