On this fourth day of the novena to St. Philip Neri we consider how he manifested the virtue of purity.
Let’s expand on three thoughts offered by Bl. John Henry Newman about this virtue in the life of our saint-of-the-city. Also, consider checking out the “Exercises for Purity” Menu at the top of this page.
First – Philip’s purity began in childhood and was something he was very open about. As a child, St. Philip was known as Pippo buono (“Phil the good”). Research into Florence’s city records, diaries, and even criminal proceedings has shown that for all of the city’s medieval piety, it was a cosmopolitain place full of secular influences of every stripe, including temptations of the flesh. Growing up in the streets of the metropolis, Philip was – like his neighbors – subject to all of this, but never victim to it. From an early age he was taught to fear ever losing his relationship with the Lord (i.e. the virtue of “Fear of the Lord”). He was also very open about his desire to remain close to God always. As a result, he was known throughout the city as “The good”. What can we learn from this? For all of our day’s sexual license, polite society still speaks in hushed voices about things carnal. We also speak in all too hushed voices about fighting against such temptations. Philip spoke openly about both ends of this equation and, consequently, equipped himself more effectively to handle it. Strong Christian families and strong Christian friendships are great foundations for purity in city living.
Second – Philip’s purity was evangelical. Biographers of his time describe St. Philip as beaming with purity. They say that the virtue darted from his eyes, shone in his skin and even gave an odor of sanctity to his breath (no small feat in a time before toothpaste!). Whether these are literal or figurative descriptions we can’t know, but we can listen to the testimony of those who were brought to conversion by Philip’s manifest purity. He lived it so beautifully that others changed their lives as a result. While many such stories were given by witnesses in his case for canonization, one famous one demonstrates the point. Philip was once tricked by a jealous nobleman into rushing to a deathbed. He was shocked to find the bed belonged to a brothel and that the people in it were certainly not dead. As they attempted to stain him, Philip begged and pleaded with them describing how he would hate even for one moment to be distanced from God’s grace. His pleading was so sincere that not only did they leave him alone, the were brought to confession! The jealous noble so set on ruining the simple priest would one day become an important member of Philip’s circle of friends. Purity is evangelical.
Finally – Philip’s purity was humble. Two phrases froths life demonstrate the point: “In the battle for purity the victory goes to him who flees the field fastest.” and “Lord do not trust me, if you do I shall surely betray you.” Man is ill equipped to fight the devil; history teaches as much. But… God is very good at it. Flee to him in temptation and he will save you.