On this eighth day of our novena to St. Philip we meditate on his care for the salvation of souls.
The concept of care for the salvation of souls is something largely muted in the contemporary Church. What does it mean to care for the salvation of souls? The short version is this: Taking their cue from God himself, Catholics desire all people to one day be in heaven. To that end, we exhort, teach, guide, assist others in living lives worthy of heaven. BUT… as we all know people have free will and don’t always listen, even to the best of advice. This is where care for the salvation of souls really kicks in. A person can offer sacrifice to God praying that the Lord break through to hearts that we have a hard time reaching on earth. Sacrifice can also be offered to speed the journey of those in purgatory who are ‘working off’ their venial sins on the way to heaven.
Care for the salvation of souls springs from the reality that God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son to redeem us (cf. Jn 3:16). Essentially, Christians are invited to imitate Christ in his own care for the salvation of souls, joining him on the Cross in the work of redemption. Why would such a beautiful teaching be muted in today’s ordinary parish experience? Well, the flip side of saving souls is that sometimes souls aren’t saved… a reality most people don’t like even to consider. The anxiety is understandable, but doesn’t change the reality that hell exists and on can go there as a result of one’s earthly (in)actions. A post-modern secular world that doesn’t believe in hell or the devil, has no reason to take up the salvation of souls as an issue… but St. Philip Neri certainly did!
Philip loved people… and he wanted all to experience the love of God that he himself had come to know. Every thought of his was bent toward the love of God and salvation of souls. His prayers, self-denials, humiliations, hardships… everything was ordered to the saving of souls. He had a special place in his heart for young people and the maintenance of their purity. Often he would invite them off the streets to play in what – today – we would call a safe environment. When they made noise, disturbing the local religious houses/observances, Philip was chided by his neighbors. His response says it all, “So long as they do not sin, they can chop wood on my back for all I care.”
Care for the salvation of souls is certainly not unique to St. Philip; all the saints had this same care. I think particularly of St. John Vianney and St. Therese of Lisieux. As we rely on their earthly example, now we can rely on their heavenly intercession to bring our souls back from the brink… and in this we rejoice. Consider Newman’s prayer for today’s novena reflection:
“Philip, holy Patron, who was so careful for the souls of thy brethren, and especially, for thy own people, when on earth, slap not thy care of them now, when thou art in heaven. Be with us who are thy children and thy clients; and with thy greater power with God, and with thy more intimate insight into our needs and our dangers, guide us along the path which leads to God. Be to us a good father; make our priests beyond reproach or scandal; make our children obedient, our youth prudent and chaste, our heads of families wise and gentle, our old people cheerful and fervent, and build us up, by thy powerful intercession, in faith, hope, charity and all virtues. Amen.”