(Introduction) Saint Philip Neri (1515-1595) lived in Rome at a time of corruption and disillusionment. After studying philosophy and theology, he created a career that was very unusual at the time: a lay person actively engaged in prayer and teaching others about his faith. Because of his upbeat, outgoing personality, Philip delighted everyone, from beggars to cardinals. He had an uncanny way of pointing out to others their faults and weaknesses with kindness and humor. He founded and led small Christian communities, where people encountered what has been called his “audacious spirituality.” Later he was ordained a priest, continuing this work. He was known for being an excellent speaker. His feast day is May 26. This story for children will help them appreciate that God gives us the gifts of humor and cheerfulness.
(A story for children) A Seriously Silly Saint
Saint Philip Neri walked down the street. People stopped and stared at him. And then they began to laugh and laugh. For Philip had a beard, but that day he had shaved off half of it! Can you picture a person with a half of a beard? Would you laugh too?
Who was this silly person? Philip lived a long time ago in Rome. His two favorite books were the Bible and a joke book. Philip prayed often, and he was often silly too. He did God’s work both ways!
At that time in Rome, many people were not thinking much about God’s love. They did not try to do God’s work in the world. Philip used his gifts of silliness and of explaining things well to help others understand more about God.
He would go to stores, or walk down the street. There, friendly Philip would quickly meet people. Sometimes he wore great big floppy shoes, so of course they noticed him. They loved to talk and laugh with him.
Philip planned picnics. All his guests played games and ate, and soon Philip had them talking together about God. Sometimes he asked them to come with him to a church to pray. Sometimes they went with him to a hospital to help people who were sick.
More and more people joined Philip’s friends. At times, a large group of people walked down the street with Philip, laughing, learning and loving God.
These friends had meetings in Philip’s small apartment. They sang music one friend wrote and others gave homilies. They prayed and talked. Often Philip said Mass. And sometimes he said Mass with a chipmunk on his shoulder!
Philip really loved God. He was so close to God that sometimes when he prayed, his face would shine!
People said, “How holy Philip is!” Philip didn’t want them to think of him as better than others. So he would do silly things so they’ pay attention to that instead. And that is why one day he was seen walking down the street with only a half of a beard! Other times, he put on disguises that were so funny, people knew it was him and laughed happily.
The people of Rome changed because of Philip! He joyfully brought them back to God.