As we celebrate St Philip Neri's feast day, some thoughts. His life and apostolate were revolutionary - indeed at the time he was held in deep suspicion, as are many innovators. He was thought to hold unorthodox ideas, as was his spiritual son Blessed John Henry Newman. He was, of course, strictly kosher and orthodox in faith, he was just a little unorthodox when it came to evangelisation. You might say novel, but that implies novelty, and though he was always good for a laugh and quirky, St Philip could never be described as a novelty. Indeed, while he loved good humour, he had no time for buffoonery.
Was St Philip a man ahead of his time? He was a gift to the Church in his time, helping the reform of the Church following the Protestant Reformation, and a major figure in the Counter-Reformation. His Oratory was ingenious - gathering the faithful to pray and study doctrine, Church history, the lives and writings of the Saints and other catechetical material. It is an idea which still holds wonderful evangelical possibilities and one which could be taken up again in these days of the New Evangelisation.
Indeed St Philip would be most at home in this period of time as a priest of the Church following Vatican II. Knowing him, he would have been a fan of Blessed John XXIII - he would have understood what the Pontiff was trying to do. If he was alive today he would have been a great help to Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Like all of these Pontiffs, he realised that the Gospel may need to be preached in different ways to attract the attention of modern men and women.
Interestingly, despite his innovative approach, St Philip seems always associated with a more Traditionalist view of the Church which, to my mind, is not really what he was all about. Ironically it was the Traditionalists of the 16th century who most disliked him and tried to undermine his work, even going as far as making accusations against him to the Pope himself.
Yet, as I think about it, given the devotion Traditionalists have for him, and his Oratories are centres for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form, St Philip could be a figure of reconciliation and harmony in the Church in these times. He would make a good patron of liturgical reform as he would be of the New Evangelisation. St Philip does indeed have much to say to us today.