26 May 2011

St. Philip Neri

When I was a sophomore in high school, my parents asked me to abandon my beloved little classical Catholic prep school in favor of the big Catholic high school in town, for a period of one year, basically to see if I could hack it. They weren't sure about how the little school's academic standards would compare. As it turned out, they needn't have worried--I did very well, and was actually quite bored in English class. The biology and French classes were good and useful (I couldn't have had that at little Trinity), and I also learned a lot of non-academic things that I sort of wish I hadn't learned until college, if ever. It wasn't a fun year, and I was thrilled to return to Trinity the next fall.

One oasis in that purgatory was study hall. I had a free period twice a week in the spring semester which I spent in the library under the watchful eye of an elderly Christian Brother whose name I don't remember. He was probably 80 years old and apparently had something wrong with his throat, perhaps emphysema, because he coughed a lot and could hardly speak above a whisper. He was suspicious of the students generally, and I was no different, at first. That was until he noticed that I always sat at the table near the shelf with saints' biographies, so I could read them without checking them out and hauling them home in my already over-stuffed backpack.

One day he pointed out a biography of St. Philip Neri. "Try this one," he whispered. I did. I was enchanted. If I hadn't already been reading The Interior Castle and decided that my confirmation name would be Teresa, I might have taken the name Philippa. I wouldn't say that I developed a great devotion to St. Philip Neri, but I still get a warm, happy feeling whenever I think of him. It pleased me greatly to encounter his name when I was studying 16th century polyphony of the Roman School.

Reading about St. Philip Neri again today, I see that he is the patron saint of the U.S. Special Forces. In previous years this would not have meant much to me, but now I live not far from Fort Bragg, which is home to a Special Forces group. There are a number of current and former Special Forces officers who attend our parish. May God bless them through the intercession of St. Philip Neri, and all others who are under his patronage.

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