St. Philip Neri Teaches Love of Neighbor

The first line of the article reads: “Three students at a Catholic university were harassed by 60 counter-protesters as they demonstrated against a drag queen show on campus.”

According to the article, at one point, someone even yelled, “I hate Catholic people.”

Yes, at a Catholic university, someone yelled “I hate Catholic people.”

The hatred we see today is all too real. And it is destroying our country.

A priest named Philip Neri, who’s feast day we celebrate this week, understood how hatred ruins souls. He once said, “We ought to hate no one, for God never comes where there is no love of our neighbours.”

This amazing saint had a special way with people. Known as “Good little Phil” from the time he was young, he spent his life drawing people to God through his actions. History tells us that in 1544, Philip felt a “ball of fire enter through his mouth and lodge in his heart.” From that time on, he radiated the peace and love of the Holy Spirit such that “troubled souls were calmed just by drawing near to Philip’s heart and experiencing in his warmth the fire of divine love.”

Philip lived in Rome and saw the “moral hazards” that kept young men away from a life filled with Christ’s love, so he became their spiritual father. It is said that “they were drawn to Philip by his constant care for them, and he began hosting a daily gathering, not only to keep them occupied but to inspire them to a holy life.” Philip shared scripture with them, taught them about God and the saints, and encouraged them to pray, perform works of mercy, and receive the sacraments often.

Though these men regularly gathered in Philip’s room to talk and learn, they quickly outgrew this space and had to move to a room in the church. At times, he also took them on “field trips” that included works of service such as caring for the ill in hospitals and feeding the poor, but he also took them on fun trips to visit churches or to sit and chat while having a picnic outside. These men became known for the location where they met and were soon called the “community of the Oratory.”

This group became so large that Philip needed help; he established the Congregation of the Oratory, and until the day he died, he led people to Christ with his “joyful and encouraging way.”

Philip was truly an amazing priest, and his example is something we desperately need in today’s world, for our world is much like the Rome of his time. Decadence, immorality, and violence abound. And just as Philip understood that we will never be able to change hearts and minds with hatred and anger, so must we understand this.

In his Catechism in a Year podcast, Fr. Mike Schmitz recently said, “Your life may be the only Bible someone ever reads.”

What he means is that our lives must be an example to others. The way we act and treat others must draw them to Christ. Philip lived this, and he taught the men of the Oratory to live this as well. Their actions help us understand that building a culture of life starts with each of us, as even just one person can make a difference, as illustrated by the students at that Catholic university—Loyola of Chicago.

We need examples of moral courage today, especially as we see morality replaced with hedonism; respect for others replaced with respect for only those who hold the same beliefs; and a disregard for the sick, the elderly, and preborn babies. Further, we see an increase in the number of people who believe the mantra “you do you” as a way of life.

But “you do you” is not born of love. It’s actually born of apathy. And where does apathy come from? It comes from a form of hatred for others.

Love wants what’s best for another. But if we don’t care about someone, we allow them to do whatever they want—thus “you do you.” “You do you” tells people that they can hurt themselves as long as their actions don’t affect us. It’s the ultimate brush off.

The Church helps us see the wrongness in this ideology. And saints like St. Philip model how to live a life that combats hatred and embraces love.

So let us live our lives as Philip did. Let us live our lives as if we are the only Bible someone will ever read. And let us use our love of Christ to diffuse hatred in our homes, in our workplaces, and within our communities. As Philip said, “God never comes where there is no love of our neighbours.”

We will never find God if we are consumed with hatred.

This article first appeared in Catholic World Report at catholicworldreport.com/2023/05/23/responding-to-anti-catholic-hatred-in-a-rage-filled-culture.

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About the author

Susan Ciancio

Susan Ciancio is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine and executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program.