St. Philip Neri: How to Pursue Sainthood in 25 Pithy Lines

The great friend of St. Ignatius, and Oratory founder, is a font of simple wisdom

St. Philip Neri was a contemporary of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and he yearned to become a missionary, but Ignatius suggested Rome was itself mission territory and that Philip, a Florentine, had a peculiarly effective way with Romans. Philip took his friend’s advice as a prompting of the Holy Spirit and wholeheartedly ministered in Rome for his whole life. He is called “the Apostle of Rome” and is a patron of that city.

He is known for his cheerfulness and sense of humor, but Philip was a serious confessor and preacher, and a mystic whose heart, like St. Teresa of Avila’s, was physically altered as a grace-filled manifestation of his fervent love. His sainthood was centered on his complete surrender to the Providence of God, to whom he referred every matter, saying to heaven, “Lord, don’t trust Philip!”

This might be called a “25-Bullet Homily on How to Pursue Sainthood”, taken from the maxims of St. Philip Neri.

  1. The true servant of God acknowledges no other country but heaven.
  2. Our enemy, the devil, who fights with us in order to vanquish us, seeks to disunite us in our houses, and to breed quarrels, dislikes, contests and rivalries because while we are fighting with each other, he comes and conquers us and makes us more securely his own.
  3. He who continues in anger, strife and a bitter spirit has a taste of the air of hell.
  4. One of the most efficient ways of keeping ourselves sinless is to have compassion for those who fall due to frailty, and never to boast of our rightness, but with real humility acknowledge that if we are in a state of grace, it is by the mercy of God.
  5. There is nothing more dangerous to the spiritual life than to wish to rule ourselves after our own way of thinking.
  6. There is a liberality to creation, and it shows the goodness of the Creator: the sun scatters its light; the fire spreads its heat; the tree throws out its arms, which are its branches, and reaches to us the fruit it bears; water, and air, and all nature express the liberality of the creator. Meanwhile, we who are his lively image do not represent him, but through our uncharitable and degenerate manners deny him in deeds, even as we confess him with our lips.
  7. Hate no one. God never comes where there is no love for our neighbors.
  8. If you really wish to become a saint, never be defensive and always acknowledge yourself in your fault, even when what is alleged is untrue.
  9. Scruples are an infirmity that will make a truce with us, but rarely peace; humility alone defeats them.
  10. Force yourself to be obedient, even in the smallest things that appear so inconsequential; this will make it easier to be obedient in the larger things.
  11. Be often reading the lives of saints for inspiration and instruction.
  12. In order to persevere in the life of faith, learn discretion; we cannot do everything at once nor become saints in four days.
  13. We must not become so attached to the means [of the pursuit of holiness] as to forget the end. We mortify the flesh but we must also mortify the brain, which is the chief means by which we become sinners or saints.
  14. Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and helps us to persevere. A servant of God ought always to be in good spirits. Charity and cheerfulness, or charity and humility, should be our motto.
  15. Obtain humility through sincere and frequent confession.
  16. The skin of self-love is fastened strongly on our hearts, and it hurts to flay it off. And the more we get down to the quick of it, to what is real in our hearts, the sharper and more difficult it is to bear.
  17. A most excellent means of learning how to pray? Acknowledge that we are unworthy to pray, and so place our efforts entirely in the hands of the Lord.
  18. That we are generally the carpenters of our own crosses is a truth sadly easier to recognize in others than in ourselves.
  19. All of God’s purposes are to the good, although we may not always understand this we can trust in it.
  20. Scripture is better learned through prayer than through study.
  21. If you are ill and cannot fast, be more generous in almsgiving.
  22. To petition Our Blessed Lady in our most urgent need, repeat, after the fashion of the Rosary, “Virgin Mary, Mother of God, pray to Jesus for me.”
  23. The hour is finished — we may say the same of the year — but the time to do good is not finished yet.
  24. God takes an especial delight in the humility of those who believe that they have not yet begun to do good.
  25. WELL! And when shall we begin to do good?

Read more: How St. Philip Neri anticipated Pope Francis by 500 years

Elizabeth Scalia is Editor-in-Chief of Aleteia’s English edition