Next Tuesday marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of St Philip Neri.
He was born in Florence and grew up with a love for prayer.
As a young man one experience in prayer defined the rest of his life – he felt the love of God in his soul and body. He described it as a ‘fire in his heart’.
The love of God, from that moment, motivated all his thoughts, words and actions.
At the age of 18 he moved to Rome and stayed there for the rest of his life.
There was little love for God in Rome at that time. Rome had been invaded, the pope was imprisoned, churches and monasteries destroyed and the whole religious, moral and social order had collapsed.
Many young people, moving to a strange city, would easily fall prey to those living unsavoury lives.
This did not happen to St Philip. He saw it all and, holding on to his experience of the love of God, went about the streets and market squares sharing that love.
He respected the dignity and freedom of everyone he met, but called them to a greater dignity and freedom in the service of God and neighbour.
He guided people away from immorality and godlessness by making the love of God more attractive.
St Philip Neri soon gathered a group of followers and he became a priest and founded a new kind of religious life to suit the times.
A group of priests lived together and met for daily prayer in the oratory or chapel. They came to be known as Oratorians.
They lived together in fraternity and charity but also went out to be among the people and tend to their needs.
The Oratorians spread to many countries and they are now working in St Wilfrid’s church in York.
They share the vision of St Philip Neri to bring people to faith by exploring the love of God and what that means for each of us in living life to the full.