August 23, 2020: ST. PHILIP BENIZI
August 23, 2020: COMMEMORATION OF ST. PHILIP BENIZI, CONFESSOR
“The mouth of the righteous man shall utter wisdom and his tongue shall speak judgement: the law of his God is in his heart.”
O God, who by blessed Philip, thy confessor, didst give us an excellent example of humility: grant that we thy servants may, by imitating him, despise the prosperity of this world, and have our hearts always fixt on the happiness of the next. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
Our Lady is now reigning in heaven. Her triumph over death cost her no labour; and yet it was through suffering that she like Jesus entered into her glory. We too cannot attain eternal happiness otherwise than did the Son and the Mother. Let us keep in mind the sweet joys we have been tasting during the past week; but let us not forget that our own journey to heaven is not yet completed. ‘Why stand ye looking up into heaven?’ said the angels to the disciples on Ascension day, in the name of the Lord who had gone up in a cloud; for the disciples, who had for an instant beheld the threshold of heaven, could not resign themselves to turn their eyes once more down to this valley of exile. Mary, in her turn, sends us a message to-day from the bright land whither we are to follow her, and where we shall surround her after having in the sorrows of exile merited to form her court: without distracting us from her, the apostle of her dolours, Philip Benizi, reminds us of our true condition of strangers and pilgrims upon earth.
Combats without, fears within: (II Cor, vii. 5) such for the most part was Philip’s life, as it was also the history of his native city of Florence; of Italy too, and indeed of the whole Christian world, in the thirteenth century. At the time of his birth, the city of flowers seemed a new Eden for the blossoms of sanctity that flourished there; nevertheless it was a prey to bloody factions, to the assaults of heresy, and to the extremity of every misery. Never is hell so near us as when heaven manifests itself with greatest intensity; this was clearly seen in that age, when the serpent’s head came in closest contact with the heel of the woman. The old enemy, by creating new sects, had shaken the faith in the very centre of the provinces surrounding the eternal city. While in the east, Islam was driving back the last crusaders, in the west the papacy was struggling with the empire, which Frederick II had made as a fief of satan. Throughout Christendom social union was undone, faith had grown weak, and love cold; but the old enemy was soon to discover the power of the reaction heaven was preparing for the relief of the aged world. Then it was that our Lady presented to her angered Son Dominic and Francis, that, by uniting science with self-abnegation, they might counterbalance the ignorance and luxury of the world; then, too, Philip Benizi, the Servite of the Mother of God, received from her the mission of preaching through Italy, France, and Germany, the unspeakable sufferings whereby she became the co-redemptress of the human race.
Philip was born at Florence of the noble family of the Benizi, and from his very cradle gave signs of his future sanctity. When he was scarcely five months old he received the power of speech by a miracle, and exhorted his mother to bestow an alms on the servants of the Mother of God. As a youth, he pursued his studies at Paris, where he was remarkable for his ardent piety, and enkindled in many hearts a longing for our heavenly fatherland. After his return home he had a wonderful vision in which he was called by the blessed Virgin to join the newly-founded Order of the Servites. He therefore retired into a cave on Mount Senario, and there led an austere and penetential life, sweetened by meditation on the sufferings of our Lord. Afterwards he travelled over nearly all Europe and great part of Asia, preaching the Gospel and instituting everywhere the sodality of the seven dolours of the Mother of God, while he propagated his Order by the wonderful example of his virtues.
He was consumed with love of God and zeal for the propagation of the Catholic faith. In spite of his refusals and resistance he was chosen general of his Order. He sent some of his brethren to preach the Gospel in Scythia, while he himself journeyed from city to city of Italy repressing civil dissensions, and recalling many to the obedience of the Roman Pontiff. His unremitting zeal for the salvation of souls won the most abandoned sinners from the depths of vice to a life of penance and to the true love of Jesus Christ. He was very much given to prayer and was often seen rapt in ecstasy. He loved and honoured holy virginity, and preserved it unspotted to the end of his life by means of the greatest voluntary austerities.
He was remarkable for his love and pity for the poor. On one occasion when a poor leper begged an alms of him, at Camegliano a village near Siena, he gave him his own garment, which the beggar had no sooner put on than his leprosy was cleansed. The fame of this miracle having spread far and wide, some of the Cardinals who were assembled at Viterbo for the election of a successor to Clement IV, then lately dead, thought of choosing Philip, as they were aware of his heavenly prudence. On learning this, the man of God, fearing lest he should be forced to take upon himself the pastoral office hid himself at Montamiata until after the election of Pope Gregory X. By his prayers he obtained for the baths of that place, which still bear his name, the virtue of healing the sick. At length, in the year 1285, he died a most holy death at Todi, while in the act of kissing the image of his crucified Lord, which he used to call his book. The blind and lame were healed at his tomb, and the dead were brought back to life. His name having become illustrious by these and many other miracles, Pope Clement X enrolled him among the saints.
Another account of St. Philip Benizi.
St. Philip Beniti or Benizi, the principal ornament and propagator of the religious Order of the Servites in Italy, was descended of the noble family of Benizi, in Florence, and a native of that city. His virtuous parents were well persuaded that the right or wrong state of human nature depends as necessarily upon the education of children, as that of a plant upon proper culture; and that the whole of this art consists, not only in strengthening the body, by suitable exercise, and opening and improving the faculties of the mind by proper studies, but above all by forming in youth strong and lasting habits, and inspiring them with the most noble sentiments of all virtues. Through their care, assisted by a special grace, Philip preserved his soul untainted by vice and the world, and daily advanced in the fear of God. Having gone through the studies of humanity in his own country, he was sent to Paris to apply himself to the study of medicine, in which charity was his motive; and Galen, though a heathen, was a strong spur to him in raising his heart continually from the contemplation of nature to the adoration and praise of its great Author. From Paris he removed to Padua, where he pursued the same studies, and took the degree of doctor, which then was the same in that faculty as in arts. After his return to Florence he took some time to deliberate with himself what course to steer, earnestly begging God to direct him into the path in which he should most perfectly fulfil his divine will.
The religious order of Servites, or servants of God under the special patronage of the Blessed Virgin, had been instituted in that country fifteen years before. Seven very rich merchants of Florence had laid the foundation of this institute, having by mutual agreement retired to Monte Senario, six miles from that city. They lived there in little cells, something like the hermits of Camaldoli, possessing nothing but in common, and professing obedience to Bonfilio Monaldi, whom they chose superior. The austerities which they practised were exceeding great, and they lived in a great measure on alms. Bonfilio Monaldi, the first superior of this fervent company, at the request of certain pious persons, founded a small convent near one of the gates of Florence, with a chapel under the title of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin. St. Philip happening to hear mass in this chapel on Thursday in Easter week, was strongly affected with the words of the Holy Ghost to the deacon Philip, which were read in the epistle of that day, “Draw near, and join thyself to the chariot.” His name being Philip, he applied to himself these words of the Holy Ghost, as an invitation to put himself under the patronage of the blessed Virgin in that Order. The night following he seemed to himself in a dream or vision, to be in a vast wilderness (representing the world) full of precipices, rocks, flint stones, briers, snares, and venomous serpents, so that he did not see how it was possible for him to escape so many dangers. Whilst he was in the utmost dread and consternation, he thought he beheld the Blessed Virgin seated in a chariot, calling him to this new Order. The next day Philip revolved in his mind, that great watchfulness and an extraordinary grace are requisite to discover every lurking rock or sand in the course of life in the world, and he was persuaded that God called him to this Order, established under the patronage of his Mother, as to a place of refuge. Accordingly he repaired to the little chapel were he had heard mass, and was admitted by F. Bonfilio to the habit, in quality of lay-brother, that state being more agreeable to his humility. He made his religious vows on the 8th of September, in 1233, and was sent by his superior to Monte Senario, there to work at every kind of hard country labour. The saint cheerfully applied himself to it in a perfect spirit of penance, but accompanied his work with constant recollection and fervent prayer; and all his spare hours he devoted to this holy exercise in a little cave behind the church; where, inebriated with heavenly delights, and in ecstacies of divine love he often forgot the care which he owed to his body. He most industriously concealed his learning and talents, till they were at length discovered; in the meantime those who conversed with him admired the heavenly prudence and light with which he spoke on spiritual things. He was charged with the care of a new convent that was founded at Sienna, where he undesignedly displayed his abilities in a discourse on certain controverted points, in presence of two learned Dominicans and others, to the great astonishment of those that heard him. The superiors of his Order were hereupon engaged by others to draw this bright light from under the bushel, and to place it on the candlestick. Having therefore obtained a dispensation of his holiness, they took care to have him promoted to holy orders, though nothing but their absolute command could extort the humble saint's consent to such a step. He was soon after made definator, then assistant to the general; and, in 1267, the fifth general of his Order.
Upon the death of Clement IV the cardinals assembled at Viterbo began to cast their eyes on him to raise him to the apostolic chair. Having intelligence of this design, in the greatest alarm he retired into the mountains with only one religious companion, and lay concealed there till Gregory X was chosen. He rejoiced to find in this retreat an opportunity of redoubling the macerations of his body, and giving himself up to the sweet exercise of heavenly contemplation. All this time he lived chiefly on dry herbs, and drank at a fountain, since esteemed miraculous, and called St. Philip's bath, situate on a mountain named Montagnate. He returned from the desert glowing with holy zeal, to kindle in the hearts of Christians the fire of divine love. After preaching in many parts of Italy, he appointed a vicar-general there to govern his Order, and with two religious companions undertook an extensive mission, preaching with great fruit at Avignon, Toulouse, Paris, and in other great cities in France; also in Flanders, Friesland, Saxony, and Higher Germany. After two year's absence he came back to hold the general chapter of his Order at Borgo, in 1274, in which he used all his endeavours to be released from the burden of the generalship; but was so far from being heard that he was confirmed in that dignity for life. Indeed, no one was more worthy of it than he who most sincerely judged himself to be, of all persons living, the most unworthy. In the same year he repaired to the second general council of Lyons, from which he obtained the confirmation of his Order, Pope Gregory X presiding there in person. The saint announced the word of God wherever he came, and had an extraordinary talent in converting sinners, and in reconciling those that were at variance. Italy was at that time horribly divided by intestine discords and hereditary factions, particularly those of the Guelphs and Gibellins. Holy men often sought to apply remedies to these quarrels, which had a happy effect upon some; but in many, these discords, like a wound ill cured, broke out again with worse symptoms than ever. St. Philip wonderfully pacified the factions when they were ready to tear each other to pieces at Pistoia, and in many other places. He succeeded at length also at Forli, but not without first exposing himself to many dangers. The seditious insulted and beat him in every part of the city; but his invincible patience at length disarmed their fury, and vanquished them. St. Peregrinus Latiozi, who was their ringleader, and had himself struck the saint, was so powerfully moved by the example of his meekness and sanctity, that he threw himself at his feet, and with many tears begged his pardon and prayers. Being become a perfect model of penitents he was received by him into the Order of Servites at Sienna, and continued his penance in sackcloth and ashes to his happy death in the eightieth year of his age. So evident were his miracles and other tokens of his heroic sanctity and perseverance, that he was canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726.
St. Philip made the sanctification of his religious brethren the primary object of his zeal, as it was the first part of his charge. Nor was he a stranger to the maxim which the zealous reformer of La Trappe so strenuously inculcated, that a religious community in which regular discipline is enervated, and those who profess the Order are strangers to its true spirit, is not a harbour or place of refuge, but a shipwreck of souls. Scarce could a saint be able to resist such a torrent of example, or the poison of such an air, in which, as in a pest-house, every one is confined. Though gross crimes of the world are shut out, the want of the religious spirit, and a neglect of the particular duties of that heroic state, are enough to damn souls. To preserve his family from so fatal a misfortune, our saint never ceased to watch and pray.
Judging at length by the decay of his health that the end of his life drew near, he set out to make the visitation of the convents of his Order at Florence, Sienna, Perugia, and other places. Arriving at Todi, he went straight to the altar of our Lady, and falling prostrate on the ground prayed with great fervour, and said, “This is the place of my rest forever.” The day following he made a moving sermon on the glory of the blessed. His disorder manifested itself by a sharp fever on the feast of the Assumption of the Mother of God. The time of his sickness he employed in admirable sentiments of compunction, and on the octave day, falling into his agony, he called for his book, by which word he usually meant his crucifix, and, devoutly contemplating it, calmly expired. To give place to the octave of the Assumption, his feast is kept on the following day, the twenty-third of the month. He was canonized by Clement X in 1671; but the bull was only published by Benedict XIII in 1724.
In the lives of the saints we see the happiness of a rooted virtue, which, by repeated fervent exercises, is formed into strong and lasting habits of temperance, meekness, humility, charity, and holy zeal. Such a virtue is never warped by selfish views; it never belies, or is inconsistent with itself; it vanquishes all enemies, discovers their snares, triumphs over their assaults, and is faithful to the end. If ours is not such, we have reason to fear it is false, and unworthy of a crown.
Taken from: The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II;
The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. V, Edition 1910; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Philip Benizi, pray for us.