Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Fr. Dorsa's Sermon

Sermon of Fr. Anthony Dorsa, FSSP, 
given in St. Anne’s Church, San Diego, 26 May, 2020, 
the third anniversary of his priestly ordination.

Truly [this is] a blessed feast day to celebrate, and I would like to congratulate the Brothers of the Little Oratory, here in San Diego, who are providing the servers for this liturgy, and the wonderful choir, and to wish them a happy feast-day of St. Philip Neri, and to thank them for all of the years that they have put their Little Oratory at the service of St. Anne’s, in many ways, both in helping to beautify liturgies, encouraging us to do extraordinary liturgies, and always being available to help in a pinch when we were lacking a choir or servers. So it is with heartfelt gratitude I wish to thank you on behalf of Fr. Lyons, Fr. Mahowald, and myself, and to wish you a happy feast day.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Today we truly celebrate an extraordinary saint, St. Philip Neri. One of the Patrons of Rome, and indeed an Apostle of Rome, after St.’s Peter and Paul. He was born in 1515, around the time of the protestant reformation, in Florence, and at an early age he was known for his intelligence, his humour, and his good nature; and he was sent eventually to learn from, and to accompany, one of his uncles in the Naples area, hoping that one day he would perhaps take over his uncles business, and acquire his wealth for the family. However it was in that time that, he says, he experienced, really, his first sense of “true conversion.” While he was always raised in the practice of the faith, it was at this time in his young-adulthood, that he truly, and profoundly, and personally experienced the grace of our Lord in his own life. And it was so profound that he determined to leave everything behind him, and he decided to move to Rome and devote himself to the service of God, and His church. Rome at this time, as it is many times throughout history, was a disarrayed mess; corrupt clergy, officials, crime and sin filling the streets – even the churches; plague, and disease. And in that environment he took up residence, offering himself as a tutor to a young noble family with children, and started to live a life of prayer and asceticism (penance), preparing himself to fulfill the will of God, whatever it might be. He started going out into the street and ministering to the poor, and eventually attracted a group of followers, a group of other laymen – and it is important to note that St. Philip Neri at this time was still a layman – ministering to the sick, and to the pilgrims, and to the downtrodden of Rome, seeking always to do good works, and to win souls for Christ with the common man.

He studied philosophy and theology for three years while in Rome, but he firmly set his face against the notion of ordination, and for thirteen years he stayed in this state, attracting followers, establishing communities of like-minded individuals, bent on serving the people of Rome in the name of Christ, in the name of Charity. Our parish in Rome, the Fraternity of St. Peter’s parish in Rome, Santissima Trinita dei Pellegrini (or, “the Most Holy Trinity of the Pilgrims”), was one of Philip Neri’s established hospitals to house pilgrims, especially during jubilee years, when lots of people would flock to the city of Rome, and of course having a huge amount of pilgrims in a city that is falling apart, and doesn’t have sanitation, is an invitation for plague, and there are therefore many illnesses, and therefore many sick. And he offered himself to their service, and to minister to them. Over time, these efforts became more and more formal, more and more established, more and more regular; and attracting many men –  local men - to him, they started to develop the semblance of an actual committed community; coming together daily for prayer, encouraging not only that prayer, but the singing of hymns  (Palestrina and Victoria, two famous polyphonic [composers] were amongst these groups, writing some of the oratorios), having discussions about topics of theology and the spiritual life; coming together away from the world, to rekindle one’s faith, [and] enliven one’s faith to go back out into the world, renewed in the love of God, to serve one’s neighbor. From this, eventually Philip was encouraged by his confessor to be ordained a priest, and so he was. And after ordination, having known St. Ignatious of Loyola and the Company of Jesus, he desired very much he desired very much to go off and be a missionary in India. But it was made plain to him that his missionary territory, where the Faith was needed and people were starving to receive it, was right there in Rome. And so he stayed, and his group of local men slowly became a group of priests, and what we know today as the Oratory was founded.

It was a reform to clergy and the clerical life, really. Prior reforms got allowed, we think of the Franciscans, mendicant preachers, [but] the Oratorians were stationary, based in their communities, beckoning the common-folk to them. The monasteries had long become…distant, unavailable; and of course while monastic prayer – the monastic life – is of utmost necessity to the life of the church, the monks winning many graces by their pursuit of holiness within their monasteries, through their personal perfection, what became apparent was that these graces were no longer accessable to the poor people on the streets, in ordinary life. Conversion was needed; and conversion started with Philip Neri’s activities. Conversion there started with a conversation, with a warm smile and a casual joke, eventually leading one into the depths of spirituality and the moral life. Philip Neri used his charm, used his wonderful personality, to the advantage of the Kindom of Heaven. Unfortunately, we sometimes get into a notion that prayer and the spiritual life are very serious, grave things, very solemn, doleful. But how can that really be so, if we are seeking to enkindle cold hearts in the fire of Divine Love? The opposite of “funny” is not “serious”; the opposite of “funny” is simply, “not funny.” The life of Grace, the life of the Love of God, is a joy-filled life; it is a warm life. From stone-cold saints, Our Lord deliver us!

And so it was in this atmosphere that the Oratory took hold, and grew, expanding rapidly throughout much of Europe. Two centuries later, three centuries later, actually, a more recently canonized saint, St. John Henry Newman, established the first English-speaking Oratory, in England, long post-reformation. The fruits of the Oratory [should not] be underestimated. It is the foundation of what we’ve come to know as the “Society of Apostolic Life.” Groups of people dedicated to religion, lay-brothers, or of those who are ordained priests, who are bound together by the bonds of Charity; who live [their] lives according to the evangelical counsels, not by vow, but every day by free-choice enkindled by Charity and Love. In that there is more freedom, there is more risk. But there is also more opportunity! The Fraternity of St. Peter itself is a Society of Apostolic Life; a community of priests who live together in the bonds of Charity and common life, and seek to take that common life, that common charity, and by our ministry in parishes or wherever else the church decides that we are useful, [to] share that love.

It is in the model of St. Philip Neri that I think the world would truly benefit, all of us would truly benefit. We live in a world that is so enmeshed in “the big picture,” that is so focused on what is far away and beyond our control, that we so often neglect that which is around us begging for our attention. It would behoove us to turn off the television and to go outside, and see how normal the world still is; to go amongst the streets, to know our neighbours; to have real, human relationships. We’ve become so distant from one another, even in personal relationships. Families tend to text each other, and to call each other on the phone, even when they’re in the same household, rather than speak. We prefer emails and phone-calls and Skype-calls and Zoom-calls, to actual time shared together. And again, many of us don’t even know the people who live next-door to us. We are shamed by previous generations; a couple of parishioners who live here, near-by, a few blocks away, a wonderful couple, know almost everyone, it seems, who have ever lived in this neighborhood since they moved here. It’s astounding! And they know their children’s situations, they know their health situations, and they’re always going around checking on them, in so far as is possible. Would we could imitate that somewhat! Showing forth that love of God as more than an intellectual object, and as a real lived experience; to enkindle the love of God by action, rather than just words: words are useless without action; to be more focused on our own families. How often families don’t even interact with each other, both at home – the immediate family – or at large. How distant older siblings become. How many youth don’t know even their cousins, their aunts, or their uncles, or their great-aunts and their great-uncles. To truly seek to be a benefit to our neighbours.

There is nothing we can do about things that are well beyond our sphere of influence; and we would to well to see God calling us in that which is within our reach; to change the world one soul at a time; to take the love of Christ to real people; to get off of the Twitter; off of Facebook, thinking that we’re going to win souls for Christ by getting into a comment argument under a YouTube video, and going and sharing that true love and relationship with real, breathing human beings, our brothers and sisters in this world. St. Philip Neri is a shining example of the personal touch of evangelization; of the light-hearted, unassuming, and beautiful and pure love that the Christian is called to have for all those who he encounters in the world.

Today is a good day to pray for the church; to pray for your priests. I ask that you pray especially today for me and for my class, and all the priests who were ordained today, who had the privilege of being ordained today, on the feast-day of St. Philip Neri. How different this world would be if all of had even the smallest measure of that Charity and Love for God that Philip had. St. Philip Neri, pray for us.

God bless you all in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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