St Philip Benizi, Priest of the Servants of Mary | Saint of the Day | August 22

Prayer to St. Philip Benizi
Loving God, we give you thanks for the life of Philip Benizi, the Servite saint who placed his gifts at the service of others. Help us to live our lives with his spirit of generosity. Like Philip, may we be your instruments of reconciliation and unity wherever we encounter conflict and strife. As the steadfast service of Mary inspired Saint Philip, so too may we follow her footsteps as faithful and loving disciples of Jesus. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

St. 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 penitential life, sweetened by meditation on the sufferings of Our Lord. Afterwards he travelled over nearly all Europe and a great part of Asia, preaching the Gospel and instituting everywhere the sodality of the Seven Dolors of the Mother of God, while he propagated his Order by the wonderful example of his virtues.

Baths of St. PhilipHe 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 (modern-day Kazakhstan), while he himself journeyed from city to city in 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 honored 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 Camigliano, a village of 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 Pope Clement IV, then lately deceased, thought of choosing St. 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 (see image at right). 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.

"Philip, draw near, and join thyself to this chariot" (Acts 8: 29). When the world was smiling on his youth and offering him renown and pleasures, St. Philip received this invitation from the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was seated in a golden chariot which signified the religious life; a mourning mantle wrapped Her round; a dove was fluttering about Her head; a lion and a lamb were drawing Her chariot over precipices from whose depths were heard the groans of Hell. It was a prophetic vision: he was to traverse the earth accompanied by the Mother of Sorrows; and this world, which Hell had already everywhere undermined, was to have no dangers for him; for gentleness and strength were to be his guides, and simplicity his inspiration. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the land" (Matt. 5: 4).

Vision of St. Philip BeniziBut this gentle virtue was to avail him chiefly against Heaven itself; Heaven, which wrestles with the mighty, and which had in store for him the terrible trial of an utter abandonment, such as had made even the God-Man tremble. After years of prayer and labor and heroic devotedness, for his reward St. Philip was seemingly rejected by God and disowned by the Church, while imminent ruin threatened all those whom Mary had confided to him. In spite of Her promises, the existence of his sons the Servites was assailed by no less an authority than that of two General Councils, whose resolutions the Vicar of Christ had determined to confirm.

After St. Philip Benizi was elected General on June 5, 1267, the Order, which had long been the object of unjust attack from jealous enemies, entered into the crisis of its existence. The Second Council of Lyons in 1274 put into execution the ordinance of the Fourth Lateran Council, forbidding the foundation of new religious orders, and absolutely suppressed all mendicant institutions not yet approved by the Holy See. The aggressors renewed their assaults, and in the year 1276 Pope Innocent V in a letter to St. Philip declared the Order suppressed. St. Philip proceeded to Rome, but before his arrival there Innocent V had died. His successor lived but five weeks. Finally Pope John XXI, on the favorable opinion of three consistorial advocates, decided that the Order should continue as before. The former dangers reappeared under Pope Martin V (1281), and though other popes continued to favor the Order, it was not definitively approved until Pope Benedict XI issued the Bull "Dum levamus" (February 11, 1304).

Our Mother of Sorrows had given St. Philip, together with the Seven Holy Founders, an opportunity to drink of the chalice of Her sufferings. St. Philip did not live to see the triumph of the cause which was Hers as well as his; but as the ancient patriarchs saluted from afar the accomplishment of the promises, so death could not shake his calm and resigned confidence. He left his spiritual daughter, St. Juliana Falconieri, and her uncle St. Alexis Falconieri, to obtain by their prayers before the face of the Lord, what he could not gain from the powers of this world. Of the Seven Founders, St. Alexis alone lived to see their foundation raised to the dignity of an Order. He died in 1310.

Let us pray

O St. Philip, the highest power on earth was once all but laid at thy feet; the Church, remembering the humility wherewith thou didst flee from the tiara, begs thee to obtain for us that we may despise the prosperity of the world and seek heavenly goods alone (Collect of the Feast); deign to hear Her prayer. But the faithful have not forgotten that thou wert a physician of the body before becoming a healer of souls; they have had great confidence in the water and bread blessed, in former times, by thy sons on this Feast, in memory of the miraculous favors granted to their Father: graciously regard the faith of true Catholics, and reward the honor paid to thee by Christian physicians. Now that the mysterious chariot, shown thee at the beginning, has become the triumphal carriage whereon thou dost accompany Our Lady in Her entrance into Heaven, teach us so to compassionate, like thee, with Her Sorrows, that we may deserve to be partakers with thee in Her eternal glory.