Ok, to be fair, St. Philip Neri isn’t an obscure saint. He’s pretty well known. But I’m also not a hipster. Well, not since high school.
St. Philip is one of my favorite saints because he was impulsive and pretty much did what he wanted, so I suppose we have a lot in common.
It was said when he was a child that he once decided to jump on top of a donkey, just for the lolz. The donkey freaked out (naturally) and bucked little Philip into a well, where he was miraculously unharmed.
You’d think he’d eventually learn to stop doing crazy things that might get him killed or at least mocked, but he was always the Church’s special Dominican snowflake.
At 36, he founded the Congregation of the Oratory, following the rule that “You can’t just tell people to stop sinning, you have to give them something better to do.” For example, when Carnival came around — a time known for excess and debauchery even today (here’s looking at you, New Orleans) — he organized an epic pilgrimage hike, including a picnic and music and good times.
His young cohort were so tired after the twelve-mile hike that they couldn’t possibly get into mischief.
On top of that, he was known to make himself available to people at any time of day, even in the wee hours of the morning. This was unheard of at the time, and even frowned upon.
He was also known for using creative methods to convert people. In one of my favorite stories, he met a criminal who refused to repent. Rather than being quiet and gentle as was expected of a priest, he grabbed him by the collar and threw him to the ground in a move that, as a martial artist, I’m extremely jealous of. The guy was so shocked by this that he repented immediately.
I mean, come on. Wouldn’t you? Guy had skills.
While he was serious about his prayer life, he loved to have a good time and to humiliate himself to stay humble. He was frequently seen wandering about in odd clothes and with half his beard shaved off. He also was very fond of joke books and was generally a playful trickster.
He didn’t let other people get away with pride either. When one young man asked him if he could wear a hair shirt for penance (a common mortification and extremely itchy), he said, “Sure!” But he made the man wear it outside his clothing instead of against his skin, which of course looked absolutely ridiculous. Thus, it wasn’t an itchy mortification, but super mortifying mortification.
His creative and amusing methods didn’t always end well for him. In fact, for a saint, he was really good at pissing off the church authorities. The Pope’s Vicar even accused him of making a mockery of the Church by “introducing novelties” through his odd penances and random outings, and the Pope made him shut down his Oratory. . . until the Vicar suddenly and unexpectedly died.
He is the patron saint of laughter, tricksters, the US Special Forces, Rome, and comedians.
-E. G. Norton