We live in a humorless world overrun by political distemper, with growing divisions forming between a camp endorsing wholesale collective reengineering along fault lines of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, and those who favor the preservation of the civic order and institutions and the inherent dignity of the individual. The result of this discord is a society that is increasingly driven by anger, envy, fear, and vengefulness.
It is tempting to be drawn into the fray of this societal turmoil and conclude that we must fight fire with fire in the form of political rebuke, that out-militating the militants will restore the right order of a society dedicated to the idea that individuals are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” However, as Christians, we are called to much more than impersonal earthly activism—we are compelled to evangelize through our individual interactions with those around us, as personal ambassadors for Christ in our own time and place. If we struggle to find models of this behavior among those in public life today, we would be wise to learn from the examples of the saints, such as St. Philip Neri, whose Feast Day we celebrate today.
Philip Neri was born in Florence in the early sixteenth century and was one of four children. He grew up in a society notoriously plagued by corruption among the people and indifference among the clergy, a moral decay which served as the grist for a generation of spiritual reformers within the Church, of whom Philip would be one. His parents had planned for young Philip to develop the skills of a merchant under the tutelage of his wealthy uncle, but a conversion experience at age 18 led him to eventually abandon both his mercantile pursuits and his studies in order to dedicate himself to prayer and service to God.