26 May, Wednesday — Zeroes and Heroes

May 26 – Memorial for St. Philip Neri, Priest

St. Philip Neri (1515-1595) came from a poor family, though he was related to Italian nobility. His father, Francisco Neri, worked as a notary. Philip’s brother died in childhood, but his two sisters, Caterina and Elisabetta survived. He was a pious youth, and was taught humanities by the Dominicans.

He moved to San Germano in 1533 to help some family with their business, and while there would escape to a local Dominican chapel in the mountains. He received word in a vision that he had an apostolate in Rome. He cut himself off from his family and went there, where he was befriended by Galeotto Caccia, who took him in and paid him to tutor his two sons. He wrote poetry in Latin and Italian, and studied philosophy and theology. When he tired of learning, he sold all his books and gave the money to the poor.

He began to visit and care for the sick and impoverished pilgrims. He founded a society of like-minded folk to do the same. He was a friend of St. Ignatius. A layman, he lived in the city as a hermit. During Easter season of 1544, while praying in the catacomb of San Sebastiano, he received a vision of a globe of fire that entered his chest, and he experienced an ecstasy that physically enlarged his heart.

With Persiano Rose, he founded the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity. He began to preach, with many converts. In 1550, he considered retiring to the life of a solitary hermit, but received further visions that told him his mission was in Rome. Later he considered missionary work in India, but further visions convinced him to stay in Rome.

He entered the priesthood in 1551, and heard confessions by the hour. He could tell penitents their sins before they confessed, and had the gift of conferring visions. He began working with youth, finding safe places for them to stay, and becoming involved in their lives.

Pope Gregory XIV tried to make him a cardinal, but Philip declined. His popularity was such that he was accused of forming his own sect, but was cleared of this baseless charge. In 1575, he founded the Congregation of the Oratory, a group of priests dedicated to preaching and teaching, but which suffered from accusations of heresy because of the involvement of laymen as preachers. In later years, he was beset with several illnesses, each of which was in turn cured through prayer.

  • Patron Saint Index

Ecc 36:1-2,5-7,13-19
Mk 10:32-45

“…anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all.  For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

When I was a child, I loved superhero stories, cartoons, or comics. In fact, that’s how I got a scar on my eyebrow, by pretending to be Batman (yes, I was a bit of a tomboy and unruly as a child – can I still say tomboy?)

As I got older, my interest in superheroes waned. But I did notice that society seems to clamour for heroes. Particularly in western cultures, the word ‘hero’ is used so loosely. According to the dictionary, “a hero is a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities”.  Nowadays, being labelled a hero is more closely linked to fame, success or popularity, rather than any act of courage or selfless act that benefits others. 

In today’s world, so many people are looking for heroes in all the wrong places. They look towards sporting figures, famous personalities or social media influencers to fill the gap, to inspire them, only to feel let down when the so-called ‘hero’ figures fall short of their expectations. Most people in the secular world would overlook the gentle, peaceful figure of Jesus who, in the eyes of the world, was not very successful.

Oh, but how wrong can worldly opinion be! Jesus is a ‘hero’ in every sense of the word. He was courageous in the face of great suffering, humiliation and pain, even to death. Throughout His passion, He maintained grace, poise and mercy. His outstanding achievements? His Death and Resurrection! Who in this good earth can do what He did? As to noble qualities, He suffered and died for things that He did not do. He laid down His life to save all mankind. Is there any act greater than laying down one’s life for another? 

With all His qualities that fulfil all the aspects of being a hero, He more than deserved to be welcomed by the masses, adored and honoured; yet, our Lord decided to live the life of a zero in the eyes of the world. From His birth in a manger to associating with sinners, to being betrayed and humiliated, finally tortured and crucified. In the worldly view, Jesus’ life was something less than desired, even though He is the King of kings.

In today’s Gospel, He tells us plainly not to focus on being first, being served, being honoured, or having power; instead, we should be focusing on serving others with humility. For even the Son of Man came to earth not to be served, but to serve — by giving up His life for us; true, we are not holy like God, but we can imitate Jesus in little ways. Brothers and sisters, next time you are in need of a hero, don’t look to the earthly figures who are highly fallible. Instead, look towards the heavens to Jesus, who the world thought was a zero, but was actually THE hero that brings us salvation.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Winnie Kung)

Prayer: Our most precious Lord, You have set a lofty goal of humility for us and our fallen human nature, but You also set an example for us. The Son of Man, God’s only Son, a mighty King, came to serve and not to be served. May we imitate You in big ways and small.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we thank you for loving us, and for teaching us by example. 

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