Category Archives: Oratorian saints and blesseds

Looking more deeply into St Philip Neri

The other day (May 25) we had the liturgical memorial of the great Italian saint, Philip Neri. He is indeed an under appreciated saint of the Church. Neri can’t be white-washed nor can be merely imitated in a blind way. We need to encounter Neri on his own terms. Some want to make him a patron saint of the new evangelization, others like Elizabeth Scalia see St Philip in the pastoral work of Pope Francis. Like other saints of great import, Neri needs to be taken up and explored more deeply for his pastoral approach to ecclesial life, his preaching, his life of sanctity, and his ideas as founder of the Oratory, not for any such novelty that may or may not exist. This last point on the Oratory needs to be teased out since we are now seeing the founding of more Oratories in the USA (England has a rise in Oratorian life).

While I disagree with Elizabeth Scalia’s idea that His Holiness imitates Neri or that we can see Neri in the work of Francis, I do think her essay warrants a more serious look on Neri for ecclesial life in the USA.

Saint Joseph Vaz, a new Oratorian saint

St Joseph VazToday’s the feast of Saint Joseph Vaz, the most recent canonized saint of the Church. It is also the first time we get to remember him liturgically. Saint Joseph is one of four saints of the Congregation of the Oratory.

Here is Pope Francis’ homily earlier in the week (14 January 2015) when he canonized Vaz in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

“All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God” (Is 52:10)

This is the magnificent prophecy which we heard in today’s first reading. Isaiah foretells the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the ends of the earth. This prophecy has a special meaning for us, as we celebrate the canonization of a great missionary of the Gospel, St Joseph Vaz. Like countless other missionaries in the history of the Church, he responded to the Risen Lord’s command to make disciples of every nation (cf. Mt 28:19). By his words, but more importantly, by the example of his life, he led the people of this country to the faith which gives us “an inheritance among all God’s holy ones” (cf. Acts 20:32).

In St Joseph we see a powerful sign of God’s goodness and love for the people of Sri Lanka. But we also see in him a challenge to persevere in the paths of the Gospel, to grow in holiness ourselves, and to testify to the Gospel message of reconciliation to which he dedicated his life.

As a priest of the Oratory in his native Goa, St Joseph Vaz came to this country inspired by missionary zeal and a great love of its people. Because of religious persecution, he dressed as a beggar, performing his priestly duties in secret meetings of the faithful, often at night. His efforts provided spiritual and moral strength to the beleaguered Catholic population. He had a particular desire to serve the ill and suffering. His ministry to the sick was so appreciated by the king during a smallpox epidemic in Kandy that he was allowed greater freedom to minister. From Kandy, he could reach out to other parts of the island. He spent himself in missionary work and died, exhausted, at the age of fifty-nine, revered for his holiness.

St Joseph Vaz continues to be an example and a teacher for many reasons, but I would like to focus on three. First, he was an exemplary priest. Here today with us are many priests and religious, both men and women, who, like Joseph Vaz, are consecrated to the service of God and neighbour. I encourage each of you to look to Saint Joseph as a sure guide. He teaches us how to go out to the peripheries, to make Jesus Christ everywhere known and loved. He is also an example of patient suffering in the cause of the Gospel, an example of obedience to our superiors, an example of loving care for the Church of God (cf. Acts 20:28). Like ourselves, St Joseph Vaz lived in a period of rapid and profound transformation; Catholics were a minority, and often divided within; there was occasional hostility, even persecution, from without. And yet, because he was constantly united with the crucified Lord in prayer, he could become for all people a living icon of God’s mercy and reconciling love.

Second, St Joseph shows us the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace. His undivided love for God opened him to love for his neighbour; he ministered to those in need, whoever and wherever they were. His example continues to inspire the Church in Sri Lanka today. She gladly and generously serves all members of society. She makes no distinction of race, creed, tribe, status or religion in the service she provides through her schools, hospitals, clinics, and many other charitable works. All she asks in return is the freedom to carry out this mission. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. Each individual must be free, alone or in association with others, to seek the truth, and to openly express his or her religious convictions, free from intimidation and external compulsion. As the life of Saint Joseph Vaz teaches us, genuine worship of God bears fruit not in discrimination, hatred and violence, but in respect for the sacredness of life, respect for the dignity and freedom of others, and loving commitment to the welfare of all.

Finally, St Joseph gives us an example of missionary zeal. Though he came to Ceylon to minister to the Catholic community, in his evangelical charity he reached out to everyone. Leaving behind his home, his family, the comfort of his familiar surroundings, he responded to the call to go forth, to speak of Christ wherever he was led. St Joseph knew how to offer the truth and the beauty of the Gospel in a multi-religious context, with respect, dedication, perseverance and humility. This is also the way for the followers of Jesus today. We are called to go forth with the same zeal, the same courage, of St Joseph, but also with his sensitivity, his reverence for others, his desire to share with them that word of grace (cf. Acts 20:32) which has the power to build them up. We are called to be missionary disciples.

Dear brothers and sisters, I pray that, following the example of St Joseph Vaz, the Christians of this country may be confirmed in faith and make an ever greater contribution to peace, justice and reconciliation in Sri Lankan society. This is what Christ asks of you. This is what St Joseph teaches you. This is what the Church needs of you. I commend all of you to the prayers of our new saint, so that, in union with the Church throughout the world, you may sing a new song to the Lord and declare his glory to all the ends of the earth. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised (cf. Ps 96: 1-4)! Amen.

New Oratorian Saint –Joseph Vaz

Joseph VazThis morning during a meeting with the Prefect of the Congregation for Saints Cardinal Amato, the Holy Father announced his intention to convene a consistory for the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz of the Oratory.

Blessed Joseph Vaz, CO, (Konkani: Bhoktivont Zuze Vaz, Sinhala: Bhagyawantha Jose Vaz Piyathuma) (21 April 1651, Benaulim – 16 January 1711, Kandy) was a Oratorian priest and missionary from Goa. The Oratorians are the spiritual heirs of Saint Philip Neri.

Joseph Vaz entered Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) during the Dutch occupation at a time when Calvinism was the official religion. Vaz travelled throughout the island bringing the Holy Eucharist and the sacraments to clandestine groups of Catholics. His missionary heart led him to find shelter in the Kingdom of Kandy where he was able to work freely because of political difficulties. By the time of his death, Vaz had managed to rebuild the Catholic Church on the island. As a result of his labors, Vaz is known as the Apostle of Ceylon.

On 21 January 1995, Father Joseph Vaz was beatified by Saint John Paul II in Colombo.

Saint Philip Neri

NeriThe liturgical memorial of Saint Philip Neri fell on Sunday but it was transferred to this day in Oratorian communities. One cannot pass on prayerfully remembering this Apostle to Rome. Neri is one of the most esteemed saints of the 16th century coupled with people like Loyola. Fr George Rutler, priest of the Archdiocese of New York offers a meditation on Saint Philip, drawing some very important points about person and ministry of the Saint.

The feast of St. Philip Neri (1515 – 1595) falls this Monday, on the same day that the civil calendar memorializes those who gave their lives in the service of our country. Philip was a soldier, too, albeit a soldier of Christ, wearing “the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). He lived in a decadent time when many who called themselves Christians chose to be pacifists in the spiritual combat against the world, the flesh and the Devil.

In the battle for souls, Philip’s most effective weapons were gentleness and mercy, though he was also a master of “tough love” when it was necessary to correct those inclined to be spiritual deserters. Although he was reared in Florence, Philip’s pastoral triumphs gained him the title “Apostle of Rome.” It was said of the Emperor Augustus that he found Rome brick and left it marble, and in a moral sense the same might be said of Philip. The Sacred City was not so sacred in the minds of many, and his chief weapon for reforming it was penance.

After eighteen years in Rome, Philip was ordained at the age of thirty-five. He polished rough souls every day in the confessional, where he might be found at all hours of the day and night for forty-five years. In the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, who joined the saint’s Oratory three centuries later, “He was the teacher and director of artisans, mechanics, cashiers in banks, merchants, workers in gold, artists, men of science. He was consulted by monks, canons, lawyers, physicians, courtiers; ladies of the highest rank, convicts going to execution, engaged in their turn his solicitude and prayers.” We have an audible relic of him in the oratorio, the musical form he invented as a means of catechesis. His magnetic appeal to the most stubborn and cynical types of people seems hardly less miraculous than the way he sometimes levitated during Mass, requiring that he offer the Holy Sacrifice privately because, as the Pope prudently if understatedly said, the spectacle might distract the faithful.

Refusing high clerical rank, and disdaining any sort of human honor, Philip’s power intimidated the Prince of Lies as much as any earthly prince. There is a lesson in this for our own urban culture, and certainly for us providentially located in “Hell’s Kitchen.” The temptation is for the Church to give up on spiritual combat and retreat to the suburbs. This is a false strategy since no terrain, concrete or bucolic, offers a complete escape from the Church’s field of combat. While consolidation of strength is a necessary strategy, there is no substitute for victory. If General MacArthur maintained that principle with earthly effect, so much more do the saints struggle, knowing that Christ has already won the victory, but also aware that to flee the field is to lose him forever

Blessed Sebastian Valfre

ValfreThe Oratorian saints and blesseds are not well known because the Oraorian vocation is not well known in the USA. This needs to be rectified. In the USA we have several established Oratories with several more in the process of being established. Today, the priests, brothers and laity of the Oratory are honoring the Blessed Sebastian Valfre, a remarkable man of holiness and sensitivity to his neighbor. While most of his priestly ministry was in the greater Turin area, his priestly soul travelled far and wide.

The 2013 post on Blessed Sebastian is here. And if you read Italian, here is a biography.

May Blessed Sebastian bring us to a closer friendship with the Eucharistic Lord and attentiveness to our neighbor.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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