Prior to editing and designing the booklet accompanying the film, Saint Philip Neri: I Prefer Heaven, I knew only the bare outlines of the life of St. Philip, whose feast is celebrated today. He is, I think, one of most unusual and intriguing of the Saints. Here is a bit about him from the short bio I wrote for the booklet:
Philip’s approach was unique, especially for sixteenth-century Rome. He engaged in personal conversations, using his natural humor and warm personality to gain the attention and interest of the youth. “His tactics,” observed Rev. Louis Bouyer in St. Philip Neri: A Portrait, “were entirely spiritual and none could avoid his influence except by avoiding him altogether; and there he was, like another Socrates, with apparently nothing else to do but wander about the Roman streets joining in every kind of group quite freely, as ready to play quoits as to pass his time in any shop where customers, without any intention of buying anything, could talk indefinitely.” It was especially his quips, jokes, and wit that gained him a growing following. Philip knew, Bouyer wrote, how humor can direct, shape, and guide: “His shrewdness is shown by the fact that a teasing joke thrown out in passing often altered the whole course of someone’s life.”
Also unique was the absence of any distinctive doctrine or devotion. Because of this absence, it would be easy to misjudge the source of Philip’s dynamic work and miss how deeply rooted it was in a profound mysticism and disciplined asceticism. “What cannot be doubted,” stated Bouyer, himself an Oratorian, “is the mysticism which crowned all his asceticism. This astonishingly human saint was saturated in the supernatural; this Florentine, while being truly a man of his times, seemed to have stepped out of the Acts of the Apostles.” On the eve of the Feast of Pentecost in 1544, not yet thirty years old, Philip had a vision of a ball of fire, which “entered his mouth and settled in his heart”, causing it to palpitate with a strange violence, but without causing him pain. For the next fifty years, Gallonio records, he experienced “continuous involuntary tremors and palpitations of the heart.” After his death, an autopsy revealed that two of the ribs on his left side were broken and expanded outward.
And from Fr. Frederick L. Miller's essay (also in the booklet), "Saint Philip Neri: Priest and Spiritual Father":
Although the Protestant Reformation did not directly influence the Church in Italy, Philip was aware that something dark and harmful was happening in the Lord’s vineyard. Philip lived his priesthood in a Church torn apart by heresy, schism and even cruel martyrdom. He had a particular love and concern for the seminarians of the Venerable English College in Rome. He was aware that the majority of these students, once ordained priests, would return to England and ultimately shed their blood as martyrs for Christ and his Church. To this day, the seminarians of the English College sing first vespers on the Solemnity of Saint Philip Neri at the Chiesa Nuova in honor of the Roman priest who blessed their forebears on their way to martyrdom.
Historians have opined that Saint Philip played a large role in protecting Rome from the intrusion of the errors of Protestantism. He did this in at least three ways. First, he organized a prayer group known as the Oratory for young people. The youth would gather in his presbytery each week, or several times a week, to read and discuss Sacred Scripture, to pray spontaneously, to sing hymns and to present ferverinos (short and fervent presentations on a theme assigned by Saint Philip) on Christian doctrine, the virtues and the lives of the saints.
In effect, Philip, by introducing the young to a form of lectio divina, taught them to pray with the Scriptures. Their presentations on doctrine and the lives of the saints helped the young to interpret the Scriptures within the sacred tradition of the Church. At the same time, Father Philip was preparing his spiritual children to explain the faith to their contemporaries and defend it whenever necessary, especially if Reformation thought found its way into Italy. In effect, Saint Philip’s prayer meetings formed contemplative apologists of the faith.
The booklet also contains an essay by Sandra Miesel, "Saint Philip's Legacy: Holiness and Friendship", and Discussion Questions. Here is more about the film:
Saint Philip Neri: I Prefer Heaven
DVD | 205 minutes
An epic feature film on the famous "Apostle of Rome" and great friend of youth in the 16th century. One of the most popular saints of all time, St. Philip Neri was widely known for his great charity, deep prayer life, and tremendous humor. Hoping to join St. Ignatius of Loyola's new order of Jesuits and be a missionary to India, Philip was instead guided by Providence to seek out the poor and abandoned youth of Rome to catechize them in the faith and help them find a better life. He became the founder of the religious congregation, the Oratory, that worked with the youth and also labored to re-evangelize a decadent Rome.
This captivating film highlights Neri's great love for youth, his warm sense of humor, contagious joy, deep mystical spirituality, and his amazing gift for miracles. Actor Gigi Proietti gives a moving performance as St. Philip in this beautifully produced film that is directed by Giacomo Campiotti, director of the acclaimed films Bakhita: From Slave to Saint and St. Giuseppe Moscatti. Includes a 16 page booklet including essays by Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel.
This DVD contains the following language options: Italian with English or Spanish subtitles. This is a Region 1 DVD (playable ONLY in Bermuda, Canada, the Cayman Islands, United States and U.S. territories).