Saint Philip Benizi was born in Florence on the Feast of the Assumption, 1233. That same day the Order of Servites was founded by the Mother of God. As an infant one year old, Philip spoke when in the presence of these new religious, and announced the Servants of the Virgin. Amid all the temptations of his youth, he longed to become a Servant of Mary, and it was only the fear of his own unworthiness which made him yield to his father’s wish and begin to study medicine. He received the bonnet of a doctor of medicine at Padua.
After long and weary waiting, his doubts were solved one day by Our Lady Herself, who in a vision during a Mass in Florence offered in the Servite Chapel, bade him enter Her Order. Still Philip dared only offer himself as a lay brother; and saying nothing of his studies, in this humble state he strove to do penance for his sins. Two Dominican Fathers traveling with him one day recognized the great talents, wisdom and knowledge which he had succeeded in concealing. They talked to his Superiors, and he was told to prepare for the priesthood. As a priest he did immense good. He pacified many dissensions, common among the city-states of those days. One day he met a leper, almost naked, and having no money gave him his tunic. When the leper put it on, he was instantly cured.
Thereafter honors were accorded him in rapid succession; he became General of the Order and only by flight did he escape elevation to the Papal throne; he retired to a grotto in the mountains until the conclave had ended. His preaching restored peace to Italy, wasted by civil wars. He was sent not only to various cities of that country but to the Netherlands and Germany, where he converted many, not without opposition and even a flogging by rebels. At the Council of Lyons, he spoke to the assembled prelates with the gift of tongues. Amid all these favors Philip lived in extreme penitence, constantly examining his soul before God, and condemning himself as only fit for hell.
Saint Philip, though he was free from every stain of mortal sin, was never weary of beseeching God’s mercy. From the time he was ten years old he daily prayed the Penitential Psalms. On his deathbed he recited verses of the Miserere, his cheeks streaming with tears; during his agony he went through a terrible contest to overcome the fear of damnation. But a few minutes before he died, all his doubts disappeared and were succeeded by a holy trust. He uttered the responses to the final prayers in a low but audible voice; and when at last the Mother of God appeared before him, he lifted up his arms with joy and breathed a gentle sigh, as if placing his soul in Her hands. He died on the Octave of the Assumption, 1285.
Reflection: Endeavor so to act as you would wish to have acted when you stand before the Judge of your eternity. This is the rule of the Saints, and the only safe rule for all.
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).