The Saint of Pentecost
I've just celebrated the Vigil Mass of Pentecost - and, this year, there is a rather nice coincidence since today is the Feast of that great saint of the Holy Spirit, St Philip Neri.
As I'm sure you know, as a young man it was his custom to spend whole nights in prayer in the catacombs, the underground burial places of the early Christians outside the walls of the City. On the vigil of Pentecost in 1544, St Philip was praying in the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian, on the Via Appia, as he had done many times, and asked God to give him the Holy Spirit. St Philip was suddenly filled with great joy, and had a vision of the Holy Spirit as a ball of fire. This fire entered into St Philip’s mouth, and descended to his heart, causing it to expand to twice its normal size, and breaking two of his ribs in the process (a fact later proven by his autopsy). He later said that it filled his whole body with such joy and consolation that he finally had to throw himself on the ground and cry out, “No more, Lord! No more!”
During his lifetime many people noticed that he seemed always to be warm; he was often flushed, and would walk around with his cassock unbuttoned at the chest, even in the middle of winter. Not only that, but several of his disciples reported that his heart used to beat violently when he prayed or preached, sometimes enough to shake the bench on which he was sitting. Some people could hear his heart beating across the room, and others experienced unspeakable peace and joy when he embraced them and held their heads to his breast.
St Philip's experience of the Holy Spirit was unique - but we pray that the same Spirit will come upon us this Pentecost. Leo XIII said that ‘if Christ is the head of the Church, the Holy Spirit is her soul.' He abides in each member of the Church as the dulcis hospes animae (sweet guest of the soul), so that we receive His consolation and strength and bear witness to Christ, just like the apostles on the day of Pentecost and just like the lives of countless saints down the centuries.