Our Lady is now reigning in heaven. Her triumph over death cost her no labor; and yet it was through suffering that she like Jesus entered into her glory. We too cannot attain eternal happiness otherwise than did the Son and the Mother. Let us keep in mind the sweet joys we have been tasting during the past week; but let us not forget that our own journey to heaven is not yet completed. “Why stand ye looking up into heaven!” said the Angels to the disciples on Ascension day, in the name of the Lord who had gone up in a cloud; for the disciples, who had for an instant beheld the threshold of heaven, could not resign themselves to turn their eyes once more down to this valley of exile. Mary, in her turn, sends us a message today from the bright land whither we are to follow her, and where we shall surround her, after having in the sorrows of exile merited to form her court: without distracting us from her, the Apostle of her dolors, Philip Benizi, reminds us of our true condition as strangers and pilgrims upon earth.
Combats without fears within: (2 Corinthians 7:5) such for the most part was Philip’s life, as it was also the history of his native city Florence, of Italy too, and indeed of the whole Christian world, in the 13th century. At the time of his birth, the city of flowers seemed a new Eden for the blossoms of sanctity that flourished there; nevertheless it was a prey to bloody factions, to the assaults of heresy, and to the extremity of every misery. Never is hell so near us as when heaven manifests itself with greatest intensity; this was clearly seen in that age, when the serpent’s head came in closest contact with the heel of the Woman. The old enemy, by creating new sects had shaken the faith in the very center of the provinces surrounding the eternal city. While in the east Islam was driving back the last crusaders, in the West the Papacy was struggling with the empire, which Frederick II had made as a fief of Satan. Throughout Christendom social union was undone, faith had grown weak, and love cold; but the old enemy was soon to discover the power of the reaction heaven was preparing for the relief of the aged world. Then it was that our Lady presented to her angered Son Dominic and Francis, that, by uniting science with self-abnegation, they might counterbalance the ignorance and luxury of the world, then too, Philip Benizi, the Servite of the Mother of God, received form her the mission of preaching through Italy, France, and Germany the unspeakable sufferings whereby she became the co-redemptress of the human race.
Philip was born at Florence of the noble family of the Benizi, and from his very cradle gave signs of his future sanctity. When he was scarcely five months old he received the power of speech by a miracle, and exhorted his mother to bestow an alms on the Servants of the Mother of God. As a youth, he pursued his studies at Paris, where he was remarkable for his ardent piety, and enkindled in many hearts a longing for our heavenly fatherland. After his return home he had a wonderful vision in which he was called by the Blessed Virgin to join the newly-founded Order of the Servites. He therefore retired into a cave on Mount Senario, and there led an austere and penitential life, sweetened by meditation on the sufferings of our Lord. Afterwards he travelled over nearly all Europe and great part of Asia, preaching the Gospel and instituting everywhere the Sodality of the Seven Dolors of the Mother of God, while he propagated his Order by the wonderful example of his virtues.
He was consumed with love of God and zeal for the propagation of the Catholic faith. In spite of his refusals and resistance he was chosen General of his Order. He sent some of his brethren to preach the Gospel in Scythia, while he himself journeyed from city to city of Italy repressing civil dissensions, and recalling many to the obedience of the Roman Pontiff. His unremitting zeal for the salvation of souls won the most abandoned sinners from the depths of vice to a life of penance and to the true love of Jesus Christ. He was very much given to prayer and was often seen rapt in ecstasy. He loved and honored holy virginity, and preserved it unspotted to the end of his life by means of the greatest voluntary austerities.
He was remarkable for his love and pity for the poor. On one occasion when a poor leper begged an alms of him, at Camegliano, a village near Sienna, he gave him his own garment, which the beggar had no sooner put on than his leprosy was cleansed. The fame of this miracle having spread far and wide, some of the Cardinals who were assembled at Viterbo for the election of a successor to Clement IV, then lately dead, thought of choosing Philip as they were aware of his heavenly prudence. On learning this, the man of God, fearing lest he should be forced to take upon himself the pastoral office, hid himself at Montamiata until after the election of Pope Gregory X. By his prayers he obtained for the baths of that place, which still bears his name, the virtue of healing the sick. At length, in the year 1285, he died a most holy death at Todi, while in the act of kissing the image of his crucified Lord, which he used to call his book. The blind and lame were healed at his tomb, and the dead were brought back to life. His name having become illustrious by these and many other miracles, Pope Clement X enrolled him among the Saints.
Philip, draw near, and join thyself to this chariot. (Acts 8:29) When the world was smiling on thy youth and offering thee renown and pleasures, thou didst receive this invitation from Mary. She was seated in a golden chariot which signified the religious life; a mourning mantle wrapped her round; a dove was fluttering about her head; a lion and a lamb were drawing her chariot over precipices from whose depths were heard the groans of hell. It was a prophetic vision: thou wast to traverse the earth accompanied by the Mother of sorrows, and this world which hell had already everywhere undermined, was to have no danger for thee; for gentleness and strength were to be thy guides, and simplicity thy inspirer: Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the land. (Matthew 5:4)
But this gentle virtue was to avail thee chiefly against heaven itself; heaven, which wrestles with the mighty, and which had in store for thee the terrible trial of an utter abandonment, such as had made even the God-Man tremble. After years of prayer and labor and heroic devotedness, for thy reward thou wast apparently rejected by God and disowned by the Church, while imminent ruin threatened all those whom Mary had confided to thee. In spite of her promises, the existence of thy sons the Servites was assailed by no less an authority than that of two General Councils, whose resolutions the Vicar of Christ had determined to confirm. Our Lady gave thee to drink of the chalice of her sufferings. Thou didst not live to see the triumph of a cause which was hers as well as thine; but as the ancient patriarchs saluted from afar the accomplishment of the promises, so death could not shake thy calm and resigned confidence. Thou didst leave thy daughter Juliana Falconieri to obtain by her prayers before the face of the Lord, what thou couldst not gain from the powers of this world.
The highest power on earth was once all but laid at thy feet; the Church, remembering the humility wherewith thou didst flee from the tiara, begs thee in the Collect for today to obtain for us, that we may despise the prosperity of this world and seek heavenly goods alone; deign to hear her prayer. But the Faithful have not forgotten that thou wert a physician of the body before becoming a healer of souls; they have great confidence in the water and bread blessed by thy sons on this feast, in memory of the miraculous favors granted to their father: graciously regard the faith of the people, and reward the special honor paid to thee by Christian physicians. Now that the mysterious chariot, shown thee at the beginning, has become the triumphal car whereon thou accompaniest our Lady in her entrance into heaven, teach us so to condole, like thee, with her sorrows, that we may deserve to be partakers with thee in her eternal glory.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)