A Summertime Reflection on St. Philip the Apostle

Saint Philip the Apostle, pray for us!

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), “Saint Philip,” c. 1611
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), “Saint Philip,” c. 1611 (photo: Public Domain)

For three years, I had two Apostles as neighbors.

I was living at the Casa Santa Maria of the Pontifical North American College, the residence for priests who are studying for graduate degrees, and I was studying for my doctorate in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. The Casa was located right in the “Centro,” the center of the city of Rome, right by the Trevi Fountain. Around the corner from the Casa Santa Maria was the Basilica of Santi Dodici Apostoli (The Twelve Holy Apostles). Erected in the sixth century, it has been in the care of the Conventual Franciscans for many years. During my time studying for the doctorate, this basilica became a place of frequent prayer for me. In time spent in this Basilica, I grew to know the two apostles whose relics are present in the Church — Saint James the Lesser and Saint Philip. I especially grew to know and love Saint Philip.

Poor, poor Philip. He always seems to be the guy who just doesn’t get it. He always seems to be the one who puts in his foot in his mouth. Having been a high school teacher for many years of my priesthood, there is always one student who after one of my passionate classroom diatribes would raise his hand. So, a student will ask “Do we have to know this for the exam?” I would always respond, “No, you have to know it for life.”

Philip would be that student. Sometimes, he just doesn’t get it.

In the Gospel of John (14:7-14), we read:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you know me, then you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to Jesus,
“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.
The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.
Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me,
or else, believe because of the works themselves.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes in me will do the works that I do,
and will do greater ones than these,
because I am going to the Father.
And whatever you ask in my name, I will do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.”

In this Gospel, the Lord Jesus has just poured out himself (literally in the gift of the Eucharist and in the example of the washing of the feet) in this Last Supper farewell discourse. So what does our prize student, my neighbor in Dodici Apostoli, go and say? He says, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” He just doesn’t seem to get it! It takes the Lord Jesus, loving and patient, to speak plainly and to gently remind Philip that he who has seen him has also seen the Father.

What can we learn from the words and actions from the two central figures in today’s Gospel?

First, from the Lord Jesus, we can learn that sometimes it’s not a bad thing to call someone out, to lay the cards on the table, to say, “Hey, come on now!” As long as we do it in charity, especially with our friends and those we care about — and as long as we do it out of concern for their well-being. Just as the Lord Jesus clarifies things for Philip, we need to do the same in our friendships when misunderstandings might arise and resentments and suspicions might grow from words or actions misunderstood. Do this in the name of charity and friendship. Do this in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Second, from St. Philip, we can learn that even those that get it wrong sometimes eventually get it right! Philip might not have been the sharpest knife in the drawer sometimes, but he was one of the Twelve. This good man, this faithful follower of the Lord, gave his life for the spread of the Gospel — in some accounts martyred by crucifixion upside down and still preaching from that position. He gets it right in the end. His life witnesses to the fact that Jesus and the Father are one. And that’s the point, isn’t it, of our Christian lives? Living the life of Christ in our own respective vocations, seeing Christ and being Christ to the world?

At times, we’re all a little bit Philip. Sometimes, we just don’t get it first time around. But strengthened by the Gospel, incorporated into Christ’s life through baptism, given grace through the sacraments, pray that we can have the grace of Saint Philip the Apostle not to be afraid to be humble, to keep asking questions, and to be loyal to Christ, even to the end.