This week’s apostle is St. Philip, who shares a feast day with St. James the Just and his native town with St. Peter and St. Andrew. He came from Bethsaida, and was called by Jesus there, shortly after the calling of Sts. Peter and Andrew.
The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) say very little about him, but St. John’s Gospel gives a few more details about his life as one of the apostles. After having been called by Jesus, he must have been overwhelmingly inspired in his discipleship, as he then introduced Nathanael (called Bartholomew for short) to Jesus, saying “Come and see.”
Like the other apostles, St. Philip had a hard time grasping some of the things that Jesus said. We usually think of St. Peter asking all the questions, but in John’s Gospel, Philip asks quite a few as well. In some cases, we can almost feel Jesus’ frustration. Jesus said at one point (Jn 14:7-9), “I am the way…if you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Now, I know that’s confusing, but St. Philip doesn’t seem to get it at all. “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus probably face-palmed and said, “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.”
Well, St. Philip got it eventually, because like the other apostles, he preached along the Mediterranean coast, particularly in Greece, Phrygia (modern day Western Turkey), and Syria. Now, just as a caveat, the sources for much of St. Philip’s post-resurrection information are pretty shifty, but we know that St. Philip preached and evangelized, and was eventually martyred. According to the Acts of Philip, he was doing missionary work with his fellow apostle Bartholomew, and his healing miracles and preaching were so successful in Hierapolis (a great ancient city in Western Turkey), that he converted the wife of the proconsul of the province. This didn’t sit well with the proconsul, and he tortured the two apostles and crucified them upside-down (How do all these evil guys know to martyr them the same way? Was there a mass e-mail or something?). Philip continued preaching from the cross, and even convinced the crowd and the proconsul to release Bartholomew, while Philip embraced martyrdom.
Interestingly enough, Philip’s tomb was recently discovered in July of 2011 in the ruins of the ancient church dedicated to his honor in Hierapolis. His relics were no longer there, but other accounts have them likely brought to Constantinople, and then moved to Rome to protect them from invaders.
I think one of the most striking qualities of St. Philip was his willingness to invite others, namely Nathanael, to follow Christ. He wasn’t told to do so by Jesus, and he wasn’t forced – when he understood what great things Christ had already done for him, he wanted others to experience it. When was the last time you invited someone to church with you? When was the last time you invited someone to share a quiet moment of prayer at adoration? Let us ask that St. Philip would pray for us, that we too might give thanks for what God has done for us, and invite others to that joy also!