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‘Well, Brothers, When Shall We Begin to Do Good?’

St. Philip Neri, whose feast day we celebrate this month on May 26, was the founder of the worldwide Oratorian congregation of religious men — one of their communities being located in Rock Hill. The Oratorians have served in South Carolina for nearly 90 years, and the congregation has a long history.

Starting a conversation

We have all endured street preachers yelling at us and making us uncomfortable. Even the great St. John the Baptist seemed to favor this approach. But, John was “crying out in the wilderness.” People had to go out of their way to hear him, rather than John hounding them on the street.

One might also start a conversation by just sitting somewhere with a sign. Remember the 1980s “evangelist” with the rainbow-colored wig who held up signs at prominent events displaying John 3:16? How about his secular descendant “Dude with Sign”? This approach might stimulate curious people to engage in conversation, but more likely these days to keep swiping on their phone and to shuffle past.

St. Philip Neri had yet another approach. With his easy disposition and sense of humor, he would simply ask passersby an intriguing question: “Well, brothers, when shall we begin to do good?”

Imagine the saint leaning back in his chair, smiling mischievously and rhetorically asserting that question, “When shall we begin to do good?” His combination of mood and words was sure to catch passersby off guard, get their attention and might even elicit a Shakespearean reply: “Well, my curious and jovial friend, just what kind of good are you alluding to?” And conversation can begin!

Politicians, businessmen and celebrities

“When shall we begin to do good?” Wouldn’t you like to ask that question to some of our politicians who are pursuing primarily their own self-interest and electability?

Or how about business folks who have making money as their primary focus, sometimes disregarding the detrimental impact their product or business practices might have on their communities or the planet?

And then celebrities, like athletes who play their sports with total disregard for others’ health and safety, or movie stars who willingly portray roles and plots that glamorize crime and immorality to their admiring and vulnerable audience?

Then, there is us

Well, brothers and sisters, when shall we begin to do good?

You and I may be plodding along, not doing anything particularly bad, but are we really doing anything good to contribute to the betterment of the people and places around us?

I’ll bet many reading this are doing good, and yet many others might be delaying, procrastinating, waiting for the right time when they are going to put their own self-interest aside and engage others for their best interest.

So, what to do? I’m not sure, because I am one of those procrastinators. But I think St. Paul had an answer for us who are delaying, something to this effect: “You don’t have to live Christ’s life. All you have to do is live your life as Christ would have lived it.”

We don’t have to put on sandals, hit the streets, gather disciples, spend time in the desert in prayer, suffer and die on a cross. That was Christ’s life.

Our lives are as businessmen and women, laborers, craftsmen, professionals, spouses, parents — and consecrated religious men serving in a now-bustling top corner of a Southern state.

St. Paul simply exhorts us to operate within our particular spheres as Christ would have operated, if he were in our shoes at this time in history.

As we go forth about our normal activities with colleagues, parishioners, family or friends, perhaps we might remind ourselves of the popularized but still meaningful admonition: “What would Jesus do?”

The answer to that question is always clear, and our resulting Christ-like actions might also satisfy St. Philip Neri that we are finally “beginning to do good.”

Philip Romolo Neri

(c. 1515-1595)

Feast – May 26  |  Patron of JOY

Born in 1515 in France, Philip aspired to be a prominent businessman. But as often happens with saints, Philip had a mystical conversion experience, turned away from worldly affairs and struck out for Rome with no money or plans.

Upon arriving there, he found lodging in the attic of a government official and began tutoring the family’s children for room and board. He spent most of his spare time in prayer, thereby discerning that he should move on and enter the university. But, once again, after a few years, he found the ivory tower unfulfilling, sold his books and set out to engage people on the streets in conversation about faith.

Thomas Dorsel, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology at Francis Marion University, lives on Hilton Head Island with his wife, Sue. He is a parishioner of St. Francis by the Sea Church and a cantor at Holy Family Church. He can be found on