Father Jacques Philippe

The Lord is My Shepherd…

April 18, 2015

The Good Shepherd Russian icon 19th centurySince I am a supporting friend of people going through very difficult life situations and experiencing a great deal of turmoil, I thought Father Jacques Philippe’s book, Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart would be a help to me and them. This is indeed a great treasure full of short meditations from Scripture and words of the saints and I recommend it to anyone who wants to help himself or others through the sometimes very rough patches of life, especially when tempted to despair and give up on the spiritual life.

We are simply not going to be able to overcome the evils of hard times without a strong spiritual life, and yet the first thing Satan tempts us to abandon when suffering greatly is our relationship with God. Just because we may be up to our derriere in alligators doesn’t mean we should abandon God who is the very One to help us drain the swamp.

I found particular inspiration from meditation #8 on Psalm 23. Father Philippe says in regard to this prayer that

…God leaves us wanting for nothing. This will serve to unmask a temptation, sometimes subtle, which is very common in the Christian life, one into which many fall and which greatly impedes spiritual progress.

For example, I lack good health, therefore I am unable to pray as I believe it is indispensable to do. [Change the word “health” to any other perceived detrimental situation.] Or my immediate family prevents me from organizing my spiritual activities as I wish. [Operative words: “as I wish.”] Or, again, I don’t have the qualities, the strength, the virtue, the gifts that I believe necessary in order to accomplish something beautiful for God, according to the plan of a Christian life. [Operative words: “I believe.”] I am not satisfied with my life, with my person, with my circumstances and I live constantly with the feeling that as long as things are such, it will be impossible for me to live truly and intensely. I feel underprivileged compared to others and I carry in me the constant nostalgia of another life, more privileged, where, finally, I could do things that are worthwhile. [I, I, I, I…]

We often live with this illusion. With the impression that all would go better, we would like the things around us to change, that the circumstances would change. But this is often an error. It is not the exterior circumstances that must change; it is above all our hearts that must change.

Happy are those hearts purified by faith and hope, who bring to their lives a view animated by the certitude that, beyond appearances to the contrary, God is present, providing for their essential needs and that they lack nothing….They will see that many of the circumstances that they thought negative and damaging to their spiritual life are, in fact, in God’s pedagogy, powerful means for helping them to progress and grow.

The essential question to be asked in hard times is, “What is God teaching me here?” We can fall into the “if only” trap all too easily, filling ourselves with desires which on the surface may be laudable but upon closer examination reveal that we are not accepting God’s will for us at this time.

For about 15 years now I’ve been asking God to give us the money necessary to move out of this diocese. I gaze enviously at the neighboring Tulsa diocese where the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter has a parish, the Benedictine monks at Clear Creek have a thriving foundation, and the bishop is doing all sorts of things to stir up the spiritual life of his flock and ask, “Lord, why can’t You get us out of here and let us move there? If only I could be there my spiritual life would be so much easier…” Whine, whine, whine.

Last fall in front of the Blessed Sacrament I got my answer. The spiritual situation in this diocese is improving somewhat but God made me understand clearly that all pain, suffering, and longing is given to me to endure for the sake of the diocese I’m in – the old saying, “Bloom where you’re planted,” we have heard. That “Aha!” immediately freed me. I have my purpose, my assignment. He wants me to witness here and He will take care of the rest. Why He kept me in the dark for so long is gradually becoming clearer, but it is all part of His plan for me and everyone else I come in contact with, and for the spiritual growth of this diocese.

The fundamental problem is that we employ too much of our own criteria as to what is and what is not good and we don’t have enough confidence in the Wisdom and Power of God. [Bingo.] We don’t believe that He is capable of utilizing everything for our good, and that never, under any circumstance, would He leave us lacking in the essentials – that is to say, lacking anything that would permit us to love more. [That is the bottom line, isn’t it?] Because to grow or to enrich one’s spiritual life is to learn to love. Many of the circumstances that I consider damaging could, in fact, be for me if I had more faith, precious opportunities to love more: to be more patient, more humble, more gentle, more merciful and to abandon myself more into the hands of God.

Let us then be convinced of this and it will be for us a source of immense strength: God may allow me to occasionally lack money, health, abilities and virtues, but He will never leave me in want of Himself, of His assistance and His mercy or of anything that would allow me to grow increasingly ever closer to Him, to love Him more intensely, to better love my neighbor and to achieve holiness.

What more could we possibly ask?

Image: The Good Shepherd, 19th century Russian icon, private collection, via Wikimedia

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

(Click on the link above to read why I end my posts this way.)

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