By Bill Brewer
Father Jacques Philippe, an internationally renowned author and speaker who will lead a spiritual retreat and conferences for the Diocese of Knoxville Feb. 28-March 4 at All Saints Church and the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, sees that simple yet complex word as key to living in God’s love—especially during Lent.
“What makes me happy is to speak about God’s love,” Father Philippe recently said ahead of his appearance in the Diocese of Knoxville. He was at the time leading a series of talks in Colorado affiliated with his Catholic Community of the Beatitudes, which has an apostolate in the Archdiocese of Denver.
With more than 1 million copies sold in 24 languages, Father Philippe’s writings on themes like prayer, interior freedom, and peace of heart are resonating throughout the Catholic faith.
Father Philippe was born in Lorraine, France, and after studying mathematics in college, he spent several years in teaching and in scientific research. In 1976, he met the then recently founded Community of the Beatitudes and answered God’s call to start a religious vocation.
He spent several years in Israel studying Hebrew and the Jewish roots of Christianity, and in 1981 he traveled to Rome to study theology and canon law. He was ordained a priest in 1985 and began his work as a spiritual director, working in the formation of priests and seminarians of the Beatitudes Community.
His work has involved the development of training in the Beatitudes Community and participation in its general council. He also has regularly preached at retreats in France and other countries and has consolidated his principal retreat themes into several books on spirituality. In recent years, he has devoted his vocation primarily to spiritual direction and preaching retreats.
The Community of the Beatitudes is an Ecclesial Family of Consecrated Life founded in France in 1973. The Community of the Beatitudes gathers faithful from all states of life (married or unmarried lay people, seminarians, priests, permanent deacons, men and women consecrated) who wish to conform as closely as possible to the model of the early Christian community through the common life, the sharing of goods, voluntary poverty, and an intense sacramental and liturgical life. Members of the community (which has a contemplative vocation based on Carmelite spirituality) are actively engaged in the service of the poor and the proclamation of the Gospel.
Father Philippe is in demand as a speaker and retreat leader, especially when Catholics enter the Lenten season. His insight into growing closer to God can yield unexpected guidance as he challenges retreat participants to consider God and Jesus in new ways.
Father Philippe believes it is imperative that Catholics develop a personal relationship with God and find peace within Him at a time in the world when there is so much violence and evil.
“We need it — peace — to be free and to be open to God,” he said. “It’s not easy to find peace today—just watch television. We need to be open to God and speak to Him through prayer. He is the God of peace.”
In previous spiritual retreats where he has focused on the season of Lent, Father Philippe has talked about how Catholics think they know exactly what God wants us to give up in preparation for the Easter Triduum, but often God has something else in mind. While Catholics tend to look at Lenten plans as a checklist of things we need to do better to become holy, God really wants us to sit face-to-face with Jesus and let Him transform us.
The conversion God most often wants for us is not to work harder but become more peaceful.
Citing the beatitudes, Father Philippe has said happy are those who are able to receive the peace of God and share it with those around them. He calls for Catholics and Christians to be open to God and to speak to Him through prayer.
“He is the God of peace. We must welcome this peace. It is mostly a question of faith and to be open to God’s mercy. We need that,” Father Philippe said.
The Community of Beatitudes priest is sensitive to the struggles people face in life, especially in the current climate where peace is at a premium.
“When we are in contact with God, He speaks through us. So, we must keep this personal relationship with God. I think it is more important to keep this compact with God for faith through prayer and trust in Him,” he said.
Father Philippe has related six attitudes to help Catholics become more peaceful and accepting of God’s peace: faithfulness to prayer, faith and trust, understanding that pride is an enemy of peace, the capacity to forgive and to ask for forgiveness, welcoming your life as it is, and living one day at a time.
Father Philippe preaches that there are simple steps every one of us can take to strengthen our personal relationship with God.
“We must learn these and practice them. They include finding peace, practicing personal prayer and learning how to pray, and having an encounter with God. We just have to trust God and pray,” he said. “We don’t need to be scientists and theologians. We must just keep faith and this compact with God.”
It doesn’t take those attending Father Philippe’s talks long to see that he intends to get across the point that prayer life is important. He has been traveling the world for seven years preaching his message that we don’t have to be perfect. We just need to accept God’s joy and trust in Him.
He advises his audience to be simple in prayer life and to grow closer to God through everyday trials and struggles in life.
Getting through personal strife and the public tumult that people face daily is possible through a deeper relationship with God, Father Philippe believes, and the key to achieving that peace is a commitment to prayer life and a personal relationship with God.
Father Philippe is confident his message has been well-received at the places where he has spoken and led retreats. He also preaches that God must be accessible for people to benefit from His love and mercy.
“I want to make the beauty and wisdom of the Gospel accessible. We can find what we need for daily life in the Gospel, and we can make it accessible and understandable for daily life,” Father Philippe said. “This is my desire: to offer encouragement and speak of the love of God, how to be a better Christian and be transformed by God’s tenderness and mercy.”
Father Philippe’s upcoming visit will be his first in the Diocese of Knoxville, although he said he spoke in Nashville about three years ago at the invitation of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation. While he lives in France, he said he spends about two months of each year in the United States, where he travels around the country giving talks and leading spiritual retreats.
Visit the Office of Consecrated Life page for information and tickets.