I still am in awe that I met Fr. Jacques Phillipe this week. It was his first-ever U.S. visit! He was preaching a retreat in Denver and then was invited to come to Atlanta and speak. It was a total coincidence I found out about it on Tuesday looking up a bulletin for a Church we wanted to visit.
Not only did I meet him like so many other people who in the end had him sign their books (I totally forgot to bring mine- stupid!), but my husband and I went up to him in the church during a break from his talk- even though we weren’t supposed to… and I talked to him in my broken French! (He had an interpreter the whole time during his talks) and when I told him my special intention to pray for, he grabbed my hand and meaningfully told me he would pray. What peace I feel from that! I think he is a living Saint.
I scribbled furiously during his talk- it was a huge bonus to understand a lot of the French and have time to write during the interpreting so I have a nice summary to share with you. He really is so funny and energetic. He reminded me a bit of Dr. Lowery from my UD days- very passionate and joyful when he speaks.
If you have never read any of his works- I assure you they are life-changing. He has a contemporary, simple, and clear writing style that makes it so easy to delve into deep topics. My favorites are Interior Freedom and Searching for and Maintaining Peace.
He spoke on the topic of Interior Freedom and what Freedom truly means on Wednesday night:
Fr. Jacques on Interior Freedom:
There are two ways of looking at freedom: 1-Modern world’s view of Freedom and 2-the message in the Gospels & what Jesus says about Freedom. There are similarities. How do we understand freedom? There’s the modern world’s view which has some positive elements and some limits, and I will show you how to surpass the limits with the light of the Gospel.
Today’s mentality of freedom is not necessarily wrong, but it has a dead-end. There are four interpretations of freedom:
1. Freedom & Power: The more power, the more one can transform society, the more freedom. Modern society sees control over everything as freedom, but there are limits to what our power is. Ex. Science: there is much we cannot change or modify.Ex. our families: There are painful things we cannot change. What we have to do is change in our minds the notion of freedom. The point is not to transform reality, but to accept it, to accept the things we have not chosen. They exist. Welcome them with trust because God is there. We have no power over them. They are paths of maturity, humanly and spiritually. If we welcome them, it is us who can change and discover other aspects of the deep wisdom of God. The situations we do not control are the ones that make us grow the most because we are obliged to surrender to God.
2. Freedom & Choices: It is like supermarket freedom. It’s like having twenty peanut butters to choose from. It can be overwhelming. It is good to have choices, but then we have to choose and exclude other and then those other choices no longer exist. Are we less free, then, the older we become as we exhaust our choices? No. The older we are, the more free we become. Sometimes too many choices result in anxiety and frustration. The tragedy lies in that we want to keep our freedom, so we don’t make choices. We wait. We don’t commit. That’s the tragedy of our youth today. Jesus said For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. Luke 9:23-24 NAB. So whoever wishes to save his freedom will lose it, and whoever accepts and commits himself out of love will save his freedom. It’s a mystery, but it’s true.
3. Freedom & Independence:Today many equate freedom with independence. “I don’t depend on anyone. I can do whatever I want.” That’s the problem with individualism. But we do need and depend on one another. We must accept that. We cannot build ourselves without a covenant to someone. No one can construct oneself alone. That is the mystery of the covenant. Who’s more free? The one who is faithful to his wife? Or the one who changes wife every few years? We can’t judge, but the real freedom lies in faithfulness, the link of the covenant of love. It hurts, it can be hard, but that link makes us grow. The real chains lie in ourselves, in the limits to our wisdom. Faithfulness to someone in any covenant (religious, marriage, etc) sometimes is hard, but it is positive. It obliges one always in a permanent way to open oneself, to get out of oneself for the other. That person will always surprise one. Grace is being totally open. Sin is narrowness. Freedom is not the same as independence. Autonomy, that’s different. It is humanly necessary. But independence is closing oneself up to life.
4. Freedom & Spontaneity: Spontaneity in the sense of not living according to law, to others, to be myself according to self. It’s being led by the heart. But that mentality is dangerous. It can lead to alcoholism, drugs… how many chains there are when we follow those passions. In Jeremiah 31 it states that in the new covenant:“I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts;” That implies that the Holy Spirit has healed our heart from our wounded psyche. In Heaven, where the Holy Spirit is leading us, our instincts will be love. It’s a road of conversion, purification and it’s long. We look at Saints, we look at a ballerina or an ice-skater and we may think freedom, but we don’t see the work behind it. It’s an illusion to think of freedom without work or effort. The essential work, if we trust, God is doing it. Real freedom is a gift, a grace from God. We can receive it.
So those are 4 ways of looking at freedom and the limits. What’s the solution?
There is a link between Freedom and Love. The problem comes when we separate those. There is no love where there is no freedom because when there is no freedom, we are obliged. That is why the Church insists on the freedom of the engaged couple before they enter into matrimony. It is why we need to respect the freedom of other people. God respects our freedom because He wants to be loved and served with love. Freedom is a condition for Love. There is no love where there is no freedom, but the opposite is also true. There is no true freedom outside of love.
It is good to be free, but what am I doing with my freedom? We need to have love for God, neighbor and ourself. St. Paul to the Galatians Ch 5, V: 13,14: “For you, brethren, have been called unto liberty: only make not liberty an occasion to the flesh, but by charity of the spirit serve one another.  For all the law is fulfilled in one word: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” In the concentration camps, it wasn’t the officer in charge who was the most free. It was St. Maximilian Kolbe who freely gave his life out of love. God is infinitely loving. St. Paul ends his letter to the Corinthians: “but it is by your own inner selves that you are narrowed.” Maybe the problem is inside of you. Love is a beautiful reality but it is not easy. Our love missed a base. It discourages itself, it tires, because something is missing: Trust, Hope, and Faith. Our Lord told St. Faustina that worry, discouragement, and lack of Hope, trust and faith are the biggest obstacles. We need to have much faith, even with our weaknesses. The solution, then, is to grow in freedom and to do that, we need to grow in love so as to grow in faith and hope. The more we grow in freedom, the more we will trust, and the more we will have pure and faithful love. That is true freedom. The person that is the most free is the persona that in all consequences is capable of loving. Faithfulness to prayer, to learning about God is to grow in love and to be more free.
Forgiveness is not easy. It takes much prayer. The only way to stop evil is to have the courage to forgive. It is how we find freedom again, or else we remain chained to the past. Emotional dependence, idealizing someone is to be dependent. Hate is the same. In the Gospels there is the analogy of forgiveness in terms of debt and repaying or forgiving a debt. There is the mentality in the world that if you hurt me, you are going to pay for it. Psychologically, this is a big issue. It keeps our mind on suffering and we want to make others pay for it. We feel we have the right to ask for justice. Sometimes the debt is related to having done something good for someone so now we feel we can order them. In some ways it is true that one needs the attitude of gratitude, one needs to reciprocate, but we cannot be expecting it, we cannot demand it, or else we will be disappointed. Others will never reciprocate all that we think they owe us. Often we expect too much from people. Jesus forgives all the debts. We have to love freely, not in order to receive in return. The mentality of debt is an attitude of always expecting. Most times we won’t receive what we think we are owed and we will be disappointed. It’s mysterious, but it’s true. Forgive all debts. That is freedom. To forgive is to say I give you back your freedom. I do not want to control you. Pardon asks much humility, much renouncement. Real freedom proceeds from Love.
That was the end of the talk. There was a time for questions. The following are points Father made in his replies:
No one can take away our love and trust for God, even in political situations. Our heart keeps its own freedom.
Our freedom needs to mature. Hope needs to strengthen and love must grow. Penance, etc, these are methods that can help, not ends. What are the means to grow? Personal efforts. Ex. fasting for Lent is a means to gain back certain freedoms. Our efforts are important, but what is most important and most necessary is that God transforms us. Our efforts are important but not sufficient. How can we welcome grace? The conversion only God can do. We must desire it, ask for it in prayer, through the Sacraments, and the most important way to receive grace is to have hope and faith. When we fear too much, we lose hope and we close up, and grace cannot work through that. But if our heart is in hope, it will stay open. We must accept our littleness. St. Peter says God gives his grace to the humble, and refuses it to the proud. Grow in humility. The one that lowers himself, that accepts his littleness, God raises. Live in an atmosphere of gratitude, of giving thanks. The more thanks we give, the more grace we receive.
Humanly speaking, it’s hard not to worry. Faith is very important. If I believe God is faithful, then that Faith becomes a base for truth. Don’t be afraid of tomorrow. Our Father knows what we need. Ask Mary that those words of encouragement in the Gospel- that we may keep them in our hearts. Pray and listen to the Word of God.
The rumor is that he will come back next year!