It was through several instances of spiritual struggle and discernment – confession for one, that I heard mentioned again and again the name of a French priest and his very popular books on peace.
Fr. Jacques Philippe, a priest serving in The Community of the Beatitudes since 1985, has dedicated his priesthood to spiritual direction, community formation, as well as preaching retreats. And yet, Fr. Jacques consolidated treatise of these retreats on spirituality are published in such small slim books, they hardly let on to the magnanimous lessons contained within.
It wasn’t until a priest actually put a copy of Searching for and Maintaining Peace into my hands, that I began to understand just why the humble author’s words had touched so many lives. It’s embarrassing to admit exactly how many weeks the 86-page manuscript took me to complete, as the richness of each section was so intense, I often had to close the book for the night and digest the small portion I had just absorbed.
Then came the many dog-eared pages as a thought or enlightenment resonated so deeply within me, I knew I had to revisit it. The message was simple -I want and need peace, but peace can only be found in its fullness in Jesus Christ. Many obstacles in life challenge and cause me to lose peace, especially fear, suffering, and difficulty believing in God’s providence. Internally I struggle with personal faults and shortcomings, as well as those of others. Given this, how do I extend patience to myself and others, particularly burdened by sin or being stuck on the presipise of a difficult decision? These are the simple truths Fr. Jacques is so good at clarifying.
As long as a person who must jump with a parachute does not jump into the void, he cannot feel that the cords of the parachute will support him, because the parachute has not yet had the chance to open. One must first jump and it is only later that one feels carried. And so it is in spiritual life.
~Searching for and Maintaining Peace, pg. 28
Providentially, the simple priest behind the divine lessons came from France to speak at our parish just as I was finishing the book! His words came to life on the altar as he laid out the means to growing through trials and suffering. I found myself in a side pew writing feverishly and hoping I could absorb his wise words in person as well as I had in print.
Fr. Jacques message, again, was simple and clear: although every trial in life is vastly different, each encounter is a trial of faith, hope or love. Trails of faith cause me to ask why God has allowed this suffering to come to me. The difficulty of having my faith so severely shaken can cause me to either rebel against God or trust and believe in him despite the darkness. This same act of faith was expressed by Jesus on the cross and requires the engagement of my whole heart and will.
The trial of hope challenges my security and begs to know if it can still be placed in God. This abandonment is interesting because I so often put my security in that which is fleeting or can change in an instant: health, ability, or even another person. In every trial though, I experience a certain kind of poverty. This poverty is an opportunity to go beyond my human security and rely on God and his mercy, which is always greater than my own fragility. God always gives consolation in my trials.
The trial of charity or love challenges my capacity to love in truthfulness. Am I capable of loving another person regardless of their limitations and what I receive from them? If so, then I am able to experience a love that is more profound, greatly surpassing my love of self. A deep love that goes beyond emotion, and rather chooses generosity, mercy, and forgiveness. Sometimes suffering not only shows me the worst in others, but in myself as well. I suddenly become painfully aware of my limitations in confidence, trust, patience, and my own anxiety.
Suffering makes us poor, but this is a grace because it destroys our pride.
Perhaps one of my greatest difficulties is actually accepting myself when I am fragile and weak. I am after all always free – in choosing to close myself off to the grace of God and become discouraged, or to accept the invitation in the midst of my suffering: for hope, deeper faith, and a disinterested love. In every instance of suffering I am invited to make one of these acts of faith. I must ask God what is the interior work he is calling me to do in the moment. My hope is found in the personal call addressed to me – an opportunity for deeper conversion in the gaze of God’s love and union with Christ.
In choosing the good work God is calling me through the trails of faith, hope, and love, I rise from the victim, and instead embrace the slow forward journey toward healing and interior change. God accompanies me on this journey, asking me to entrust myself to him, accept courageously the reality of the situation and allow peace to enter my heart. He asks me to live and trust in the present moment alone, without trying to understand or resolve the past or future.
The hardest thing to accept in moments of trial is the lack of immediate answer or explanation. Yet in surrender and abandonment of myself to God’s wisdom, I am able to attain peace and begin to understand how to live through the suffering. My capacity to love and understand others is deepened as well as my knowledge and acceptance of self. Regardless of my trials, I am still capable of loving, and all is not lost if I can still love.
God can make very beautiful fruits grow through trials.