Father Thomas Philippe

Mary’s Viaticum

I am intrigued by the Hospice of Western Reserve volunteer training. It will be all day training, allowing a full social endeavor. I did a satellite view of their property, pleasantly surprised to discover the facility residing lakeside. I have been wanting photos of Lake Erie, convinced the wide open spaces of the immense fresh lake will complement photos of North Dakota landscapes. The Sorrowful Mother Shrine added splendid wooded forest to my photo assemblage. I would like to get back to Our Lady of the Pines, capturing the amazing array of flourishing pine trees. I will spend Sunday with Carol, returning to the Sorrowful Mother Shrine. I have not done anything with Carol in weeks, and the opportunity to spend a day with her provides pleasantry. I am hoping Mary will come along, however she is not committing to plans. Joseph, the Hungarian, has been missing in action lately, and rumors abound that Juanita is plying him into a marriage proposal. I look forward to hearing the story straight from Joseph.  His stories are always filled with adventure and a zest for life. It is pleasant to have social friends centered upon the Church. Mary is the only one I truly elevate to a contemplative comrade, although in value that means nothing. In sharing, it provides someone to discuss spiritual direction, a give and take exchange. She appears a bit crazy, homeless and neglecting, yet in one-on-one discussion she is profound, and most important in prayer she absolutely disappears. Her prayer life is stout, exercised through adoration, allowing stillness and quietness to color her disposition and soul. There is nowhere Mary would rather be than sitting before the Eucharist. Sunday, she spoke to me of being upset due to the fact several women during coffee at St Paul Shrine were laughing at her expense, whispering in her presence. I assured her within the Church she should never feel insecure, amongst those shallow in pursuit she owed no credence. She is a woman who answers to God, and though the words are easy to say, I know it is upsetting for her to feel she is being mocked. Strong in faith, fearless in spiritual direction, she is still sensitive to the tongue of others. The more confidence I attain, through humility and the reaping of spiritual succors, aligned with the devastation of a wounded heart, unrequited solaces directed toward proper consolation, structure and sense, an ending with dignity allied with the Church absent, the more capable I become in regards to conflict, the protection of my spiritual life. Mary need fear nothing in my presence. During this six month discernment, she is essential as a spiritual comrade.

During the last phase of her life, not only was Mary’s charity fully developed, but her faith also had its supreme exercise. She had to believe not only in the divinity of Jesus, as when he was physically present, but also in his humanity in the Eucharist. Moreover, there was a painful gap between her faith and her charity. Mary loved Jesus, her God, with a mother’s love. “The Divine Mother”, the saints have dared to call her. And her motherhood did not end on earth; she was predestined to remain his mother in glory. Deprived of the physical presence of Jesus, she was plunged more deeply than ever before into the darkness of faith. This made her the poorest, the most mendicant of all the saints. Her need for Jesus and the Eucharist was almost physical; the Eucharist was a true viaticum enabling her to go on living. –Father Thomas Philippe ‘The Contemplative Life’



Mature abandonment


Like magnanimity, this attitude of hope takes on a particular coloring in the contemplative life through the influence of the gift of the Holy Spirit: it turns into confidence. A contemplative does not hope for God’s help as if God were merely an omnipotent benefactor.  Our Lord has already shown himself to be a friend, he has given tokens of his friendship.  Hence, the contemplative’s hope is an attitude of confidence in a friend who has already proven himself. 

This sort of confidence develops into what is called abandonment.  Hope is not merely a strong desire; it must also include a firm trending toward a goal.  God is the goal of theological hope, which is the virtue of one who knows that what he wants is hard to attain, and who expects the help of one stronger than he in order to surmount the difficulty…The gifts of the Holy Spirit add to hope a delicate note of waiting on God.  Having put our trust in Him, we await his moment.  This form of hope, less active in character than the more ordinary form, is what is called abandonment.  –Father Thomas Philippe ‘The Contemplative Life’

The road narrows the further I go along the spiritual path.  Those are vital words.  Father Thomas Philippe‘s writing, revealed at Assumption Abbey, is important for me at this precise time.  St Teresa of Avila is fond of emphasizing in her writing that what is to follows is very important.  The mature idea of abandonment, complex yet truly a reduction to simplicity—a childlike approach to faith usurping the mind of an adult—must become a disposition, an imprint of the Holy Spirit.  It is important to surrender to abandonment within the virtue of profound hope.  Jesus I trust in You!  As an established contemplative, I am not manipulating the spiritual life, becoming more complex and bewildering to others.  I am not anxiety ridden, fearful, making pronouncements of grace received, pushing agendas, proclaiming truths, rallying around controversial issues, declaring war upon others, receding into depression and mental illness—all while identifying my hopes and desires as the will of God.  I learn to repose; sitting still and quiet, before the Lord, allowing His gaze to alight upon my life.  I do not utilize my devotion to the spiritual life as a means capable of clever rationalization and manipulation.  The contemplative life does not provide me with a method of subtly undermining reality, a way to see myself as a humble victim and unsung hero in situations and confrontations.  I recall Susan Muto stressing the absurdity of an obstinate approach to the spiritual life, active ways of overthinking and meddling producing stagnancy and melancholy, inevitably producing darkness within one’s life.  To declare that darkness as Divine Will is sheer foolishness.  To relate that darkness to the Dark Night of the Soul identified by St John of the Cross is a perversion.  The road truly narrows.

Sisters llamas 3


Courage to trust moment by moment

We would like to create unity in our lives, but if we attempt this too grossly and humanly, we expose ourselves to failure.  The only unity possible here on earth is the profound unity deriving from our effort to remain constantly under the movement of the Holy Spirit–that is, to live in the present moment, conformed to God’s good pleasure.

The more our contemplative life develops, the more we find ourselves passing from moments of light and intimacy with God to terrible moments in which there is nothing but faith to hang onto.  The farther we advance, the more the half-tones disappear, giving place to painful alterations between life and death, heat and cold.  It may be that we have never felt our hearts so cold since entering religious life.  Perhaps there will even be moments when we think that we scarcely have any faith left.  –Father Thomas Philippe ‘The Contemplative Life’


Let the sunshine in

When God leaves us to our own poor efforts, we are obliged to have endless recourse to new considerations in order to keep up our prayer and quicken our love.  We feel constrained to vary the subjects of our meditation, to have recourse to new thoughts, to pass continually from knowledge to love and from love to knowledge, from considerations to affections, from words to fleeing moments of quiet and silence.  We cannot dwell in the sweet repose of the Beloved.  We cannot linger long in the heaven of infinite Love; we must always return to the land of faith.  It would even be more exact to say that, left to ourselves, all we can do is lift our eyes to the blessed kingdom of peace and of silence, and desire it ardently.  And even the desires, the first aspirations toward that divine prayer, the first calls coming from presentiments that are still very secret, are already fruits of the Holy Spirit who, from afar, puts souls on the way toward the mysterious dwellings.  Thence come these oscillations, those reflections, those crude supports that our characteristics of our poor prayer when the Holy Spirit leaves to our human way, so utterly disproportionate to an exercise so divine. 

But once God opens the flood-gates of heaven and kindles in us a burning fire, a great flame, we have only to let ourselves be submerged and inflamed, led on to ever new heights and depths.  At those summits where grace envelopes and pervades us totally, let us allow ourselves to be carried constantly along, even more and more profoundly, by the Spirit of Love.  Father Thomas Philippe ‘The Fire of Contemplation’DSC_0120 (2)


Enlightened through love

A thought-provoking day and evening to the end of a week.  I attempted to cross downtown to attend early evening mass with the Mercedarains only to be thwarted by downtown traffic.  I gave myself over an hour, needing to cut through downtown in order to access the drive thru window at the main library, picking up Father Thomas Philippe’s ‘The Fire of Contemplation’ and ‘The Sword and the Cross’, a secular historical book on the life of Charles de Foucauld and Henri Laperrine, an adventure in French colonialism in the Sahara desert brutally dominated by the Tuareg nomads.  I picked up the books, however mass had to be canceled as traffic locked down all movement through downtown.  The intense blockage to passage thoroughly challenged sensibilities regarding city life.  Events amassed to poignancy when I determined to forget mass, opting for early arrival at St Andrews Abbey.  I drove right into another traffic jam on Fifty-Fifth Street, discovering the source of the backup to be three Cleveland police cruisers, colored lights blaring, awkwardly encircling an SUV, matters turned dramatic.  The SUV appeared to have made a frantic U-turn, only to be hemmed in by pursuing officers.  There was an ambiance of excitement wafting about.  When I pulled up to the intersection to make my lefthand turn, a young African-American man bolted from the policemen, only to be roughly tackled and forced harshly facedown upon the concrete by several officers.  I watched, thinking this is crazy.  Finally seated at St Andrews Abbey, I felt exhausted, surprised by the intensity of my depletion.  It was a good week and I was well rested entering adoration.  The choir stall, the private prayer seat amongst the Benedictine community soothed immensely.  The sense of God and a calling overwhelmed.  Interiorly, something is happening.  It cannot be denied.  The first week with my new employer was incredible.  There is no doubt, I am blessed with a quality employer: permanency, respectability, and potentialities presented.  It is evident this is a company one retires from.  Structure, organization, ways-and-means that make sense, a culture of maturity and excellence now enters my life.  There is an older woman, Bonnie, in human resources who astonishes me.  She is a talker, making it her mission to get to know new employees.  I am startled by the number of employees who react negatively toward her.  She is a tough old woman, penetrating with her insight.  She is kind, yet determined to get to know new employees, antagonizing and complimenting, she tests, probes and observes individuals.  She is a people person, loving and desiring to know people, good natured, yet demanding honesty.  There is no bullshitting her.  She has seen it all from employees.  I find I cannot pull myself away from her.  She talks to me about the necessity of people feeling like family at work, telling me about her grandson who is six foot eight and over three hundred and fifty pounds.  Her grandson played football and graduated with a chemical engineering degree, yet is having a difficult time finding work, struggling a bit with depression, and awkwardness because of his size.  She worries a lot about him.  I told her about my son.  During our lengthy talks, her intimacy and gushing nature made the hairs on the back of my neck stand.  I felt immense warmth and comfort.  I am one to keep my distance from fellow employees, however I must admit the cordiality extended by Bonnie caressed with coziness and welcome.  Yet within all the perceived goodness of my new employer, I have to realize the intense weariness I felt sitting in prayer before the Eucharist.  Overwhelmed, I could do nothing except sit in silence.

The powerful force of love makes me turn to the object itself of my love (God/Eucharist) and not to its image; even more, I penetrate into its heart.  This is why, in the case of God, love of Him here below is always superior to knowledge.  Although in faith, God is made known to me through human concepts, by love I can outreach all these concepts and enter in to the very reality of God.  By my act of love, I am adapted, proportioned to the divine object and I model myself on and espouse all his perfections and let him imprint in my heart his secret seal.  I consent freely to His attraction, I am receptive and passive toward Him so that He may fashion and transform me in every way.  Saint Thomas (Aquinas) uses many different terms to express the act of love; he calls it an inclination, an assimilation, an imprint, an adaption.  –Father Thomas Philippe ‘The Fire of Contemplation’

Jean Vanier and his spiritual director Père Thomas Philippe. France 1964.

Jean Vanier and his spiritual director Père Thomas Philippe (glasses). France 1964.


Sorrowful Mother

Mary was the poorest of creatures, (“blessed are the poor in spirit”). She never appropriated any grace, but accepted everything as a gift; she made the most of God’s gifts, not in order to enjoy them, but in order to draw closer to God. Thus, she constantly mounted higher and higher. She received all her graces without seeing them. It was in the beatific vision, in God himself, that Mary, on the day of the Assumption, discovered the marvel that God had wrought in her. Only then did she look at herself.


That is what happened at the Cross. Mary knew well that God was leading her in the ways of love, and that divine friendship has different laws from human friendship. Her intimate union with Jesus attained its consummation there at the Cross. She did not need purification; her trials were not a punishment for sin but a token of love. God had chosen suffering to testify on earth to his love, and God was letting her share in that suffering.

It was Mary’s confidence that made her faithful, and her confidence stemmed from her nothingness. The bride of God, who has no other task but love, is spontaneously inclined to self–effacement. This is the humility of the bride who naturally loves to lose herself in her beloved spouse. Love is what impels her to a joyous humility, which is completely simple and one with love. In moments of great intimacy with God, we hardly know whether it is acts of love or acts of humility that God asks of us. In fact, it is both together: we disappear, but we disappear in God’s love.

Let us ask the Blessed Virgin to enlighten us in all our questions of conscience. Let us also meditate on all her attitudes. There was always a deep intimacy between her and our Lord, but a very dark intimacy, an intimacy in faith. –Father Thomas Philippe ‘The Contemplative Life’

Mother of Sorrows

Mother of Sorrows


Humility and obedience to hierarchy, a blessing

St John of the Cross. Euclid, Ohio.

St John of the Cross. Euclid, Ohio.

…contemplation requires, on the one hand (since it is an utterly interior life), that we be loving spouses, formed under the direct tutelage of Jesus Himself; and the other hand, that we be pupils in a school, disciples of the magisterium; hence our contemplative life must develop in a society. This is very mysterious: God wants us in intimate relationship, which would seem to obviate any intermediary…yet this heart-to-heart intimacy has to be lived in a society of which we must be disciples. This is a mystery difficult to accept. It is the “yoke of faith” of which St Paul speaks, a veritable participation in the death of Our Lord. Our intelligence has to be crucified if it is to yield to the demands of love. –Father Thomas Philippe ‘The Contemplative Life’

Tossing in a bit of humor, I recall a common comment of Father David Mary. He would mock the statement made by many free thinkers, individuals believing themselves to be of a rarefied open mind able to embrace a spirituality of diversity and inclusiveness–a superior mind wrapping itself around all forms of spiritual thought, philosophy, psychology, and creative genius–the remark is often made that as an enlightened individual they did not subscribe to organized religion. Father David Mary would respond with the remark, ‘so in rejecting organized religion, are you making the statement you desire an unorganized religion’. It is funny, yet even more penetrating. Submitting to the magisterium of the Church, creates an emptiness allowing for proper purification and thus illumination. It is truly a blessing, a path to sanity. Keep in mind it is not just intellectual free thinkers adhering strictly to their mandates made upon truth. Many Catholics never truly submit to the Church. I know many extremely devout Catholics who will never deeply acquiesce to anything not of their controlling. Their Catholicism is one in which they rule over the Church. Their Catholicism is one in which they are a Church authority. Their Catholicism is one in which they rule over others. It can be no other way for a multitude who give their lives over to the pursuit of an extraordinary faith. The further we go in effort and devotion to the Church, the narrower the road becomes. An insidious evil, destructive and confrontational, brews where many believe a greater faith abides. What the devout controlling Catholic determines the Church to be is their weapon against the secular world and the Church itself. Such a dominating individual rallies against religious orders and fellow Catholics not falling into line with their point of view. I recall a statement by someone, I cannot recall who, said that the Church is truly most efficient when it disagrees with me. When my strongest beliefs conflict with the magisterium of the Church that is when the Church is most important for me. It is not about correcting a single point of contention. It is not about being right or wrong. It is about surrendering, truly the crucifying of our intelligence as Father Philippe so keenly states matters. We purify, emptying and cleansing, in order to allow God to illuminate.

Vanity of vanities

G.K. Chesterton said that the maniac was the man with the idea that he can explain everything. He is the completely rational man for whom everything made sense in terms of his ideas. It does no good to tell the man who thinks that he is Napoleon that he is not Napoleon. For if he were Napoleon and someone told him that he was not, he would be certain that the other person, not himself, was mad, since he knows he is Napoleon. The madman sees himself first and everything else in terms of himself.

In Walter Kaufmann’s chronology of Nietzsche’s life, under 1889, it states briefly, that “Nietzsche becomes insane early in January in Turin.”

In Walter Kaufmann’s chronology of Nietzsche’s life, under 1889, it states briefly, that “Nietzsche becomes insane early in January in Turin.”

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche