Priest known for spiritual writing, retreats leads reflection on a holy Church in midst of scandal

| March 28, 2019 | 0 Comments
Catherine Sy of Holy Name of Jesus in Wayzata translates for Father Jacques Philippe of the Community of the Beatitudes March 21 at St. John the Baptist in Excelsior. Father Philippe, who is from France, spoke at an evening of reflection on the holiness of the Church.

Catherine Sy of Holy Name of Jesus in Wayzata translates for Father Jacques Philippe of the Community of the Beatitudes March 21 at St. John the Baptist in Excelsior. Father Philippe, who is from France, spoke at an evening of reflection on the holiness of the Church. Courtesy Keith Thomas

Despite the scandal of clergy sexual abuse and its cover-up, the Catholic Church through God’s faithfulness and mercy remains and always will be holy.

That was the message of Father Jacques Philippe, a priest known for his spiritual writings and retreats, to more than 200 people gathered at a March 21 evening of reflection at St. John the Baptist in Excelsior.

“The holiness of the Church is the holiness of God himself,” said Father Philippe, who is from France and a member of the Community of the Beatitudes founded in that country. “It is the holiness of Christ.”

The Church remains the means of sanctification through God’s fidelity and the presence of Christ, in its sacraments and truth of the Gospel, said Father Philippe, widely known for books such as “Interior Freedom,” “In the School of the Holy Spirit” and “Searching for and Maintaining Peace.”

“God’s faithfulness is bigger than man’s sin,” he said, speaking through an interpreter. “As St. Paul says, where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.”

Father Philippe spoke as part of a series of talks offered by the parish in its inaugural “Father Mark Dosh Speaker Series: Where Knowledge Leads to Love,” in honor of its late pastor, who died in February 2018 after 59 years as a priest, the last 16 at St. John the Baptist.

The series is on the four marks of the Church: One, holy, catholic and apostolic. The first talk was in January with widely known evangelist and author Jeff Cavins of St. Joseph the Worker in Maple Grove. The next will be in Oct. 3 on the Church as catholic, or “universal,” with Debbie Herbeck of Ann Arbor, Michigan, a convert from Judaism to Catholicism and an author who works in youth and women’s ministry. The final talk, on the Church as apostolic, will be given Nov. 14 by Bishop Peter Christensen of Boise, Idaho.

The evening with Father Philippe included a reception, eucharistic adoration and time for confession, as well as music from the Basilica of St. Mary Cathedral Choir and a Q & A session.

Speaking quietly and with humor for about an hour, Father Philippe said people suffering through this time in the Church should not leave, but rather should pray still more for the Church.

“One person said to me, ‘With everything happening in the Church, I think I will leave the Church,’” Father Philippe said. “I said, ‘OK, but where are you going to go?’ We cannot do this by ourselves. We cannot save ourselves.” And he warned, perfection would not be found elsewhere, either.

Over time, scandal such as what the Church is facing now, “forces us to work toward a form of holiness that is not human perfection but is the holiness of Jesus, who is in fact able to take on the sins of others,” he said.

Father Philippe quoted St. Catherine of Siena’s prayers for the Church when it had grown corrupt in the 14th century, and St. Therese of Lisieux’s prayers for priests after she had come to realize the imperfections of several.

Through it all the Church continues, and its members should pray for one another and lean on God, Father Philippe said. Everyone sins, and only with humility can people grow in grace, he said.

“It is true the Church needs to reform,” he said. “It needs to be purified. We have to be careful to do all we can to show the holiness of the Church. But not in a prideful way, but being a sinner among sinners, humble but full of hope in the mercy of God and the power of grace.”

“We must not have the position that others must change, but I don’t need to change,” Father Philippe said. “Mother Teresa was asked, ‘What must we change in the Church?’” and she said: “‘You and me.’”

Pope Francis is working on reforms, and people should trust him, Father Philippe said. “I, personally, trust him a lot,” he said.

But there is a need for personal conversion, as well, Father Philippe said.
“We can’t be prideful and Catholic,” he said. “I am very happy to be a priest. It is the greatest gift that God gave me. But in humility. I’m not Superman.”

“We are called to love the Church,” he said. “Not because I like the Church, but because it needs our love. It’s not because it is cool, or nice, or we laugh together. But because the Church needs us.”

And people need the Church, Father Philippe said, which is “an encounter between the infinite mercy of God and the misery of man.”

“In the Church,” he said, “anyone who wants to love God … will always find the means necessary.”

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