Tim Cannon

A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart
by Father Jacques Philippe

(St Pauls/Alba House, 2006, 110pp, $18.95. Available from Freedom Publishing)

It is easy, in this hectic world, for even the most well-intentioned Catholics to neglect that most important element of their existence: the interior life.

Professional commitments and family life place serious and legitimate demands on our time, which is ever scarce, and there looms a constant temptation to dedicate what little spare time we have to escapist endeavours. Ours is a society where drugs and alcohol are abused at unprecedented levels, and the media is awash with 24-hour, glamorously packaged fluff.

Looking around, we find constant evidence of Christ's warning: it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Certainly, by global standards, and especially by the standards of history, we are far richer, in a material sense, than ever before. Unfortunately it follows that as a society, we have never been so spiritually destitute.

Spiritual reading

Recognising this, the man of goodwill can do nothing but turn to Christ and to His Church for guidance. Frequenting the sacraments, and seeking out earnest and reliable spiritual direction are indispensable for the Catholic wishing to till the interior soil.

Spiritual reading will also be of immeasurable consolation to the soul seeking holiness in a fallen world. But where does one begin? Classics by the saints and spiritual masters can be taxing, even disheartening; so far removed are we from the worlds of Augustine, John of the Cross or the likes of Newman and Lewis that reading their works can induce something akin to culture shock.

At the same time, many contemporary attempts to simplify Christian spirituality are of questionable merit: either lacking in substance or inaccurate in their presentation of the truths of the faith.

Which is why we should be grateful for Father Jacques Philippe, priest and pastor of the Community of the Beatitudes in Rome, renowned retreat master, and truly a spiritual author for our time.

Fr Philippe's writings deal squarely with the interior life of the Catholic, with great sensitivity to the needs and challenges particular to the soul in today's world. He has authored several of books of increasing popularity, but here we shall look at just one, a small volume entitled, Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart.

The central thesis of this book can be found in its preface, where the author writes, 'it is essential for us to come to understand that the way to God and the perfection that is demanded of us is shorter and more efficacious, markedly easier too, when one has learned, little by little, how to conserve, in all circumstances, a profound peace of heart. Because then the heart allows itself to be driven by the Holy Spirit and God is able to do more with it by His grace than the heart could do by its own efforts.'

What follows, in 110 short pages, is a powerfully moving and remarkably insightful exploration of Christian peace, which the author divides into three sections.

The first of these explain why interior peace is so crucial to the Christian pursuit of holiness. The human soul depends on the grace and mercy of God in all that it does. It is like the surface of a lake, which generates no light or image of its own accord, but merely reflects the light of the sun. So with the human soul, which derives its goodness from God's love, and whose purpose is to reflect this love in the world: to love as God loves.

Like a lake, the more perfectly still the soul remains, the more perfectly it can reflect the light's source.

In short, peace is a necessary condition for holiness. The author goes on to note that, having realised this, we must also understand that the human soul is a battleground, the scene for a lifelong struggle with the forces of darkness. As the lives of the saints demonstrate, the closer one draws to Christ, the more intensely is one's peace likely to be the subject of diabolical assault.

In the second part of the book, Fr Philippe turns his attention to the question of 'how to react to that which causes us to lose peace.' With clarity and insight, he identifies the many and varied reasons for which we lose peace, distilling the ancient wisdom of the Scriptures, the Church, and the lives and writings of some of her greatest saints into sound, practical advice for the modern Catholic.

The final part of the book consists of a small collection of short extracts from the writings of such saints as Teresa of Avila, Francis De Sales and Padre Pio, each of whom developed a deep understanding of the importance of peace for the soul seeking to respond to God's loving call.

The impact of this book belies its brevity. If read with prayerful consideration, it has the potential to spark a real and profound transformation of the interior life.

Tim Cannon is a research officer with the Thomas More Centre.

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