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Friday Book Pick: Priestly Fatherhood; Treasure in Earthen Vessels by Fr. Jacques Philippe

Surely the majority of you reading this “Book Pick” are not ordained priests and, therefore, you understandably may not have an interest in purchasing this book for yourself. However, you certainly know a priest or two, a pastor, a confessor, a spiritual director, or perhaps you have an uncle who’s a priest. I am writing this for you. Because maybe you’ll want to get this book for one or two of the priests in your life. Why not? When was the last time you did a “random act of kindness” for your favorite priest?

Fr. Jacques Philippe, a French priest of the Community of the Beatitudes, has become one of the most popular spiritual writers of our day. His little book Searching for and Maintaining Peace was so popular among the young adults here in New York City that I declared that I would never review a Jacques Philippe book in this blog, not because I don’t like his books (I do!), but because his books are doing just fine without any commentary from yours truly! But here I am, doing what I said I would never do because I don’t want this one to go by unnoticed. It’s good. And, it is right for this time we are in. It could serve as a significant encouragement to our beloved priests.

Fr. Philippe’s diagnosis seems accurate to me: “We are in a world of orphans, and so many people are disoriented and suffering because they haven’t had a chance of meeting someone in their lives who was a true father.” Fr. Philippe goes on, “Every man and woman needs to find a father on whom they can rely and by whom they can be recognized, loved, and encouraged.” And yet, Fr. Philippe is realistic enough to know that the word “father” and the image of fatherhood have been so gravely defaced and deformed that priests must be gentle and gradual in their pastoral approach. A priest should not presume to wield his fatherhood over people in a domineering or patronizing way. “True fatherhood shows itself little by little in those who let themselves be fashioned after Christ in their priestly lives. [Fatherhood] is not something we can claim for ourselves or impose on others.” The whole book then goes on to develop the concept that when a priest is conformed more and more to Jesus Christ the Son, he is more and more able to represent the divine Fatherhood of God in an authentic way to the people entrusted to him.

The concept of priestly fatherhood, Fr. Phillipe shows, has its scriptural basis in Jesus’ words to Philip, “He who sees me has seen the Father.” The more a priest becomes like Jesus, the more the faithful are able to experience something of the divine Fatherhood in him. This is really a book about developing a spirituality of priesthood that is capable of bearing much fruit.

Fr. Philippe thinks we are on the verge of a priestly Pentecost – a powerful renewal of the priesthood. There is no question the Church needs such a Pentecost. (Just as she needs a renewal in consecrated life and family life!) And it is not difficult to imagine how a renewal in the priesthood could lead the way to a greater renewal for the whole lot of us! Pray with me that it be so.

-Mother Clare



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