God often provides me with surprise blessings. A recent encounter with His unexpected grace involved one of my favorite authors Fr. Jacques Philippe. The prior year I found out that he was coming to the United States (from France), and knowing the demand that would ensue, I scheduled him early to be a guest on Register Radio. Before the show he provided retreats at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama and then at the Sister Servants at Casa Maria in Irondale. He was then scheduled to appear on EWTN Live with Fr. Mitch Pacwa.
We first met for a few minutes in Hanceville to prep for the radio show. The segment was to be brief so there was no time for warmup – it required energy and clarity from the start. Knowing that English is still a challenge for him, I wanted to meet to run the questions by him and determine what was on his heart. I also had a curiosity about him as I had seen him speak before in person and had the sense that he was a very holy priest. We agreed that our focus would be on finding peace in the midst of our challenging times and the content of his book, Searching for and Maintaining Peace.
The meeting with him regarding radio went well but he was reserved in our conversation and we limited our discussion to the “business” at hand. The subsequent Radio show also went well but he was still a bit quiet and distant. He was pleasant mind you, but I didn’t get any indication from him that he had any desire to connect beyond the tasks before us. We took a few photos together and I assumed I wouldn’t see him again for a few years.
The following week I was looking for a professor to teach a course at the Avila Institute and I called Sister Louise Marie at the Sister Servants because I knew that she knew the professor. I said, “Sister, I am looking for Fr. Fred Miller’s phone number, do you have it?” She said, “Oh, he is still here. You should come to Mass and then lunch with us tomorrow and you two can talk then.” I agreed.
When I showed up for Mass, Fr. Jacques Philippe was there but Fr. Fred Miller was not. When I exited Mass I asked Sister who she heard me ask about the night prior and she indicated “Fr. Jacques.” I just smiled. Though I was happy to be there, based on my inability to connect with Fr. Jacques in previous meetings, I simply assumed that it wasn’t meant to be. For that reason, if she would have told me it was Fr. Philippe, I would have allowed my workload to keep me at EWTN for lunch. Regardless, I assumed the confusion was providential and determined to see what God had in mind. After all “Jacques Philippe” and “Fred Miller” couldn’t have been further apart. God had to have something interesting in store.
We had a great lunch and time together with Fr. Jacques and all the sisters. They sang to him in French and there was joy in the air. Eventually I needed to go back to work and as I stood up to say my goodbye’s, to my surprise, Fr. Jacques motioned that he wanted to speak with me. We crossed the courtyard to a quiet place and began to talk. I didn’t know what he had in mind so I followed his lead. In our talk we meandered in and through the topic of prayer for about an hour. It was delightful to speak to a master of the spiritual life but I was a bit perplexed as he didn’t seem to be leading anywhere.
The clock began to nag at me regarding work at EWTN so I gently indicated I needed to go. I asked him for his priestly blessing and that he pray for me. This, my friends, was the reason for our providential meeting. He not only prayed for me, he prophesied over me. He said, “God wants you to know…” I can’t share what he revealed but I can tell you that I will never forget what the Lord spoke through Fr. Jacques and the way He had so clearly orchestrated our very strange meetings and time together. I believe He had done all of this to help me believe and trust in the message He had given to Fr. Jacques for me.
Another irony about this entire episode is that Fr. Jacques didn’t know that I was reading an advance copy of his new book, Thirsting for Prayer, in order to provide an endorsement for his publisher (I never told him about the effort). So, here’s a story to nowhere but a little window into God’s sense of humor.
Please read the book, Thirsting for Prayer and you will be blessed. Fr. Philippe has a unique ability to provide simple, clear, and deep insights. His writings have sold in the hundreds of thousands because of this gift, and I believe, because he is a modern day mystic and thereby a man of deep prayer and holiness. God is truly blessing Fr. Philippe’s work and I have no doubt that he will bless you through Fr. Philippe as well.