I am Robert from New Zealand.
I am 44 years old, and at present I am the head of a music department in an Auckland secondary school. After completing my music studies, for 20 years I have been attracted in a ‘search for the truth’ that has led me to part-time study of theology and philosophy first of all at Auckland University with the Mount St. Mary’s Theological wing of the Auckland Theologate, and then at « Good Shepherd College » which is an Auckland satellite branch of the Sydney College of Divinity, Australia.
At the time that I first encountered the writings of Fr. M.D. Philippe, I was a postulant in the Beatitudes Community, who were in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was there that someone gave me the book « Wherever he goes » – (Suivre L’Agneau) which is a retreat on the gospel of St. John.
For me, it was the first time that I had read a contemporary author who had the depth, insight and clarity of an early Church Father. The work was striking in the combination of depth and simplicity. It was completely unpretentious, untainted by the narcissistic side of modern academia. At the same time, the author had clearly penetrated not only the scriptures but also philosophical questions and connections.
I knew that he was the founder of the Community of St. John because a friend of mine who used to be in the Beatitudes in France had been attracted to learn from the Brothers of St. John while in France and he had told me about Fr. Philippe. He had also given me the book to read. Another friend of mine, Brendon had wrote to me at this time and said: « If I knew where I could find the doctrine of a theologian combined with the piety of a child, I would go there tomorrow. »
When I read this I knew that this was in fact the phenomenon that had touched me so much in reading Fr. Philippe. He had the piety of a child of God shining through his writings, which made them fresh and alive, and at the same time there was this depth and insight that his deep philosophical, dogmatic and mystical search had allowed. So I answered Brendon with an email: « I know where that is! That is in the Community of St. John in St. Jodard, founded by Fr. M.D. Philippe! » Brendon then replied – « Then I am going! »
This stimulated and mobilised me also. I really had a deep longing to go there myself and here I was recommending it to someone else who was prepared to just go. So I decided to go with him.
I knew that we didn’t have much time because Father Philippe was already 91. We wrote to the brothers an email in English, saying: « Does anyone there speak English? We want to immerse ourselves in the search for the truth. We have found this resonance deeply in the writings of Fr. Philippe. Could we come as lay students…. « etc etc.
To our delight all the doors opened and we were able to go there and stay there as lay students for four years.
At first the lectures of Fr. Philippe were translated for us, but because he spoke very slowly and with a simple vocabulary, it was only a few months before we’d learnt enough French to be able to follow the lectures – along with ongoing help from other students at first.
What was so amazing about this encounter was the visible holiness of Fr. Philippe. A frail, little man, weak with age, but so alive in his intelligence and in his heart. A man glowing with love, like I have only seen on the faces of a few people in my life: notably Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. And he was totally given to this ‘search for the truth in love’ to ‘truth in the service of love’. The part of his philosophy that most touched me was the philosophy of friendship and the talks that most touched me overall were his talks in mystical theology as well as his preaching at Mass. Fr. Philippe spoke as if he had his head in heaven! It was as if he could see the mysteries and was then translating what he saw to us. I mentioned this phenomenon a lot. And yet it was all through the dedication of a life long faithful search that he had insight after insight and the humility to constantly search and constantly share and encourage that search with and in others.
He passed away two years later and we felt immensely privileged to have met him and to have been able to be in his presence for two years. He came to St. Jodard 3 days a week Monday to Wednesday in that time and gave about 4-6 lectures in that time as well as celebrating the masses. I went to confession to him several times, which I also found to be an enriching and very beautiful experience.
The most striking thing about him for me was the love that had totally transformed him. And also the sheer amount of work he had done in his field. The endless recordings, the endless transcriptions and writings that existed. Fr. Philippe had given himself to this search for the truth in the service of love so totally convincingly and thoroughly that he seemed to be walking love.
When he died I was in New Zealand but I quickly rearranged flights at great expense to make it back in time for his funeral which I was privileged enough to attend.
He is perhaps the greatest person I have ever met and his contribution to philosophy and theology will be more and more appreciated with the passing of time because he had a way of entering into this kind of study that was like a return to first principles, a return to a truly authentic search from the ground up – but where there was no limit to the depth of discovery possible when a person truly ‘returns to the source.’
I want to share this testimony as a witness to an extraordinary man that changed the lives of thousands of people including me.