I am a priest of the Congregation of Saint John, which I entered in 1988. I am 44 years old. Between 1988 and 2006 I had numerous opportunities to follow the lectures of Father Marie-Dominique Philippe, watch him living in our midst, and meet him in person. This is why I would like in these brief words to bear witness to his life that was “offered entirely to the Lord and his brothers” as Pope Benedict XVI wrote on 26th August 2006 in the message he sent to the Prior General a few hours after the death of Father Philippe.
The profundity of his teachings on human spiritual love and divine charity demonstrates that he had deep experience of both. Indeed, he did not content himself with speaking about love, he lived it in deed and in truth in our midst. I can bear witness to the fact that, personally, I always saw him living out a totally disinterested gift of self in unconditional love, often to the point of exhaustion… I believe it is the truth that he was a man who lived as far as it was possible for God and for others, with the desire of keeping nothing for himself.
I would add that, in his way of living out this love “to the bitter end” he was living what Pope Francis expressed in his homily during the mass for the inauguration of his pontificate: “We must not be afraid of goodness, or even tenderness!” Father Philippe often reminded us that Aristotle considered that insensitivity was the worst of all the vices, and it was definitely a vice that Father did not have. I think that most of the brothers and sisters of the Community were more than once on the receiving end of the marks of his paternal affection: far from seeming suspect to us where chastity was concerned, on the contrary they were like a sign of the tender love of the heavenly Father for us. I often benefited from these gestures myself and I can honestly say that I never experienced the slightest lack of chastity in these simple gestures of affection which he lavished on me, such as taking my hands in his or holding me tightly against his heart. It is perhaps helpful to remember that he was already elderly…..
On the other hand he was totally consecrated to the Virgin Mary and desired that everything within him (his soul, his body, and his entire sensibility) belong to her. The “Prayer of Consecration” that he wrote and that the Community recites daily bear witness to this, as does the prayer that he wrote on 8th September 2002, in which he reiterates his desire to become always more deeply the little child of Our Lady. I have no doubt that the Virgin of virgins responded to his desire by purifying more and more all that needed it within him. In a word, I watched the love of God and of neighbour attain the level of heroic virtue in him.
Recently there has been a fuss about certain testimonies that refer to gestures or acts contrary to his vow of chastity that Father Philippe is supposed to have made towards women who he was accompanying. Such acts represent a selfish search for pleasure and are an offense to the dignity of the person who is subjected to them. They are quite the reverse of the charity and disinterested gift of self that were shown by Father Philippe during all the years that we watched him living in our midst. Moreover any man who acts consciously in such a way with several different women could be qualified as “psychologically unbalanced”. To me it is clear that no such pathology existed in Father Philippe’s affectivity or sexuality: if it had it would certainly never have been able to remain hidden from all his brothers for 30 years…
This is why, obviously without claiming to be in possession of the whole truth, and fully respecting the conscience of those concerned, I would like to say here that the statements made recently about Father Philippe seem to me to be contrary to the experience I had of him for almost 20 years. I wonder if there were not certain gestures, intended by him as marks of fatherly affection, which were misinterpreted by these persons as contrary to chastity. Above all I think it is very important that what has been stated recently should not be allowed to damage the propagation and impact of the spiritual and intellectual inheritance of Father Philippe, particularly where love, human or divine, is concerned.