TESTIMONY ABOUT FATHER MARIE-DOMINIQUE PHILIPPE
In all the six years of teaching and formation I had with Father Philippe, as well the many retreats and sessions throughout the following years up until his death, I can truly say that I never heard a single word from him that could have been misinterpreted or have insinuated an unhealthy exercise of friendship. All I heard from him was just the contrary. Father Marie-Dominique Philippe spoke very strongly about the rectification needed in the exercise of friendship. He did not tolerate exaggerated and clingy friendships; he encouraged us to live very pure and healthy friendships and even encouraged us to offer them completely to Jesus in order to maintain our interior freedom. I had the chance to ask him very precise and personal questions about the exercise of friendship, and he always answered me in a very clear and challenging way, to encourage me to keep my heart both free and loving at the same time.
I knew him from 1983 to 2006, a total of 23 years, and he was my guide throughout all those years of formation and priesthood (I was ordained on March 25, 1990). I was always most struck by his fervor but also by the strength of his intelligence, his discernment about situations and persons, but also and above all by his great mercy. I am aware that he was highly criticized for his extreme mercy.
Cardinal Barbarin even said so in his homily for Father Philippe’s funeral: “His compassion was for him source of an immense, yet sometimes excessive, hope. He was convinced that no matter what deprivation someone might carry, God’s mercy is waiting for him. he can be healed from any wound; he can get back up and be reborn. With his father’s heart, he sometimes trusted—trusted too much—beings who were still too weak and who should have been accompanied more closely, maybe even tried a little—brothers who should have been listened to more closely in order to have discerned more correctly. He sought out a path of healing for each person, in order to be a witness to all of the Father’s love.”
Faced with this “most likely” evangelical attitude, I’ve always thought that it was probably not him who had made ill-use of mercy, by teaching and generously showing mercy as Jesus, have as the Son of God, would have done, but rather us, his spiritual sons, by sometimes living this mercy very poorly, by interpreting wrongly what he was trying to tell us and by letting ourselves off the hook for acts or gestures that did not correspond to what he wanted to teach us.
If we take a look at Jesus and the way he judged and practiced mercy, couldn’t we say that he too failed to discern well when he called Judas and that he went too far in mercy by continuing to accompany him even to the point of washing his feet? And also when he called ten other apostles who would be cowards when faced with the Cross? This begs the question of knowing whether the goal of discerning a vocation is discovering the truth of Jesus’ call upon a soul or claiming to be able to guess how the one called will respond and what his holiness will be. Only in this light can we understand how some brothers could damage and tarnish the image of the community and its founder.
If St Dominic lived the “vir evangelicus”—evangelical man—when he exclaimed, “My mercy, what will become of the sinners?” then perhaps Father Marie-Dominique Philippe lived it too, exclaiming interiorly, “My mercy, what will become of these weak and wounded men, these sinners?” Father Philippe would never abandon or condemn a brother who had strayed down a wrong path; no, he would walk with him and do everything he could to help him get out of the hole he had gotten into, to help him lift himself back up and continue his path trusting in the goodness of the Lord who forgives everything. But if a brother persisted in making a wrong choice, he respected his freedom.
Father Alban Marie