I was happy to hear that Father Jacques Philippe – a religious priest from the Community of the Beatitudes -- was coming to Holy Apostles Parish to give a retreat for married couples Feb. 3-4. I know that there are a lot of good marriage programs out there. But as someone who has read and re-read several of Father Jacques’ books, I do think he brings something unique to the table. Namely, he helps people to navigate the intersection of what is broadly defined as “Church teaching” and the individual circumstances in which each couple lives.
A good example of this would be the often-controversial subject of natural family planning (NFP). While the Catholic Church’s teaching against the use of artificial birth control is pretty clear, the Church also gives couples a lot of latitude when it comes to using NFP. There is no definitive list of grave circumstances or ratio of family size to income that a couple must refer to in order determine whether they have a valid reason to postpone a pregnancy. Rather, each couple must discern this question for themselves, and the factors playing into the decision can differ widely from one couple to another.
However, true discernment – as opposed to simply following one’s wants and desires or being led by what everyone else is doing – is a classic case of “easier said than done.” Modern people – especially Americans -- tend to chase after quick and easy answers to life’s big questions. On the whole, we’re impatient and have a low tolerance for ambiguity. Discerning God’s will for us, on the other hand, requires a deep and intentional prayer life sustained over time.
Through his writings, especially his book titled “Interior Freedom (Scepter Publishing),” Father Jacques takes the reader through this process of prayer and discernment, pointing out many of the pitfalls that can misdirect us along the way.
In the case of a couple’s use of NFP, for example, one of the pitfalls can be basing a decision on worries about the future as opposed to concrete present realities. It’s one thing to use NFP because one spouse is already in precarious health or the family breadwinner is unemployed. But decisions based on problems that might happen 15 or 20 years down the road are probably not good ones. As Father Jacques points out in the second chapter of “Interior Freedom”:
“Things seldom happen as we expect. Most of our fears and apprehensions turn out to be completely imaginary. Difficulties we anticipated become very simple in reality; and the real difficulties are things that didn’t occur to us. It’s better to accept things as they come, one after another, trusting that we will have the grace to deal with them at the right time, than to invent a host of scenarios about what may happen – scenarios that normally turn out to be wrong. The best way to prepare for the future is to put our hearts into the present.”
This is just one of the great many insights found in “Interior Freedom,” and I have no doubt that Father Jacques will weave many of these same ideas into his talks during the retreat. To register, visit www.shop.diocs.org/married-couples-retreat-2017.