A quick review of a spiritual self-help book that has meant a lot to me. (I’ve also written about this book here.) God kept putting this book in my path, through various recommendations and offhand mentions, until my sister sent me a copy out of the blue and I finally read it. These days it’s one of those books I give to people so often that I like to keep an extra copy on hand. (This post ran in its original form on Simcha Fisher’s blog.)
Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart by Fr. Jacques Philippe
This is a small, extremely easy-to-read little book, written in a gentle and tender tone. At first glance it seems to offer the kind of cliche spiritual advice that is hard to take to heart, but it is actually full of extremely practical advice about breaking destructive mental habits.
Fr. Philippe begins by dismantling the subtle temptation to fight the “wrong battle,” which he describes as the misplaced desire to attain peace by conquering all of our faults and all of the external obstacles to peace.
…if we expect peace…because everything is going well…and our desires are completely satisfied, …then it is certain that we will never know peace or that our peace will be extremely fragile and of short duration.
This is a double temptation–to doubt God’s mercy on our sins, and to doubt his ability or desire to aid us in our troubles. Both lead to despair–either despair of salvation, or despair of any happiness and peace in this world. If instead we contemplate Christ’s love for us, embodied in the Cross, we will gain the confidence we need to survive our trials, whether they go away or not. Fr. Philippe describes his own peace after adoration, not as a feeling that conditions are going to improve, but as an “attitude of heart:”
The external situation was always the same, there were always problems to solve, but the heart had changed, and from then on, I could confront them peacefully.
Here’s a prayer upon making a decision, which demonstrates how effectively Fr. Philippe cuts through mental confusion and scrupulosity:
‘Lord, I have thought about it and prayed to know Your will. I do not see it clearly, but I am not going to trouble myself any further. I am not going to spend hours racking my brain….I know well that, even if I am mistaken, You will not be displeased with me, for I have acted with good intentions. And if I have made a mistake, I know that You are able to draw good from this error….’ And I remain at peace.
One last snippet, which is explained further but makes a good mantra all by itself:
The reasons why we lose our peace are always bad reasons.