Jacques Philippe and the Little Despot: A Book Club of Sorts


By Claire Bordelon

From our first experience with the word “no,” there is something significant in that declaration of personal freedom; it becomes entwined with our perceptions of the boundaries of others’ influence over ourselves and our daily lives. It is true that we desire freedom. We are, we are told, sovereigns (some of us, to be fair, are more like little despots) of our own kingdoms: independent, immutable and, of course, completely free.

Through the recommendation of a friend, I recently began reading Jacques Philippe’s Interior Freedom, which, among other things, has called me to a reevaluation of my understanding of that word “freedom” (pause for “you keep using that word…” reference here). What is it about this concept of freedom that has become the repository not only of all our hopes, dreams, futures, and escapes, but also our excuses, justifications, and rebellions?

I get it. I really do. To be free is so deeply rooted in the human heart that the desire alone rarely goes through any examination; of course I desire to be free, what’s the problem with that? The problem is, I am not free. I am burdened by things outside of my control. I am forced into situations through no choice of my own and my resistance to them offers no relief and leaves me instead in spiritual tumult. Even when I resist successfully, the fear of those moments that restrict me and bind me to something I’d rather be free of lingers. So I must admit, then, that I’m not free. I am limited. And further, I will never be free according to my current definition of the word. How, then, do I reconcile my deeply-rooted desire for freedom with the apparent impossibility of ever achieving it? Interior Freedom begins to offer an answer:

To achieve true interior freedom we must train ourselves to accept, peacefully and willingly, plenty of things that seem to contradict our freedom. This means consenting to our personal limitations, our weaknesses, our powerlessness, this or that situation that life imposes on us, and so on. We find it difficult to do this, because we feel a natural revulsion for situations we cannot control. But the fact is that the situations that really make us grow are precisely those we do not control.

The idea is a challenging one, to be sure, and one that requires an intense commitment to daily examination and a reevaluation of things that I’ve held onto for, well, my whole life. And so, over the next few weeks, I’ll be offering a book study of sorts. I’ll read a section of Interior Freedom and, after reflection, offer my thoughts on what I’ve read. As an aside, Fr. Jacques Philippe will be visiting Lafayette this spring and preaching the Lenten mission at Our Lady of Wisdom Church and Catholic Student Center on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s campus (Geaux Cajuns!), which will hopefully result in more of these book studies in the future.

I invite you to read along with me and offer your own impressions on the readings in the comments section below.

I’ll start with the first section (“Freedom and Acceptance”) next week.  For a preview of the book, or to read more, check out Fr. Jacques Philippe’s Website.