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Searching for peace with help from a sage

November 12, 2015
Christina Capecchi

It is the book that somehow surfaces when you need it most – manna for the multitasker, solace for the stressed. It is the book you stock up on to give to others, to slip in Christmas stockings, to pay it forward. It is the book that spiritual directors recommend again and again: Father Jacques Philippe’s tiny paperback with the nondescript cover, the one that delivers everything its title promises: “Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart.”

My friend Roxane introduced me to the book earlier this year. She had been sitting with a fellow chaperone on a bus in Washington, D.C., making their way to the March for Life, when she began sharing her struggles as the mother of teens.

“I wasn’t sure why I brought this,” the chaperone told Roxane, reaching for her purse, “but I think I know now.” And hence, Roxane was gifted with Father Philippe’s tome. “His way of approaching spiritual topics is like having a flashlight to navigate murky areas of life, when before you were just groping around in the dark,” Roxane says.

I made a mental note, but it took another nudge before I bought a copy. Katrina Harrington, a 26-year-old Catholic from South Bend, Indiana, recently blogged about her third baby, a 9-pound girl with a powerful set of lungs. “Ever since she was born bellowing,” Katrina wrote, “my cup runneth over in patience and humility. I suspect part comes from reading this book” – and the embedded Amazon link directed me to a familiar page.

This summer, when Katrina’s family was moving, she found a copy of “Searching for and Maintaining Peace” on a bookshelf. “I have no clue who bought it, since neither my husband nor I remember purchasing it or receiving it as a gift,” she told me. But it made for third-trimester reading the young mom would soon need.

When her husband, a theology graduate student, had to go on a retreat six days after Elise’s birth, leaving Katrina home with no help, she felt the book’s impact, crediting it for providing “an almost miraculous amount of peace.”

Now it’s guiding her as she resumes her at-home business, Hatch Prints – a hand-lettering and art shop that illuminates the wisdom of the saints through watercolor – providing for her family amid her husband’s full-time studies.

I’ve been savoring the book, which is as practical as it is profound. Father Philippe, a 68-year-old French priest with a white goatee and a ruddy complexion, feels like a modern-day doctor of the church. Peace, he explains, is the spiritual condition that lets God’s grace work in us. It is a “necessary corollary of love,” of being available to those around us.

I hadn’t felt that I was lacking peace, but the book has helped me recognize how often I hurry and control, trying to strong-arm my own agenda into daily life. It has reminded me to be patient about my progress, to resist the kind of checklist living – go, go, go – that can define young adulthood. “Your guide is the Holy Spirit,” Father Philippe writes. “By your struggles and worries, by your anxiety and haste, you overtake him with the pretense of moving more quickly.” The opposite occurs: You wind up on rougher terrain, and “far from advancing, you go backward.”

It has refined my thinking and strengthened my desire to harbor the peace that invites God in, so he can work through me, enabling me to produce the good works he designed me to do. In a season accelerated by the holiday scramble and end-of-year drumbeat, this book feels like a slow exhale, reminding of another way.

Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, and the editor of SisterStory.org.

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