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Wounds of Love

By Deacon Keith A. Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC

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"It is very good and holy to consider the passion of our Lord, and to meditate on it, for by this sacred path we reach union with God. In this most holy school we learn true wisdom, for it was there that all the saints learned it".

Therefore, be constant in practicing every virtue, and especially in imitating the patience of our dear Jesus, for this is the summit of pure love. Live in such a way that all may know that you bear outwardly as well as inwardly the image of Christ crucified, the model of all gentleness and mercy. For if a man is united inwardly with the Son of the living God, he also bears his likeness outwardly by his continual practice of heroic goodness, and especially through a patience reinforced by courage, which does not complain either secretly or in public. Conceal yourselves in Jesus crucified, and hope for nothing except that all men be thoroughly converted to his will.

...The Passion of Christ is the greatest and most stupendous work of Divine Love.

-- St. Paul of the Cross

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I was praying the liturgy of the Hours the other day. It was the feast of St. Paul of the Cross.

I could not help but be drawn to one of the most extraordinary memories from years past, my brief but transforming encounter with one of his sons, a dear and faithful Passionist priest named Father Phillip. Fr. Philip was priest, pastor, friend, confessor, teacher--and he showed me how a life of loving surrender prepares a man or woman to greet death as a friend. He continues, from the grave, to speak to me of the mystery of wounded love.

There is a deeper meaning to suffering, when it is joined to the Cross of Jesus Christ. In the classical Christian tradition this insight is referred to as "redemptive suffering"

Bad things do happen - even to good people. The utter "unreasonableness" of this aspect of life is a difficult reality for many to accept! It is even more difficult when Christians seek to explain away suffering, blame it on others or make it always a sign of the demonic. Though it can be, the true difference between one who believes and one who does not is not the absence of suffering but whether it has any true value.

Those who say they don't accept it or insist that we somehow we cause it by our own behavior alone are not new to the scene. They have existed in the midst of the religious community from the time of the friends of Job through the Pharisees at the time of Jesus to those who repeat their old arguments today. Then, as now, they have led many to discouragement.

There have been several efforts by popular writers to explain why bad things still happen to good people. Some of what they have written has helped many people. It has particularly helped those victimized by poor popular teaching that has led them into the trap of misguided blaming of others or themselves for the pain; or to an overemphasis on or blame on "the devil."

Evil is real and it is personal. There is no doubt that it has played and does play a role. The reality of sin and the existence of evil are proven daily in a world wounded by the rejection of God.

However, nothing answers the deeper mystery of suffering with full satisfaction without reference to the meaning of crucified love. Somehow, even those who say yes to the invitation to love suffer and are wounded in the process of trying to love.

These "wounds of love" lie at the heart of the Christian life, because such a life is lived in a response to the God who is Himself, crucified Love. The mystery of this kind of "kenotic" or poured out love is not comprehended by the intellect. However, it is demonstrated in the lives of saints.

I had the privilege of calling one such saint my friend.

It has been many years since I last saw my friend Fr. Philip Bebie, C.P. But I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was a cold dark dreary day in the dead of winter--a day that continues to reverberate in my heart and in my life.

I had boarded a plane to visit my friend, before he died. I was gripped with fear, sorrow, hesitation, and yet resolve. This strange mixture of emotions surged through me, betraying my youthful inability to confront death--and my lack of understanding of the mystery of suffering.

I hadn't seen Fr. Philip since he was my confessor and counselor at the College of Steubenville. I first met him when I moved into an empty dormitory named after St. Thomas More. It had been set aside as a spiritual renewal center by the president of the College, Fr. Michael Scanlan, to help revitalize the campus.

Fr. Philip had accepted an invitation to minister on the campus and to build a small community of priests who would serve that mission. I had accepted an invitation to build a small community of students, a "faith household," who would also help foster spiritual renewal through our prayer, witness, and common life.

At the time, I was young, alone, full of zeal, and full of myself. I needed a pastor and a friend. Philip became much more.

He was a man of great physical stature and dignity, with a heart of holiness and a tremendous love for God's people. He took me under his fatherly wing and helped me find a home in the heart of the Church.

Philip was deeply spiritual and fully human. He was as much a Christian in prayer as he was enjoying a Pink Panther movie--a penchant we both held in common back then. I still vividly remember the times we would share the simple joyful things of life, and he would erupt into a full belly laugh that quickly proved contagious.

God was good to me at such a young age. He gave me a priest, a pastor, a friend, a confessor, and a teacher--all together in this one marvelous man.

Philip played another significant role in my life during that formative time. After struggling with a "vocational crisis", trying to determine whether the Lord was inviting me to pursue the celibate priesthood, Philip's counsel helped me make my choice for marriage. He then prepared my wife Laurine and me for the sacrament, not only giving us good spiritual formation, but also sage and practical advice that still stands the test of time over twenty six years later.

I will never forget the night that Philip sat with us during our last preparation session. Looking deeply into our eyes and probing into our hearts, he encouraged us, "Don't ever forget to tell one another, 'I love you,' to hold hands, and to hug." We laughed, surprised that he would give such advice to us. After all, we could hardly keep our eyes, or for that matter, our hands, off one another.

But sage advice it has proven to be! Five children and many years later, it is still providing direction in both its practicality and profundity. So is Philip.

As my college career unfolded, Philip moved on. A member of the Passionists, a religious community in the Catholic Church, he sought to live the charism of the founder of that community named Paul of the Cross, and imitate him by preaching the Gospel as an itinerant missionary.

We stayed in touch over the years--but with decreasing success.

Fr. Phil wanted to motivate me as a husband and father--"in my vocation," as he would call it. Periodically, he would send me little reminders of God's love, and pictures of "his Lady," Mary, the mother of the Lord. He had a deep devotion to Mary and to the holy Eucharist. In fact, he always told me, in my zeal for ecumenism, that they were the paths to Christian unity.

At the time I thought they were the great roadblocks to unity!

That piece of wisdom, like much of what he sought to impart, was wasted on my youth but planted in my heart to bear fruit at a later time.

Agreeing to preside at our wedding was the greatest gift that Philip ever gave to my wife Laurine and I. We were one of only two couples whom he married during his entire priestly ministry, and he took great pride in his role in our life.

I will never forget my experience of watching and listening to Philip as he stood right in front of us and preached the sermon (homily) at our wedding. It was as though we were the only two people in the congregation. He instructed us on the holiness of the sacramental call we were undertaking, the paramount importance of our faithfulness for the whole Church, and the inevitable struggles and suffering that would come as we walked this way together.

Fr. Philip, a celibate priest, understood the nuptial mystery of marriage better than anyone I had ever known. It would be many years later before I would understand why. He knew it at the depth of its interior structure, because he knew how it reflected and imaged the spousal love of Christ for His Church. He, as a consecrated celibate, participated in a prophetic and immediate way in the one mystery of the Christian life, the great mystery of the plan of God to espouse us to Himself forever!

Because he knew how precious marriage was to God, he knew how gifted he was when he received the call to forsake it for Christ, and offer it to Him as a gift of sacrificial love for the Church. He was espoused to Christ's bride, the Church, and he served her and her children with a fatherly and undying devotion.

After he left Steubenville, Ohio he would periodically emerge at critical times in our life as a family. For example, our second child, Keith, was born with severe colic. He would scream all day and all night. It was frightening. Even medication provided little relief. Just when we were giving up hope, Philip appeared one day, and prayed, touching our son's head with a medal he had that bore an image of Mary on it. I remember back then thinking it to be an old fashioned kind of piety.

Keith slept through the night and never experienced colic again.

Over the years, our lives got busier--with my career, more children, and "ministry". Regularly, we would hear of Philip's apostolate. But one day we received the shocking news of what would become Philip's greatest journey.

Philip had incurable cancer.

The news hit me hard--my friend, pastor, confessor, and hero, Fr. Philip, had incurable cancer.

Why? Why this holy man? Of all people, surely he deserved better!

I prayed desperately for him, in every kind of way I could imagine. I did "spiritual warfare", I even bargained with God.

But the news only got worse. I grew angry with God.

It was during one of those moments that I remembered Philip sharing with me about suffering and giving me books on the martyrs. He believed that somehow, sometimes, God allowed those He loved the most to suffer the most. He explained that when they embraced it in love they actually participated in the redemptive work of Jesus.

What a difficult concept it was for me to grasp this concept that suffering could be "redemptive" in our own lives and in the lives of others around us by participating in the Cross of Christ. I would have nothing of that!

Finally, the word came by way of a friend that Philip was at death's door. I knew I had to see him. I knew that I could not let him go without sharing one more talk, one more laugh, one more prayer, one more hug.

My wife Laurine and I agreed on this as a priority no matter what it cost financial. We were broke! I purchased a ticket on credit, grabbed a rental car upon landing, and drove through the dreary cold outside, while I tried to contain the sorrow and fear within. I finally arrived at the huge Passionist monastery where Fr. Philip was staying - in the infirmary.

This huge facility--which in the 1950s had housed over fifty men and even more seminarians--now housed seven old priests. One of them was Philip, all by himself in the infirmary.

I parked the car and approached the large glass doors. Before I could reach for the bell, I saw a note on the door. It read "Keith, I'm waiting for you on the inside, Fr. Philip." So I entered through an old foyer lined with classic works of religious art and turned into a long dark corridor. Little did I know that I would soon encounter and touch the mystery of wounded love.

Out of the tunnel-like darkness of that corridor, I saw a frail old man in a wheel chair coming toward me. "Hello, I'm Keith Fournier, I'm looking for Fr. Philip," I yelled. No response.

He was getting closer now, and in my arrogance I figured the "old fellow" was hard of hearing. So, in my insensitivity, I repeated myself more loudly. By then, I could see his steel-blue eyes, and I knew. Here before me was an old man with shriveled skin and a distended abdomen, but those piercing eyes were Philip's.

"Hello, Keith, it's wonderful to see you," he responded.

I followed him to the infirmary where, in his characteristically polite way, he offered me tea or coffee and the best seat. On the wall were two framed letters that immediately caught my eye.

The first was addressed to "His Holiness, Pope John Paul II." As I read the text, my heart sank. It was from Philip, offering his suffering to the Lord on behalf of all of his brother priests. The response was from Rome, signed by Vatican staff on behalf of the Holy Father, accepting the gift as a fragrant offering pleasing to God and extending an apostolic blessing to Philip.

Before I had even completed reading the letters, Philip wanted to hear all about Laurine, the children, and me, and ministry, my law practice ... "Wait," I said. "What about you?"

"Jesus has been good to me," he said. "He has allowed me to share in His sufferings."

Suddenly I was confronted with mystery. I had never really understood what I had read about the so many of the saints, martyrs, and heroes of the faith. Now, in front of me was a frail old man whose abdomen was distended, filled with a cancerous growth, whose pain was so intense, that he could only sleep for thirty minutes at a time.

Here was a man whose days and nights were no longer separate because of the intense pain. A man who could only eat small amounts of rice, which he prepared on his own hot plate--all alone in an infirmary, dying, and professing that Jesus had been good to him? In fact, professing it with joy as if Jesus was standing right there with him!

"But never mind about me," he added. "What about you, Keith? You look so good!"

For a moment, I was unable to speak. All I could do was to look into those deep-piercing eyes filled with the serenity of one who has gazed upon heaven. As the hours unfolded I was no longer sure whose eyes they were, Philip's or Jesus'.

I cried.

It would not be the only time I would cry during our time together. Laughter and tears seemed to mingle and flow freely in a cathartic cleansing.

I stayed with my friend through the night, adjusting to his erratic sleeping pattern, and listening. He opened his heart and shared so much of what he had learned during this time of his own passion. The confusion and fear I had brought with me dissipated as I heard him laugh. Though not loud as it had been during the Pink Panther movies we saw together, it was still the contagious full-bellied laugh I remembered from my college days.

He prayed with me repeatedly. He spoke the truth to me and reminded me of the promises of Jesus. Before long, I realized who was really sick. I realized who was really filled with cancer and who was truly healthy and happy--who was really ready to spend eternity with his Lord.

He spoke poignantly of the mystery of the cross in his own life and how he had discovered that this season of suffering had produced more in his life than all his years of study, ministry, and what he called "prideful pursuits."

He told me he was ready now to go home.

All too soon, it was time to leave. He heard my confession and pronounced absolution over me, laying his large hands on my head and praying that God's tender fatherly love would continue to guide me. He then reached behind his wheel chair to a shelf and pulled out a small, golden, metal tree with bendable branches and gave it to me.

"Like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season...' may you be my friend," he said, referring to Psalm 1:3. "Please pull down a branch each day and pray for me as you do."

After I left that day, I was only able to pull down six branches. On the seventh day, Philip went home.

The tree still stands on a shelf as a sign of his love, his wisdom, and his heroic virtue.

I knew that my life would never be the same after that encounter with a saint. I knew so little of the mystery of crucified love, but one of his disciples had shown me something I dared never forget.

A year after I had visited Philip, I was at home on a cold fall Saturday. The colorful foliage drew me outside, and I decided to take afternoon walk in the brisk Steubenville air. It was getting rather cold, so I had gone to the attic to get my blue wool overcoat out of storage.

I walked through the woods, seemingly alone. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with a sense of the presence of God's peace. I thought about Philip and how much I missed him. As I reviewed my life and responsibilities, I realized how much I still needed his counsel. To warm my hands, I reached into my pockets and felt a hole in the lining of one of them. This didn't surprise me. After all, this was an old coat--my favorite.

But my fingers went beyond the hole to the inner lining and discovered a folded-up piece of paper. I pulled it out, opened it, and read, "Keith, I'm waiting for you on the inside, Fr. Philip."

Fr. Philip responded to the God who is crucified love. In the words of his Master: "From John the Baptizer's time until now, the kingdom of God has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force." (Matthew 11:12)

Philip took it "by force." He poured himself out in response to the One who had poured out His sacred blood for the whole of humanity. He lived the charism of the founder of his community, "Paul of the Cross." He lived the call to holiness as a consecrated celibate priest.

He challenged me in his life and death to live it as a married man, and years later, his example beckons me on in my own vocation as an ordained deacon of the Church.

He pursued holiness in life and embraced eternity in love.

I will never understand suffering--at least until I, like the disciple Thomas, embrace His wounded hands and feet. However, I have the privilege of having known a saint like Philip.

As the years have gone by I have met others. They are always a fresh aroma of Christ in a world that all too often smells stale.

Like so many other mysteries of the Christian life, the Lord had to become flesh, because mere words were not enough. That is truly what He does through the saints. Since my experiences with Fr. Philip, I have been wounded by love many times ... in loving my wife and children and seeking to serve the Church.

Now, however, I know--at a deeper level--there is a greater plan behind the wounds of love. Mary, the mother of the Lord, understood suffering. The prophet Simeon foretold that she would have a sword pierce her own heart and she did. She became a "mother of sorrows", the very title attributed to her in Christian history and so beautifully reflected in the Pieta of Michelangelo and other great works of religious art.

Pain is a part of life, indeed a part of the program. The question for Christians who are called into its way is whether it will produce the fruit of transformation, of ourselves or others, or become the source of our separation from God. When we make the right choice to join it to the One whose suffering and deth won the redemption of the world, we remove its sting and participate in His continuing act of sacrificial love.

The choice is ours.

A son of "Paul of the Cross" named Father Phillip showed me the way. He understood the wounds of love.

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Rev. Mr. Keith A Fournier, the founder and president of "Common Good", is a constitutional lawyer. He is the founding member of "Lentz, Stepanovich and Fournier, P.L.C. Long active in political participation, Fournier was a founder of Catholic Alliance and served as its first President. He is a pro-life and pro-family lobbyist. He was the first Executive Director of the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice). He also served as an advisor to the presidential campaign of Steve Forbes. Fournier holds a Bachelors degree (B.A.) from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Philosophy and Theology, a Masters Degree (M.T.S.) in Sacred Theology from the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Pittsburgh and an Honorary Doctor of Laws (L.L.D.) from St. Thomas University. Fournier is the author of seven books on issues concerning life, faith, evangelization, ecumenism, family, political participation, public policy and cultural issues. He is the Features Editor for Catholic Online and a Co-Director of "Your Catholic Voice"

Contact

Common Good
http://www.commongoodonline.com VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - President/Founder, 757 546-9580

Email

keithfournier@cox.net

Keywords

Suffering

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