Episode 11 – Book Study Part 3 – Free gift & Spiritual Poverty (part 4 and 5) by Jacques Phillippe

Learning to Love – In the school of Jesus

‘Learning to love is extremely simple: it means learning to give freely and receive freely. We have a strong tendency to give in order to receive in return’.

Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom (pg. 117)

In this section Jacques deals with what freedom is not – it is not licentiousness. It is not freedom to do whatever I want any way that I so desire. Licentiousness is instead a unique kind of slavery where man is trapped by the superficial. 

On page 113 onwards, Jacques makes the important point that what saves us from sin is not the law. Once we make the mistake of thinking that the law is our Saviour then we have brought into the trap of thinking that it is our deeds and not Christ’s freely given love which has brought us to salvation. Is the law good? Of course. Is following the moral law good and indeed necessary for salvation? Yes! Is the moral law the foundation of our relationship with God. Most certainly not. God has called us to Himself out His generous love, no because He’s impressed with our legal sensibility. Following the law is part and parcel of being in a loving relationship with God – after all, a relationship in which my actions don’t reflect the the love I have for the other, is not really a relationship. However the moral law is not the foundation of the relationship. God is. He is the foundation of our faith and of all good things, including our fidelity.  Taking the law as our foundation for our relationship with God is often a source of pride, since we wind up crediting ourselves as the reason God loves us. We can easily become legalistic and judgemental from this position, constantly looking for splinter in our brothers eye, and never seeing the plank in our own. 

Love is not something we just do

Its something we learn with Jesus. To give freely and receive freely are not easy things for us to do. As our author points out, sin often sets destructive patterns of using moments of free giving or receiving as excuses to claim a right or demanding gratitude or repayment. Sometimes we struggle to receive freely because we feel like we haven’t earned the gift given or that because of our limitations, faults and weaknesses we are not deserving. On the other hand, we also can struggle to give freely because we think we deserve to be compensated for our gift, and we struggle with receiving when we think we are entitled to more than we’re actually given.  

Our author says that Jesus seeks to overthrow this pattern of thinking, by bringing a new standard to the table – be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. We need a new attitude of receptivity  – If we are going to love God then we need to become like God – and this is not something we can do on our own. The grace of God is needed – which we can never earn – only gratefully receive. Becoming like God – like Christ, means becoming authentically human, because that is how Jesus continues to love us now, with an authentically human heart. So to adopt this attitude of receptivity we need to die to ourselves by identifying the moments of judgment, self-righteousness, and self-deprecation and allow them to be crucified.  Catch the lies in their tracks, and receive the truth – we are loved infinitely by God. 

Need for identity

We have a unique value and dignity that is independent from what we can do and accomplish. It’s also dangerous to identify ourselves by the spiritual good that we do.

‘Human beings are more than the sum of the good they can accomplish. They are children of God, whether they do good or cannot yet manage to do anything. Our Father in heaven does not love us because of the good we do. He loves us for ourselves, because he has adopted us as his children forever’.

Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom (pg. 124)

In the question re identity, our author states that there are two tendencies which obscure our identity. Namely when having supplants being, when doing and being are conflated. In the first instance, when having supplants being, our identity becomes connected to our possessions and this is a recipe for disaster. When we define ourselves by what we have, our identity becomes ephemeral – defined only by our ability to consume which is never satiated in a consumerist world and is obliterated the moment we lose the material possessions we have invested ourselves in. In the second instance, where there is an overemphasis on doing, its worth noting an improvement! In the second instance, While It is much better to be identified by talents, than  our possessions since the way we use our talents expresses who we are – we also have to recall that this is still not a sufficient way of understanding our identity. Because if my identity is based on my ability, what happens when I lose that talent or ability? Who am I without it?

But identity is not rooted in the sum of one’s aptitudes. Individuals have a unique value and dignity, independently of what they can do. Someone who doesn’t realize this is at risk of having a real “identity crisis” on the day he or she experiences failure, or of despising others when faced with their limitations. Where is there room for the poor and the handicapped in a world where people are measured by their efficiency and the profit they can produce?

Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom (Kindle edition, Scepter Publishers, pg. 121-122)

Our value is not based on what we do or what we’re good at

Fr Jacques Phillippe points out that when we reach a moment in our lives where we can no longer do what we were used to doing OR what we’re good at, or it becomes more challenging, we lose a sense of who we are, because we were so caught up in those actions defining who we are, he calls it an ‘identity crisis’. This then means we only really value the people who are most useful in the world, or productive, or able to achieve some sort of accomplishment that’s deemed valuable by the culture that they’re in at the time. 

We can see how such an approach would lead to utilitarianism – where is the room in such an approach for the feeble and the lame?  

So what is identity. Let’s have Jacques reveal this to us: (from book version)

This is why humility, spiritual poverty, is so precious: it locates our identity securely in the one place where it will be safe from all harm. If our treasure is in God, no one can take it from us. Humility is truth. I am what I am in God’s eyes: a poor child who possesses absolutely nothing, who receives everything, infinitely loved and totally free. I have received everything in advance from the freely bestowed love of my Father, who said to me definitively: “All that is mine is yours.”

Our treasure is not the kind that moths or worms can devour. It is in heaven in God’s hands. It depends on God alone, his good will and unfailing goodness to us. Our identity has its source in the creative love of God, who made us in his own image and destines us to live with him forever.’

Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom (pg. 124)

Remembering the truth about who we are

This is why Humility, or spiritual poverty, is such a precious gift in itself. Because it helps us to always remember the truth about who we are. That’s all humility is really, it’s truth: the truth of who we are in relation to God. When we stray from true humility we can end up prideful, thinking we are the bees knees. That we are of course right about things, and we’re elevated than most if not all. To this way of thinking, we have no need for God, because it’s all about me. There’s no room for God.

Another way of thinking that also is not humility is something similar to what Henry Nouwen speaks about in the return of the prodigal son:

‘For a very long time I considered low self-esteem to be some kind of virtue. I had been warned so often against pride and conceit that I came to consider it a good thing to deprecate myself. But now I realize that the real sin is to deny God’s first love for me, to ignore my original goodness. Because without claiming that first love and that original goodness for myself, I lose touch with my true self and embark on the destructive search among the wrong people and in the wrong places for what can only be found in the house of my Father’. 

-Henry Nouwen

We are God’s masterpieces

We can sometimes fall into the trap that to be humble means to beat our bodies and our minds. This is SO FAR from the truth. We are told our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we ought to treat that temple with reverence. Our hearts and our minds ought to love God, but how can we do that if we continue to wound them by beating ourselves up? The way we have been created is God’s masterpiece, and we have been gifted this life to treasure not to destroy, not to tamper. The Virtue of Humility is what helps us remember who we are, so that we can rightly order what we do with that.

‘Mature Christians, who have truly become children of God, are those who have experienced their radical nothingness, their absolute poverty, being reduced to nothing. At the bottom of that nothingness, they have finally discovered the inexpressible tenderness, the absolutely unconditional love, of God. Henceforth their only support and hope is the boundless mercy of their Father God.’ 

Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom (pg. 129)

When our hope is fixed on God, we open up the possibility of learning to love as Jesus loves which, through both giving and receptivity, reveals to us our identity. We are sons and daughters of God, made free by love and for love. Such an identity can never be taken from us. Its why St Paul affirms, nothing can come between us and God, nothing in heaven above or earth beneath! Thus,  a truly free person has nothing left to lose. 


TBG (Truth, Beauty, Goodness)

Reflective Questions

  1. What does it look like in your life to give freely? And what stands in the way?
  2. What does it look like in your life to receive freely? And what stands in the way?
  3. ‘We have a strong tendency to give in order to receive in return’, this is not a true gift that is freely given if we’re expecting something in return. What are some areas of your life that you can become better at giving without wanting anything in return?
  4. What are my deepest hopes at the moment?
  5. Do I give space (Exteriorly and interiorly) for my hope in God to grow?
  6. Describe who you are. What makes up your identity?
  7. Are any of the words used to describe your identity linked to an accomplishment, or task?
  8. Take some time today to ask God to reveal to you who you are in relation to him, AND how he sees you
  9. In what ways are you currently beating or starving your body and mind? What are two ways you can stop beating up/starving your body? And one way you can stop giving your mind a hard time?
  10. What do you fear would happen if you were to see your true ‘nothingness’? Take this to God, and ask him to give you the strength and courage to see this through. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *