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Time for God — Fr Jacques Philippe’s Classic on Mental Prayer

January 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Books, Mental Prayer, Nancy HC Ward, Prayer

Time for God

Father Jacques Philippe's Classic on Mental Prayer


Time for God by Jacques Philippe is about mental prayer. Facing God in solitude and silence for a time, to enter into intimate, loving communication with him. I read this as a participant in a group study initiated by my covenant community, with talks each Sunday on the five chapters of this small but dynamic for post on Time for Godbook. It is a resource for beginners trying to establish a daily prayer time, and for many of us who know the value of this habit but have strayed from that well-spent time we offer God in which he transforms our lives.

Mental prayer is not a kind of Christian Yoga. Our life of prayer is not the result of technique but a gift we receive. In fact, St. Jane Frances de Chantal writes, “The best method of prayer is not to have one.” We don’t need a formula any more than we need a script when we get together with our best friend. Having a good time together happens naturally.

The highest priority of prayer is fidelity. That is what produces quality.

“Time spent faithfully persevering every day, even if poor quality-distracted prayer … will be infinitely more fruitful than the occasional long spells of prayer.”

We all respond to the Holy Spirit in our own way and timing. But when we try to answer the question of how to use our time in mental prayer, Fr. Philippe says, ”What matters is not the movement of the mind, but the deep orientation of the heart toward God.”

Two traps, three false arguments and two temptations

The two traps in thinking about prayer:

The two traps Fr. Philippe talks about are:

  1. Thinking that prayer is optional, and
  2. Thinking that I don't need to pray. “I can just go to Mass” or “I can just receive the sacraments.”

Why are these either/or options not good enough? Because the Lord wants us in a personal relationship with him.

The three false arguments which surround time:

  1. “I don't have enough time.” Any arguments that come up related to time are lies of Satan. Don't fall for them.
  2. “If I give time to God, I won't be able to take care of the others that I am responsible for.” Sound familiar?
  3. “I don't have time to pray to the Lord and spend time with him because I pray at work. I’ll just take care of it at work,” so there is the substitute.

Two temptations that we deal with frequently:

  1. False sincerity. We feel our prayer time is not authentic because we rely on our emotions to make us feel good. That puts us in bondage. The Lord wants us to live in freedom to choose to spend time with him.
  2. False humility. Fr. Philippe uses Teresa of Avila as an example. She was trying to persevere in contemplative prayer and mental prayer. She kept recognizing all of her inadequacies, all of her faults and soon became discouraged. She ceased her mental prayer for a year. Discouragement is false humility.

His practicality is refreshing, like his caveat that we risk becoming discouraged if we take on more than we can handle. He encourages us to begin with twenty minutes to half an hour, which is better than two hours now and then.

Four truths to guide our journey in mental prayer.

  1. The Primacy of God’s action. What matters in mental prayer is not so much what we do, as what God does in us. “If our prayer consists of nothing more than holding ourselves before God without…thinking of anything special…but with a heartfelt attitude of availability and trusting abandonment – then we could not do any better.”
  2. The Primacy of love. This principle is connected to the primacy of God’s action because God’s first action toward us is love. We have to allow ourselves to be loved – first – and loved like small children who have a deep assurance of God’s love.
  3. We find God in the humanity of Jesus. Fr. Philippe suggests ways that we can come in deeper contact with the humanity of Jesus. We can meditate on his deeds and words or the events in Jesus’ life. We can adore his face in an icon or the Eucharist, pronouncing his name lovingly or repeating the Jesus Prayer. These should not be intellectual efforts, but a gaze of love coming from our hearts, clinging to our Savior Jesus.
  4. God dwells in our hearts. God uses creation, Scripture, the Eucharist and many other means to reveal his presence in our life. Fr. Philippe says what’s most important in the life of prayer is recognizing God’s presence in our hearts.

It’s all about transformation

father jacques philippe v2In Chapter 3, Fr. Philippe writes that we should not get hung up on vocabulary or methods and stages of prayer. We should not compare our prayer to anyone else’s. But one universal truth stands out: God transforms us. Our prayer goes from something active on our part, like meditating on scripture or intercession, to something passive on our part where the Lord does the acting.

A friend of mine who read this book said that she had a good prayer life. Her transformation began with a cancer diagnosis. She poured her heart out to God about suffering, which only got worse. “My sickness brought me to a total end of myself. Everything I had known and expected came crashing down. The idols I didn’t even know I had, like health and future, were smashed,” she said, “As the carrying of the cross in my life went on and on, I ran out of things to say to the Lord. To some extent, for me, it was the long suffering and the months of carrying that cross that were actually a saving grace, because I got to the end of myself and my intellect. I would go to him in prayer and simply say, ‘I’ve got nothing, but I trust you.’”

Prayer of the heart

I like how Fr. Philippe signals the vital points he wants to make, and connects them deep into our hearts, such as his guidance about time for prayer:

Here is a point worth underlining: Mental prayer should not be treated as something exceptional, done at a time snatched with difficulty from other activities, but should become a habit, part of the normal rhythm of our lives, so that its place is never questioned, even for a single day. This will foster fidelity to mental prayer, which is essential.

Life is shaped by rhythms: the rhythm of heartbeat and breathing, the rhythm of day and night, of meals, of weeks, and so on. Mental prayer should become a daily event as vital to us as the basic rhythms of existence. It should become the breathing of our souls.

As for distractions, they are normal and hard to avoid. He contends that when prayer is cerebral, with all in the activity in the mind, thoughts and imagination then we are no longer praying. “But if we have entered by God’s grace into a deeper kind of prayer, a prayer of the heart, distractions are annoying. . . .The proper response to distractions, then, is not for the mind to concentrate harder but for the heart to love more intensely.”

What else can I possibly add? Read the book. Spend time with God. Be transformed.

Scepter Publishers, Inc. published Time for God in 2008.


Art: Book cover provided by Nancy HC Ward used with permission. Photograph of Fr. Jacques Philippe, courtesy of Dan Burke, used with permission.

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About Nancy Ward

Nancy HC Ward is a Spirit-filled convert, journalist, blogger and speaker who shares her joy in the Lord, her conversion, the Catholic Church and Christian community in Texas. On, she hosts the Joy Alive Network of spiritual support and inspiration. She earned a journalism degree, wrote, edited and managed corporate, non-profit and educational publications for 25 years. She is published in Charisma, Our Sunday Visitor, New Covenant, St. Anthony Messenger, Vocations Magazine, Shalom Tidings and nine websites. She facilitates the Dallas/Fort Worth Catholic Writers and a critique group for the Catholic Writers Guild, where she serves as a board member.

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  • The Shepherd’s Daughter

    Thanks, Nancy, for sharing. What I have learned while walking the journey with the Lord is that we are uniquely His own. He wants us to be the person He created us to be, not someone else. I do not compare my prayer life with someone else’s. It’s ok to learn from others, but do what is comfortable for you.Through trial and error I have found what works for me so that I do not get discouraged, so that I can stay with it. I, too, have said, “I got nothing for You, Lord.”but, those times I just sit quietly and allow Him into my heart to know how I am feeling, to “read” my heart and to let Him embrace me, to be held by Him. What I do is keep reading material, CD’s, and online daily sources (like Catholic Spiritual Direction) to help me along. It could be something I read or hear or saying the Rosary that will make me stop and contemplate and talk with the Lord. When in doubt about something I just ask the Holy Spirit for guidance on how to have the relationship with the Lord that He wants for the two of us. God bless to all.

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  • Mr Grumpy

    One of the best books on prayer I have ever read.

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  • Jeanette

    I’m very excited! Fr. Jacques Phillippe is scheduled to do a Lenten retreat at St. Mark’s in Stouffville, Ontario on Ash Wednesday, March 1st and then again on March 2nd. I’ve read three of his books of which each line is chock full of meaning. His books may not have very many pages but they pack a wonderful spiritual punch!

    • LizEst

      Can’t blame you for being excited Jeanette! That’s surely a blessing and a treat! You’ll have to let us know how it goes.

      • Jeanette

        Will do!

    • Wish he would come to the Philippines! They sell a few of his books here.

      • LizEst

        Perhaps someone there could invite him.

  • lady jane

    Fr. Phillippe will be at our parish this weekend. I have been blessed by his books and am really looking forward to this day long retreat…even though it’s mostly through an interpreter!

    • LizEst

      Wonderful! You are indeed blessed!

  • Jeanette

    Okay, as promised, here is a few thoughts on Fr. Jacques Phillipe’s Mission at St. Mark’s Church on Ash Wednesday and the next evening Thursday. I got the sense that he is a holy priest, humble, soft-spoken, gentle and doesn’t really like the limelight but shares his wisdom with us for love of God.

    Ash Wednesday was concerning Prayer. To keep it brief as there was much wisdom here, I will just relate what mostly stood out to me: It was based on his book ‘Thirsting for Prayer.’ Pray to your Father in secret. Sometimes Fr. Jacques’s prayer time consists of 20 minutes to pray the rosary, or he will do an hour of adoration. By doing this over a lifetime, he has learned that this makes him feel great peace. Sometimes, it’s only a ‘drop of peace’ but it is enough to allow him to go on with his life and make the decisions he needs to make. He prays: “Lord, I am confused, maybe I’m working too hard. I trust in You. Please give me your gift of peace, even just a few drops. If you are patient and faithful in this brief prayer, and practice it daily, God will always answer you. It takes courage and perseverance to continue doing this faithfully, but keep at it and little by little, it will bring you into a deep(er) relationship with God.”

    The next evening Thursday was concerning ‘The Way of Trust and Love” – St. Therese of Lisieux. St. Therese compared herself with other great saints, describing them as mountains of holiness and herself as a little grain of sand and that it was likely impossible for her to close the gap. Her desire for such holiness had to come from God and for Him. Nothing was impossible for Him so she asked Him to show her how, recognizing the huge limitations of her “little self.” She realized that others who tried gave up. But she had enormous trust that God would show her how and so she persevered and never gave up….all this led to her Little Way which can be read about in her book ‘The Story of a Soul.’ Her instructions for us was to express ourselves to God as a little infant does: “Please lift me up and take me in Your arms. I am nothing without You.”

    These missions were very well attended and people came from far and wide to hear Fr. Jacques Phillipe and they were not disappointed. Our Parish was truly blessed!

    • LizEst

      Thanks for sharing, Jeanette. Beautiful description and helpful, too! God bless you this Lent and always.

      • Jeanette

        Liz, may you have a blessed and holy Lent too!

    • Is he going elsewhere in Canada? I want to tell my relatives in British Columbia! 🙂

      • Jeanette

        It doesn’t look like it Maria. He was at the Newman Center in Toronto March 4 and then went back to the US. You can check his website intermittently to see if he adds onto his agenda though.

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