I seldom endorse books with unequivocal praise. Still less do I endorse authors in such wise, especially if I have not read most (if not all) of his or her given corpus. One notable exception to the latter rule, and one author to whom I owe much, is singularly striking in his elucidation of the spiritual life. Although he has yet to receive widespread admiration in the English-speaking world, he nonetheless has his devotees, who relish whatever book bears the inscription of his name. I no doubt belong to this group of enthusiasts, if only for the recommendation of a friend some time ago.
The French author and Dominican friar to whom I refer, Father Marie-Michel Philipon, wrote his works of spiritual theology during the mid-twentieth century; unfortunately, the laborious task of translating the entirety of his corpus remains incomplete. What scholars have translated and made available, however, has left an impression upon his readers, particularly consecrated religious.
For instance, Philipon once wrote a brief but rather dense essay on the characteristics of the Dominican vocation, aptly entitled “The Dominican Soul.” It is now a mainstay in the vocational and promotional literature of the Province of St. Joseph. In fact, I have had many a conversation with friars who credit their reading of this reflection to their interest and eventual profession in the Order of Friars Preachers. I also consider this essay influential in my discernment of religious life and formative for my understanding of the Dominican vocation.
As with other masters of spiritual theology, Philipon’s writings often explain the innermost secrets of the mystical order, wherein grace abounds and God abides. With relative ease and clarity of expression, he offers his readers an intelligible exposition on the graces of transforming union (i.e., the highest stage of perfection within the soul), as seen in the lives of modern saints. Herein lies the brilliance of his penmanship and the appeal of his work. Philipon does not consider the hagiographical accounts of medieval saints, but decidedly undertakes the perennial project of expounding upon the lives of contemporary beatae.
To this end, Philipon composed—in my humble opinion—the preeminent work on the recently canonized St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, entitled The Spiritual Doctrine of Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity. Apart from the collection of her writings published by the Institute of Carmelite Studies, I can think of no better place to begin reading about the Carmelite mystic and her profound experience of the divine indwelling.
A second work that I wish to especially recommend, Conchita: A Mother’s Spiritual Diary, should be of particular interest to our Hispanic brothers and sisters, who recently celebrated the beatification of María Concepción Cabrera de Armida on May 4, 2019. Known simply as “Conchita” during her lifetime, this Mexican woman lived an exceptional life, having united in her person the vocation of motherhood and, by a special indult of the Holy See, the vocation of a consecrated religious. Conchita: A Mother’s Spiritual Diary affords women an opportunity to reflect on the mystery and gift of their vocation as lived by one who loved the Lord Jesus amid sacrifice and joy.
Within the book, Philipon allows the written words of Conchita to dominate the page, and only offers commentary in order to contextualize or explain specific thoughts found therein. In this way, he is more editor than author, which gives the impression that Conchita herself drives the work, as if she is speaking to you and to me. We thereby receive firsthand insight into the life of the beata, who experienced mystical phenomena of the highest order.
At the invitation of a fellow friar, I first read Conchita: A Mother’s Spiritual Diary about a year ago. Little did I know that Blessed Conchita would become a regular confidant and intercessor on my road to the priesthood. Thanks to Father Philipon, the Church has an excellent resource through which her spirit and doctrine can instruct the faithful. For anyone who does not yet know Conchita, I wholeheartedly encourage this biographical sketch of the Mexican mystic.