Brother Philip MacNeil
I met Brother Philip through my parish, during the process of getting our new church building ready for its’ Dedication. He and others from his community designed/made some of our church’s furnishings, such as the processional Crucifix, the stand for the Paschal/Easter candle, and a few other pieces. Here’s some pictures so you can see their beautiful work:
I had only seen him a couple times, but something about his quiet and friendly nature (not to mention the fact that he is part of a very intriguing community!), inspired me to ask him to give a witness interview. He responded enthusiastically, and was eager to share some of his thoughts with us.
(Brother Philip on the right, during our Church Dedication procession.)
I hope you all enjoy this interview as much as I did!!!
Q1.) Introduce yourself! What is your name?
A1.) Hi! My name is Brother Philip MacNeil, and I am really excited to be able to share some of my life with you on this inspiring website!
Q2.) How old are you?
A2.) I am 53 years old.
Q3.) What denomination do you identify yourself with?
A3.) Although I am “brother” and most brothers you hear about are Catholic, I am a Protestant. I have wondered many times – “Shouldn’t I be a Catholic?”, and God knows my heart feels very united to the Catholic faith – however, God seems to have led me to remain Protestant until He leads me otherwise!
Q4.) What Order do you belong to?
A4.) I belong to the Community of Jesus, based in Orleans MA, and we are an ecumenical community that follows the Benedictine tradition.
Q5.) What religious figure has been an inspiration to you? What do you most admire about them?
A5.) Wow, what a question – only because there are so many inspiring figures!!!
Actually I have three that are currently on my list, one of whom has been a faith “hero” of mine since I was quite young.
Like Fr. Mark, I have a particular love for Padre Pio. He was just such an amazing giant of a man, yet he struggled with so much difficulty all his life. Whenever I have a particularly strong need, or know of a desperate situation, I can always rely on a Padre Pio novena to bring about very tangible and timely solutions. He was a wonderful “confessor” and people’s hearts were dramatically healed just by going to him for confession.
Another favorite of mine, since I was quite young, is a man by the name of Jim Elliot. Young and vivacious, full of zeal for doing God’s will, he was martyred in South America in the 60’s, trying to bring God to primitive tribes of cannibals. One of his most famous quotes is…
“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”
That has been a quote that has helped me make many difficult decisions that required me to give up something I wanted for myself, to gain something that God wanted for me instead.
Q6.) Do you have any hobbies?
A6.) I love to do art work – especially painting with oils. I am lucky that I get to do a lot of different types of creative and artistic activities, but my re-creative joy is to pull out my supplies and paint something fun – preferably out-doors!
Q7.) What made you consider life as a monk in this community?
A7.) My upbringing from my parents and other influential friends impressed upon me that I need to live my life for God first, and whatever I did, whether create a family, have a career, or be a monk, it had to be for God.
Being a brother here seemed like a good fit, although I didn’t exactly search it out. My vocation found me, and I became drawn to this life because inside I deeply knew that God wanted me to love Him this way.
Q8.) How old were you at the time you felt that calling? Was it because of a special experience?
A8.) I was 20 years old when I felt called to be a brother, and it was another couple of years before I actually became one.
At first it was a huge leap of faith. Nothing in my background (and none of my family) had ever experienced the monastic calling. It seemed so austere and strange – to a twenty-year-old! But the more I learned, and the experiences of knowing God’s love through the “difficulties” of giving up what I wanted, to discover what God wanted for me, I soon knew that this is where I was going to find God best.
Q9.) Did you have extra school of training before you could become part of the Benedictine Order?
A9.) Although our ecumenical community is in the Benedictine tradition, we are not officially part of the larger Roman Catholic Order of St. Benedict.
I did not need to acquire further education or training to become a brother here. My “formation” as a monk was “on-the-job-training!” Although we have a more defined formation process now, thirty years ago, we had a lot to learn. Over the years, through the help of so many monastics, we gained more understanding of so many spiritual requirements to live this life as fully as possible.
Q10.) What is your favorite part about being involved in your community?
A10.) One of the joys living in community, our community especially, is that there is this support network of close “brothers and sisters” on the way with us. Of course, living with so many people can also be one of the difficulties!
We are fortunate that in our community we have both vowed celibate sisters and brothers, and also married couples and lots of children. A real sense of family brings me a lot of joy.
Q11.) How does living in an ecumenical setting work?
A11.) As we live together in community, we find a richness in the shared experiences we all bring from our varied traditions.
We respect that there are still canonical laws, especially with regard to the Eucharist, but it doesn’t divide us in our daily life together. Our different heritages enrich our lives, as we look forward to being united at the Lord’s table.
Q12.) How would you suggest a teenager go about deepening their prayer life?
A12.) A good rule of thumb is to keep it simple, but keep it up! Conversation with God about everything and anything is a way of allowing God’s will and guidance to guide our everyday decisions and thoughts, from the most mundane to the deeper more pressing needs. A conversation with God requires listening for the “still small voice” that comes back – sometimes in our hearts, sometimes through reading His word, but also through the encouragement, or correction of a friend or parent. God uses so many ways to speak to us, we just need to practice “listening” for His voice.
Q13.) What can teenagers do to help build unity among Christians?
A13.) Getting to know other Christians is important. Participating in a youth event that involves other traditions is not only fun, but a way of deepening understanding amongst each other.
Concentrating on those things that “unite” us is more important that the things that “divide” us.
My parents introduced me to many denominations while growing up. I could be in a strict, Quaker-like service in the morning, and a rolling and rocking Pentecostal service in the afternoon, and during the week I went to an Anglican school. I tried it all, and I believe it helped me to know that there was a way to find God in all these different expressions of devotion.
Q14.) What do you think of Pope Francis’ efforts to promote Christian unity?
A14.) Pope Francis is a real inspiration. He is calling the whole body of Christ to renew its passion for God and not just the “institution” of church – Protestant or Catholic. Obviously his greatest appeal is to the millions of Catholics around the world, but he is doing it in such a way that millions of “non-Catholics” are getting the message too!
This particular message of his, at this particular time in history, is resonating with people everywhere, and that has to be God.
Q15.) What is your message for young people today?
A15.) I wish that people could know how much God loves each of us. We don’t often realize how much He really, really wants to pour out His love on us. Even when we are down, afraid, depressed, lonely, hurt, bullied, or sick – He is big-time wanting to show us His love.
I find that if I ask Him to keep reminding me how much He loves me – even if I ask 100 times a day – He faithfully does. Then it’s as if nothing else really matters. We end up wanting to do the things He wants us to do. We start loving others the way He wants us to. We even start to love ourselves the way God intended – all because we feel loved by God. To me, that’s really important, and for young people today, with so many “negative” forces in the world, it is easy to forget that God WANTS to show us His love.
Thank you Brother Philip for sharing your witness story with us! God bless you! 🙂
P.S. Like Brother Philip’s interview? Leave him an affirmation in the comments below! 😉