The Cosmic Battle of Fr. Phillips (Cantius, Cupich, Graf)

Every year during Lent, we are brought back to the familiar realities at the core of the Catholic Faith. We come to Passiontide, with the veiling of the statuary and the anticipation of our Lord’s crucifixion and are brought back to our Lord’s life here on Earth and his hiddenness from us in the current age. On Palm Sunday, we re-enact our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and are made present to his sacrifice at the Holy Mass. In Holy Week, we are, in a way, translated to the events of our Lord’s institution of the Sacraments, his passion, and his death, just as we are true partakers in his resurrected life on Easter. Holy Week, this sacred time set apart especially for our salvation, functions almost as a Sacrament, making those life-giving realities present to us, even in our own times. Holy Week offers us a special grace.

It is not just that we see the sacred events of our Lord’s life presented to us again, as if that weren’t enough, we also see the real way in which our Lord Jesus’ Incarnation ties our own lives to those truly cosmic events where he overcame death. God uses those sacred times to offer us a real grace, using the timing and repetition of his Holy Days, as a marker, a familiar means of reminding us that nothing happens by chance, and that his will rules the cosmos.

Passion Sunday will forever hold the liturgical anniversary when Fr. Frank Phillips was removed by Cardinal Cupich as pastor of St. John Cantius for allegations that would prove unfounded. In spite of the obvious, gratuitous nature of these false allegations, demonstrated in both the Votum by his superior suggesting he have his faculties returned and be allowed to serve as a spiritual guide to the Canons, as well as the independent report completely exonerating him, Fr. Phillips was shamefully treated. His faculties have still not been restored in the Archdiocese, although they can proffer no reason for restricting them, and he was eventually exiled to St. Louis to live in one of the houses of his order.

'Fr. Frank Phillips' battle is not merely against flesh and blood, but is a cosmic battle with the forces of darkness.'Click To Tweet

A keen observer might compare the despicable treatment of Fr. Phillips with another, more recent case. In the case of Fr. Gary Graf, who was also falsely accused, his end would be very different.

In August of last year, Fr. Graf was removed as pastor from San José Luis Sánchez del Río after allegations were made against him, allegations that would also prove unfounded. Such a removal created a gap that needed to be filled; someone needed to cover Fr. Graf’s Masses at San José Luis Sánchez del Río.

Given the sorry state of the Archdiocese of Chicago, there are few places where one may find a surplus of priests. When a need like this arises, there is, however, one stalwart, one parish with more vocations than anywhere else in the diocese, with and abundance of priests, and a charism for the restoration of the sacred. The Canons Regular of St. John Cantius were asked to help cover Masses at San José Luis Sánchez del Río and to help their community through a time of suffering, a suffering the Canons know all too well.

The Canons were dutiful in their commitment to San José Luis Sánchez del Río. They said Mass there weekly, making the spiritual needs of the people there a priority. This arrangement went on for some months. Even after Fr. Graf was found not guilty in January of the accusations against him, the Canons continued to cover Masses.

It was no different on Passion Sunday. On the anniversary of the removal of their founder and pastor, a Canon Regular from St. John Cantius went to San José Luis Sánchez del Río to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This time, he arrived to a very different scene. News vans surrounded the parish and TV cameras swarmed. Father was presented with scene all too familiar to the Canons. Before Mass, Father was given a letter to read from Cardinal Cupich, a letter informing the parishioners, that Fr. Graf had been reinstated as pastor of the parish. The letter spoke to the importance of restoring the good name of priests falsely accused, as a matter of justice. It offered reconciliation and unity.

During the offertory, Fr. Graf came up to the altar, embraced the Canon Regular saying Mass, and thanked the Canons for the continued support of the Parish in his absence.

It is encouraging to see such care taken for justice and the good name of a priest. Such an obligation is often ignored or avoided by those in a position to offer restoration. It was right that, upon finding that Fr. Graf was innocent of the charges leveled against him, Cardinal Cupich restored his faculties, restored him as pastor, and sought to restore his good name.

Yet, one can’t help but wonder, seeing the way in which Fr. Graf was properly treated, his pastorate restored and his name cleared, how the case of Fr. Phillips was treated differently. Fr. Phillips was not afforded the same justice. His name was not cleared by the Cardinal, nor were his faculties restored, in spite of being found completely innocent.

It would be tempting to look at this through worldly eyes. That the canons regular were tasked with caring for a parish where an accused, but innocent priest had been pastor could be a mere coincidence or even an intentional slight. That Fr. Graf was restored on the same day, Passion Sunday, that Fr. Phillips was removed the year before could be happenstance. That Fr. Phillips own experience mirrored our Lord’s through Holy Week could be chance.

But it isn’t. This battle is waged on a cosmic level, not only by flesh and blood, but by powers and principalities. Our Lord, in his great mercy, offered a special grace to the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, a grace of their Mass obligation, and the restoration of Fr. Graf on the very day their founder was taken from them. Our Lord gives us unique graces for times and places because of their sacred character. It could have happened no other way, than that Fr. Phillips mirror our Lord’s passion in his own suffering. Likewise, it could happen no differently that the Canons were offered a great grace on the anniversary of his contemptable removal.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, offers us these special graces in his sacred timing. He makes fruitful agony that we suffer, even when it is unclear to us how such suffering fits in his Divine plan. He also unites our particular sufferings to his own, and gives our own lives, our actions, our sorrows cosmic importance by tying them to these particular sacred times.

What a great grace we have been offered in having the veil of this world pulled back, and the cosmic realities made clear to us. We should never forget to pray for Fr. Phillips and thank him for his suffering. Like any good priest, he bears a grave sacrifice on our behalf, a sacrifice of cosmic undertaking.

If any man have an ear, let him hear.

And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten diadems, and upon his heads names of blasphemy… And he opened his mouth unto blasphemies against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them. And power was given him over every tribe, and people, and tongue, and nation. And all that dwell upon the earth adored him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb, which was slain from the beginning of the world. If any man have an ear, let him hear. He that shall lead into captivity, shall go into captivity: he that shall kill by the sword, must be killed by the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.

– Apocalypse of St. John

This article, The Cosmic Battle of Fr. Phillips (Cantius, Cupich, Graf) is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

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Randon LeDescale

Randon LeDescale is the former Director of New Evangelization at a large Catholic parish. His interests include Philosophy, Theology, and pipe smoking. He and his wife are the proud parents of four kids.
  • […] to restore Fr. Graf to active ministry. Landon was most kind and reported on these events from the viewpoint of what God is asking Fr. Phillips to endure. As one reader commented, “it is a beautiful reflection.” I agree. When Landon and I […]

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