Jean out walking

April 2016

People often tell me that time passes more quickly when you are older. I can confirm that! It seems to me that just yesterday it was April 1st, and yet suddenly the month is already over. Where has this time gone? I am having difficulty believing that I am already 87 years old. I am in good health and my mind is working well despite the odd hole when I search for a word! My legs need half an hour to an hour of exercise each day. I am looking after them because it’s a case of either use them or lose them. Yes, I’m getting older and I marvel all the more at nature dressing up in her spring clothes, the clothes of her youth. It’s amazing to see the flowers emerging from the earth: dandelions, daisies, primroses, crocuses, tulips as well as all the soft green leaves appearing and covering the trees. And what is more, there is the beautiful sunshine. Spring is like a transformation, a new birth. Life! Life is renewing itself, new hope for each of us. Winter is past, and after the night comes the light. Isn’t it the season of Easter? A passage – a resurrection, a renewal – so that each of us can be renewed in the Spirit.

Spring is also the moment when, in our community here in Trosly, we go on a pilgrimage. This year, there were four groups in different locations. I became one of the 40 pilgrims who travelled to Lisieux. We went by bus and spent five wonderful days living in the same pilgrim hostel, taking our meals together.

Loïc and others from his house, Les Fougères were there, as well as Patrick and André from my foyer, Le Val Fleuri, and many others. This pilgrimage has done me a lot of good.

At Lisieux, I rediscovered Therese. Little Therese and the little way that she opened up for us, that is to say: living in trust, believing in mercy. She died at the age of 24. My God, what extraordinary progress she made during her life! And through her, God has worked wonders in renewing the Church and faith, love and trust in Jesus. She found community life hard. In her autobiography, St. Therese recalls her difficulty with one of the sisters at her Carmelite convent: “she had the gift of annoying me in everything: her manners, her words and her character all seemed very unappealing.” Yet she does not remain stuck in this ill feeling but sets about doing what she would have done to the person she loved the most. She often gives her “friendliest smile.” Therese teaches me not only how to live with Jesus, but also how to live community life and smile on those who, from time to time, can appear to me to be disagreeable. Therese called her Carmel “the blessed ark.” It was the place of her deepening, where she discovered that when she walked in love, she was at home.

Our L’Arche communities are little places where we, too, can grow in love and holiness. There are links between Therese and L’Arche. My grandmother, who was also called Therese, shared the same spiritual director: Father Pichon. In one of his letters, the good priest spoke of his two “little Therese’s.” I think Therese is watching over us. During the pilgrimage, we of course made an excursion to the seaside. Patrick went in for a swim, in other words, he took off his shoes and walked into the water!

I think that you all know that a film is going to come out on L’Arche, or rather, on some people in L’Arche, which has been shot by Randall Wright, a major English TV producer. The film lasts an hour and 40 minutes is called “The Idiots” in reference to Dostoevsky’s book, The Idiot, to show that these people are prophets. This film will be presented at the Toronto Film Festival in September. I have seen it, and it really is extraordinary! I hope that it will publicize how many people in our communities of L’Arche and Faith and Light are prophets.

And Loïc, who came with us on pilgrimage to Lisieux, is one of those prophets. At 60 years old he is ageing a bit! He is the little founder of Faith and Light. In 1967, he and his brother Thaddée, with their parents, were not made welcome at a hotel in Lourdes. His parents, Camille and Gerard, were very hurt by this and spoke about it to Marie-Hélène Mathieu. It is with her that we set in motion the pilgrimage of 1971. Today there are about 1,500 communities worldwide. Yes, our little founder has aged but still has his beautiful blue eyes and that way of looking at you which is so sharp, so clear. Soon in his foyer, we will have a beautiful celebration for his birthday, keeping it low-key since he gets tired easily.

These days I am diving into the writings of Joseph Wresinski, a wonderful and unusual priest. He lived in a slum near Paris and then became a priest for the poorest of people. He founded an association “Aide à Toute Détresse” (“Help for the most excluded”) which later became the international movement ATD Fourth World. He wanted to be close to the poor and proclaim the value of the most excluded people, those without culture or education. He came several times to L’Arche to speak to us. He used to tell us that it is those who are excluded who are the “saviors of the world.” They can live only if we dare to meet them and enter into relationship with them. It is they, the most excluded, who teach us how to love. I love his books, especially The Poor are the Church. It was like a beacon for me. Father Joseph is like Pope Francis, calling us to go to the margins of our societies in order to meet the poor, to let ourselves be evangelized by them and to receive their wisdom.

It is now 20 years since the monks of the monastery Thibirine in Algeria were kidnapped by a group of violent Islamists at war with the government forces. These monks were murdered. Many of you have probably seen the film “Of Gods and Men.” The monks were deeply connected with their Muslim neighbours. One of the monks was even their doctor. These Muslims wanted to live their faith and life of prayer outside any political context of violence. I have just read a book that resonates with me a lot, on a text by Christian de Cherge, the prior of the monastery: L’Echelle mystique du dialogue chrétiens et musulmans pour un projet commun de société (The mystical ladder of Christian-Muslim dialogue for a common social project.) Christian, in his own way, was a prophet. He is a real light for me. He always guides me further into life with God and true fraternity with Muslims. From its origin, L’Arche was fortunate to become ecumenical and inter-religious. This implies that each of us needs to deepen our own religious faith and find opportunities to meet our brothers and sisters from other Churches and religions. The essential thing for each of us is to let God live more and more inside us in order to see in each person, a child of God.

I feel in communion with all the communities of L’Arche and Faith and Light. Our world is so difficult. We must pray that the walls between groups and people fall and that each of us grows in love and freedom to discover true solidarity among human beings.

Yes, let us pray to grow in greater love for God and all our brothers and sisters.

Have a good summer!

In communion with you all,

Jean

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