We’re fighting the same battle!
François and Elisabeth, you have been Team members for a long time now. How did you come to preach a retreat to monks on the subject of, “Married Life, Monastic Life, We’re fighting the same battle!”?
For many years now, we have very regularly been going to the abbey of Sainte-Marie-du-Désert, a Cistercian abbey about thirty kilometres from Toulouse. One day, at the end of a meal, the father abbot, Dom Pierre-André, asked us if we would run the community’s eight-day retreat at the beginning of Lent. Given our amazement and disbelief, he confided in us that he wondered if the Holy Spirit had not inspired him…
Immediately, Elisabeth thought that the mission was impossible, beyond our reach and that we had more to learn from them, the monks, than teach them… François, despite being surprised by the request, said to himself, “Why not?”
“Why not?” Some of the riches that we sensed and perceived were a reviewing and enriching of our love, of our commitments; a means by which to thank the community that hosted us regularly and supports us with their prayers for many a long year, in particular during our years of service and commitment to the Teams of Our Lady; a new adventure for the two of us, one that we knew would not always be easy, but would undoubtedly be very rewarding.
When faced with such perspectives, gently and slowly, the “why not?” established itself to such an extent that we ended up by saying yes.
Could you tell us in a few words how you prepared this retreat?
The run-up was rather relaxed; we had time and so we leisurely collected ideas, chose the subject topic, found a coherent structure, researched and selected the documents, shared our propositions… The title came easily, as did the organisation of the subject matter according to two axes and the division into different chapters. But the heavy, intense and continuous organisation of this project awaited us when we came back from summer holidays and the deadline was only five months away. Almost all of our time was dedicated to this enterprise that had phases when there was a wealth of ideas and others of great aridity: a wealth of ideas to explain our life and Father Caffarel’s intuitions; aridity to put together a talk about mercy or to express our experience of praying.
There was joy and relief when, at the end of these long weeks, this painstaking task with its ups and downs, was finalised into its definitive version of the different talks, just one week before the retreat. A certain apprehension remained as to whether we would meet the expectations, but there was no more time, it was a leap in the dark, or rather, into the Lord’s arms!
How did the retreat itself go?
It is with complete trust that we ‘planted our tent’ at Sainte-Marie-du-Désert. Except for Vigils at 4:15am, we slotted into and followed the community’s rhythm. We were welcomed by the brothers and shared in their life by attending the Offices and their meals in silence with its own well-honed ceremonial. We were with them for the beginning of Lent: “Repent and believe the good news.” We shared their joy on the occasion of Brother Robert’s jubilee on the feast-day of Our Lady of Lourdes, and also their Ash Wednesday fasting. Every day, after the meal, we met up with Dom Pierre-André for a friendly exchange about how the retreat was going and an informal chat that was always very enriching.
At the Father Abbot’s request, we made ourselves available for the brothers twice a day in order to meet with those who simply wished to talk to us freely. These conversations usually took as their starting point something that we had said in our talks or something in Father Caffarel’s recorded talk or else with a prayer. These moments when we exchanged freely and in truth allowed us to get to know better those who dare to cross the parlour threshold. We listened carefully to what was entrusted to us and were deeply moved by these personal confidences about where they were in their lives, their possible difficulties, their worries…
Another important moment was when we shared and exchanged with the community on St Paul’s text to the Colossians, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people… clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness…” (Col 3:12-17; a text that incidentally we had chosen for our wedding). This exchange was extraordinarily rich because of the community’s diversity and it was an unexpected time of truth and reciprocal trust, one of God’s unforeseen moments!
Finally, there was an unexpected meeting with Father Cuny, from the Missions Etrangères de Paris, who regularly comes to Sainte-Marie-du-Désert, so that those brothers who wish to meet him can spend some time with him. Father Cuny spent part of his ministry in Korea, but before leaving for the Far East, he had been Father Caffarel’s secretary for six months… Won over by the Teams of Our Lady, he translated the Charter into Korean! You can imagine our surprise and joy!
What positive aspects to do you take away from this magnificent experience?
So many graces received…
The Grace of the Mission Accomplished
After this unique experience both for us and for the community at Sainte-Marie-du-Désert and undoubtedly too unique in France, we have one certainty: “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” (Lk 17:10) and one request to the Lord: “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me.” (Ps 19:13).
The Grace of a Renewed Look
A renewed look at the marriage sacrament: not the simple blessing of a human reality, but the restoring of the right relationship between man and woman, according to God’s original project for couples, before the fall.
A renewed look at our marriage:
– The richness and strength of the definitive ‘yes’ we gave each other, even if we are not tempted to look elsewhere or dream of something else.
– God makes himself available to be loved by giving us each other to love. There are not two loves, a love of God and a love of our spouse, but one single and same love.
– Through thousands of tiny things, accepting that we are dependant, “Honey, I need you,” we depend on each other and we depend on God. A permanent doing it “for you,” a self-sacrifice, a drop at a time, every day.
– The certainty that “If I do not have love, I am nothing.”
A renewed look at our commitment to the Teams of Our Lady, through the presentation work we did as we drew from Father Caffarel’s teachings. Arguably, we ought to regularly re-read the Charter, just like the monks ceaselessly re-read St Benedict’s Rule.
A renewed look at the community at Sainte-Marie-du-Désert, a better acquaintance with the brothers thanks to the frank meetings we had with several of them and a feeling of a greater fraternity.
François and Elisabeth HATEY