03 Oct The Monks of the Abbey of St Mary Magdalene
Silent Fingers Pointed to the Sky: One Priest Tells Of His Journey To The Abbey Of St. Mary Magdalene.
By Bridget Green
Father Cyril is a monk of the monastery of Le Barroux in Provence.These cloistered Benedictines in this remote mountain hamlet of 615 souls have grown so rapidly in recent decades that they have outgrown their (new) quarters – and still the young vocations keep coming. In this revealing interview, Pere Cyril takes us into the story of his vocation and the lives of the more than 60 monks in this extraordinary monastery, the Abbey of St Mary Magdalene.
What attracted you to the cloistered life?
I was drawn to the cloistered life by the desire for a true interior life lived as a friendship with Christ present in the Eucharist, “Christ, the Life of the soul,” of whom Blessed Columba Marmion had given me the taste. There was also the prospect of Trinitarian life present in my soul to teach me to gradually “forget myself completely,” in the words of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity.
What further attracted me was the fraternal life I discovered in picnics with brothers who proved wonderfully helpful and charitable. I have not been disappointed since then.
What drew you specifically to Le Barroux and the Abbey of St Mary Magdalene?
When did you first feel called become a monk? Was it sudden or had you always felt the call?
As soon as I came to the monastery for the first time, I realized that this was where God wanted me. The question did not even arise before then. It was very sudden, although I felt called to give myself to God from a young age, not knowing how or where.
Before joining the convent, did you consider yourself a “traditionalist,” that is, did you expect primarily the extraordinary form of the Mass?
Yes, I considered myself a “traditionalist” before coming and that’s why I did not go into other monasteries I had visited before Le Barroux. I did not feel at home.
The “traditionalism” was a choice we made as a family when I was 12. We were then still seven children at home and we led our parents to tradition rather than the reverse: the traditional liturgy fascinated us with its ritual and sense of the sacred.
Personally, I loved, for example, the smell of incense, the service details of Mass, the Latin hymns, etc. Mass in French bored us. When we discovered devastating liturgical “lucky find”, we revolted. Could one believe in the real presence and behave with such carelessness vis-à-vis the Eucharist?
However there are several monks here today who did not know a word of Latin and had never attended the Extraordinary Form. They discovered this staying at the abbey and were conquered.
What is it about Le Barroux that distinguishes it from other convents?
There certainly is the traditional form of the liturgy and monastic uses, but several other monasteries also practice these as we practice them.
Over and above this, there are certain characteristics of our history. Le Barroux has a monastic tradition that connects us to the re-foundation of monastic life by Father Muard in 1850 at the Pierre-qui-Vire, to Dom Romain Banquet at En-Calcat, and finally to Dom Gerard Calvet, a monk of that same monastic family, who founded our own community in 1970, alone, in Bédoin.
In this “monastic adventure” we retain a contemplative monastic family character, but with some external apostolate and a young and enterprising spirit, which is also not entirely without danger to monks.
Why do you have so many vocations where other convents and orders are endangered?
It’s certainly not because we are better than others. The fact that our community has a young median age and this state of mind certainly plays a part. “Tradition is the youth of the Church”, Dom Gerard liked to say. There is also a dynamic acquired: novices attract novices.
But beyond these obvious causes, we must first leave any room for the mystery of the Holy Spirit, which “blows where it wills.”
How can the essence of Le Barroux be captured?
I defer to Dom Gerard, our founder, who has perfectly summarized our core purpose:
“When we discover the story of the thousands of monasteries that once covered the Christian world as a” white coat,” one cannot help but ask what would motivate millions of young men — often bright and full of promise — to leave the world and burrow into the poor and hidden life of a monk? Saint Benedict gives the reason in his rule: it’s a thirst to be nothing, that God may be all; a weariness about what is not eternal, the desire for a face to face with God. His Rule asks indeed one thing of the young man who wants to be a monk, “he truly seeks God “(Chapter 58).
The monks created Christendom, but they did not mean to. Prior to being academies of science and crossroads of civilization, monasteries were silent fingers pointed to the sky, the stubborn and defiant reminder that there is another world of truth and beauty, of which this world is the announcement and foreshadowing.”
If, in our turn, we have realized this ideal, so our lives are a success.