c, The Deepening of my call to serve Jesus, L’approfondissement de mon appel au service de Jésus,

Saturday 13 February 2016 — Latest update Sunday 14 February 2016

c, The Deepening of my call to serve Jesus, the long road to discovering my Vocation.

(L’approfondissement de mon appel au service de Jésus, le long cheminement vers ma vocation.)

If I had been able to come to recognise my state of poverty and if my person had been able to begin to blossom, it was thanks to the Divine grace of Jesus.

Father Foucault had been an important person in my path of conversion in the Sahara. Wouldn’t the Little Brothers of Foucault be more adapted to my situation rather than the White Fathers? I was in contact with the Little Brothers of Foucault and I did ask myself this question over my call linked once again to my condition as a ’poor person’. The White Fathers came more from a Bourgeois background, they were cultivated and I came from a working class background! I had to undergo a discernment so as to be able to move forward in the deepening of my call to serve Jesus. I deepened this in a dialogue with the Little Brothers of Foucauld in Alger and this is how we agreed that I would enter into their congregation in Montbard, when I got back to France, for a trial period.

In April 1963 my military engagement ended and I was in civil life. Without any waiting I went to the Little Brothers in Montbard. I have in my memory the big pictures of the Sacred Heart drawn by Father Foucauld in the Sahara painted on the wall of the chapel. In Montbard I worked in a horticultural centre in town, planting pansies. I liked this simple work. That is where I became reconciliated with manual work that I had undervalued. Six months later, the Superior D. Voillaume made a proposition that I go and study rather than stay on with the Brothers! It was painful for me to leave them- I felt rejected by the Little Brothers.

It turned out that when I was in Ourgla I had put my name down to follow studies with the White Fathers in Bonnelles, outside of Paris, for the year ’63-’64. So in October ’63 I went to Bonnelles, outside of Paris, a place for ’late vocations’! There were three of us in the Latin class, we had to catch up on our Latin if we wanted to get into the Theology class that was given in this language. In this class there was Gerard who came from a village in the Oise region, called Trosl-Breuil. Gérard invited several students to come and spend the month of September in Jean Vanier’s l’Arche. He had already come to talk

about l’Arche, this new community, at the institute of Formation of the White Fathers. So in the month of September I found myself in a Christian community living daily life with people with intellectual disabilities. I really liked this community. At seven in the morning we would be huddled in the small chapel where PTP would celebrate mass. Nevertheless, I was happy to be at Compiègne railway station a month later. I had done my ’initiation’ of l’Arche and that was it. I wasn’t drawn by the people with disabilities. L’Arche had been a trial of faith for me, since I didn’t know the world of the handicap. The l’Arche assistants formed together a lovely prayerful community. You needed to look at the mystery there with great faith. If I usually considered myself to be ’poor’, here I was confronted with people much poorer and unable than I was!

But Providence had decided otherwise, there was superior reality that united them! Later on, I understood what Father PT called the conscience of love of tiny little ones.

Again, it is Edith Stein who is a good support to explain what happened. She established a correspondence between the order of values and the area of interiority. The whole stake of ethical life is to respond to a value by granting in itself the place it should have, the level of depth it requires, for the soul shelters different levels of depth. What will let the weight of values be felt, what will allow them to be weighed is to determine the way of welcoming such and such value, is the ’count ability or the non-countability of what it (the soul) welcomes in it with ones own being, if her actions go or not in the direction of ones being." (The Knowledge of the Cross’, pg.80)

Once the experience of l’Arche was over, I went to Kerlois in the region of Morbihan, to study Theology in the big seminary belonging to the White Fathers. The classes were given in Latin! I did my best as I studied, very fervently. Even if I found it hard to do everything in the programme, I used to love this life of studying. It was very hard for me to learn English! My mind found it very difficult! I liked Church history, the lessons about Vatican II that was going on at that time. I remember the football games in the huge property. On Wednesdays, day off, I chose to go and visit a person with disabilities in Hennebont. At Christmas I received l’Arche’s Community Christmas Greetings from Barbara, who was someone very well known in l’Arche! This became something important for the choice I would make about the path I was to follow.

The revolution of ’May’68 was on the horizon and people talked about it quite a bit! Around January, the Superior of the seminary called me to persuade me I should go back into the world! It was a big surprise. What was God doing with me after these two trial periods? I didn’t know where to go. Out of the question to take up my profession as a Butcher again and Army time was over! In fact, the only ’thing’ I was in need of was to go to mass every day and receive the Eucharist. After a time of reflection, It seemed very clear to me that I should go to l’Arche in Trosly where I could go to mass every day! L’Arche imposed itself upon me as Christian community taking into account my desire to receive the Eucharist on daily basis.

Without giving any warning, I came to l’Arche in Trosly on 1st may 1966. It was by the midnight train, like in Montbard and in Bonnelles. This time again, I made my way towards the community chapel which was always open on the ’Place de Fêtes’ and I spent the night there. Father TP would come and pray there at seven in the morning. He was delighted to see me again. So this is how I made my beginnings in Trosly, first of all in the l’Arche home. Nothing had changed since my time there, 9 months previously, in this community with people with learning disabilities. I heard people speak about Jesus, but it made me a bit annoyed because all I could see were people dribbling, being violent and things like that! Even if so and so were nice enough. However, I was happy being in a community that placed Jesus at the centre of it. I would spend my time in the chapel once my work was over. Jesus ’Friend of the poor’; revealed himself to me quite soon after. I was this poor person Jesus encountered. Jesus didn’t reveal to me my wounds and poverty, much more deeply, He showed me His Love and I received it. It was just as much an experience of myself, of my own being, as it was of God. C2

I liked this community. In the morning we would gather together in the chapel for mass celebrated by Father TP. It wasn’t long before Mr Vanier, as we used to call him at the time, asked me to go to the ’Val Fleuri’ l’Arche home. As soon as September 1966 I found myself living amongst these 35 men who would be known as ’the boys’. I had to roll up my sleeves! It was surprising the amount of violence in that château. There again, I had to get on with it! Faced with Jean Pierre Balleur’s violence (he could have killed an assistant), I turned to Jesus in prayer! I had to recognise my own poverty at the school of the poor in l’Arche. The case reports we had where we would put our observations in common, were a great help to me in recognising this poverty of mine. I was able to re- read my life and shed light on it thanks to what I was given and came to discover. I needed to have an attitude that was adapted when faced with the suffering of these people, working for justice and truth in order to move ahead in our life together!

We would work with a psychiatrist, Errol, and other competent professional people. At each case report for the disabled, I would question about human nature. The disabled made me open up tot heir poverty and by this very fact to my own. I was lucky to have been able to participate in a school of practical psychology with the case reports bringing together asssitants and specialists in psychology and psychiatry. Thanks to these case reports, I gradually came to abetter understanding of psychological life. I had always been intersted in self-knowledge-here I was at a good school.

I recall the case reports about Patrick Hermant where I could strongly identify myself in his weakness even though we were very different. It wasn’t hard for me to deal with daily life and its organisation.

I had good spaces for prayer. The White Father who accompanied me in Kerlois wrote to me telinng me ’We’ve just ordained someone like you!’ These words put me back on track for the priesthood. I would meet Father TP regularly and I told him about this letter. This is how I took up again a formation in Theology and Philisophy.

The most important moment of my day was Mass. If the people in the l’Arche home would go to mass, it wasn’t quite the same thing at the ’Val Fleuri’ home. There was an educator, Joseph, there before Jean Vanier became director in the home and he would put on the T.V. as soon as people got in from work,

just at mass time! Seeing he had been there a long time and had alot of ’power’, it was a case of negotiating with him and his friend Victor the gardener! When Joseph left for personal reasons, the atmosphere changed altogether, becoming much more peaceful. I remember well the first evening we had prayer at the Val Fleuri home. We had prepared it with alot of thought and it went very well! From that day forward, even if the violence didn’t completely disappear, things were no longer the same as before. We transformed a part of the attic so we could have a small oratory with the Blessed Sacrement in it. So Father TP would come regularly to the chapel and to the home. He would teach the ’boys’ and the assistants about the Gospel. It was always a moment of consolation for us all. This is how I could re read my ways with the disabled. I could then understand how much past events had an influence on the present!

I faced up to my own limits in the recognition of the people in charge of l’Arche who were more cultivated than I was and to whom more important functions were proposed. Those who had more intellectual knowledge were more easily recognised. I only spoke French and we were continually coming across English speakers. We were always being faced with language barriers. Once more, it was an experince of poverty for me, this time in a community whre the ’poor’ were honoured. If were to continue on my way peacefully, I would need to become humble.

C3 Deepening of my Call to the service of Jesus, the long path towards my Vocation

(L’approfondissement de mon appel aus ervice de Jésus, le long cheminement vers ma vocation)

In 1972 I had to begin my training as Special Educator (Educateur Spécialisé). There were two other assistants following the same formation. I have good memeories of sitting there learning in the school at Neuilly-sur-Marne.The training period I did at the psychiatric hospital of Clermont in the Oise impressed me. The people in charge asked me if I wanted to put on a nurse’s white uniform. I spontaneously said if possible I’d prefer not to. So looking like a ’civilian’ amongst the sick one of them came to see me and with a huge smile asked me ’What have you done?’ I had to look into my conscience, either I hide anonymously like the sick, or else I tell him I’m an educator! Opting to be true with him, the effect was immediate : it was as if a door closed between us and the signs of his illness appeared again on his face. I was bowled over!

On my days off I would benefit from Father MD’s teachings and conferences in Paris. Father TP taught students of the Ourscamp Abbey at the home of ’The Farm’ on Saturday mornings and I really appreciated them. So there was a lovely harmony between my work in l’Arche, community life and my studies. I was fulfilled with everything I was discovering which allowed me to get to know myself better in my capacities and my limits. I was discovering that if the ’intellectual’ dimension was necessary, the affective sense was a very important place of self-knowledge. It linked up with the ’conscience of love’ that Father TP would talk about. All this allowed me to enter into my inner life, my true person. Through this spiritual opening I ’built myself up’, out of this interiority, in my relationship with Jesus and others, giving privilege to the inner affective dimension. By this path, I realised how relationships in community were positive when lived out on a personal and cordial level! When trust was lacking I remained very vulnerable, and also if another person was les sensitive tot his affective aspect, being more rational and intellectual. I believe here I was closer to the disabled who had less intellectual means and who functioned more on the level of the heart!

Edith Stein, in her book ’Christian Life of the Woman’ p.182, brings to light what she names ’the affective meaning at the centre of the human being which is the organ ’destined to bring human beings into a state of fulfilment.

The link between what is ’religious’ and what is ’psychological’ in the person with intellectual disabilities is something quite subtle! In a very disguised way we can enter into emotional blackmail. When Jean-Clause Lefevre was angry he would cry out to me : ’ Your pal is Franco!’ (the psychiatrist.) He had understood very well how the case reports with Errol Franco made him get out of his ’religious character’ to grow in fraternal life! We were good ’friends’ together and we would need a lot of truth in order not to enter into a religious attitude which would have been servile in hiding the reality of community life.

If we grow in theological life, we also need to grow in life together. When I listen to someone in distress, I know how Jesus loves him, that He has saved Him and that in Him already everything is reconciled. However on a psychological level much more time is needed for him to get rid of everything that is muddling up his mind, memories, and souvenirs. The greater the wound, the deeper the understanding of another. To the wounded people I encounter I can say : ’your wound will help you to understand the wound of others. To speak in this way is ’to be taken out’ of the traumatism, the misery.What opened me up to path of healing, a path of the Resurrection, was the time I spent with Jesus. So I could begin to follow him and become myself in this way. If I wanted to remain true to myself the only way out was Jesus’ Life, the life of the Saints and the Gospel. If I were to evaluate these twelve years spent in l’Arche I would need much more time.

To become ’a friend of the poor’ was something that came to me in a very gentle manner.I had come to Trolsy after two trial periods in religious communities. Elsewhere, Dr. Lamarche was a good guide for me on a psychological level during all that went on in May’68. He got me to go towards what was essential-the knowledge of Jesus and the other person just as he was.

Father TP’s tenderness and gentleness were very impressive. He always privileged the relationship, the link with people and with Jesus and Mary.The poverty I found within myself could be transfigured by the poverty of Jesus in the Gospel. It was years later as a priest that I really discovered the Presence of Jesus in the poor, with Christian de Job. It is the same presence of Jesus that I would find in those who were commended to me through my ministry.

“Jesus in the Poor”. I was able to apprehend this mystery. First of all I understood how the poor need to be evangelized by Jesus: This was also my own history! In 1974 I undertook work for a degree in Theology at the Catholic

Institute of Paris, whilst I kept working. I became aware of how what I received in studies there were much different than what I had received up until then! I didn’t necessarily agree with some of the ideas coming out of May’68. How was it possible for two ’worlds’ to confront themselves like that? Father TP et Father MD helped me reach a balance. I just had not to show very strongly this difference of opinions! I chose to be validated on my written work, like this I would be in security.

In this context, we had Confirmations of disabled people in the l’Arche community, the celebration was presided by Mgr. Stephan Desmazières. In this way he entered into action in my life.

After the celebration we took our meal at the Val Fleuri, where he asked me where I came from and where I was going. So I spoke to him about the theological studies I was doing at the Catholic Institute of Paris whilst I was working. Father Stéphane was very interested, and knowing my itinerary, he made the proposal of putting together a dossier telling about my journey and the studies I had undertaken, so as to advance with me. He was going to Rome on an ad limina visit and so he would take mine and other dossiers with him.

On his return, he told us this confidence : Cardinal Garonne, prefect of seminaries, to whom he presented the dossiers answered him : ’This Arche you’re talking to me about, if it asked you for a priest, what would you do?’ The answer was clear : ’I’d give it one!’ ’Well’, said the Cardinal ’There are some who present themselves for ordination, give the Sacrament of Ordination!’ When Mgr Demazières met Pope Paul VI and presented him with our dossiers, he answered him : ’I know that the seminaries in France are empty, but the priests will come from elsewhere.’ Coming back to his diocese, Mgr Demazières was confirmed that he should move us forward to be ordained. Marc P. et myself had been the ones retained out of the five dossiers presented.

So the decision was taken to send us to the Seminary of Reims in the final year for future priests. The following year this was our programme : Reims Seminary for a week of studies, another week in pastoral insertion - I was at Clermont because of the psychiatric hospital and I remained in l’Arche which stayed my community of insertion. The perspective of my life in l’Arche became more precise and I could understand the journey I had done up until then.

The discernment for the priesthood was done by F. Poulain, superior of the Reims seminary. We were ordained deacon in Clermont in June ’78 and ordained priests on the 8th September 1978 in the Church of St Paul des Sablons in Compiègne. After the Ordination celebration, Jean Vanier took my mother into the sacristy to greet the Bishop. He asked her this question : ’Have you consecrated your son, Gilbert, to God?’ My mother was very moved and said to him ’Monseigneur, I’ll tell you something I’ve never told to anyone else. When I was pregnant with Gilbert, my husband had gone off to war and so I turned towards God and to Our Lady and I said tot hem ’If you bring back my husband, this one (it was me she was referring to), I’ll give him to you." The bishop replied maliciously ’Did your husband come back?’ ’Of course he did!’ answered my mother. Thanks be to God! This was the first time the souvenir had come back to my mother, fortunately! And yet, what mysterious Providence leads each one of us! C5

Sacramental life an the life in God’s presence are for me a Divine ’means’ to rise again with the Poor Christ and to live with the poor. My life as a priest was at the same time something that had to be get used to, and at the same time it was a continuity. I therefore passed from the statute of assistant to the one of being a priest. At that time I was named to be in charge of the ’SCEJI’( ’Catholic Service for Maladjusted Children and Youth’) and to be Chaplin of l’Arche. Father TP was very present in Trosly and this orientated my ministry out to the neighbouring town of Compiègne and to the local villages of Pierrefonds, Cuise, Breuil and Attichy. At that time we formed just oe community with these different ’places’. As the ’regional priest of l’Arche’ and then of the ’Southern Europe Zone of l’Arche’ I was kept very busy. The context at that time was so different than what it is nowadays!

I would need to speak about how the poor in l’Arche transformed me. It happened on an underground level. For sure, there had been one or other event when I became aware in a very real way of the hidden Presence of Jesus in the poorest people. I also witnessed the paths of so many assistants who discovered this reality. I served the parish of Our Lady of Ninefountains : l’Arche was well implanted in it and it was a great joy at the dominical Eucharist to notice the disabled shining with joy and the parishioners so happy to pray with them. Together, they formed one parish. How often would parishioners speak highly of those they knew well : ’ How was Pete? I haven’t seen him for a while, he is always delicate towards me!’ It is also my joy to celebrate daily mass in the l’Arche community. There can be arguments between the altar boys who want to serve! There are around twenty of them altogether. What presence of Jesus these people bear within themselves- ’That’s lovely!’ Says Pascal to me often. There is such an encounter between the Living Jesus at the heart of the poor and Jesus celebrated in the Eucharist! Didier points to his heart and says : ’I pray for you.’ I know that his prayer is something precious for Jesus. As for Christiane, after having taken Holy Communion, she stops in front of the altar and after a time of reflection cries out : ’I love you!’

This experience has taught me very much-it is in the relationship to Jesus and with the poor that I have learned the most about my poverty and that of other people. The relationship with Jesus and with the poor have always been linked for me. Jesus became poor so as to join me. He gives me the poor so I can

peacefully welcome my own poverty! With the poor I ’feel’ well, as I do with Jesus, I feel at ease. I need to make progress with the ’alterity’ of the other person. I still feel my poverty here, but today I feel a greater openness in me and a better welcome! I had always been ’maladjusted’ when faced with difference on a social and cultural level ever since my childhood, but thanks to Christ Jesus a door opened up. Today, to let myself be encountered by the poor, it is in allowing Andrew St. to join me in the poverty of my person, where I am in communion with the Person of Jesus. After communion, Andrew sings in my ear : ’Lovely Gilbert…’ There’s no distance between communion with Jesus and communion with Andrew. If I come across him in the street afterwards, we remain on the level of this communion.

To encounter Jesus in the poor, it means joining Alan R. in his vulnerability in hospital. So the way he welcomes me reveals to me how the Crucified Jesus looks at me. He finds in me a comfort that is the fruit of a real friendship, what happiness to welcome one another and be in each other’s presence. In the anguish of his heart, in his bae means of expression, what a consistent quality of communion is experienced! In Alan’s nothingness reveals to me the quality of the relationship I have with the Crucified Jesus.

To encounter Jesus in the poor means to welcome Georges in his desire for the Eucharist. The desire and confidence I read in his gaze, the union I sense in him; between Jesus and me the priest who gives him Jesus is amazing. In welcoming me, I am aware that Georges is welcoming Jesus and that for him it is very linked.When I give him Communion, I feel his Joy to encounter the one who gives him Holy communion at the same time he encounters Jesus.

In each experience, the poor person I encounter is linked to the poor person I am and with Jesus who saves us by his poverty.

Caroline’s experience is surprising to me. She loves Maurice and lets herself be loved by him. In the community life framework, there are many opportunities for this link to be manifested. I can see in this relationship the ’work’ that Maurice does in Caroline’s heart which can join the wounded aspects of her life. I am aware that I accompany a mystery in this relationship that goes beyond me. I try to recognise, make genuine the work of the Holy spirit who manifests the Salvation of the Crucified Jesus by Maurice in Caroline’s heart. Only The Holy Spirit is Master of the works and yet it is necessary to look with faith and prudence so that God’s work comes about through confirmation to move ahead or to be in silence, waiting for light. It is by the ’work’ of the

Resurrection brought about in Caroline’s heart that I can discern the mysterious role of Maurice who doesn’t know what is happening in her but who also benefits from God’s work.