Do you perceive, in our Western societies, a thirst to know the Gospel?
The spiritual expectation is much greater than we imagine. It takes different paths from person to person. And if there is a common point between these diverse aspirations within the Christian world, it is the Gospel. When it is read, told, I see people who open up and feel involved.
When did you first discover it?
We read it together at home. From the age of 3, I accompanied my father, a builder and notary’s clerk, who was a cantor at mass. He traveled through the villages to provide liturgical support for weddings and funerals. And I, from above, observed the priest behind the bars of the rood screen. But it was much later that the Gospel took on its full meaning, at the end of high school, during my years of commitment to the JOC (Christian Workers’ Youth, one of the branches of the Catholic Action movement, editor’s note ).
Summer is often synonymous with rest. The perfect opportunity to dive into it?
I am suspicious of the need for vacation time to rediscover the Gospel or the spiritual question. The person who convinced me the most was a great actress, Juliette Binoche, whom I had the chance to meet one day. In an interview, she confided her important need for spiritual life. She immediately added that she responded to it, not by isolating herself in a chapel, but by practicing her profession, when the camera is rolling and the take has to be taken again ten times. This agrees with my point of view. It is in the heart of the work, in the stress, the tension, the fight, that one can reach the summit of the spiritual life. Having posed this preamble, I do not deny that a time of renewal and that certain places can be conducive to prayer.
Which places for example?
It can be the forest, the shores of the sea or a stream… Personally, when I go to Israel, I like being alone on the banks of the Jordan in a meadow in Galilee, much more than in what the are called “holy places”. Ideally, there should not be too many people – although it is undoubtedly possible to pray in the middle of the crowd… The place can be unusual. For me, the place of healing par excellence is the cemeteries. I have a spontaneous dialogue with our dead. A great serenity emanates from these places, which puts me in a good mood.
The gospel becomes more carnal like this?
Absolutely. At the Priory, we have also recently proposed a day of reading the Gospel through our five senses, noting all the times when Jesus looks, touches, smells, listens, tastes… These texts are of tremendous sensuality! To savor them fully, we must keep all our senses awake and our imagination free.
You have a strong appetite to tell about Jesus. Do you do it as a journalist?
I worked in a daily newspaper for nineteen years. In a way, it’s still my job. I consider the information professional as a go-between. Journalism led me to completely revisit my theology. When I had to explain the meaning of a biblical text in the newspaper, I worked about an hour on the content, the exegesis, and… three to four hours on the popularization, in order to make this text accessible to readers who have no culture in this area. I also remain a journalist, striving to cultivate a keen sense of observation.
Observe… and contemplate?
There is in contemplation an observation that agrees to be prolonged. What has been observed enters into itself and travels a very long way that takes all its time. I really like the contemplative approach of the monks and nuns, who are the first to tell us that this is a long-term, well-rooted process. I also have a long association with Cistercian communities that support the activities of the Priory.
You write that “faith is a high-risk adventure”. In what sense?
It’s anything but an arrival! Rather, a constantly repeated start on a path that we do not know where it will lead us. This walk does not exclude back and forth, with surprises, the unexpected. For better and for worse. And you shouldn’t be afraid of it. Believers or not, faced with the great questions of life, the tragedy of existence, we are ultimately very close. A Christian can feel very distant from a co-religionist who is not troubled by doubt and, on the contrary, nurture a bond of intimate brotherhood with a non-believer whom he feels is inhabited by the same questions as him. .
Who is Jesus for you
I like to name it in different ways. For me, he is first of all the tenderness of the Gospel. He dares approach our wounds. And given my long-standing work with nurses, hospital chaplains, staff working in palliative care, I can tell you that it’s a job! I have heard people go away in such pain… Only a tender presence makes it possible to go through these terrible hours. Then there is the fragile. Jesus reveals to us the fragility of God: he weeps over Jerusalem, he is “moved to the core” before the widow of Naim who, after having lost her husband, weeps for her son (Lk 7, 11-17). Finally, it is the soothing, the one who forgives. Whatever our paths, our wanderings, he lifts us up and tells us that a road is always possible with him.
1944: Born in Pair (Belgium).
1963: Beginning of his studies in letters, philosophy and theology.
1969: Daily entry Wallonia.
1970: Ordination as a priest.
1979: Doctoral thesis in journalism.
1984: Responsible for the Sainte-Marie priory in Malèves-Sainte-Marie.
1988: Vice-rector of the Catholic University of Louvain (then pro-rector from 2001 to 2008).
1998: The Gospel of a Freethinker, Ed. Albin Michael.
2008: This is your body Ed. Albin Michael. Commitment to patients in palliative care
*Information: leprieure.be/ecole-des-rites; [email protected]