Letter of the Father Master to Brother Lev from Sept-Fons

Dear Br. Lev,

You will notice that a Father Master only lasts six years, in general; after which time he asks to be discharged, or else he has a breakdown, whether he has novices or doesn’t have any at all.

Being Father Master requires a great deal of detachment and, especially, no self-love. One must put self-love in your pocket, and the little of your self-love which remains will still be very substantial.

The Father Master must not – unless only exceptionally – occupy himself with the first discernment of vocations, which should be done in the guesthouse. That is why there must be men of judgment at the guesthouse. As father master, you will find yourself in front of postulants who want to become monks.

When a postulant who is somewhat serious enters, you must have a reverential fear with respect to him: itisGodwhohasledhimtous.The Father Master must not say, “He’s a good guy, he is friendly, I will keep him,” or again, “I don’t want him.” We do not keep a novice because he is friendly, but because God has led him to us and he seems fit for the monastic life.

The criteria, besides a certain psychological balance, should be his desire for prayer. It is out of this desire that everything else will be built. You must show him that it is the mysterious call of God that led him to a modest, hidden life. He must understand that he must make the great sacrifice of the apostolate (works, activities, influence...) in order to take up the only apostolate of the monastic life: prayer – that is to say, the Divine office, Lectio Divina, personal prayer and a life of proximity and friendship with Our Lord and the Most Holy Virgin. I have noticed that a brother who, in the beginning of his formation, is not sensitive to these humble spiritual realities will always have a limping monastic life: he will be awkward in this respect, which will engender bitterness, resentment, regret. The cruel saying of Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard is now more pertinent than ever, “The sans-Dieu (those without God) of the cloister” – those are men [...] who have undertaken a path whose requirements they do not accept.

The path of a life of union with God is rough and austere. It is important to familiarize the young brother, to gently lead him to understand in concrete terms certain sacrifices, including distance from his family.

This program seems clear and simple. The postulants almost always agree with me, but, when it comes to understanding, it is a different story. The Father Master must be affectionately very firm. It is not an easy situation, because it is with him, face-to-face with him, that the young monk must construct himself, come to grips with his past and... with his father! This passage is mandatory.

You will have postulants and novices who are remarkable, tranquil, balanced; but they will not be the majority. Saint Benedict, in his Rule, says, “Whoever you are...” It is Everyman who knocks at the door of the monastery, even if the monastic vocation, in the Church, is rare.

Everyone must one day pass through this “combat with the angel,” that is, with themselves, with the Prince of this world and with God. It is at this moment that you must be close to them, but without demagoguery, and it is here that you will take the greatest number of blows. This passage is mandatory for all. Often, Father Masters avoid dealing with it... for the blows they can receive can be difficult. The brother in that struggle is like someone who is drowning, who thrashes around and who no longer monitors his reactions.

The Father Master must be an experienced guide, not necessarily a saint. It is just that he needs to stay a bit ahead of the brothers with whom he is charged; he must know the path well, must have gone over it from every angle. That is why the practice of the monastic life will be more important for you than your role of Father Master. A Father Master who is a pillar of the guesthouse, who runs around everywhere [...], who is irregular at Matins, is not a guide. He is an onlooker.

Be sure of one thing: you will be helped and supported, as I myself was helped and supported by the Father Abbot, by F. Jerome, F. Louis [...]. Most of all the Father Abbot supported me at times when a friend would have let me down. You will be helped, too [...]. And at Sept-Fons you already have brothers and friends.

You are capable of being Father Master; like me, you are not an ace; you are a good second. You are a man who is young and balanced, you have judgment and you are already a true monk. Develop in yourself your qualities of solidity, of stability and of pugnacity. Put them to the service of Our Lord and of the brothers.

Never be cowardly; be tactful. Be close to the brothers; never be too close in a superficial way. Grace is powerful in their hearts.

Give your friendship to those who deserve it; they are in need of it. Do not take it back from those whom trials cause to waver, or even drift away [...]. Keep in your memory certain brothers who, in spite of themselves, have had to leave the monastic life. Every day in my prayers, when I celebrate the Holy Mass, in the memento of the living, I name these men who have disappeared from our horizon, sometimes thirty years ago, but who, at this moment, are very present in my heart. Do not give your friendship to the spineless, to those who do not keep to the straight and narrow...

Teach the brothers, from the moment of their entry, that they will become monks to praise God and to save souls. The rest: divine friendship, human balance and even happiness will be given to them in function of the gift of their heart to Our Lord.

Become a deacon; prepare for yourself the heart of a priest. You will need it to be Father Master. My own model is Fr. Jerome.

In the evening when I go to bed, in the dormitory, at the head of my bed, there is an image of the Virgin. Mentally, every evening, I “settle myself under the cloak of Mary, Our Lady” (Pope Francis). Do the same.