December 7, 1961-1989-2014, 25th anniversary of the death of Brother Theophane

Homily by Father Sebastian, his brother.

God uses every event for our good.

This Christian vision of existence is not easily accepted by anybody. However, it is around this that our life can be unified and that makes us saints.

Twenty-five years ago today, on this vigil of the Immaculate Conception, our monastery was getting ready to celebrate a solemn profession. In the evening, just before Compline, an important event occurred: that of the death of Brother Theophane, my elder brother, taken away on his twenty-eighth birthday by a brain tumor. We were at his side. Immediately after his death, the Father Master, who is not someone who pays lip service, said, “It is Brother Theophane who has won!” and later: “In a few years, he ran the same distance as Father Jerome did in fifty years.” These were cryptic and presumptuous reflections from the mouth of him who had known Father Jerome and Brother Theophane the best.

As the years have passed, I have come to understand them better.

Father Jerome lived a spiritual experience of great breadth, which he was able to transcribe and pass on.

Brother Theophane, under an affectionate rule, lived what was taught to him and, in six years of living that experience, ran out a sort of giant’s race in spite of his weakness, his faint-heartedness, and his powerlessness.

Within Father Jerome were united an exemplary fidelity to the monastic life, sureness of judgment and of doctrine, intellectual breadth and natural distinction; all of this at a troubled time during which he lived an austere daily life of solitude, an exemplary monastic and priestly life, with conviction and in a devoted way, to the point of being able to pass them on – and with what mastery!

With Brother Theophane we could say almost none of this. A simple germ, which barely had time to blossom, and the severe illness that caught him. They constitute, along with his intellectual qualities, his only characteristics, his only uniqueness.

Father Jerome and the Dominican Father Jean-Hervé Nicolas had my brother as a student several years apart. They did not know each other. But these two highly esteemed professors had the same judgment of him: he was their best student. These estimations seem perhaps to presume too much of Brother Theophane. Great intellectual qualities do not necessarily go with holiness; yet it really is a question of holiness.

The only true mystery of our lives is that of the meeting of man with God, of friendship with Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

But how to win?

How can we run this “giant’s race”?

How can we achieve our own meeting with the Lord – this concern that worries each of our hearts, including (secretly) even those of unbelievers?

In the Gospel, the formidably rugged personality of Saint John the Baptist gives us the answer, “a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord, to make smooth his path…

The Blessed Guerric of Igny, a twelfth-century Cistercian abbot, in his fifth sermon on Advent, comments on this Gospel, explaining: “It is we who must prepare the way of the Lord. The Lord who comes on smoothed paths will come to meet us.”

If my brother had run his race so well, even if it was no more than a bolt of lightning that flashed across the horizon, it is because he was able, with candor, to apply his intelligence in such a way as to enter the prepared paths – not those of a School, of a Master, nor even of an eminent Elder, but simply of the Good News of the Gospel announced to the poor, marked out by the Rule of Saint Benedict and the traditions of Cîteaux.

The little Brother Theophane was first curbed by his anxieties, but then was guided by a strong instinct informed by grace; he went along with it with all his heart, better than anyone else; and when the net of mortal illness fell on him, it wasn’t able to stop him, even though it changed him.

It is paradoxical to establish a tie between Saint John the Baptist and Brother Theophane. It is not, however, unforeseen. It is rooted and real, since it was at the solemnity of Saint John the Baptist that he made his first vows in 1986, then his solemn vows, which he expressly wanted to make on the same feast on June 24, 1989, six months before his death.

There is for us here more than encouragement. The humble path of the little ones rejoins that of the greater as soon as the most elementary, ordinary and basic Gospel principles are put into play: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, I will relieve you and you will find rest for your souls.”

This is the same path to which we are all invited. Amen.