A Heart of Mission in France
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
Every morning, I eagerly make my way along the trails, gazing at the orange glow over the tree tops, and at the sheep in the misty fields. I cross the grounds, and the purring irrigation canal, towards the glowing stained glass of the chapel. There, I join my voice to the harmonies of my 30 brothers and sisters, and often a crowd of guests!
The House of Mary and Martha of Bethany, my home this year. Numerous times, I have met someone, even in Israel and Lebanon, whose life changed here at Bethany. Last summer, I took a day of prayer at a monastery in the mountains of Lebanon, and I met another guest, Br. Abiel, a zealous contemplative monk, and when I told him I was being transferred here, he exclaimed, "What a place of grace! Bethany is where I encountered God's love and promised my life to Him!"
This center for retreat and mission, in the forests two hours south of Paris, draws people from around France, especially around Paris. A couple retreats take place each week, for young people, families, schools, couples in difficulty, for times of silence as well as joyous festivals. The chateau and a few other red-brick buildings have been here for hundred years. In the early '90s, the Beatitudes built two large guest houses, a dining hall with a big fire place, like a ski lodge, and an amazing church. The red brick and the big wooden beams follow the architecture of the Sologne region, a forested area famous for hunting boar, deer, and pheasant. The church's red brick is topped with a glorious wooden roof that has no nails, only wooden pegs. An artist friend of ours crafted the joyfully bright stained glass that sing to us the glory of God's Creation, his Cross, and his Mother's Immaculate Heart.
The groups that come are a witness to the variety of ministries alive in a France that is now composed predominately of atheists and agnostics who have an adamant secularist culture and agenda, and a growing population of Muslims. The shrinking Church, however, is so alive! We welcomed a group of young farmers, so strong in their prayer and so innovative in their entreprise of organic products, vineyards, and energy-efficient methods. We welcomed a group that reaches out to Muslims and prepares a home in the Church for converts. We welcomed retreats for Israeli dances, for Soccer for God, for family prayer, for music ministry, for Laudato Sii ecology, for engaged couples...
The teamwork to put on the retreats is a challenge and a grace. I get lost sometimes trying to keep straight when my turns are for household repairs, chopping and stocking wood, kitchen, runs to the train station, dishwashing... I've had to dive in and take responsibility for 9 to 11-year-olds for family retreats and to play roles in skits.
In the retreat context, Sacraments are special. As priests and deacons, the six of us take turns, and this challenges us to be creative and well-prepared. Confessions are intense, as each Saturday evening often brings people to confess for the first time in years, and as the laid-back retreat context leads people to desire long confessions that seek life advice and steps of healing and formation.
The retreats, as well as the times when we go out together on mission, keep us drawing at the wellsprings of prayer and fraternal life. Mondays are usually quiet and solitary, and we have a hermitage in the forest of our grounds, where we can do desert days. Community meals are warm and joyful. Sunday evenings, we all meet and share graces. Monday and Wednesday evening, we have a brothers' dinner full of humor, and sometimes a more serious reflection.
Each month, I go meet with my spiritual director at our parish in Paris. When I skate the streets or ride the metro, I get a taste of the stress, the noise, and the alienation that fills the reality of most people here in France. God is absent, out in this public space, and it is rare that a stranger receives a greeting or even a look. Praise the Lord for providing places of refuge, humanity, and faith as we have in Bethany! Lord, renew us in our generosity and energy for the countless daily acts of service, prayer, and communion that make this a spiritual home!
In case you missed it, this is our annual Advent appeal/update video. This week we hope to draw nearer our goals to aid our general budget, solar panels for Israel and Lebanon, and our World Youth Day pilgrims from Peru.
Your gifts support my presence here and the time and resources I receive here to continue with Beatitudes Missions projects. Finances are difficult this year, especially with the energy crisis and the ongoing war in Ukraine. Gas prices have doubled and electricity prices have tripled. In our community setting, we are constantly working at energy efficiency in small ways. Pray for us, and thank you so much to those who pray for me and to those who have been giving to Beatitudes Missions!
Fr. Anthony of the Transfiguration, CB