INTERVIEW – On the occasion of his Golden Jubilee, Brother Dominique, an Olivetan Benedictine monk from the St. Mary of the Resurrection Monastery of the Abu Gosh, agreed to answer our questions. He traces with us this journey that led him from the Cathedral of Paris to the Crusader-era Abbey Church of Abu Gosh.
Brother Dominique, fifty years ago, you made religious profession in a monastery located in the south-west of France. Can you tell us the stages of your life that today made you celebrate this jubilee in the Holy Land?
It is obvious that everything happened independently of my will. Born into a deeply Catholic home and committed to the service of the Church, my Christian formation was solid, healthy and balanced. Very early I received biblical training adapted to my age. It began in the elementary school and continued until I entered the novitiate and then as part of my monastic formation.
At the age of ten, I returned to the Choir of Notre Dame de Paris, which at the time was a pre-seminary: we had a close and daily participation in the offices of the Cathedral by the liturgical singing and the service of the altar. We received a school education certainly but, above all, an intense musical and liturgical formation. The sometimes sublime liturgies of the Cathedral were prepared and explained with care by the then head of the chapel and director of the Choir, Father Jehan Revert. The famous “Great Hours of Our Lady” impressed me and very much left their mark on me, as well as the daily services.
In parallel, my parents who ran a business in the eleventh borough of Paris had many Jewish customers, some of whom became very good friends. With them, I discovered Parisian Jewish life and frequented the synagogue, an entire culture related to the Bible that would later allow me an easy insertion into Jewish circles in Israel.
Also, since my childhood I knew the monastic life, because of family ties with the Benedictine abbey Sainte Eustace in the Landes. It is in one of these Landais stays that the abbess committed me to visit the nearby Abbey of the Benedictines of Maylis. It was love at first sight! I was 14 years old: I found an intense and neat liturgical life in the style of Notre Dame de Paris. In addition, an authentic family life in this monastic environment seduced me.
And today, what makes you happy in your life as a monk? Are there things that remain difficult?
I am happy and I thank God for this itinerary that I have not entirely chosen. There was the idea of entering the monastery, then this other vocation to come and serve in the Holy Land. Moreover, the Lord took care of it. What makes me happy is to know that I am where God wants me, at all times freely given by Him. Respecting an abbot who holds the place of Christ for every brother is a serious guarantee for my behavior and for my internal security.
What remains difficult is to accept oneself with its heaviness, its sin, its selfishness, its passions. So many things that hinder my freedom to follow Christ with a light step on the path of holiness. The secret of happiness is to be entirely given to God and to others without reserving anything. Fifty years ago, I gave everything, what I had – not much, but my family all the same – and I gave myself totally. With time, there is always a tendency to recover something of what we left behind and once abandoned once and for all the day on the day of monastic profession. Every day I have to convert into more authenticity in my life.
Is being a monk in the Holy Land very different from being a monk in France?
I heard Westerners say that Israel was the West in the East… Have they ever, I wonder, set foot in the Holy Land? The social and, above all, cultural and religious context, so varied and contrasting at the gates of a holy and sacred city for the three great monotheistic religions, makes it necessary to respond that it is not only a consumer society.
The Benedictine monk, while living in an enclosure, is not a stranger to the world he meets. Sent by Father Paul Grammont in 1976, the monks of Abu-Gosh were charged with promoting and maintaining a Judeo-Christian friendship without neglecting ties with non-Jews and building bridges with all the inhabitants of the Holy Land, without distinction of culture or religion. This gives a very special color to our community life that lives in an almost entirely Arab-Muslim city. Certainly I live Benedictine life here as in France but in a completely different way. In France, in a small village of three hundred inhabitants and in a quiet and silent reality, I was living at the rhythm of a belfry that rings out every quarter of an hour. In Abu Gosh, in a noisy bedroom city of eight thousand inhabitants, I knew the rhythm and, in the shadow of the minaret, the call to prayer five times a day with high decibels.
You who have a long experience of monastic life, what would you say to a young man who would like to enter the monastery?
To a young man who knocks at the door of the monastery, I would like to begin by saying: “Do not be afraid! Trust me! Jesus loves you He wants your good. Leave everything unconditionally. Monastic life is worth living. There will be falls, missteps and failures, but Jesus is there with his infinite mercy to face what has fallen and straighten what is twisted. Then you will be really happy.” And I remind him that the monk is called to live not for himself but for God and for His praise. But also for the service of others in constructing and uniting the Body of Christ, that is, the Church.
Interview by Cécile Klos