Dom Christian De Cherge,

The Trappist Abbot featured in the movie "Of God's and Men"

Did you find his voice and personality distinctive in the movie?

It was more so to those who actually met him. Featured here is a unique opportunity to hear the voice of this remarkable monk and martyr at a meeting attended only by members of our Order in 1994, just two years before his death. Dom Christian was asked by the Abbot General of our Order to give a talk on the subject of "contemplative identity" and - well, he did . . . in a manner unlike any other abbot or abbess!

"I received the invitation to speak to you here rather as a snare or trap! First of all, I would have preferred to leave the talk to our Abbot General. Then, I am supposed to discuss 'Cistercian contemplative identity,' and, to put it bluntly, I don't like that expression much. I believe I'm not alone in questioning this formulation. Shall I tell you why it seems ambiguous to me? First, because it can be taken to mean that contemplation is given and possessed as an identity, as a fixed state. Now, to my mind, contemplation is either a seeking, or it is nothing. Here on earth, it is a journey, a tension, a permanent exodus. It is the invitation made to Abraham: 'Walk in my presence.' So I try to walk, and I must admit, this walk increases my hunger to 'see' the Presence more than it satisfies it. This is where (in Spain!) I am consoled by St. John of the Cross:'Not everyone who toils earnestly in the way of the Spirit is raised by God to contemplation, not even a half of them. He alone knows the reason for this.'

Then, there is this bit of wisdom from Moslem mysticism: 'He is not truly a Sufi who calls himself a Sufi.' In the same way, is he truly a contemplative who says he is? One would have to be able to say, yes, I recognized him in the text: 'I saw him when he was naked, sick, hungry', ...those from whom one turns away one's eyes to keep from seeing them.

In case you would wish to identify me more closely in spite of all this, ask my neighbor at home. In his eyes, who am I? Cistercian? Never heard of it! Trappist Less still. Monk? Even the Arab word for it isn't part of his vocabulary. He doesn't even ask himself who I am. He knows. I am a rumi, a Christian. That's all. And in this generic identification there is something healthy and exacting. One more way to connect monastic profession to baptism. You will see too, that in his description, he will only be able to translate this reality according to his own religious points of reference: 'He prays, he believes in God, he keeps 'Lent' and gives to the poor...that's almost like us!' Thus, after being welcomed at several of our French monasteries, our young friend Mohammed said to me, 'You know, over there in France, I met some true Moslems!'

When I was a novice at Atlas, I saw one of our brothers, a convinced lay brother, standing at the window after a most difficult day. He was watching the sunset. He seemed worn out to me, even exhausted. The sight of the setting sun was magnificent, truly. And I was standing behind him, wondering that after 25 years here in the monastery, he could still stand in the same old place and enjoy a sunset. Finally, he turned around and said quite simply, 'I'm waiting for this time tomorrow evening to blow this dump.' In a flash, I understood what stability was, and many other aspects of monastic life. I will add that this brother is still there, thanks be to God, and that he still shows up at that window, with or without me. Really, I have nothing more to say to you on 'Cistercian contemplative identity....'"