Erik Varden, the newly-installed Bishop-Prelate of the Catholic Territorial Prelature of Trondheim, Norway, is an extraordinary leader. Immediate past Abbot of Mount St. Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire, England, he is a young, very young, Trappist monk who is the author of the deeply intelligent and subtle The Shattering of Loneliness.
In a recent article in The Tablet of London, “Chosen for Eternity,” he provides a moving portrait in natural holiness of a deceased nun, Marie-Ange de Saint Chamas, who belonged to a monastic community of women, the Little Sisters, Disciples of the Lamb, who were founded in 1985 to enable women with Down’s to live the monastic life.
Profoundly moved by the experience of attending her funeral, Varden is reminded of the observation of the devout French geneticist Jerome Lejeune that “the worth of a civilisation is measured by the respect it shows its weakest members.” He further elaborates: “perhaps not just its worth, but its durability.”
Given that he is reflecting on the life and witness of the young nun and her early death in the context of a universal plague, Varden sees great relevance and timely consequence to thinking of what her life means in our time of upheaval, and what a challenge it presents to us, when we as a civilisation emerge from under the weight of a global pandemic:
At the funeral of Marie-Ange, her siblings told us she had, like a cornerstone, a stone our parents did not reject [my italics], which solidified our family, directed the path of each one of us inimitably.” The Christian story is the story of a cornerstone we, builders of our lives, church and society, are free to place where it structurally belongs or to throw in a skip. In a Christian perspective, those mutually exclusive options add up to a hermeneutic by which history can, and must, be read and judged. It is time we applied it to ourselves here and now, asking ourselves without subterfuge what sort of world we are minded to construct, spelling out the stakes.
Something to jolt us out of the miasma of fear, confusion and uncertainty that defines our dark and isolating time.