Henri Le Saux: Moine de Kergonan
Philippe Piron (preface) and Various Authors, Henri Le Saux, Moine de Kergonan (Paris: Parole et Silence, 2012)
Published in Collectanea Cisterciensia, 77 (2015), 94-5
Towards the end of his remarkable career in India, Swami Abishiktananda wrote in a letter: ‘Kergonan a été le background de tout ce que j’ai pu faire ici.’ The purpose of this book, four of whose contributors are monks of his community, is to articulate that background.
The patrimony of Sainte-Anne de Kergonan, where Henri Le Saux lived generously 1929-48, is described in well-paced essays by Xavier Perrin and Robert Williamson. Pierre Massein places Le Saux in the developing context of the Church’s views on inter-religious dialogue. Françoise Jacquin analyses Le Saux’s spiritual itinerary: how did this scion of a tribe of Breton fishermen, born close to Finis Terrae, the extreme West of the old world, conceive such a yearning for the East? Jean-Gabriel Gelineau asks how one can discern ‘la présence d’Henri Le Saux dans la mémoire et la vie de l’abbaye Sainte-Anne de Kergonan’? The question is not an easy one to answer.
For many in his community of origin, Dom Le Saux seemed the most absent of absent brethren. On the day he set out for India, his abbot, Henri Demazure (a man unaffected by narrowness of mind) noted: ‘Le père Henri Le Saux quitte le monastère. Il doit s’embarquer vers la fin du mois à destination des Indes. Dieu sait ce qu’il y a, dans cette décision, d’inspiration divine et ce qui relève au contraire du rêve ou de l’illusion.’ During the years that followed, Dom Demazure chose not to give the community any news of Le Saux’s life in India. Two or three brethren kept in touch by letter, but many thought the budding Swami feckless. Some wondered whether he had not betrayed his profession?
By naming such doubts, this volume indicates questions that transcend its biographical remit. How can a monastic community, conservative by temperament and conviction, integrate the exceptional charism and call of individuals within it? How far can the fabric of community identity stretch without tearing? Durable answers must gestate in prolonged uncertainty. The waiting can be painful. The most supernatural attitude to adopt turns out to be also the most pragmatic: wait, observe, know them by their fruits. It is highly interesting to see a monastic community perform this discernment in retrospect, rightfully proud, now, of a brother whose vision is the object of catholic admiration.
An important coda to the story of Abishiktananda, the well-known and revered, emerges in the affectionate portrait of his sister Thérèse drawn by her erstwhile abbess, Marie-Françoise Euverte. Thérèse entered Saint-Michel de Kergonan, a stone’s throw from Sainte-Anne, her brother’s monastery, four years after Henri left for India. She lived a hidden life of exemplary fidelity there until her death in 2002. Abishiktananda’s regular letters to her are among the most moving and profound he wrote. More than any other document, perhaps, they reveal the wonderful coherence of a vocational journey that, to superficial observers, could seem marked by ruptures. For his sister’s clothing on the shores of the Atlantic, Le Saux wrote from his Indian ashram: ‘Tu sais, désormais, tu tiens en quelque manière ma place à Kergonan. Et si tu pries bien, mon travail ici sera utile.’ Brother and sister were mysteriously one in a vocation that embraced East and West. The story of that vocation bears compelling witness to the inexhaustible, always surprising mystery of Christ’s Church.