As Lent began on March 2, Brother Jean-Alexandre de Garidel returned to the importance of experiencing divine mercy. Faced with our trials and discouragements, this attribute of God invites us, for 40 days, to place ourselves under the loving gaze of the Lord. And not to make Lent a time of “spiritual performance”.
Interview by Claire Riobé – Vatican City
Brother Jean-Alexandre de Garidel is a Discalced Carmelite and master of novices at the convent of Avon, in Seine-et-Marne. On the occasion of Lent, he leads an online spiritual retreat on the theme of divine mercy, following the example of the great saints of Carmel.
For this beginning of Lent, what concrete avenues do you suggest to Christians who wish to experience divine mercy more closely?
“The most concrete and demanding path is faith, which is the fundamental message of the saints of Carmel. Faith in the mercy of the Lord means believing that during these 40 days the most important thing is not first what we are going to do […] but have faith in the fact that the first who acts in our lives is God.
Often, our difficulties in our spiritual life are that we do not believe enough that God is acting and we fall into discouragement. We made too ambitious commitments that we do not keep, so we are disappointed in ourselves and we give up. The challenge is not to be in the spiritual performance but to believe that God can transform our lives. There is a very important key to reading the Christian ministry through this divine attribute which is mercy.”
Your retreat is based on great figures of Carmel such as Saint John of the Cross or Saint Teresa of Avila. How do you think their example can guide us for these forty days?
“I think what is striking about the saints of Carmel is that they all speak first from experience. They have had a personal experience of divine mercy in their lifetime, and what they testify to us is that it is not just a matter of talking, but of going through something difficult or painful and then going beyond.
These saints are very different in their characters, their social backgrounds and their times. However, each in their own way have experienced a God who reaches out to them and transforms them. With the grace of these witnesses, we too can hope to walk with the grace of mercy today.”
Do you think we need this mercy especially today? This year, even more than the previous ones?
“Yeah, I think we’re in really trying times, with the context of the pandemic and so on, and we feel like the horizon isn’t opening up from a human perspective, let’s say. We can have the impression of a difficult repetition of events: that Lent repeats itself, but also that events repeat themselves in the Church on the issue of sexual abuse. Hope is not easy, and I think the only door to hope is the experience of divine mercy […].
First on a personal level, in my concrete life with my trials and my difficulties, my places of discouragement. I believe that it is precisely in these places (my family life, my professional life or even my community life) that the Lord awaits me and invites me to take action by saying: “Do you believe that I can save you, do you think I can open a space of freedom and light in this place that hurts?
I think that there is a very important issue here, to resist discouragement or even despair. To place oneself on the level of faith, hope and charity, and not simply on the human level “we will do it” or “we will not do it”.
The online retreats offered by the Carmel are followed by more than 90,000 people around the world. They can be found on the Carmel website: https://retraites.carmes-paris.org/ or on the platform Hozanna.