“I Went Into Mass as An Atheist and Came out a Believer”

From founding an alternative "green" community to becoming a Trappist monk

When Brother Marie was born, his parents named him Alain. His family was Protestant but not practicing. Alain was baptized but had no religious education. Except for his grandmother, his family moved away from religion. “Religion was seen as something that obscured,” he says. The institutional and external image of the Church had become, for the teenager, a hindrance to his development.

“My great quest for perfection showed me the limitations of a materialistic world”

Growing up, Alain began to ask existential and philosophical questions: “My great quest for perfection showed me the limitations of a materialistic world. I longed for a spiritual world and for what was true.” Thus he became interested in causation; how the world worked, and that began to incline him toward more spiritual reflection. Initially, he became interested in the formation of alternative and “green” communities. “At one point I thought I had found a community and fraternal bond,” he recalls. But soon comes the disappointment: “The spiritual side was almost absent and under the veneer; every man reigned for himself. There was no communion between the members.”

An atheist going into the church, a believer coming out

With a new awareness, he resumed his spiritual journey. With a group of like-minded people, he spent a year in sub-Saharan Africa, a Christian village with a Muslim minority. “It was over there that I met the Lord,” he says.

In this small village he met people, with “very religious” families, people who were open to others. Touched by the townfolk, he gradually adapted. At Christmas he even went to church. “I used to visit the churches, but not to participate in the Eucharist,” he says. In this small village, outside of French culture, he felt more freedom to explore religion. He attended a Mass said by a missionary – one where baptisms were being celebrated — who were open to others and it was then that “Christ fell upon me.” An atheist went into that Mass; a believer came out.

“My life has meaning only if I give it to Jesus Christ”

Alain returned to France a much-changed man, with one certainty taking root in him: “My life has meaning only if I give it to Jesus Christ.” In his need to live for Christ there was an added desire: to accompany people who lived as he had lived — to help them on a journey to seek God.

At that time he still didn’t know whether he was called live as a layman or if he might have a vocation toward the consecrated life. He began to pray and to study theology. He was confirmed and began to visit the Cistercian (Trappist) monks of the community of the island of Lerins. There, he discovered the rhythm of Liturgy of the Hours and experienced the community life he had been seeking so long ago: “The sharing of fraternal life, work and prayer provided a solid lifestyle for Christ.”

At 31, Alain became Brother Marie. A year after his trip to Africa, he had become a Cistercian.

Today, he “feels like happened yesterday.” Novice master for 13 years, he is currently hotelier brother, a nice nod to his youthful aspiration to create a place for those on a spiritual quest. “I have gone through shadow and light areas, beautiful areas and some less. In monastic life, come to encounter all of our human depths,” the brother says, humbly.

Each year, 3,000 to 4,000 people pass through the monastery. Brother Marie welcomes countless faces, each carrying “different stories.” He often finds that these people are asking the same questions he lived with before his conversion. “Many are seeking retreat to rediscover faith,” he says, “to bring more love and mercy into how they live their lives.”

Following is a video of the abbey at Lerins, in French, but with beautiful images and sound:

Translated from the French.