Rene Voillaume - from 'Brothers of Men: Letters to the Petits Freres'
My mind often dwells upon that constant and twofold imperative which our life imposes on us: we must detach ourselves from all things and yet give our lives to mankind. For that is what is involved. There is no way of avoiding these contradictory aspects of our religious consecration. We are indeed bound to detach ourselves from all things, to hold on to nothing, to absolutely nothing, just as if we were entering a Carthusian novitiate!
And then I think of the imperative which requires our presence among men, of our assuming responsibility for them before Christ, of our sharing those conditions of life which plunge us again up to the neck into all the tumult, all the concerns of the daily life of the laity most productive of a materialistic outlook. But this is the road we have to take, and in my view it is precisely through this effective self-giving to men that in our weakness, poor Petits Freres as we are, we learn to keep faithful. It is in this presence and through these demands that our utter detachment must be achieved. Of course, we need the desert, but not always. We are not monks or hermits, even though we must share their essential disposition of a radical detachment from all created being. We are not hermits, and is my personal belief that we cannot reach total generosity or sustain it, especially at the time of our Lord's second summons, if we have failed to give our lives to men for their salvation. We are, in fact, vowed to take other men's burdens upon our shoulders, with all the dullness, and sometimes even the crushing weight which that implies.
We lack the ability to lead a supposedly angelic and solitary life; all the more dangerous because we should certainly form a wholly inaccurate idea of the life of the angels and of the vision of the mystery of love which animates the life shared by the saints! We have within us a vital need to love, and the necessity also, if we would break through the straight-jacket of our ego, for effective self-giving, springing from a great love. The most authentic grace of contemplation does not run counter to these essential needs of our human life; it transforms them and purifies their manifestations, and, as regards ourselves, even serves, as an instrument, of that hold which those we love have upon us, those to whom we belong, with that binding service, that wrenching from self love which results from it. Grace, in order to lift us above ourselves, proceeds to utilise this need for love which, left to its natural bent, draws so many far away from God. But, in this case, the need becomes, in God's light and strength, an instrument of divine love. Thus the contemplation of the mystery of love in the reality of God and in our self-giving to mankind that allows us no repose, far from contradicting each other, meet in unison in the undivided love, the beating of Christ's heart. A Christian, made one in love, becomes in this way, with Jesus, a shepherd of men, leading them to living pastures.
- Letter from the Railway Station, Dijon, 24 March 1957
From: Rene Voillaume - 'Brothers of Men: Letters to the Petits Freres'. Darton, Longman and Todd, 1966. p. 34-35.