Father Jean Thevenon
On May 10th, 2002, a remarkable man died in Saint Vincent du Lorouër, a little township in the region of Sarthe, in western France. He was the survivor of a bygone era, the days before the mass media and social conventions had reduced everyone to sameness….
"The passionate love of Christ and of His Church". Father Thevenon thus expressed what, according to him, should burn in the heart of every Christian, to the exclusion of everything else. And it was this passionate love of Christ and His Church which motivated Father Thevenon for so many years.
An unusual character
Ordained 50 years ago, he held his priesthood to be a sacred trust which he, despite his human frailty, was guardian of, and which came before his own personality: "I am a priest of Jesus Christ", he used to say.
Sometimes this single-mindedness of his confused people. He hated the laxness which, masquerading as diplomacy or tolerance made his fellow Christians turn their backs on the most precious treasures of their Faith. On the other hand, he could be indulgent, "because we all need the indulgence of the Lord", as he was wont to say. But where he might be indulgent towards the repentant sinner, as well as toward those struggling with themselves in order to find the right way, in matters of Church teaching he was righteously intransigent.
Material comfort made people ever more demanding
but never content
Thus one understands better why one day he decided to withdraw from Church activity for a while in order to reflect on the post-Vatican 2 violent and sectarian predicament. "One would have thought that after Vatican 2 the sun would have shone on the history of the Church. But instead of sunlight we have had clouds, storm, and darkness" – (Pope Paul VI, Roma, Saint Peter 6/29/1972)
A prayer group which he had organized had purchased an old farm in Saint Vincent called "La Goualonnière", so as to meet from time to time, far from the hubbub of Paris. Father Thevenon moved to this farm, never imagining this move to be permanent.
Father Thevenon did not strive to lead a hermit's life, he simply believed that our modern western world was choking on material comfort and that one could live quite happily without it, and that material comfort made people ever more demanding but never content.
He was able, thanks to his ingenuity and his manual dexterity, to organize his little world in such a manner that it was quite an agreeable habitat, as can testify those who knew him then. One ate well and slept well at Father Thevenon's home, and his house was warm and cozy in winter.
Father Thevenon was particularly attached to the Liturgy. He defined it as being "the game of the Children of God, marching toward their Heavenly Father." The Liturgy was the People of God coming into the presence of their King; it was the normal form of Christian life, from which all other styles of life spring.
He didn't justify the Liturgy, as the Church has given it to us sufficed. But it had to be practised perfectly, without hesitation or approximation….
Chant was also very important to Father Thevenon. He was a musician, and he composed simple melodies to be learned and sung by all his followers. These melodies evoked the dignity and the depth of the sacred texts and were accessible to all.
People began to flock to see him, and he met the local townsfolk as well as his fellow priests in the area, whom he would help out with their ministry. Some of these clerics became his faithful friends. And thus Father Thevenon's life began to take root in the Sarthe.
Over the years he became the spiritual guide to many Christians. Many young people owe him their vocations, or are indebted to him for timely counsel.
A contemplative life
He gradually evolved towards a more ascetic lifestyle, due to his contemplation of the Crucified Christ, which was the center of his life.
He was particularly interested in the Holy Shroud of Turin, and he studied the literature surrounding it (1). This image of Christ which so eloquently expresses His Passion touched Father Thevenon to the depths of his soul.
He discovered a little-known saint, Benoît Labre. Benoît Labre was a sort of mendicant of God who criss-crossed Europe in such a state of physical destitution that he was stoned by the other vagabonds he met. According to Father Thevenon Saint Benoît Labre was a living representation of the Lord. In order to understand Father Thevenon's final days it is necessary to read the life of Saint Benoît Labre.
I have asked God to grant me detachment
The last trials
As Father Thevenon grew older the years took their toll, but it was the contemplation of Christ on the Cross that made him forget, increasingly, even the most basic of material needs.
Shortly before his death he wrote (2) : "Jesus , betrayed by Judas, is bound, abandoned by the Apostles, judged and unjustly condemned by Caïphas and Pilate, scourged, crowned with thorns, spit upon and beaten, nailed onto the Cross….and He died without complaint ! When He spoke it was to implore forgiveness for His executioners. Jesus behaved like a humble and powerless man, and let Himself be treated like a guilty man…..AND YET HE WAS THE SON OF GOD !
One had to know Father Thevenon to realize what, in his mouth and under his pen, could mean the exclamation "AND YET HE WAS THE SON OF GOD !"
Some years before his death, Father Thevenon declared : "I have asked God to grant me detachment." This is not something that he said in his youth. He said it when he was old, tired, and sick. He said it with the serene assurance that he would be fulfiled. He was fulfiled, let us be certain of that, in the love of He whom Father Thevenon had always served.
(1) Shroud of Turin sites and literature:
The British Society for the Turin Shroud : http://www.shroud2000.com
The Shroud of Turin Research Project : http://www.shroud.com
The Shroud of Turin, an Adventure of Discovery - Mary and Alan Whanger - Providence House Publishers 238 Seaboard Lane. Franklin,Tennessee 37067
(2) "Last sermon" Palm Sunday 2002