The Green Booklet and the Renewal of Religious Life

A Manifesto

Our political and literary history is criss-crossed by what we call manifestos, that is, writings that give the public a summary of new ideas incarnated in a movement of thoughts and works that mark an era.

In 1946, when the text of Little Sister Magdeleine which was to become known as the "Green Booklet" was published, we received it as a manifesto of a new concept of religious life. For my confreres and me, who were seminarians at the time, these pages seemed revolutionary and inflamed our enthusiasm. It is true that the years that followed the liberation of France abounded in new ideas in all areas. An extraordinary effervescence of ideas and initiatives sent a wind of renewal and youth blowing though the Church.

It is difficult especially for the young people of today to imagine the ecclesial context of the time. Yet I want to recall the reasons for the "shock" provoked by this text.

First the style: the fact of challenging each future Little Sister by using the second person singular and a very direct language was very far from the "good nun" language of the time. Above all, what Little Sister Magdeleine was writing

"to correspond to the new needs of a new century"
echoed a new awareness among Christians, in France and elsewhere, dominated by the great figure of Cardinal Suhard. What was then called "passing over to the barbarians" demanded the elimination of the ecclesiastical and cultural barriers which separated the Church from the non Christian world, in particular the world of workers.

Numerous affirmations by Little Sister Magdeleine are in this vein.

"You will have to become part of the family, the milieu, the country of those whose life you share. You will have to speak their language, adopt their customs and even their mentality, however different from your own they may be. You must truly become one of them "(p. 5).
Further on she is more precise:
"Like Jesus during his human life, become all things to all people: Arab amongArabs, nomad among  nomads, worker among workers..., but above all be human among all human beings. To safeguard your religious dignity and your life of intimacy with God from exterior dangers, do not feel obliged to erect barriers between the laity and yourself. Do not place yourself on the margins of the world around you." (p. 18)

That is what the worker priests were trying to do at that time. And the famous phrase that seems very natural for us today, seemed rather explosive at that time:

"Before being religious, be human and Christian. " (p. 18).

Such a point of departure could not but provoke a new concept of religious life, marked by the sharing of work and housing of the poorest.  The accent on the suppression of the barriers that separate and the highlighting of the "human virtues" completely transform the usual rules of conduct in religious life.

"You will not be asked, in the name of religious modesty, to live with your eyes downcast, but you mil be asked, to open them wide in order to see all the miseries and also all the beauties of human life and of the whole universe beside you." (p. 22).
And Little Sister Magdeleine added the great principle, echo of the Augustinian maxim:
"charity above all rules" (p. 19).