Gifted with a solid judgment, Marcel Lefebvre was very sure of himself, and his iron will, his enormous amount of energy, and his constant calmness complete the profile of a strong man.
Strength goes hand in hand with gentleness. Marcel Lefebvre’s gentleness was proverbial, a humble gentleness with an air of shyness. His small voice was misleading: in Lambarene and Mortain, he was mistaken for the brother. In Dakar, he asserted himself. “He could have been a shy man who does nothing, but it’s the opposite. He works hard. How does he do it?” wondered his astonished vicar general.
His brother Michel who visited him in Senegal noticed that he was “at ease with the governors” and also later “with the aristocrats whose conventions he knew and laughed at.” “With these latter, he was at his best, placing himself at their level, listening to them, never seeming ill at ease.” At table in Econe, Fr. Dubois observed that he “was exactly the same with an archduke as with a tinsmith, just as amiable, just as approachable.” “I saw that,” he says, “it struck me and I deeply admired it; he was the same, it wasn’t a show, it was very pastoral.”
He was unequalled when it came to making a spiritual toast at the end of an ordinations banquet.
There were some meetings in which this man of dialogue dug his heels in and became impossible: when dealing with deceitful or headstrong persons, he was “a man who knew how to react”. One could then hear rather sharp words from a man who doggedly maintained his opinion, sometimes to the point of denying the obvious, out of exasperation or irritation at having to explain himself; it was at these times that the defects of his qualities, or rather the excesses of his tenacity, were revealed.
He was all too aware of the vainness of a discussion when a principle was denied by one of the parties. And he found it inconceivable for a learned man (his fellow student Bishop Georges Leclerc) or a prelate (Cardinal Ratzinger) to contradict doctrine. But above all, he had a deep respect for those in authority and a great respect for others, the result of his great charity and the opposite of contempt for others.
He was careful not to humiliate his neighbor, which on occasion, in his personal relations, made it difficult for him to express himself when the words would mean a depreciation of the other. This union between the strongest self-assurance and the most delicate attention to others was admirable. The alloy forged in him an attractive personality that inspired trust and friendship, even among those who did not share his choices: “Oh, how attached I was to that man,” said his Irish colleague, Fr. Michael O’Carroll; “and I still am!”
Others were unable to reconcile these two aspects of Archbishop Lefebvre’s personality. “Your gentleness is harsh,” said French Academy member Jean Guitton just before the 1988 consecrations. Others judged: “He is proud!”—“No,” answers Fr. Louis Carron (who had to deal with him), “personally, he is humble, but it is his doctrine that is proud—a formula…” A good formula! Marcel Lefebvre was not liberal; he knew how to defend the truth with charity. His charity and his strength resided above all in the lively enthusiasm of his 20 years, in the torch received in Santa Chiara, whose flame devoured him, whose flame he had to pass on.