August 19, 2021: ST. JOHN EUDES
August 19, 2021: ST. JOHN EUDES, CONFESSOR
[Founder of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, the Congregation of Our Lady of Refuge, and the Nuns of the Good Shepherd]
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been tried, he shall receive a crown of life. Alleluia. The Lord loved him, and hath adorned him, he hath clothed him with a robe of glory. Alleluia.
O God, You wondrously inflamed Blessed John, Your Confessor, to rightly promote the public worship of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and through him You willed to establish new religious families in Your Church; grant, we beseech You, that we who venerate his merits may also be taught by the examples of his virtues. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
I. His Childhood and Education
Amongst those grand and holy personages who adorned the Church of France in the seventeenth century, one not the least admirable was the Venerable John Eudes, the founder of the Order of the Good Shepherd. It was altogether a great century for France. It opened under the sweet charm of the word of S. Francis of Sales, and it closed whilst Bossuet and Fenelon were still astonishing the world by the splendours of their genius. Saint Vincent of Paul, S. Frances Chantal, M. Olier, and Cardinal de Berulle, added their lustre to the glories of the age.
When God brings into the world one who is to be a chosen vessel of His grace, He often signalizes his very birth by circumstances that are extraordinary. So it was in the case of the Venerable John Eudes. His parents were barren. Desirous of offspring, they vowed a pilgrimage to our Lady of Recovery, and promised, that if she would obtain for them this favour, their first-born should be consecrated to the Lord. God granted their request, and John, their first child, was born November 14th, 1601. He was thus the child of grace as well as nature, a child of benediction. His parents had other children after him, and his brothers Francis and Charles became very celebrated men.
John, then, was born at Ri, in Lower Normandy, on November 14th, 1601. His father was a surgeon by profession. His mother, a woman of strong character, nurtured the child in fervent piety, and from his earliest years he gave himself to God; and when a young boy, used to steal away from his companions, to go to the church and pray, where he would hide himself behind a pillar, so as not to be noticed. The teachings of the Holy Scripture sank deep into his mind, and, when but nine years old, being struck on the cheek by one of his companions, he knelt down, and asked the boy to strike him on the other cheek too.
At the age of twelve years he made his first Communion, and it was about that time that he wished much to be allowed to make a vow of perpetual chastity, but his Director did not permit this, till he had reached his fourteenth year. It was at this time that he went for higher studies to the College of the Jesuit Fathers at Caen; and here his piety became still more pronounced, so that he got the name, amongst his companions, of the “Devout Eudes.”
Four years were spent at this College, with such success that his friends pressed him to go through his examination, and take his degree. His humility could not be persuaded to do this, and he returned home. Here he had another trial to undergo. His parents wished him to marry, and had selected a young person of suitable qualities and fortune, as his destined bride, but his affections were already engaged elsewhere.
After the manner of the days of chivalry, he had taken the most holy Virgin as his sovereign Lady and peerless Queen. To her he had sworn fidelity, and as a symbol of his troth, he had placed on the finger of one of her statues a ring of gold. He therefore utterly refused the marriage, and to shelter himself from any future assaults of this kind, he, with the sanction of his Director, presented himself to the Bishop of Séez, in whose diocese he was, and received from him the tonsure and minor Orders.
A few years later, after many refusals, he obtained the consent of his parents to join the Congregation of the Oratory in Paris, lately set on foot by Cardinal de Bérulle. He entered the house March 25th, 1623, and was clothed in the habit on 16th of May following. It was in December, 1625, that he was ordained priest, and his first Mass was the midnight Mass of Christmas Day that year. Whilst he was offering the Holy Sacrifice, he seemed quite filled with God. The sweetest consolations, and graces that remained with him all his life, were granted to him on that occasion. The Holy Mass was ever after to him his principal jewel of devotion. He used to say it would require three eternities to say Mass worthily, one to prepare, and a second to celebrate, and a third to make thanksgiving.
He could not bear to see a priest hurry through his Mass. Having once observed that a member of his Community did so, he told him, that unless he altered, one or other of them must quit the Congregation.
Father Eudes had now, therefore, made his preparations for entering on that apostolic life to which he had so long felt himself called. God, who generally builds on the natural foundation His gifts of grace, had bestowed on Father Eudes a character admirably calculated to ensure success. He came of that race of conquerors and founders,—that strong and dominant Norman race,—which has left a track of light and civilization wherever it has passed, riding over all obstacles, and triumphantly holding on its way. But in Father Eudes his unwavering firmness was admirably blended with all that was tender and gentle.
In stature he was not much above the middle height, but of excellent proportions, and with a bearing of great dignity that inspired respect,—respect, but not fear,—for his whole look breathed so much affection, that fear was banished. The fire of his glance, however, revealed an undaunted energy, and his frank, open manners, with winning grace, drew at once to him the confidence of those with whom he had to deal.
But he was not yet to begin his work. His delicate frame had been overtasked by his studies, and perhaps he had not yet learned to exercise that prudence in austerities, which characterized him in after life. He used to say of his body in a grudging manner: “This miserable carcase will do nothing, unless it is well cared for and often refreshed.” When he had been ordained priest, his superiors sent him first into Normandy, hoping that his native air might restore his health. But he derived no benefit from it, and was then sent to the seminary of Aubervilliers.
The two years spent by him here were devoted to a profound study of the Scriptures. These Holy Books he esteemed to be the most sacred relic Jesus Christ has left us of Himself. He read them, as far as possible, on his knees, without translation or commentary, for fear, he said, of confounding the thoughts of men with those he hoped to receive from the Spirit of God. Thus he read the sacred text straight through. When he came to obscure passages, he prayed for God's light. God vouchsafed him great succour, and especially in the understanding of S. Paul's Epistles and the Book of Proverbs. During his reading he endeavoured to fix the facts and even the very expressions of Holy Scripture deeply in his memory, so that he might thus use them for his own perfection and the instruction of his neighbours.
These two years of study were invaluable to him in after life. The Holy Scriptures were to him an inexhaustible store-house, so that he was never at a loss, but was able to speak often and at length, with great variety, force, and unction, and without preparation, in the press of his apostolic life.
II. He assists the plaque-stricken.
When our Blessed Lord commenced His holy ministry, it is said of Him, “He began to do and to teach;” not first to teach, and then to do, but first to do, and then to teach. So, when our Lord called His servant John Eudes to partake in the work of His sacred ministry, He called him first to do, and afterwards to teach.
In the year of our Lord 1627, whilst Father Eudes was at Aubervilliers, the plague broke out in France. This same plague fell upon Savoy, Piedmont, Italy, and indeed the whole world. The ravages it made for three years were most fearful. The epidemics of the nineteenth century give us no idea of what the plague was. So contagious was the nature of the malady, that people were afraid to see any one, or to touch anything, for the plague was communicated by the touch or the breath of the sufferer. Anything that had come in contact with him was enough to give infection.
Towns were forsaken, and for months together became like deserts. The grass grew in the streets, and great bands of wolves ranged through them, attracted by the odour of the unburied corpses. The markets were closed, and even those whom the plague spared ran the danger of perishing by famine. We read in the history of this period that the Monasteries were the only houses in the towns whose inhabitants remained in them, and they were often destitute of food, medicine, and confessors.
The plague had, since 1585, several times visited France, and by each visitation there had been brought back to the true faith a greater number of souls than would have been won in a century by a hundred preachers. In 1627 the plague reached some parts of the province of Normandy, where so many now go in the beautiful summer days to seek a health and strength, lost in the world's martyrdom, instead of in that of the austerities of Jesus Christ.
On learning that the plague had reached Ecouché, and was drawing near to the place of his birth, but one thought took possession of the young priest's breast: he longed to brave all dangers that he might bring succour to the sick, and help them at least to a good death.
Father de Bérulle, Superior of the Oratory, consented to his departure, imposing only one condition, that he should take every prudent precaution consistent with the fulfilment of his sacred ministry. It was like sealing his death warrant, but charity knows no fear. Father Eudes left Paris on foot, his staff in his hand, his only baggage being his Breviary and a portable altar with the requisites for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice. When arrived at his place of destination, he chose the four parishes of S. Peter's, S. Martin's, Vrigny, and Avoine, as the scene of his labours, because the pest had made the most fearful ravages in these places. But in these parishes no one would give him a lodging where to lay his head, not even the priests. He had to go to some little distance, to the parish priest of S. Christopher's, who kindly received him, and assisted him in his toils.
He passed the entire day in confessing, communicating, and giving Extreme Unction to the sick. Then at night, when his devotions were finished, he threw himself upon a rough mattress, without undressing, to take a little repose, or sometimes he only slept in a chair. When he woke, he said his Office, celebrated Mass, and again recommenced his apostolic charity.
For two months he and Father Laurent of S. Christopher's devoted themselves to this work. Like the high priest Aaron, who went forth, with his censer in his hand, between the living and the dead, so Father Eudes passed from one scene of misery to another, under the protection of his Lord veiled in the Most Holy Sacrament, which he bore in a pyx round his neck.
Soon after the plague broke out at Argentan, and Father Eudes hasted to the succour of the citizens. He counselled them to put their town for ever under the protection of our Lady, by a public and solemn consecration. They did so, and soon experienced the effects of her great power with God. He made them place the statue of the “Comforter of the Afflicted” at each of the gates of the town, where it stood till the revolution of 1789.
The plague having ceased for a while, Father Eudes was sent to live at the Oratory of Caen. But in 1631 it broke out again in Caen itself, and the blessed man at once offered himself for the perilous task of consoling the dying. He adventured himself into the most infected places. Some sought to turn him from his zeal. But he answered pleasantly that he had no fear, for being full of corruption he was worse than the plague itself.
However, not to bring infection to his brethren, he left the house of the Oratory, and took up his abode in a large cask, which he had rolled into a field near the Abbey of the Holy Trinity, which from this got the name of the Saint's Meadow. The Lady Abbess provided him with his necessary food, and the cask was his oratory and his chamber where he passed the night.
But he had soon to return to the Oratory, for all the Fathers were struck with the plague. Father Répichon, the Superior, and another Father died in his arms. He then again left the house to help the sick in the town, and did not return till the pest had entirely ceased its ravages.
Father Eudes was very careful in his administration of the sacraments to the sick. He used to prepare them before receiving, and help them to make their thanksgiving. He got them to renew their baptismal vows, proposed to them to gain some indulgence, suggested to them acts of faith, hope, and charity, and put before them some point of the Passion of our Lord, with acts of contrition for having offended God.
When the plague began at Rouen, Father Eudes sent instructions to all the houses of his Congregation to humble themselves before God under the stroke of His Divine Hand. To this end, he says, we ought: (1) To adore His divine justice, acknowledging our sins for ourselves and in the name of all the people. (2) We should thank God, not only for consolations, but for afflictions. We should look on them, not only as a just punishment, but also as a sign of mercy, because God chastises, not to destroy, but to correct and save. (3) We should adore the Divine Will in all the designs it may have upon us, abandoning ourselves to it, that it may do with us whatever it likes. (4) We should adore our Lord Jesus Christ on His Cross, and the infinite love that made Him endure so many sufferings. We should offer ourselves to Him, to bear, for love of Him, all the sufferings He may be pleased to lay upon us, in thanksgiving for those which He bore for us. (5) We should present to Him all the afflicted, begging Him to give them grace to make a good use of their distress. (6) We should commend them to our Lady, as Comforter of the afflicted. (7) We should adore the immense charity with which our most loving Saviour took upon Himself the sins of the whole world, and offered Himself to His Father to make satisfaction for them. In union with this charity, we should offer ourselves as victims for His justice, for our own sins, and those of our brethren and sisters. (8) And, as Jesus Christ came down from heaven to serve and help the plague-stricken, that is, sinners, we should, in union with the same charity, offer ourselves, if it should so please Him, to assist those struck with the plague. (9) We should pray our Divine Mother, our Angel guardian, and our patron Saint, to do all these things for us.
Thus it was that this holy man profited by the public calamity to bless God, to help his neighbour, and to humble himself.
III. His missions and preaching.
Father Eudes' constitution was naturally of a very delicate kind. It cannot then be a matter of wonder that his exertions during the plague brought on so serious an illness, that his life seems to have been saved by prayer rather than by natural means. God heard the pious prayers of certain Religious Communities, and gave an increase of years to Father Eudes for the glory of His name and the salvation of souls.
In 1632 he entered on his apostolic career. The diocese of Coutance was the first theatre of his labours, and a brilliant success crowned the efforts of his zeal. He, with the same benediction of heaven, worked in the dioceses of Séez, Bayeux, Lisieux, and Rouen. The Archbishop of Rouen then placed him at the head of the missions in all Normandy. Not content with reforming bad Catholics, he addressed himself to Protestants also, and brought many of them to the faith.
This was the first beginning of a life devoted to missionary work. Father Eudes always felt himself to have a special call to the preaching of the Gospel. Those words of S. Paul: “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel,” seemed to come home to him as if they belonged to himself, with an overwhelming force. It was as if God said to him, as to Isaias of old: “Cry, spare not, lift up thy voice as a trumpet, and show My people their wicked doings, and the house of Jacob their sins.”
He had a very exalted conception of the office of preaching the word of God. “Preachers,” he said one day to one of his Congregation, “Preachers of the Gospel are incarnate Angels of the Lord, the messengers of heaven, the heralds of the Holy Trinity, the ambassadors of the Eternal Father, the apostles of the Word, the organs of the Holy Ghost, the co-workers with Jesus Christ in His grandest undertaking, namely, the salvation of souls. They are the forerunners who make ready His way; they are the fathers who cause His birth in the hearts of men. The ministry of the word is one of the most sublime functions of the apostolate, scattering the darkness, and pouring forth the light, crushing sin, and making grace to reign.”
No wonder then that he was indignant with those priests who made the office of preaching a pander to their vanity, preaching themselves instead of Jesus Christ, and searching how to flatter the ear, instead of touching the heart. “To preach in this fashion,” he said, “is to profane the word of God; it is to make fruitless the Saviour's Cross and Passion; it renders a man guilty of the most foul sacrilege; he is the murderer of souls: better never to have existed, than so to preach.”
But Father Eudes' own preaching was like that of S. Paul, “As of God in the sight of God, speak we in Christ.” His eloquence was not that of rhetorical art, of phrases arranged in a polished style, with sounding periods. It was not man's wisdom he relied on for success, but the power of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Scripture was always his ground-work. He contented himself with meditating well on his subject. Then, after his prayer was over, he put his matter into a methodical order, and abandoned himself, with confidence in God, to his natural mode of utterance.
When he mounted the pulpit, he knelt down, and humbled himself before God in his own nothingness, crying to our Lord, “Veni, Domine Jesu,” “Come, Lord Jesus;” thus asking that our Lord might speak by his mouth. His voice, round and musical, had a clear ring that enabled very large audiences to hear him distinctly. Sometimes the church could not contain the crowd, and he had to preach in the open air to as many as thirty thousand people. On one occasion a storm came on, and the people were about to take to flight, but he assured them it would not touch them; and though the rain fell in torrents on all places for ten miles round, it did not touch them at all.
As he became animated with his subject, his countenance became full of fire, but mingled with a look so indescribably sweet, that it quite captivated those who heard him. When he spoke of charity, or any virtue he especially loved, his face beamed forth the serene pleasure of his soul. On the contrary, when he inveighed against the disorders of sin, his horror of it was quite transparent. His own spirit he communicated to his audience; he carried them away almost in spite of themselves. One day, when he was speaking of the chastisements with which God punishes sin, “Sinner,” he cried out, “one moment, a single moment may decide thy lot for ever. I shudder! The Lord's arm is lifted up, the thunderbolt is coming! O God! on whom will it fall? Mercy, Lord, mercy, I cry, for all here present.” Then some thousands who were present, struck with an agony of terror, threw themselves on their knees, with floods of tears, making the church to echo with the cry, “Mercy! O my God! Mercy, Lord, mercy.”
A celebrated preacher having heard of the noise this event had caused, made light of it, saying that he believed he could produce the same effect. He accordingly prepared a sermon to this end, and when he thought he had worked up his audience to the desired pitch, he cried, “Mercy, O my God, mercy.” The people, however, were utterly unmoved. He endeavoured a second and a third time to obtain some response. But not a voice was heard; and he only descended from the pulpit extremely mortified at his failure.
For, although when Father Eudes preached it might happen that people were sometimes affected by the vehemency of his oratory, and carried off, as it were, by the torrent of his eloquence, yet these causes were not always at work. A short prayer, a simple aspiration, the Our Father or Hail Mary with a glance towards heaven, or a gesture of contrition, a sigh, or the striking of the breast, were sometimes enough to draw to contrition persons who, till then, had been quite hardened. It happened that at one of the Missions he gave at Caen, his opening sermon, on examination of conscience, was so simple, and so totally devoid of any show of eloquence, that several of his friends felt quite pained, thinking the Mission would fail, and great damage would be done to the Father's reputation. But to their astonishment, this sermon effected the conversion of several persons of most disorderly lives, who, as soon as it was over, hastened to make a general confession. For God is often pleased to show that He stands not in need of the eloquence of man, but that His words, spoken by His true servants, are, as Jeremias says, “like a fire, and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces.”
To rich and poor alike Father Eudes announced faithfully the word of God, according to that of holy writ: “I spoke of Thy testimonies in the sight of kings, and was not ashamed.” Once, when the queen mother of Louis XIV was present at his sermon, he took occasion pointedly to address her majesty, putting before her plainly the duties of her royal station. The courtiers were indignant at this boldness, and some of them hinted to her that he should be sent to prison. The queen was far from sharing their sentiments. On her return to the palace, she cried: “It is a long time since I have heard a sermon, but I have heard one to-day. That is the right way to preach, instead of putting together pretty polished phrases as others do.”
This same judgment was formed by others. The great Bossuet, coming from one of Father Eudes' sermons, said: “That is the way we ought to preach.” The Bishop of Belley, himself a great preacher, says: “I have heard many preachers in my time. I have heard the very best, both in France and in Italy, but I must allow that I never heard any one that goes so home to the heart as this good Father.” S. Vincent of Paul, and M. Olier of S. Sulpice, were equally ravished with admiration. M. Olier called Father Eudes “the wonder of the age.”
What was most admirable was, that amidst the triumphant success of his ministry, never a word fell from his lips to his own praise.
When his sermon was over, he came down from the pulpit, and went aside to recollect himself in God, and to wipe away any stain he might have incurred, begging pardon of the Divine Majesty for the ill way in which he had executed so grand an office.
IV. The Order of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd.
In his missions, Father Eudes had often the happiness of converting those who were sold to the iniquitious bondage of an impure life. But he found that conversion was not enough. Means must be provided for establishing them firmly in good, and of so training them in industry, as to open to them the way of gaining an honest livelihood.
Our Lord came on earth to convert sinners. He did not come merely to gather round Him guileless men like Nathaniel, or the pure-minded S. John. He came to pick up the waifs of society, to call them to penance, and to show to them the way of a better life. But of all sinners, women fallen from virtue seem to have been those in whom He took the most special interest. The Gospels mention to us but few occasions when our Lord spoke with women, but of these occasions three were with persons of this unfortunate class. There is the woman taken in adultery, whose life He saved from the hands of her accusers; then there is the Samaritan woman, whom He converted, and made an apostle to others; and there is Mary Magdalen, who stood by His Cross.
With our Lord the case of none is hopeless. The publican and the harlot are invited, not only to salvation, but sometimes even to a high sanctity. The Church has had in all ages examples of such true conversions from darkness to light. The histories of S. Thais and S. Mary of Egypt tell us in ancient times of the wonder-working power of the grace of Christ. But it was reserved for Father Eudes to institute in the Church a Religious Order of Christian women, Christian Virgins, whose grand office it should be to spend their lives in reclaiming the fallen, in redeeming them, and nurturing them to a life of chastity.
There is something extremely wonderful about this work. For virtuous women in general have such a burning indignation against those who have degraded their womanhood, that the fountains of compassion seem well nigh dried up. In this point women are often harder than men, for they feel keenly that those who have thus dishonoured themselves have brought a vile stain on the whole female sex, and they resent this injury as a sort of personal wrong. They stand aloof, too, that it may be clearly seen how far removed they are from sharing in such foulness. They fear lest by any show of pity they might be supposed to think lightly of the stain, and so their own fair fame should come under some suspicion.
But the consecrated Spouses of our Lord stand so high in their spotless virginal robe, that they can afford to stoop to be merciful, without risk of tarnishing the brightness of their lustre. They can reach out the hand to help, yet remain unshaken in their firm integrity,—clean of heart beside what has been defiled,—just as the plumage of the dove is unsoiled, though her cote be full of ordure, or as the sun enters the foulest kennel, cleansing the filth, without any detriment to the purity of its rays. In this Christian chastity reached its highest development, its culminating expression, when, not content with the triumph of its own unconquerable strength, it ventured aggressively on the territory of the enemy, robbed his camp of its spoils, and took back his captives.
This is the great glory of Father Eudes. Before his time there had been only skirmishes with the foe, but he instituted a regular systematic warfare. Others may have equalled or excelled him in heroic sanctity, or in the power of preaching, or the gift of prayer, or the working of miracles; but in the exalting and bringing out to view the excellence of Christian chastity, in this his work for stability and success stands unique. This is the brightest jewel in the diadem that decks his brow. He threw down the image of Venus, and in its place he erected the statue of our Lady of Charity of the Refuge, our Lady of the Good Shepherd.
The circumstances which caused the institution of the new Order were as follows. One day, when Father Eudes was returning from church with some friends, a pious woman, who took a great interest in poor sinners, named Magdalen Lamy, met them, and cried out: “Oh, reverend Father, and you ladies and gentlemen, I wish you would pray a little less, and think instead of some plan for a refuge for our poor penitents. I am poor, and if I am obliged to give them up, it will not be my fault, but yours.” Every one laughed; but before separating they resolved to form a small house of refuge. In a very short time a house was procured, and some unmarried ladies undertook the charge of watching over the penitents. One of mature age, Mlle. Morin, was made the matron, and all had to obey her. The house was opened on December 8th, 1641. But it was soon found that the matron, with all her piety, was very self-willed, and Father Eudes had many more difficulties with her and the other ladies than in ruling the penitents. He thought, therefore, it would be best to a Religious Community set on foot to undertake the work. The report got abroad that he was thinking to introduce Nuns, and the ladies were indignant, looking on this plan as a reproach to themselves. They, therefore, without giving notice to Father Eudes, all left the house one day, taking away with them all that belonged to them.
There were two young girls, who were not trusted with this plot, still left; one of them, a niece of Father Eudes, only fourteen; the other his spiritual child, also quite young. Upon these devolved the whole charge of managing the house and the penitents. Father Eudes now lost no time in completing his plan, having already received the bishop's consent for a Community to be formed at Caen, under the rule of S. Augustine, and by the title of “Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge.”
To this infant Community the bishop gave for superioress the Ven. Mother Patin, who came, with two other Nuns, from the Visitation Convent at Caen. The two young girls who had remained became Novices, and soon a considerable number of others joined them, and the Community became prosperous. It was not, however, till 1651 that the bishop gave to the Convent canonical institution, allowing the Sisters to take vows. But he removed the Community from the direction of Father Eudes, which was a great cross both to them and to him. It was not till 1666 that the new Order, with the particular constitutions drawn up by Father Eudes, received the solemn approval of Rome. Sixteen Sisters then made the Religious vows as sanctioned by the Pope, adding a fourth vow of devoting their life to the care of penitents. Father Eudes preached at the ceremony, and he declared to his daughters that now he felt ready for death, since the great desire of his heart had been fully accomplished, in the approval of the Order.
From this time the Order began to spread into the various countries of Europe. But till 1834 the Convents were all independent of each other. At that period the Convent of Angers obtained from Gregory XVI the faculties to exercise a generalate over all Convents it might in future found. Thus two Congregations in the same Order were formed, just as there are several in the Benedictine and Franciscan Orders. The new Congregation kept to the constitutions of Father Eudes intact. In the true spirit of the founder, and to carry out more completely his intentions, it added a preservation class for young persons exposed to danger of losing their innocence in the world.
This new Congregation, which is entitled our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, has so prospered, that out of one hundred and fifty houses of the whole Order, one hundred and thirty belong to it. For the generalate, enabling it to place the Nuns to greater advantage, has added much to the efficiency of the work done. There are four classes of persons under their charge: (1) Magdalens, i.e., Penitents who follow the Religious life, observing the Carmelite Rule; (2) Ordinary Penitents; (3) Reformatory Children; (4) Preservation Children.
V. His Spirit of Devotion and Religion.
In the seventeenth century a school arose in France, which strove to bring the person of our Blessed Lord more markedly before the faithful, so that they might render Him a more loyal and enthusiastic devotion. Cardinal de Bérulle, and the great Father Condren, were the first masters in this school, and Father Eudes, educated under their spiritual guidance, drank deeply of the same spirit. For him Jesus was all. Creatures he regarded not, he loved not in themselves, but in Jesus, and Jesus in them. Mystical doctors give us three ways that produce Jesus Christ in the soul,—contemplation, love, and annihilation. We make Him live in us by using ourselves to behold Him in everything through contemplation; or through love, in pouring out our affections to Him, and acting only from love of Him; or again, through annihilation, by renouncing all that we are in ourselves.
It is in order that we may contemplate Jesus Christ that the Church, in the various seasons of the Christian year, brings before the eyes of the faithful the different mysteries of His life. Father Eudes was often filled with surprise to find the life of our Lord so little known by those who laid claim to be His disciples. For himself, he was wont to divide the year, so as to go over in their turn all the mysteries of the life of his Incarnate God. During October and part of November he adored our Lord as God in the bosom of the Eternal Father in His divine life. During the last two weeks of November he considered the life our Lord had in the world, in a sort, by His types and figures, the patriarchs, prophets, and just men. In Advent he adored our Lord as dwelling in the womb of His Mother. From Christmas to the Purification he rendered homage to the mysteries of His Holy Childhood. From the Purification to Lent he thought over the life of our Lord in the shop at Nazareth till He was thirty years old.
The first week of Lent was devoted to our Lord's solitary life; the second to His conversing with men; and in the succeeding weeks His life of humiliation, of penance, and suffering, were contemplated. In the Holy Week he was companion of our Lord in all the scenes that happened each day,—the betrayal, the washing of the feet, and institution of the Blessed Eucharist, the Passion, and Crucifixion, and the descent into Limbo.
In Eastertide for forty days he contemplated the mystery of the Risen Life of our Lord still on earth, and so at Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi Day, he followed the order of the Church, uniting himself ever to Jesus Christ, and having Him ever before his eyes and in his heart.
As he filled up the year with various contemplations of Jesus Christ, so also each day of the week had its proper thought, so that our Lord might never be out of sight. The Sunday was consecrated to His divine life, which He had from everlasting with the Father, and to His life of glory since His Resurrection and Ascension. Monday was devoted to the mystery of His taking flesh, and being born for us. For Tuesday there was the Holy Childhood; for Wednesday His hidden life of toil. Thursday was given to His life of conversation with men, and that which He still has in the Sacrament of the Altar. On Friday His Passion and Death were the subject, and on Saturday His life in the Blessed Virgin, His Mother.
It might be said that Father Eudes' eyes were always fixed on our Lord; and sometimes he looked at His outward actions, and sometimes he penetrated within, considering His thoughts, His intentions, and the secret dispositions of His Heart. Sometimes he honoured our Lord's designs in His bestowal of the various graces given to men. At other times he occupied his thoughts with the wonders wrought in the Blessed Virgin, the Angels, and the great Saints of God. He took pleasure in contemplating the grandeurs of Jesus; how loveable! how holy! how meek! Then he would throw himself at our Lord's feet, begging pardon for his negligence, and burning with desire to make Him more loved and honoured by men.
This loving contemplation of our Lord made Father Eudes very zealous in seeing that others gave to Him due honour. He could not bear anything that savoured of a lack of reverence in the serving of God. He was grieved to find many of the priests even extremely negligent in the reverence due to holy things, and in the conducting of the divine service. The Oratory had been originally designed by Father Bérulle to found seminaries for the better education of the clergy. This design had never been carried out by the Oratorians, and it was on this account that, after twenty years in the Oratory, Father Eudes gave in his resignation, and retiring from it, formed a new Congregation for this work, which met with great success, especially in the Seminary of Rouen.
Father Eudes required of the members of his new Congregation the very greatest reverence in all that regarded the Church or the worship of God. When distributing the offices, he used to say to the sacristan: “There now, you have the most holy office in the house.” Even the dust that was swept from the Church was, by his orders, put in a place apart, as in a way sanctified.
If ever he found persons talking in the Church, he went up to them, and reproved them, reminding them of the words of Jacob at Bethel: “How dreadful is this place.” He could not suffer that very little children should play or trifle in the Church, for though, through want of sense, it might be no sin in them, yet it gave them an irreverent habit, which would cling to them at a more advanced age. He for the same reason forbade that rosaries should be put into their hands to amuse themselves with.
If he was so exact and so strict in these smaller matters, how much more was he in things of greater moment! Once, when he was saying Mass before Louis XIV, he observed that the courtiers were all standing whilst the king knelt; so, at the offertory, he turned and said; “Sire, I am happy to see your majesty assisting at the Mass with such respect and devotion, but I am astonished that your officers and subjects behave with so little reverence.” The words had their effect, and all immediately made haste to put themselves on their knees. On another occasion, as the procession of the Blessed Sacrament was passing through the market place at Saint Lo, at the close of a Mission, Father Eudes observed that a number of people were standing. Moved with indignation, he cried out: “Down on your knees, worms of the earth, at the sight of your King;” and every knee was at once bent in adoration.
In course of his apostolic labours, it fell out sometimes that Father Eudes discovered ancient chapels which had gone to ruin through negligence and the lukewarmness of the age. There was one at Valognes, altogether abandoned, and only used once a year, on the Feast of one of the Apostles, whose statue still remained in it. The chapel itself had been dedicated to our Blessed Lady. So Father Eudes took advantage of the fervour of the Mission to excite the people to put it in complete repair. He procured for it several ornaments, with which to embellish it, and then named it the Chapel of our Lady of Victories. This Chapel became very celebrated, by the number of people that visited it, and, by the miracles wrought there, so that it might be said of it, as of the second temple, “Great shall be the glory of this last house, more than of the first.”
In the parish of Vely, in the diocese of Coutance, there was a chapel of our Lady, which was in ruins. He got it entirely rebuilt and reconsecrated, under the title of our Lady of Consolation, in memory of the first visit of our Lord to His holy Mother after His resurrection. Here also a number of signal favours were granted to those who came in pilgrimage.
There was a practice in France at that time amongst persons of rank, that when they gave anything to a Church they put their armorial bearings on it. Thus it was that tabernacles, ciboriums, chalices, stalls, pulpits, &c, bore the arms of the donor. Father Eudes set his face firmly against this kind of vanity. A person of quality having offered to build a Church for his seminary at Caen, on condition of having his arms placed upon it, he refused the offer without hesitating a moment, and he made a vow never to receive any building or ornament of the Church on any such terms. He considered it to be taking from God a part of the holocaust presented to Him, and he wished to see God served with that same thorough and perfect worship which he gave to Him himself.
VI. His favourite virtues.
There can be no doubt that the favourite virtue of the Venerable Father Eudes was that of chastity. Besides making a vow of perpetual chastity at the age of fourteen, and besides the foundation of the Order of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, he instituted also a Confraternity of the Heart of Mary, the members of which promise, not by absolute vow, but by the consecration of a firm purpose, that they will keep a perpetual chastity. This society, called sometimes the “Third Order of the Eudists,” is composed of virgins and widows, and numbers at present about fifteen thousand members.
Chastity is called by St. Paul sanctification, as though the greatest mark of consummate holiness. Chastity is the guardian Angel of one who is consecrated to God. If, says Tertullian, our bodies are living temples of the Divine Majesty, then chastity is the sacristan and the high priest. The priest guards the temple, banishing from it all that might profane its holy courts, and decking it with seemly ornaments; so chastity drives away those vices which pollute and profane the body, making it to be, in the words of Tertullian, the “flesh of an Angel.” This hidden treasure Father Eudes guarded with great bashfulness and modesty, watching his eyes and his heart, and keeping danger at a distance.
St. Chrysostom says that for chastity to be acceptable to God it must be joined with mercifulness. This is the oil in the wise virgin's lamp. This loving sweetness of Father Eudes appeared in the lines of his features, and it showed itself in his relations with all around. He was most tenderly affectionate to little children, lavishing on them many caresses. Sometimes, at the end of a Mission, persons of quality begged of him to come to their houses, and bless their children. He willingly did this, remembering that of such is the kingdom of heaven. And as he knew that so long as they kept their innocence they were safe for heaven, he would not neglect anything that might strengthen them in grace.
The poor came next. He regarded them as the Sacraments of our Saviour, for that He is hidden in them, something after the same sort as He is under the species in the Holy Eucharist. He laid down as a rule that in all his houses dinner should be given to twelve poor persons several times a year, and that every Sunday and Thursday throughout the year one poor person should dine in the Refectory with the priests. This poor man was treated with great civility, water being poured over his hands before dinner, and Father Eudes used always to kiss his feet, together with the servant of the Refectory for the week.
He inspired his priests with a great zeal for the confessions of the poor. Rich people, he said, could easily get a Director, but the poor found a difficulty. On the vigil of a great feast he asked one of his fathers if he had heard many confessions that day. The priest replied that he had been in the confessional from six o'clock till eleven. “Did you confess many poor?” said Father Eudes. The priest said: “They were all poor, for my confessional is near the door, and it is only the poor that stop there.” Then Father Elides, overjoyed, cried out: “Oh, brother, you are a blessed man, for God will be your reward.”
When the poor were in distress, people had recourse to Father Eudes, knowing that he never pleaded in vain. There being a great famine in Paris, the Sisters of Charity begged him to mount the pulpit, and ask for alms. He did so, and in a short time the poor received very large sums of money. At Caen a hospice was being built for the poor, but funds altogether failed, and De Bernières came to ask Father Eudes to preach some sermons. He did so accordingly for a month, on the text: “Blessed is he who considereth the poor and needy.” De Bernières came to tell him that he had now preached enough, for both rich and poor gave all they could. Some brought beds, others linen, others money, others corn, and so all was provided.
Wherever Father Eudes preached his Missions, he marked his passage by setting up houses of refuge for the poor and sick. The fire of his charity so passed into the hearts of others, that they gave large sums of money, for they could refuse him nothing.
Criminals in the prisons did not escape from the tenderness of his heart. He went down into the dungeon to console them, and he mingled his tears with theirs. Sometimes they rebuffed him, but he was not easily driven away, and the most hardened were rarely able to resist the persevering efforts of his gentle charity. If any among them had to suffer death, he went with them to the place of punishment, to help them to die well. Men who hold the office of executioner are not generally very sensitive of the miseries of those put into their hands, nor very careful about their own spiritual welfare. But the executioner of Caen, having several times heard the touching exhortations of Father Eudes to those who were to suffer at his hands, and seeing the tender care he had for their salvation, begged of the Father to assist him also to save his soul, and to take charge of his conscience. Father Eudes received him with as cordial a charity as if he had been the chief magistrate of the town.
If Father Eudes had such great charity for those outside, much more had he for those of his own household, for charity begins at home. To be sweet to strangers, and austere to those who dwell with us, is not true charity. Father Eudes had the most tender care for his Community, and was as gentle with them as a mother with the children of her womb. He was very watchful in all that concerned their health, getting for them, without being asked, what he saw necessary for them. He did not allow their zeal to do what was unhealthy for them. He changed them to other houses for better air. And though he liked well to see the rule observed, he did not like to see the sick burdening themselves, and doing more than health permitted them. He called this doing more than God wishes we should do. Those that were well he did not force with employs for which they had a great repugnance, but, as far as possible, he consulted the inclinations of each one, as to where he would like to reside, and as to what office suited his inclinations, so as to give no discontent. He proposed, by so doing, to act like God, who, without doing violence to the liberty of men, disposes all things with strength, and at the same time with sweetness.
That mode of conduct, which he himself practised, he desired to be observed by others. For he wished to see those who were called to perfection marching to it gaily, and not with black faces and heavy hearts. In a letter to the Mother Superior of the Convent of Charity at Bayeux, he begs her much to be sweet and gentle. “For,” says he, “a rough, dry, lofty, and domineering spirit is apt to spoil all. It destroys that affection, trust, and filial tenderness, that should be in the hearts of those whom we govern, and instead, it fills them with terror, contempt, aversion, and hate. It ruins the Community, and brings the Superior to the block. I do not say you act in this manner, but I have learned by experience that the being Superior ruins many people, so I caution you. Study then to conduct your daughters with all possible sweetness, kindness, tenderness, and cordiality.”
When Father Eudes had to find fault, he showed such meekness and humility, that his rebukes met with an easy acceptance, for it was plain he only sought the good of his subjects, not the pleasure of the exercise of power. Thus it happened one day that he saw the Father who was charged with the housekeeping pass before him into the town on some business. He knew at once that he had gone out without asking permission. He said nothing, but on his return he took him aside, and mildly reproved him for his fault, showing how he had deprived God of so much glory, which he might so easily have procured for Him, by doing what he had done under obedience. He also cautioned him that little faults pave the way to greater sins, and so he brought him to a more exact observance of rule.
Another priest, Father Jourdan, who was one of his first disciples, and who had the charge of housekeeping of Caen, taking offence at something, brought the keys one day, and put them on the table, as much as to say that his mind was quite made up to go. He would not listen to anything Father Eudes said to the contrary, when, all of a sudden, he was filled with confusion to see his Superior kneeling at his feet to beg pardon for whatever he might have done to offend him unknowingly. Father Jourdan, touched to the quick, himself knelt down quickly, and, begging pardon for his hastiness of temper, promised to remain. He persevered from that moment most firmly in his vocation, and died in the odour of sanctity.
VII. The crosses of Father Eudes.
In the Book of Ezekiel it is related that God sent an Angel to mark Tau on the foreheads of all His true servants. Tau is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and S. Jerome tells us that it is in the form of a cross, and that God would signify that His servants are to be known by this mark. So Father Gautruche, a Jesuit, who had known Father Eudes well, said: “I might have doubted of his sanctity had not God put His seal to it by the sign of the cross.” The Bishop of Belley also said to Father Eudes, to comfort him: “The cross is heaven's chancery deed, which gives authorization to the affairs of God.” To the same end that holy man, Baron De Renty, wrote to Father Eudes, that he who follows Jesus Christ in His cross, will bear his fruit in his season, because “He lifteth up the poor out of the dunghill.”
The life of Father Eudes was a life of crosses. In his childhood he had the cross of his delicate health. In his early youth he had the cross of his parents pressing him to marry, forgetful that he was to them a present from heaven, and that they had offered him back to heaven again. Then came the resistance to his vocation to join the Fathers of the Oratory. Once he was so wearied out that he determined to act for himself. He accordingly mounted on horseback, and rode off from home on the way to Paris. But he had not gone far when his horse stopped, and, do what he would, could not be persuaded to go on. Then his heart smote him, and he turned back, and again knelt at the feet of his parents to obtain their consent, and this time he succeeded.
Mention has already been made of the difficulties he encountered in the establishment of the Order of our Lady of Charity of the Refuge. But the heaviest cross was, that when it had been set up, the direction of the Nuns was taken out of his hands by the bishop, and put into those of another priest. He was obliged by letters to supply that instruction in the spirit of their vocation, which naturally ought to have been given to them by the personal superintendence of their founder.
Again, when, in order to follow that inspiration God had given him to supply the Church of France with seminaries, he, on this account, retired from the Oratory, what a storm of persecution fell upon him. The Oratorians were indignant at the idea of his setting up what they conceived to be a rival Congregation to their own. They endeavoured to prejudice the queen against him, by presenting to her a memorial expressly worded so as to lessen him in her eyes. He was also accused of having diverted to his new Congregation large sums intended for the Oratory. One of his benefactors, De Kepichon, wrote, however, to deny that he ever had any intention of giving the money except towards the new Institute for Seminaries.
When the first seminary was set up at Caen, it was thought by the Bishop of Bayeux, in whose jurisdiction it lay, that Father Eudes had acted without sufficient authorization from him. He had the case brought before his court, and the decision was, that the chapel was placed under an interdict; the priests were ordered to throw down and demolish the altar, and were, moreover, forbidden the exercise of their functions in any place within the range of its authority.
Father Eudes submitted at once to the terms of this decree. The seminary remained closed so long as the bishop lived, but one of the first acts of his successor was to have it re-opened with great solemnity. Within a week of the closing of this seminary at Caen, the Bishop of Coutance invited Father Eudes to open a seminary in his diocese, giving him most ample powers to that effect. At the same time he was invited by M. Olier of S. Sulpice to give a Mission in the capital. So it is that God tempers the crosses He gives, that man may not be overwhelmed.
In his Missions, although successful, there was no want of the cross. He writes to the Abbess of Budos: “Some say I am the forerunner of Antichrist; some say I am Antichrist in person; some call me a seducer; others that I am a devil, and that people ought not to believe me; others again call me a sorcerer.” Some priests absolutely refused to receive the Mission into their parishes; others went on a journey that they might not be at home. When they did receive the Fathers, they sometimes dissuaded all they could from being present, saying that there was no necessity, and they could with equal profit come to themselves. The laity who led scandalous lives equally opposed the Missions; for Father Eudes had no human respect, and he spoke out fearlessly against all scandals. Some gentleman, while he was giving a Mission, beat a poor man in a shameful manner. Father Eudes having heard of it, denounced him next day from the pulpit, and declared that the vengeance of God would soon overtake him. The gentleman was killed by some of his enemies not long after. Another time he learned that a gentleman the night before had attempted to take away the innocence of a defenceless girl. Without fear he spoke vehemently of this scandal in the pulpit, saying he was not afraid of their swords. At one of his Missions, a gentleman followed him, and struck him in the face, upon which Father Eudes, without any resistance, simply turned to him the other cheek, and the ruffian struck him a second time.
Another subject of ridicule and of persecution was Father Eudes' propagation of the devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. This devotion, which is to be found in the writings of S. Gertrude, S. Mechtilde, ,and other Saints, was never propagated publicly in the Church till the time of Father Eudes. He was its first apostle. The Oratorians presented a memorial to the Pope, in which, on this account, Father Eudes is said, to be an eneourager of trivial devotions. Another, petition of the same sort was brought before the synod of the Bishops of Normandy. Father Eudes took no notice of all that was said and done against him. He made no reply to many slanders, according to what is said of our Lord: “But Jesus held His peace.” His work, however, he continued. He composed an Office in honour of the Sacred Heart of Mary, and another in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In 1670 the Bishop of Rennes gave permission to Father Eudes' Congregation “to celebrate solemnly every year the Feast of the Adorable Heart of Jesus, with an Octave, with its proper Office and Mass, as also the Feast of the Heart of the Blessed Virgin.” These Feasts were received by the Ursulines, the Visitandines, and the Benedictines of the Blessed Sacrament. In 1674 Clement X gave the sanction of Rome to these devotions, and enriched the confraternities formed with many indulgences.
The last great cross he had fell to him in this manner. A. certain secular priest, named Louis Boniface, having formed a friendship with Father Eudes, and seeming conversant with the court of Rome, Father Eudes sent him to Rome to endeavour to obtain the Pope's sanction for the Congregation of Eudists, and for the Order of our Lady of Refuge. This priest, meeting with no success, and not liking to return without any result, drew up a petition on behalf of the Eudists, promising from them a vow to obey the Holy See “even in doubtful matters.” Some French priests, unfriendly to Father Eudes' new Congregations, got to hear of this petition, obtained a copy of it, and sent it to France. King Louis XIV, who was a great despot, considered that this vow aimed at the lessening of his authority. He therefore sent word to Father Eudes to leave Paris for Normandy. His house at Versailles was taken from him, and given to the Lazarists. Louis Boniface in vain declared he alone was responsible for the petition: the king for six years continued inflexible. At the end of that time he consented to a reconciliation. This happened in 1679, and the following year Father Eudes died the death of the just.
Taken from: Life of Venerable Father Eudes, translated from French by Rev. Father Collins. 1880;
Saint Joseph Daily Missal, 1957.
St. John Eudes, pray for us.