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June 6, 2004|
His head against the tabernacle
The much-anticipated day of First Holy Communion arrived when Peter Julian was already 12 years old. «What graces the Lord gave me that day!» he would tearfully write, 30 years later. It was at that time he heard the call to the priesthood. The young man spoke to his father of his wish to enter the seminary, but his father did not understand the honor God was giving him in calling his son. No! His son would follow him in his business. The child was even taken out of schoolhe knew enough from school to produce and sell oil. His mother kept quiet, prayed, and remained hopeful.
In the Marian sanctuary of Our Lady of Laus, Peter Julian met Father Touche, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate who, seeing the beauty of the young man's soul, advised him to direct his life towards the priesthood by studying Latin and receiving Communion more often. Filled with joy and hope, Peter Julian returned to the mill and studied Latin grammar in secret. Providence put him in contact with Father Desmoulins, who obtained Mr. Eymard's permission to take Peter Julian with him to Grenoble to study there for free, in return for some duties. There, the child suddenly learned that his mother had died, and threw himself in tears at the feet of the statue of the Blessed Virgin. «Oh! From this day on, be my only Mother,» he exclaimed. «But more than anything else, this grace: that I might be a priest someday!» The day of the burial, his father, himself overcome, begged him to stay with him. He acquiesced. All hope seemed lost, when an Oblate Father of Mary, passing through, having heard him, said to him, «Would you come to our house in Marseilles?»«Will my father be willing?»«Yes, yes, he will.» The father gave a start, got flustered, objected, began to cry, then... agreed. In Marseilles, Peter Julian began to study with such determination that he fell seriously ill. He was taken back to his father's house, where he got well, but his recovery took a long time.
On March 3, 1828, after having asked his son's forgiveness for his opposition to his vocation, Mr. Eymard rendered his soul to God. Peter Julian then entered the major seminary in Grenoble. He was required to present his parish priest's written recommendation, which the priest gave to him sealed. Suspecting something, Marie-Anne, unaware of the imprudence of her action, opened the envelope. The letter described the candidate as «mindless and incapable.» By common consent, they burned the unfair testimony. Confident in the grace of God, Peter Julian left for Grenoble, where, providentially, he met Bishop de Mazenod, the holy founder of the Oblates of Mary. Peter Julian told him everything. «So,» said the bishop, «I'm the one who will present you to the superior of the seminary.» The young man could then follow his vocation, and was ordained a priest at the age of 23, on July 20, 1834. He was entrusted with the ministry of vicar, and then of parish priest, in the diocese, but secretly Peter Julian wanted to be a religious.
On August 20, 1839, with his bishop's permission, despite his sister's tears and his parishioners' regrets, he entered the novitiate of the Marists, a congregation founded by Father Colin. He noted in his diary his favorite themes to meditate on: «Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and Heaven.» After his novitiate, he was successively named spiritual director of the high school in Belley (Ain), then Provincial of France and Director of the Third Order of Mary. In 1850, he became superior of the high school in La Seyne-sur-Mer, close to Toulon. In all his work, as a secular priest or as a Marist religious, Father Eymard always encouraged the souls under his care to practice adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The results were remarkable, for children and youth as well as for families. Society as a whole was regenerated by it.
God inspired Peter Julian with the idea of founding a congregation of men and women religious devoted to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the propagation of this devotion among the laity. It was at the feet of Our Lady of Fourviére that he conceived the plan for this foundation. This would be the great preoccupation of his life. Pope Pius IX, with whom he succeeded in obtaining an audience, affirmed to him, «Your work comes from God, I am sure of it. The Church needs it.» But what obstacles to overcome! If God had not pushed Father Eymard, he would never have dared embark on an adventure that, in human terms, had no chance of succeeding. His Marist Superior General, after having examined the plan at length, released him from his vows, in order to allow him complete freedom to establish his foundation. Then he changed his mind and went to the Archbishop of Paris. The auxiliary bishop, who was to receive Peter Julian on behalf of the archbishop, had his already prepared response: a categorical «no.»
But Divine Providence saved everythingFather Eymard, in the company of his first disciple, was waiting in the vestibule of the archbishop's residence, when the Archbishop of Paris himself, Archbishop Sibour, saw them. «Who are you?»«Two priests from out of town.»«Can I help you?»«Your Excellency, we are waiting for the Auxiliary Bishop.»«But,» replied Archbishop Sibour, «anything the auxiliary bishop does here, the Archbishop can also do!» Father Eymard explained the purpose of his visit. «You are a Marist father?»«Yes, your Excellency.»«The auxiliary bishop told me about it.» Believing that he wished to found a contemplative congregation, the archbishop added, «It's purely contemplative... I'm not in favor of such things... No! No!»«But, your Excellency, it's not a purely contemplative congregation. We adore, no doubt, but we also want others to adore. We must attend to the First Communion of adults.» With these words, the Archbishop's face lit up. «The First Communion of adults!» he exclaimed. «Ah! This is the work I am missing, the work I desire.» The Eucharist is, in fact, «both the source and the summit of all evangelization, since its goal is the communion of mankind with Christ and in Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit» (EE, no. 22). The cause was wonthe Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament received its first approval before it even existed.
A hasty gesture
The Eucharistic apostolate is carried out at the very foot of the altar. The adorer is also a stand-inhe intends to offer reparation for the offenses committed against the Blessed Sacrament. He adores and loves for the innumerable sinners who do not know, adore and love. But he who loves, seeks to make others love. The religious of the Blessed Sacrament thus work to convert sinners through a Eucharistic apostolate.
At this time, in the old neighborhoods of Paris, most adolescents who were old enough to earn a few pennies were almost entirely ignorant of the religion of their baptism. Many adults were in the same situation, just as in our day. Father Eymard organized catechism courses to prepare these souls to receive Holy Communion. One evening, he received two rag-pickers into the parlor, a man and a woman who had neither faith nor schooling, and who were living in sin. As the days went by, he taught them the catechism, heard their confessions, allowed them to receive their First Communion, and married them. That day, he invited them to dine in the parlor and served them himself, speaking good words to them, which these simple people heard with delight.
To receive Holy Communion, certain dispositions are required. Commenting on the verse of Saint Paul: A man should examine himself first; only then should he eat of this bread and drink of this cup (1 Cor. 11:28), the Holy Father recalls them clearly: «Saint John Chrysostom, with his stirring eloquence, exhorted the faithful: 'I too raise my voice, I beseech, beg and implore that no one draw near to this sacred table with a sullied and corrupt conscience. Such an act, in fact, can never be called 'communion,' not even were we to touch the Lord's body a thousand times over, but 'condemnation,' 'torment' and 'increase of punishment.' Along these same lines, the Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly stipulates that 'anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion.' I therefore desire to reaffirm that in the Church there remains in force, now and in the future, the rule by which the Council of Trent gave concrete expression to the Apostle Paul's stern warning when it affirmed that, in order to receive the Eucharist in a worthy manner, 'one must first confess one's sins, when one is aware of mortal sin' » (EE, no. 36).
A brilliant pearl
Before preaching, Father Eymard would prepare himself before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. The Host was the true source of his preaching. «It is pleasant to spend time with Him,» the Holy Father reminds us, «to lie close to His breast like the Beloved Disciple (cf. Jn. 13:25) and to feel the infinite love present in His heart. If in our time Christians must be distinguished above all by the 'art of prayer,' how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament? How often, dear brothers and sisters, have I experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation and support!» (EE, no. 25).
Father Eymard affirmed: «To the witness of the word of Jesus Christ, the Church adds that of her example, of her practical faith. These magnificent basilicas are the expression of her faith in the Most Blessed Sacrament. She did not want to build tombs but temples, a heaven on earth where her Savior, her God, finds a throne worthy of Himself. With a jealous attention, the Church has regulated worship of the Eucharist, up to the slightest details. She does not shift onto anyone else the care for honoring her Divine Spouseit's because everything is of great importance, everything is divine when it concerns Jesus Christ present. She desires that everything most pure in nature, most precious in the world, be consecrated to the royal service of Jesus.» And he advised, «After entering (a church), remain at rest a moment. Silence is the greatest sign of respect, and respect is the first disposition to bring to prayer. Most of our dryness in prayer and our lack of devotion comes from our lack of respect for Our Lord when we walk in, or from our behaving disrespectfully.» The Holy Father, in the same spirit, issues a vigorous appeal «that the liturgical norms for the celebration of the Eucharist be observed with great fidelity... Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to those norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church» (EE, no. 52).
The decisive sacrifice
In union with Christ's sacrifice, Father Eymard accepted his election for life as Superior General of the Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament, even though he was hoping to become a simple religious again. At the same time, he saw the demolition of his house in Paris, which had to make way for the opening of a new boulevard. What is more, on June 11, 1867, Father de Cuers, his oldest and truest friend, asked Rome to release him from his vows, in order that he might establish an institute of Eucharistic hermits. Father Eymard was appalled. Nevertheless, he learned through a revelation that this Father would return to his Congregation, but he would not see this return during his lifetime. In his sufferings, gentleness remained his favorite virtue. It was, however, not a virtue he had been born with. A brother in his Congregation offered this testimony: «He was a very energetic man, of an angelic gentleness with a restless nature.» Father Eymard himself would admit that he knew he was very impatient.
To his heart
Peter Julian Eymard's canonization benefited from a solemnity unusual in the history of the Church. The day after the closing of the first session of the Second Vatican Council, December 9, 1962, John XXIII, in the presence of 1,500 council Fathers, entered him into the catalogue of Saints. In his homily, the Pope said, «This little child of five who was found on the altar, his forehead pressed to the tabernacle door, is the same person who, in his time, would found the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, as well as the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, and would cause to radiate, through innumerable armies of Priest-Adorers, his love and tenderness for Christ living in the Eucharist... Saint Peter Julian Eymard proposes the Most Blessed Virgin Mary as a model for adorers, invoking Her by the name of 'Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament'... Yes, dear sons and daughters, honor and celebrate with us him who was so perfect an adorer of the Blessed Sacrament; after his example, always place at the center of your thoughts, of your affections, the undertakings of your zeal this incomparable source of all grace: the Mysterium fidei, which hides under veils the Author Himself of grace, Jesus the Incarnate Word.»
Today, there are about one thousand religious of the Blessed Sacrament, spread out across 140 houses in 18 nations. The Servants of the Blessed Sacrament (close to 300 women religious) have houses in France, in Holland, in Italy, in Canada, in the United States, in Brazil, in Australia, in Philippines, in Viet-Nam and in Republic of Congo.
Saint Peter Julian Eymard, teach us to make frequent visits to our Lord present in the Tabernacle, and obtain for us to cross the storms of this life in peace and see our beloved Jesus face-to-face in Heaven.