Blason   Abbey of Saint-Joseph de Clairval

21150 Flavigny-sur-Ozerain


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June 6, 2004
Trinity Sunday

Dear Friend of Saint Joseph Abbey,

«Like the woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany, the Church has feared no 'extravagance', devoting the best of her resources to expressing her wonder and adoration before the unsurpassable gift of the Eucharist. No less than the first disciples charged with preparing the 'large upper room,' she has felt the need, down the centuries and in her encounters with different cultures, to celebrate the Eucharist in a setting worthy of so great a mystery» (John Paul II, Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, EE, April 17, 2003, no. 48). Saint Peter Julian Eymard, founder of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, wrote in the same vein: «I am not at all worried about our daily bread. It is the King's duty to feed His soldiers. Our task is to accommodate Him properly, to give Him a tabernacle, an altar, vestments... We will consecrate to Him everything we have—the Eucharistic King truly deserves it.» Who, then, is this Saint?

His head against the tabernacle

One day in 1804, a knife grinder arrived in the little town of La Mure, in the diocese of Grenoble, France. His name was Julian Eymard. Death had wreaked havoc in his family, in which only two children, Antoine and Marie-Anne, had survived. Marie-Anne was 12 when Peter Julian was born on February 4, 1811. Mr. Eymard had the newborn baptized the next day. Peter Julian's mother didn't let a day go by without going to kneel a few moments in the church—she took little Peter Julian there in her apron, and offered him to Jesus. As soon as the child could walk, he accompanied his mother to the church, and soon went there all by himself several times a day. Marie-Anne once discovered him there behind the altar, on a stool, his head leaning against the tabernacle. «It's because I listen, and I hear Him better up here,» explained Peter Julian. An extraordinary passion for the Blessed Sacrament took root in his heart. However, he was not without his faults—stubborn, quick-tempered, nosey. But his loyal nature could not live a lie. A studious boy, he also had a liking for manual labor. Since walnut trees were plentiful in the region, Julian Eymard built an oil press, hoping that his son would become a walnut-oil maker.

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 school—he 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.

Inestimable value

«The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church,» affirms Pope John Paul II. «This worship is strictly linked to the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The presence of Christ under the sacred species reserved after Mass – a presence which lasts as long as the species of bread and of wine remain – derives from the celebration of the sacrifice and is directed towards communion, both sacramental and spiritual. It is the responsibility of Pastors to encourage, also by their personal witness, the practice of Eucharistic adoration, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in particular, as well as prayer of adoration before Christ present under the Eucharistic species» (EE, no. 25).

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 everything—Father 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 won—the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament received its first approval before it even existed.

A hasty gesture

However, the adventure was far from over. Father Eymard had nowhere to house his future community. He had no money, and the first novices, who were suffering from hunger, were withdrawing one after the other. Archbishop Sibour's death deprived them of valuable protection. His successor, Archbishop Morlot, refused to hear the founder and burned his order's constitution without reading it, convinced that it was a «secret society.» He later repented of his hasty gesture, heard Father Eymard, and confirmed Archbishop Sibour's approval. Peter Julian, still in the street, entrusted his plan to Providence, which soon gave him the opportunity to buy two buildings in the rue Faubourg-Saint-Jacques.

The Eucharistic apostolate is carried out at the very foot of the altar. The adorer is also a stand-in—he 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

On June 3, 1863, Father Eymard's congregation was definitively approved by Blessed Pius IX. «From this time on,» said Blessed John XXIII, «the religious of the Blessed Sacrament would begin to be valorous supporters and disseminators in the Church of this movement of souls to the Most Blessed Sacrament, one of the most brilliant pearls of substantial Christian piety.» Father Eymard continued to receive new vocations for his institute, thanks to his sermons, the fire and enthusiasm of which one can hardly imagine. He himself said that the preacher is a man «who prays loudly... but before that, he has to have prayed in a whisper.» From the pulpit, he transmitted to his listeners his convictions, his love, his holy fire. He was eloquence personified. His words played a great part in awakening in souls love for the Eucharist and developing the pre-eminent devotion, adoration.

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 Spouse—it'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 1864, setbacks and trials further united Father Eymard to the redeeming Cross, the sole means of salvation of souls. He drew his strength ever more from the Eucharist, which was instituted «in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries» (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum concilium, no. 47). «This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race,» writes Pope John Paul II, «that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after He had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there. Each member of the faithful can thus take part in it and inexhaustibly gain its fruits... I wish once more to recall this truth and to join you, my dear brothers and sisters, in adoration before this mystery: a great mystery, a mystery of mercy. What more could Jesus have done for us? Truly, in the Eucharist, He shows us a love which goes to the end (cf. Jn. 13:1), a love which knows no measure. This aspect of the universal charity of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is based on the words of the Savior himself. In instituting it, He did not merely say: This is my body, this is my blood, but went on to add: which is given for you, which is poured out for you (Lk. 22:19-20). Jesus did not simply state that what He was giving them to eat and drink was His Body and His Blood; He also expressed its sacrificial meaning» (EE, nos. 11-12).

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

On the night of July 21, 1868, Father Eymard, exhausted, very thin, incapable of taking in any food at all, arrived at La Mure to rest, on his doctor's orders. He celebrated the last Mass of his life in Grenoble, in the chapel devoted to perpetual adoration. Without a word, he got into bed with difficulty. His sister quickly came down to look for the doctor, who diagnosed a cerebral hemorrhage coupled with general exhaustion. Father made his confession through signs. On Saturday, August 1, he received Extreme Unction at one o'clock in the morning. At daybreak, a Father from his Congregation celebrated Mass in his room and gave him Holy Communion. He was presented with the image of Our Lady of La Salette, which he pressed to his heart. At the beginning of the afternoon, his last breath could scarcely be heard. His soul had entered Heaven, into the infinite Goodness of God, forever. He died at age 57 in the house in which he had been born.

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.

Dom Antoine Marie osb.

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