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December 8, 2008|
Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Born on May 24, 1861, on the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, in Bourbourg, in northern France, Georges was baptized two days later. As soon as possible, his mother took him to the ancient church of Our Lady of Miracles in Saint-Omer to consecrate him to the Virgin. His father died February 24, 1865 as the result of an accident, leaving six children behind. His widow was in a state of shock for several hours afterwards. Finding herself alone with little Georges next to the deathbed, she told him, «My child, you are an orphan. Well! Don't forget that from now on Saint Joseph will be the father of our household!» Confident in this powerful patronage, Madame Bellanger took charge of the family farm. Rising first in early morning, she began with a long period of prayer, then gave the farm hands their tasks, and if possible, went to the church for Mass. Every day, the family said the Angelus, the Rosary, and evening prayer together.
A difficult child
One of Georges' favorite things to do was to play at celebrating Mass. He celebrated his «mass» at a set time, and everyone in the house had to attend it with a serious manner. Madame Bellanger made use of this attraction of her son to make him think when he lost his temper. «For shame!» she said, «the naughty boy who gets angry and then, afterwards, says the mass! « The good Jesus won't even want to look at his flowers!» Her maternal care bore fruit and Georges' tantrums became rarer and less violent, and were followed by true repentance. From then on, he was very fond of stories from the Gospel, especially about the role of the Virgin Mary. He took pleasure in reciting the Hail Mary.
In the spring of 1870, the Bellanger family moved to Moulle. In September 1871, Georges entered Saint Bertin Minor Seminary in Saint-Omer. Separation from his family was a difficult sacrifice for him, but he quickly adjusted to the boarding school's rules, and his greatest joy was praying in the chapel. In class, he was serious and hard-working, but lacked imagination and even worse, memory. On June 1, 1873, he made his first Communion and, the following July 18, received the sacrament of Confirmation. During the school vacation that followed, one of his cousins noted the change in his personality; he had become rational, gentle, humble, and considerate. At school, his conduct earned him admission into the congregation of the Blessed Virgin, and the following year, he received the coveted position of sacristan. In 1876, he was a fifteen-year-old adolescent full of life. Nevertheless, he experienced some interior pains. His examinations of conscience, which one would think easy for him after the regulated days of the boarding school, were a torture, and he made anxious confessions. Happily, with his confessor's help, he emerged from this distressing state.
But other sufferings awaited him. When he returned from a walk, he was dragging one leg. Soon it became terribly painful. The doctor diagnosed coxalgia (tuberculosis of the hip). In time, the characteristic abscess of this disease appeared. The punctures to drain it were particularly painful. Georges feared most of all that he would lose his position, but as soon as he would take his Rosary in his hands, he would feel better. On May 30, 1876, two doctors told Madame Bellanger that the end was near. In an ardent burst of faith, she cried, «Blessed Virgin, cure our little Georges, only if he is to become a holy priest!» The next day, Georges felt completely cured. Nevertheless, he would walk with a limp for the rest of his life.
In spite of his efforts to be more convivial, Georges remained marked by a certain sadness. He was often attacked by terrible migraines but, rather than becoming discouraged, he drew strength from Eucharistic adoration and from his relationship with Mary. As the day of his ordination to the subdiaconate drew near, he was again assailed by temptations. His director used all his influence to restore his peace of mind. On July 15, 1883, Georges Bellanger received the subdiaconate and at Christmas, he was ordained deacon. Too young in 1884 to be ordained a priest, Georges was named professor at the minor seminary in Arras. On July 12, 1885, he received priestly ordination with great fervor, and then resumed his duties as a professor. Invited to help at the officers' club, Father Bellanger quickly gained friendships and confidences. Many young soldiers came from far away and felt alone and abandoned; dangerous pleasures were a permanent temptation for them. With the priest, they felt part of a family and evenings spent at the club comforted them. The young priest's apostolate could be summed up in two things: a heart to love soldiers, especially the most forsaken, and Marian devotion. He gave first place to the supernatural, convinced that the greatest need of soldiers was for God. Nevertheless, he did not neglect wholesome amusements, even making the effort to play the piano. From the beginning of his ministry, he led recitation of the Rosary, and gave the place of honor to Mary. Later, he would put an image of Our Lady of Good Counsel in the entryway of the officers' club, with a kneeler and a sign inviting visitors to greet the «mistress of the house» with a Hail Mary. He himself joined the Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. He consecrated himself to Mary using the formula recommended by Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort.
However, the men he dealt with were not always easy. At times, he experienced bitter moments with them, but persevered against winds and waves. «First of all, we tried to lead the soldiers to the Most Blessed Virgin,» he would later write. «We put a Rosary in their hands, they recited it, and Mary hastened to lead them to her divine Son in His Eucharist«In our work, we have brave soldiers almost every night who come to say the Rosary on their knees. I found several saying the Rosary with their arms outstretched« But what almost all do is converse with her, so to say, during long hours of watch day and night.» The priest installed a chapel in the officers club and excited in his soldiers a love for Eucharistic adoration and holy Mass: «Let us attend Mass very faithfully,» he told them. «It is by far the greatest act of the week.» And he reported with sadness this comment from a young officer: «What upsets me, what I cannot understand, is to see how easily some Christian soldiers skip Sunday Mass.»
«Sine dominico non possumus»
Man's relationship with God needs an explicit time for prayer. Sunday, which commemorates the Lord's Resurrection, is the day of prayer par excellence. On that day the sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated, which makes present the paschal mystery. This mystery is the full revelation of the mystery of creation, the summit of salvation history, and the anticipation of eternal life.
Christ unites His sacrifice with the sacrifice of the Church. In the Eucharist, Christ's sacrifice becomes also the sacrifice of the members of His Bodythe lives of the faithful, their praise, their suffering, their prayer, their work, are united to those of Christ and to His total offering. They thus acquire new value.
In order for the presence of the Risen Christ among His own to be announced and experienced in a fitting manner, it is not enough for His disciples to pray individually. In effect, those who have received the grace of baptism have not been saved only as individuals, but as members of the mystical Body. Therefore, it is important for them to gather together to fully express the true identity of the Church.
Sanctification, joy, relaxation
In the Letter Dies Domini (The Lord's Day) of May 31, 1998, Pope John Paul II underscored the spiritual and pastoral richness of Sunday: «Sunday in a way becomes a synthesis of the Christian life and a condition for living it well. It is clear therefore why the observance of the Lord's Day is so close to the Church's heart, and why in the Church's discipline it remains a real obligation. Yet more than as a precept, the observance should be seen as a need rising from the depths of Christian life. It is crucially important that all the faithful should be convinced that they cannot live their faith or share fully in the life of the Christian community unless they take part regularly in the Sunday Eucharistic assembly.»
Father Bellanger's pastoral zeal was also exercised in administering the sacrament of Penance. One day, a young military chaplain asked him, «How do soldiers decide to go to confession?»«Like this: you have read the story in the Gospel of Our Lord's meeting with the Samaritan woman. Jesus takes an interest in her, talks to her about her life, about what she has doneand that is precisely what touches her and opens her heart« So, with your soldiers, do just like the Master. Talk to them about their families, their minor concerns, then before long about their soul, which is probably sick. You will soon have found the door to their heart.» Father Bellanger wrote, «Let the priest remember that without the Blessed Virgin Mary he can do nothing« So let him put the Most Blessed Virgin in the center of his activity, through the miraculous medal or a scapular given to the penitent before confession, through the Hail Mary he recites with his penitent at the start of confession.» When he could, he visited the sick soldiers in the hospital in Arras. He did many favors for them, but most of all took care of their souls, helping them, when the time came, to have a good death.
On March 8, 1891, Father Bellanger presided at the consecration of a new chapel, bigger than the preceding one, built on private land. His joy was immense. But at the time, the French government was attacking Catholic activities and, on April 23, the local military authority received the order from Paris to close this chapel. It was a terrible blow for the priest, who had been expecting so many graces there. Nevertheless, he did not lose his peace, and brought his soldiers to sanctuaries in Arras. A friend let him use his living room, where nights of prayer were organized. In addition, the priest fitted out a small chapel adjacent to his office. Soldiers liked to go there to spend hours in adoration.
A trying novitiate
On July 2, 1898, Father Bellanger made his first religious vows in peace and joy. He continued his apostolate in Arras, and launched an urgent appeal to all monasteries and convents in France, urging prayer for soldiers from children, seminarians from all over, and priests (from whom he also asked Masses). In 1899, he wrote, «Again this year, our soldiers will have thousands of Masses and hundreds of thousands of Rosaries in all the seminaries and religious houses in France said for them« How good Our Lady of Good Counsel is to have given me the means to have all of France praying without my having to leave my chair!» In the face of his apostolic fervor, and despite his infirmities, his Superiors gave him permission to preach sermons, retreats, and novenas in the diocese of Arras.
His great devotion to Our Lady of Good Counsel was reflected by the work of art that he had made honoring this image of the Virgin in the military chapel. The Madonna there was considered Queen, Guardian, and Mother. The chaplain's joy was immense when Rome authorized the Brothers of Saint Vincent de Paul to say the office and celebrate the Mass of Our Lady of Good Counsel on her feast day, April 26. He consecrated himself entirely to the Most Blessed Virgin so that, through her, the offering of his entire being and all his actions might be agreeable to Jesus. He had recourse to Mary at every moment, making his days, through the regular recitation of the holy Rosary, into almost continual praise of and prayer to her. And it was on her that he relied to ensure Jesus' triumph in souls. His joy was to preach Mary to win souls for Jesus.
Much of 1899 he passed in painful illness. Father Bellanger was forced to interrupt his apostolic activity in order to rest, and his doctor asked that he be dismissed from his military work. On March 25, 1900, he was named Novice Master, in Paris. This appointment grieved him, because he would have preferred to resume work with his soldiers; nevertheless, he agreed to take it on. His first act was to entrust his work to the hands of the Most Blessed Virgin. His method consisted above all in giving a good example. He unveiled to his novices the basis of his life: the glory of God. God «has created us first of all to know and serve Him,» he explained. «Our salvation must be but the consequence of the reign and glory of God. Our happiness is written only on the back side of the book of lifethe glory of God fills the front.»
A long look of love
May Our Lady of Good Counsel obtain for us the grace of following the examples of Venerable Georges Bellanger in his zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls!