Feast Day: February 15
“Oh, Hearts, truly worthy of possessing all the hearts of angels and of men! You are from now the rule of my conduct, and in all occasions I will try to be inspired in your sentiments. I want my heart to be from now on inspired in Jesus and Mary, that the Hearts of Jesus and Mary be in mine so that they can communicate to me their movements, and for my heart not to move, but according to the impressions received from them.”
The Jesuit Priest St. Claude de la Colombière was the first to believe in the mystical revelations of the Sacred Heart given to St. Margaret Mary in Paray le Monial Convent, France. Thanks to his support, St. Margaret Mary’s superior also believed, and propagation of the devotion to the Sacred heart was started.
St. Claude not only believed, but dedicated his life to propagate the devotion, always spiritually united to St. Margaret Mary and trusting her discernment.
He was a holy and wise priest who knew how to discern well the authentic divine intervention in St. Margaret Mary’s soul. Even though at this time, many people, theologians and religious thought of her to be mad and despised her.
Glory for Our God
A contemporary artist of St. Claude’s time painted a picture of him when he was about 35 – 41 years old: his face was long, his eyes were small and brilliant, he had a very penetrating gaze, wide forehead, a well proportioned mouth, and a pointed chin. It is mentioned that when Claude entered the Company of Jesus he was robust, joyful in character, with elevated ideas, prudent and very pleasing. What religious life did was fully develop his natural gifts.
In his natural intelligence he was accustomed to sincere and penetrating judgments. Claude loved the arts and maintained correspondence with Oliverio Patru, member of the French Academy of Arts, who praised very much his writings. All these natural gifts would have been worth little in the work of souls if he had not united them to the interior spirit of a religious thirsting for the glory of God.
The fountain of his interior life was union with God in prayer, fully giving himself. He habitually reached the way of referring everything to God. Human respect and worldly motives did not exist for him. This extraordinary detachment of the world was his principal characteristic.
His birth and life
St. Claude was born in 1641 in Saint-Symphorien d’Ozon, near Lyon. His family was well-known, pious and had a good social status. We have no special data about his life before entering the Jesuit School of Lyon. Even though religious life was not appealing to him, he managed to conquer this and was immediately admitted to the Company of Jesus.
He did his novitiate in Avignon, and after two years transferred to the school of that city to complete his philosophical studies. Upon finishing his studies he was sent to teach grammar and humanities from 1661-1666. Since 1659, the city of Avignon had experienced terrible conflicts between the nobility and the people. In 1662, the famous encounter between the Pontifical Guards and the group of French Ambassadors took place. Because of this incident Louis XIV sent his troops and occupied Avignon which belonged to Papal territories. This, however, did not interfere with his school work. The Calvinists’ increased presence only lead to more zeal from the Jesuits, who then consecrated themselves even more to their apostolic ministry in the city and the nearby districts.
When peace was established in Avignon the canonization of St. Francis de Sales was celebrated. A great liturgical celebration took place in the oldest convent of the Visitation Order. At this great occasion St. Claude demonstrated for the first time his gifts as a preacher. Although he was not a priest yet, he was one of those elected to preach the eulogy of the Holy Bishop in the convent Church.
The text he chose was: “From strength softness has gushed forth” (Judges 14:14). His sermon was magnificent. In the meantime Claude’s superiors decided to send him to finish his theological studies in Paris, the center of the French intellects. In Paris he was given the task and honor of watching over the education of two children of the famous Colberts. What probably happened was that Colbert discovered the intellectual capability of Claude and chose him for this important task, even though Colbert was not a personal friend of the Jesuits.
The relations between the saint and this distinguished family terminated poorly. A humorous phrase used by Claude in one of his writings was made known to the minister, who felt offended by it and asked the superiors of the Company of Jesus to remove him and send him back to his province. This did not occur until 1670.
Proclamation of the Word of God and Exaltation of the Sacred Heart
In 1673, the young priest was named preacher of the Avignon School. His sermons, on which he worked intensely, were real models because of the solid doctrine and the beauty of the language. The saint seemed to have preached the same sermons in England. He preached in the chapel of the Duchess of York, Maria de Modena, who became Queen when Jacob II inherited the throne. She is responsible for the publication of these sermons.
During his stay in Paris the saint studied Jansenism with all its half truths and slander. He combated this heresy from the pulpit, animated by the love of the Sacred Heart and the greatest devotion against Jansenism. At the end of 1674, Father La Chaize, rector of the saint received the order from the general of the Company of Jesus to admit him to solemn profession after a month of “Spiritual Exercises.” He consecrated himself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The saint added to the solemn vows of profession the vow of absolute fidelity to the rules of the Company of Jesus down to the smallest details. According to his diary, he had lived for some time this perfect fidelity and wanted to consecrate his conduct under a vow in order to make it more lasting. At 33 years of age, the same age when Christ died, he was inspired with great desire to die completely to this world and to self. He wrote in his diary: “I believe, Lord, it is time for me to live in You, and only for You, at my age You died for me in particular.”
Chosen by and for the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Two months after his solemn profession in February 1675, Claude was named Superior of the Paray-le-Monial School. It was an exceptional honor to entrust the government of a house to a recently ordained priest; but on the other hand, the small community of Paray consisted of only 4 or 5 priests, an insignificant amount for the great gifts Claude had.
This was all a part of the designs of God so that he may contact a soul needing his help: Margaret Mary Alacoque. This religious was in a troubled period of her life with much suffering due to the extraordinary revelations given by the Sacred Heart of Jesus which became clearer and more intimate every day.
Following the indications of her superior, Mother Saumaise, Margaret Mary had confided her experience to a learned priest who lacked knowledge on mysticism. The priest thought that Margaret Mary was a victim of the devil’s deception. This confused St. Margaret Mary even more.
Moved by Margaret’s prayer, God sent her his faithful servant and perfect friend, Claude de la Colombière.
Father La Colombière one day went to preach to the Visitation community. While he was speaking, Margaret wrote, “I heard in my heart these words: He is the one I sent you.” Since the first time that Margaret went to confession with Father La Colombière, he treated her as if he was aware of all that was occurring. The saint felt a tremendous repugnance to opening her heart and did not do so even though she was convinced God’s will was that she confess with Fr. La Colombière. In the following confession, Father La Colombière told her he was very happy to know that he was the motive behind her self-denial. Margaret Mary said: “Immediately, without hurting me, he discovered the good and the bad in my heart. It consoled me very much and he exhorted me not to be afraid of God’s ways as long as I remain obedient to my superiors, renewing my offering totally to God, so He can treat me as He pleases. Father Claude showed me to appreciate God’s gifts and to receive them with faith and humility.” This was the great service of Father Claude de la Colombière to Margaret Mary. On the other hand, the saint worked tirelessly, promoting the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He saw in this devotion the greatest remedy against Jansenism.
Testimony before persecution
The saint did not spent much time in Paray. His following occupation was very different. By recommendation of Father La Chaize, who was confessor of Louis XIV, his superiors sent him to London as preacher to Maria Beatriz d’ Este, Duchess of York. The saint preached in England with his example and words. Love of the Sacred Heart was his favorite theme. The process of beatification spoke of his apostolate in England and the numerous Protestants he converted. The position of Catholics in this country was very difficult because of the hostility against them. A movement was formed in court to exclude the Duke of York from the succession to the crown because he converted to Catholicism. He was substituted by the Prince of Orange.
The imprudence of Titus Oates and his followers invented a story about a “conspiracy of the Papists,” in which Father La Colombière was included with the rest of the Catholics. The conspiracy’s object, according to the slanderers, was to assassinate King Charles II and the destruction of the Church of England. Claude was accused of exercising his priestly ministry and of converting many Protestants. He was imprisoned, and by intervention of Louis XIV his life was prevented from martyrdom.
The saint was simply taken into exile in England. The prison had taken an effect on his weak health. Upon his return to France in 1679, the saint was terminally ill, even though at times he recovered a little and exercised his priestly ministry. A kidney disease left him restless. His superiors sent him to Lyon and Paray thinking he would recover his health. During one of his visits to Paray, Margaret Mary told him that he will die in this city.
Father Claude arrived at Paray in April 1681, as recommended by the doctors, to recover his health. During this time there were communications between Father Claude and Sister Margaret Mary, sharing the ardor of their souls and apostolic projects in favor of the Sacred Heart.
Father Claude’s illness worsened. He though of moving somewhere with a different climate, but St. Margaret Mary advised him that he should stay in Paray if it did not cause a disobedience. She sent him this message: “He has told me that He wants the sacrifice of your life here.” Such an affirmation eliminated all plans to travel.
Death and glory
After giving a marvelous example of humility and patience, Claude de La Colombière gave his soul to God in the afternoon of February 15th, 1682. The following day, St. Margaret Mary received an announcement from heaven that Claude was already in the glory of God and did not need any prayers.
A very devout person wrote the following on Claude de La Colombière: “May your affliction cease. Invoke him. Don’t fear; he has more power now than ever before to help us.”
Father La Colombière was beatified in 1929 and Pope John Paul II declared him a saint in 1992. The Universal Church celebrates his feast day on February 15th.
Act of Confidence in God – Saint Claude de la Colombière
My God, I’m so persuaded that You watch over all who hope in You and nothing can be lacking to those who await from You all things, that I have determined to live from now on without any concern, letting go and giving You all of my anxieties. I will sleep and rest in peace because You, O Lord, and only You, have secured my hope.
Men can deprive me of possessions and reputation; illnesses can take away my strength and means to serve You; I myself can lose Your grace because of sin; but I will not lose my hope; I will conserve it until the last instant of my life and all the efforts from demons trying to take it away from me will be useless. I will sleep and rest in peace.
May others expect happiness in their richness and talents; some may lean on the innocence of their lives, or the rigor of their penitence, or above all on the amount of their good works, or the fervor of their prayers. As for myself Lord, all my confidence is my confidence itself. Because You Lord, only You have secured my hope.
No one has been deceived by this confidence. No one who has waited in the Lord has been frustrated in their confidence.
herefore, I am sure that I will be eternally happy because I firmly hope to be; and because You, Oh, My God, are in Whom I expect all. In You I hope Lord, and never will I be confused.
I know very well . . . too well that I am fragile and inconstant, I know well the power of temptations against the most firm virtue; I have seen thestars fall from heaven and columns from the firmament; but none of this can frighten me. As long as I maintain firm my hope, I will be conserved from all calamities; and I am sure to hope always, because I hope the same in this unchanging hope.
In conclusion, I am sure that I cannot hope in excess in You and that I will receive all that I would have hoped for in You. Therefore, I know You will sustain me on the most rapid and slippery slopes, that You will strengthen me against the assaults and make my weakness triumph over the most tremendous enemies.
hope You will always love me and I will love you without interruption; to take once and for all my hope as far as it can reach. I hope in You and only in You! Oh, My Creator! In time and for all eternity.
Homily of the Canonization Mass for Saint Claude La Colombiere
H.H. John Paul II, May 31, 1992
1. “So that you love for me may live in them” (Jn 17:26).
Christ prays in the Upper Room. He prays on the evening in which he instituted the Eucharist. He prays for the Apostles and for all those “who will believe through their word” (Jn 17:20) down the generations and centuries. He is asking the Father that all “may be one”, as the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father: “That they may be one in us” (Jn 17:21).
To be one: the unity of Divinity and the unity of communion of the Persons—the unity of the Father in the Son and of the Son with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Unity through Love.
Christ prays for love: “So that your love for me may live in them” (Jn 17:26).
Christ reveals the secret of his Heart. Precisely this human Heart of God’s Son is an ineffable sanctuary which contains all the treasures of love: it is a Heart “overflowing with goodness and love” (Litany of the Sacred heart of Jesus).
2. The prayer offered by Christ in the Upper Room continues in the Church: from century to century, from generation to generation, it is a perennial “source of life and holiness” (ibid.). But there are particular moments in history, specially chosen places and persons who almost discover and reveal anew this perennial and undying truth about love.
The man whom the Church today proclaims a saint—Blessed Claude La Colombiere—is certainly one of these persons.
An intense spiritual movement enlivened the Church in France
3. In France the 17th century has been called “the great century of souls”. It was a time of high human culture, of the development of the institutions of that prestigious European nation. But it was also a time of cruel conflict and human poverty. The clergy and religious orders were often decadent; as a result the people remained far from the light of faith, the benefits of the spiritual life and of ecclesial communion. However, after the Council of Trent, after founders such as Francis de Sales, Berulle and Vincent de Paul, an intense spiritual movement enlivened the Church in France. A great work of reform took place: the priestly ministry was renewed, notably through the establishment of seminaries; religious returned to the authenticity of their vocation, new foundations came into being; evangelization of the countryside took on new vitality through parish missions; a flowering of mysticism was joined to theological reflection.
In the middle of this century lived Claude La Colombiere, who entered the Society of Jesus at a young age. He exercised his mission in Paris and in several provinces; he had a notable influence because of his intellectual effort, and even more, because of the dynamism of the Christian life which he knew how to communicate.
4. A true companion of Saint Ignatius, Claude learned to master his strong sensitivity. He humbly maintained a sense of “his wretchedness” so as to rely only on his hope in God and his trust in grace. He resolutely took the way of holiness. He adhered with all his being to the Constitutions and Rules of the Society, rejecting all tepidness. Fidelity and obedience were expressed, before God, by the “desire … for trust, love, resignation and perfect sacrifice” ( Retraite, n. 28).
Fr. Claude forged his spirituality in the school of the Exercises. We still have his impressive journal. He dedicated himself first of all to “meditating a great deal on the life of Jesus” (Ibid., n. 33). Contemplating Christ allowed him to live in familiarity with him so as to belong to him totally: “I see that I absolutely must belong to him” (ibid., n. 71). And if Claude dared to aim for this total fidelity, it was in virtue of his acute awareness of the power of grace which transformed him. He attained the perfect freedom of one who gives himself unreservedly to the will of God: “I have a free heart”, he said (ibid., n. 12): trials or sacrifices he accepted, “thinking that God only expects these things of us out of friendship” (ibid., n. 38). His whole taste for friendship led him to respond to God’s friendship with a loving zeal renewed each day.
Fr. La Colombiere was active in the apostolate with the conviction that he was the instrument of God’s work: “To do much for God, one must belong entirely to him” (ibid., n. 37). Prayer, he also said, is “the only way … to have God united to us so that we may do something for his glory” (ibid., n. 52). In the apostolate fruits and success come less from personal abilities than from fidelity to the divine will and openness to his action.
Saint Claude spread devotion to Sacred Heart
5. This pure-hearted and free religious was prepared to understand and to preach the message that the Heart of Jesus was entrusting to Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque at the same time. Paray-le-Monial, in our eyes, would be the most fruitful stage in Claude La Colombiere’s very short journey. He came to this town, long rich for its tradition of religious life, to have a providential meeting with the humble Visitandine engaged in constant dialogue with her “divine Master”, who promised her “the delights of [his] pure love.” He found her to be a religious who ardently desired the “all-pure cross” ( Memoire, n. 49) and who offered her penance and sorrows without hesitation.
Fr. La Colombiere, with highly reliable discernment, straightaway authenticated the mystical experience of this “beloved disciple [of the] Sacred Heart” (ibid., n. 54), with whom he had a beautiful spiritual kinship. He received from her the message which would have great repercussions: “Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it spared nothing to exhaust and consume itself in testimony of its love” ( Retraites, n. 135). The Lord asked that a feast be established to honour his Heart and that a “reparation of honour” be made to him in Eucharistic communion. Margaret Mary passed on to “the faithful servant and perfect friend”, whom she recognized in Fr. La Colombiere, the mission of “establishing this devotion and of giving this pleasure to my divine Heart” (ibid.). Claude, in the years left to him, interiorized these “infinite riches”. His spiritual life then developed in the perspective of the “reparation” and “infinite mercy” so underscored at Paray. He gave himself completely to the Sacred Heart “ever burning with love”. Even in trials he practiced forgetfulness of self in order to attain purity of love and to raise the world to God. Sensing his own weakness, he gave himself over to the power of grace: “Accomplish your will in me, Lord…. It belongs to you to do everything, divine Heart of Jesus Christ” (ibid., Offrande, n. 152).
6. The past three centuries allow us to evaluate the importance of the message which was entrusted to Claude La Colombiere. In a period of contrast between the fervor of some and the indifference or impiety of many, here is a devotion centred on the humanity of Christ, on his presence, on his love of mercy and on forgiveness. The call to “reparation”, characteristic of Paray-le-Monial, can be variously understood, but essentially it is a matter of sinners, which all human beings are, returning to the Lord, touched by his love, and offering a more intense fidelity in the future, a life aflame with charity. If there is solidarity in sin, there is also solidarity in salvation. The offering of each is made for the good of all. Following the example of Claude La Colombiere, the faithful understand that such a spiritual attitude can only be the action of Christ in them, shown through Eucharistic communion: to receive in their heart the Heart of Christ and to be united to the sacrifice which he alone can offer worthily to the Father.
Devotion to the Heart of Christ would be a source of balance and spiritual strengthening for Christian communities so often faced with increasing unbelief over the coming centuries: an impersonal conception of God will spread; individuals, moving away from a personal encounter with Christ and the sources of grace, will want to be the sole masters of their history and to become a law unto themselves, to the point of being ruthless in pursuing their own ambitions. The message of Paray, accessible to the humble as well as to the great of this world, answers such aberrations by clarifying the relationship of the human person with God and with the world of the light which comes from the heart of God: in conformity with the Church’s Tradition, it turns his gaze towards the cross of the world’s Redeemer, towards “him whom they have pierced” (Jn 19:37).
May Saint Claude inspire Church to live consecration to Christ’s Heart
7. We give thanks, again today, for the message entrusted to the saints of Paray, which has never ceased to extend its radiance. At the beginning of our century Pope Leo XIII hailed “in the Sacred Heart of Jesus a symbol and clear image of Jesus Christ’s infinite love, a love which impels us to love one another” (Encycl. Annum sacrum, 1900). Pius XI and Pius XII encouraged this devotion and saw in it a spiritual answer to the difficulties which the faith and the Church were facing.
Certainly, forms of expression and sensitivities develop, but the essential element remains. When one has discovered in Eucharist adoration and meditation the Heart of Jesus “ever burning with love for human beings” ( Retraites, n. 150), how could one let oneself be seduced by forms of meditation which turn in on the self without welcoming the presence of the Lord? How could one be attracted by the proliferation of conceptions of the sacred which only mask a tragic spiritual emptiness?
For evangelization today the Heart of Christ must be recognized as the heart of the Church: it is he who calls us to conversion, to reconciliation. It is he who leads pure hearts and those hungering for justice along the way of the Beatitudes. It is he who achieves the warm communion of the members of the one Body. It is he who enables us to adhere to the Good News and to accept the promise of eternal life. It is he who sends us out on mission. The heart-to-heart with Jesus broadens the human heart on a global scale.
May the canonization of Claude La Colombiere be for the whole Church an appeal to live the consecration to the Heart of Christ, a consecration which is a self-giving that allows the charity of Christ to inspire us, pardon us and lead us in his ardent desire to open the ways of truth and life to all our brothers and sisters!
8. “Righteous Father, the world also does not know you but I know you, and they know that you sent me” (Jn 17:25).
They: Claude La Colombiere—Margaret Mary Alacoque. The Church. During the Easter season the Church relives the theophanies of her Redeemer and Lord—the Good Shepherd who “lays down his life for the sheep” (cf. Jn 10:15).
And the Church looks to heaven together with Stephen the deacon, the first martyr stoned to death in Jerusalem. the Church looks to heaven as Stephen did at the moment of his death as a martyr.
“Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God…. Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:56-59).
John Paul II’s Greetings to French Pilgrims
Pilgrims of the dioceses of Autun, Chalon and Macon, who have accompanied your Bishop, Msgr. Raymond Seguy, I am happy to be able to briefly meet with you after the canonization of Claude La Colombiere. You have come to share in the entire Church’s joy over the inclusion among the Saints of this son of your land, this great witness of the spiritual history of your country.
In welcoming you the precious memories of my pilgrimage to Paray-le-Monial return to mind. I am happy to greet among you the representatives a town with a long monastic and religious tradition, still alive and constantly renewed, with the particular lustre given it by the Visitation nun Saint Marguerite-Marie and the Jesuit Saint Claude.
In the seventeenth century the Lord chose your town to bring forth a new source of merciful and infinitely generous love on which generations of pilgrims would draw. The fecundity of grace attached to the cult of the Sacred Heart is especially manifest in the development of pilgrimages to Paray over the past few years. The diocese and the different communities present have helped bring many people to share in the wealth of the message entrusted to the Saints of your town.
I am happy to know that Paray nourishes the spirituality of many priests and religious and inspires the early formation of candidates to the priesthood. The sessions which bring together young people and families are a true motive of hope for the vitality of the Church in your country and of pilgrims from other nations. You also contribute greatly to sacred art so that our contemporaries can express the praise of God and celebrate the treasures of his love more eloquently.
I encourage all who are engaged in daily pastoral life and in the organization of pilgrimages and sessions: I have in mind most particularly the monastic communities, the priests of the diocese, the Jesuit Fathers, the Community of Emmanuel, the faithful of the city and of the Saone-et-Loire district, as well as all those who are united with them in this fervor. May Saint Claude La Colombiere and Saint Marguerite Marie sustain you with their intercession and obtain from the Lord that Paray-le-Monial radiate still more the spiritual hospitality he made of it.
In the joy of this feast-day I willingly call down on you God’s blessing.
John Paul II’s Address to Jesuits, The Apostleship of Prayer and Other Pilgrims
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. I am happy to welcome you to this special audience after yesterday’s solemn celebration in which I had the joy of enrolling Blessed Claude la Colombiere in the list of saints. I address my affectionate greeting to all of you present, with a special thought for the Bishops accompanying you and for the priests of the Society of Jesus who have seen one of their confreres raised to the glory of the altars.
The decisive event which marked the life and spirituality of Saint Claude La Colombiere was certainly his meeting with Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque, which took place in the Visitation Monastery in Paray-le-Monial in February 1675. On the occasion of a meditation which he gave the community, an interior voice suggested to the woman religious to turn to him in confidence: “This is the one I am sending you.” In face, from her first confession, Fr. Claude was aware of the authenticity of the mystical experience of the young Visitation Sister and Margaret Mary knew she was seeing the fulfillment of the vision of the flaming heart of Jesus with two other hearts which became lost in the divine heart: hers and that of the spiritual director who had been sent to her.
In her autobiography the great mystic then fully described the vision she had on 15 June 1675 in which Jesus, showing her his Heart, said to her: “Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it spared nothing to exhaust and consume itself in testimony of its love, and in place of gratitude receives ingratitude from the majority of them…”. For this reason Jesus himself asked that the first Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi be dedicated especially to honoring his Heart with participation in the Eucharist and with special prayers of reparation for the offenses committed against the Sacrament of Love.
Not knowing how to do everything that was expected of her, Sister Margaret Mary hesitantly asked Jesus for some direction; this is what she wrote in her autobiography: “He told me to turn to his servant whom he had sent me to fulfill this plan.” Father Claude accepted the mission and thus became a fervent apostle of devotion to the Sacred Heart and of commitment to reparation.
2. As you know, Fr. Claude’s stay in Paray-le-Monial was brief; however, he had perfectly understood that against the coldness of Jansenism and the religious indifference of many Christians, and even of consecrated persons, it was necessary to preach and help people feel deeply the true motive behind creation and redemption: Love! Consequently he continued to be the tireless herald of that message for the rest of his life.
Today, too, Saint Claude La Colombiere, that master of enlightened spirituality, teaches us that Jesus Christ alone leads to the true God, that love alone—which the Bible symbolizes as the Heart, the expression of Jesus’ whole Person and mission—enables us to penetrate the mysteries of God, our Creator, Redeemer and Rewarder!
In fact, in the Heart of Jesus God shows that he wants to be understood in his absolute desire to love, forgive and save; in the Heart of Jesus God teaches that the Church, in her ministry and Magisterium, must always be loving and sensitive, never aggressive or oppressive, although she must always condemn evil and correct error; in the Heart of Jesus God has us understand that it is necessary to share in his work of salvation through the “apostolate of prayer” and “commitment to reparation.”
Justly, therefore, the movement of the Apostleship of Prayer has these three ideals and goals: “the proclamation of and witness to the infinite treasures of the Heart of Jesus, who wants only to love his creatures and be loved; the constant sense of Jesus’ true presence in the Eucharist, maintaining a deep, lively Eucharistic devotion through Mass, Communion, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; the commitment to reparation—including sacrifice and suffering, which Jesus himself expressed a desire for in his message to Margaret Mary. Thus Saint Claude La Colombiere once wrote to a person whom he was directing: “I do not recognize devotion unless there is mortification” ( Letters, n. 74).
Conversion, salvation and the sanctification of souls is the true content of devotion to the Heart of Jesus and of the undying message of Saint Claude La Colombiere.
3. With pleasure I greet all the French speaking pilgrims present; I would especially like to address the Superiors and Fathers of the Society of Jesus. With you I give thanks for the canonization of your companion, Claude La Colombiere. You recognize in him a faithful son of Saint Ignatius, a model and intercessor for the Jesuits of today. His writings, which eloquently testify to his spiritual life, reveal his profound experience of the Exercises. He achieved an unlimited assent to the kingdom of God, he gave his consent to the person of Christ. The sorrow caused him due to sin was equal to nothing but his unshakable trust in the merciful forgiveness. In the image of the Son, he conformed his will to that of the Father, which he endlessly translated into prayer and preaching: “Just as I cannot live without you, make me never live but for you” ( Sermon, 56).
May the intercession of Saint Claude sustain you in your very diverse ministries on all continents, such as spiritual direction, preaching, education, theological research and instruction, the many forms of apostolate entrusted to you, and the mission ad gentes!
Naturally, the canonization of Claude La Colombiere leads me to emphasize the “munus suavissimum” which he himself received from the Lord, to spread and preach the mystery of his Sacred Heart. It is the whole Society which continues to have this charge, as I myself had the joy of confirming for you at Paray-le-Monial, near the tomb of Saint Claude. There is a genuine kinship between Ignatian spirituality and that of the Sacred Heart. Do not cease to show your brothers and sisters that “near the Heart of Christ, the human heart learns to recognize the genuine, unique meaning of its life and destiny and to have a filial love for God and love of neighbor” ( Letter to Fr. Kolvenbach, 5 October 1986).
4. I am pleased now to greet the Spanish-speaking pilgrims present for the solemn canonization of Claude La Colombiere, priest of the Society of Jesus. The Church wants to present him as an apostle of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This devotion was spread beginning with Father Colombiere’s meeting with Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in Paray-le-Monial. In the Sacred Heart of Jesus is represented the infinite, merciful love which God poured out on the world through his divine Son. May the new saint help all of us to be apostles of this devotion and witness to Christ’s love for mankind. Commending you to his intercession, I impart to you and your families my Apostolic Blessing.
5. To the English-speaking pilgrims who have come for the canonization of Claude La Colombiere I extend a cordial welcome. I invite you to learn from the life and teaching of the new saint the value of personal and intense fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ, the supreme object and revelation of the Father’s eternal Love. In the Heart of Jesus is revealed, in fact, all the richness of God’s plan to lead man to full maturity and full happiness in the vision of his glory and in communion with the Blessed Trinity. Holiness, piety and apostolic commitment in the Church are all essentially related to the strength of our faith in the Redeemer and our imitation of his “compassion on the multitudes” (cf. Mt 9:36): Entrusting you and your families to the intercession of Saint Claude La Colombiere, I invoke upon you the gifts of peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
I now affectionately impart my Apostolic Blessing to everyone.
Article on St. Claude La Colombiere
The beatification of Blessed Claude de La Colombiere cannot be without interest to English Catholics, more especially to Catholics in London. Anyone passing St. James’s Palace may recall that for two years he lived there, in the last days of Charles II; therefore at that time he must often have been seen, passing down Pall Mall or up St. James’s Street, a singular figure in such a gay world, tolerated because he was a Frenchman, protected because he was the official chaplain of Mary of Modena, the wife of James, then Duke of York. But still more should his memory be dear to English Catholic hearts because it is to him that we owe it that, even in those times of trouble, the first formal petition for the establishment of the Feast of the Sacred Heart was sent to Rome from London. We may add another reason; unless we are mistaken Claude de La Colombiere is the last resident in England not a martyr who has been beatified. On that account we would claim him as one of ourselves, closely allied with our martyrs.
And yet, when we come to study his career, there is singularly little to be said about him; indeed one may assert that he has been remembered more because of his connection with the name of another than on his own account. Had he never come across St. Margaret Mary he might never have been known, any more than Bernadette would have been known, had it not been for the apparitions at Lourdes. Nor, when he is known, is it easy at first to discover the sanctity in its highest degree which was his. There is little to show us that any of his contemporaries and friends looked on him as anything more than an excellent religious, and even that on some accounts might have seemed to need qualification. There are saints whom no man would discover if God did not discover them for him; one of these was La Colombiere. There are saints who have never dreamt they were saints; it would seem that of no one could this be more truly said than of him.
Claude de La Colombiere was one of a family of seven children, two of whom died young, four of the rest embraced the religious life or the priesthood; of his childhood we know practically nothing. At the age of nine he went to a Jesuit school; almost all we know of his schooldays is that he “showed ability”; a remark that will have been made of many of his companions. When he was seventeen he entered the Jesuit novitiate; we are told that he had “a horrible aversion to the life he chose”, but he is not the only novice who has felt the same. He passed through his course of training very much as any other scholastic; if during his theology he was at the same time appointed tutor to the children of Colbert this was nothing exceptional. By an indiscretion of his own he lost that post; this threw him back into the colleges, where he held offices suited to one of rather more than average ability, but not of themselves suggestive of anything exceptional, whether in nature or in grace. He then made his third year of probation; after which, at the age of thirty-five, he was sent as superior to the residence at Paray-le-Monial. During his college days he had taught rhetoric, and had shown a gift for preaching; at the same time he was delicate in physique, and incapable of excessive work. It would seem that these two circumstances had decided his appointment to Paray, where he could exercise his talent without undue pressure or labor.
His work in Paray was such as might have been expected of a good religious, little more. He took a lively interest in the little Jesuit school that was under him; he founded a sodality for men; he helped in the founding of a hospital; he preached with apparently average success; he was sought for as a confessor and a director of souls; to the outside world that appears to have been all. But he was also extraordinary confessor to the Visitation nuns of Paray, and in that convent at the moment Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque was causing anxiety. Naturally Father de La Colombiere soon came across her. He studied her case and at once, against the opinion of others, he espoused her cause; he was rewarded, perhaps not altogether at first to his liking, by being told by the saint that he was the one appointed by Our Lord to be her chief support in the task imposed upon her. Still he did not shrink. He became her staunch friend and adviser; if we may judge from notes written in his journal more than two years later, he accepted this responsibility as a further motive compelling him to aim at the highest sanctity.
He lived at Paray-le-Monial only eighteen months, after which he was appointed chaplain to the Duchess of York, daughter of the Duke of Modena, in London. There he lived, in St. James’s Palace, for two years, a lonely and cramped life, but, if we may judge from his letters, not without the fruit which an earnest priest in such a situation might have been expected to reap. At the end of that time he was betrayed by a Frenchman whom he thought he had converted. He was accused of reconciling heretics, and of speaking against the king; it was the year of the Titus Oates “Plot,” and La Colombiere, a Jesuit, and living in the household of the Duke of York, must have seemed a likely source of information. He was thrown into prison, cross-examined many times, but clearly knew nothing of what was said to be going on; at length, being a Frenchman, he was banished from the country. But before he could leave his health broke down; the hardships of his prison, added to the rigor of the English climate, had affected his lungs, and he suffered a serious hemorrhage. As soon as he was able he returned to France; there he was given light work as spiritual father in the college of Lyons. But he never recovered. He was removed to Paray in the hope that the climate might suit him better; and there he died, on February 15th, 1682, having just completed his forty-first year.
A good man, so his brethren thought, but not exactly what was usually ranked as a saint. He had worked no miracles; he had written no books; he had done nothing in particular. His health had prevented him from using his talents as they might have been used; he had lived only six years from his probation, and two of those had been spent in London, hidden away, unknown to his fellow religious, bearing no fruit that could be seen. He was buried as a good man might have been expected to be buried, with the usual becoming ceremony; perhaps there were those among the mourners who regretted that here was another good life thrown away.
But when he was gone two precious documents were found among his papers. It was true Sister Margaret Mary had always spoken of him as something exceptional, and after his death revered him as a saint, but this was put down to her natural enthusiasm, perhaps a little to her biased judgment, a matter of fidelity to the memory of one who had been her staunch support and champion. But these two documents proved that she was right. None but a man with the highest ideals could have written them; if he had lived up to the standard they laid down, then without a doubt he had lived a life of heroic sanctity. And when his brethren came to reflect upon it, gradually they saw that he had. Gradually his name was dissociated from that of St. Margaret Mary, and the devotion of which she constituted him the first apostle; it was found that it represented one who on his own account deserved a place in the ranks of the Church’s saints.
Beneath these great ideals, is it possible to trace the natural man on which they are built? We think it is. Colombiere has written his double self-analysis, one during his third year of probation, the other during a retreat he made in England, with such simplicity and accurate attention to detail that we are able to infer the things he has omitted without much fear of mistake. And the picture we would draw is something of this kind.
By nature Colombiere was a man given to despondency, to self- mistrust leading almost to despair, even as at one time was his immediate predecessor, to whom he had so great a devotion, St. Francis de Sales. He had a keen appreciation of art and literature, with which there usually goes great sensitiveness of soul, he felt things keenly, above all his own apparent failures, even in the little things of life. Though once or twice he breaks out in expressions of devotion, yet as a rule his prayer was dry and arid; with all his aspirations after sanctity, he can only resign himself to the commonest planes of the spiritual life and look for perfection in that resignation. Behind all this, the placid exterior,interpreted by his contemporaries, and even by modern biographers, as a sign of placidity within, in matter of fact concealed a soul unceasingly troubled by a whirl of temptation, and of passions which he had need of every grace to resist.
It is in this light that we would read and interpret the three or four characteristics of his sanctity; they were the outcome of the battle he found he had to fight, and of experience of himself, more than of any illumination from without. Margaret Mary had visions and ecstasies, Colombiere had none. She was told what she had to do, even in the matter of her own perfection, Colombiere had to discover all this by the painful sifting of himself. In the third year of probation he took a vow always to do the thing that was most perfect; we can see that the vow was taken, less because of any great light from above, more because of the trouble he found in battling with his own nature. Later he took another vow, to choose by preference, when the choice was allowed him, the thing that he most disliked; again we see in it the determined conquest of his sensitive nature, more than straining after sanctity. Throughout his life his ideal of prayer was, as it were, to have no ideal; to be content with what was given him, and not even to aspire to more; this was nothing else but the recognition of his common experience, and the determination to turn it into what profit he could. Lastly, in regard to sanctity itself he has language almost peculiarly his own. Much as his soul longed for it, he seemed to think that a nature like his could never attain to sublime perfection; he meets the apparently hopeless prospect by accepting as his goal just that standard which is appointed for him and no more. Of all the saints in the calendar of the Church few can have been less aware of their sanctity than was Colombiere.
To illustrate these characteristics of our saint we have only to compare certain passages in which he expresses his own mind; from first to last there is a certain consistency which enables us to read what is going on beneath. Thus, on the seventh day of his Long Retreat he writes:
“On the seventh day, during the morning, I found myself attacked with thoughts of mistrust in regard to the aim in life which I am making for the future; I see in it hopeless difficulties. Any other life would seem to me easy to spend in the manner of a saint, so it appears to me, and the more austere, solitary, obscure, separated from all communication, so much the sweeter would it seem to me to be. Much as I dread the ordinary things of nature, such as imprisonment, continued sickness, death itself, all these appear to me pleasant in comparison with an everlasting fight against the surprises of worldliness and self- love, and of that death in life in the midst of the world. When I think on it all, it seems to me that life is going to be intolerably long, and that death will not come soon enough; I understand the words of St. Augustine: “Patienter vivit, et delectabiliter moritur.”
So he wrote in 1674, when he was preparing for his vow of perfection. Three years later, during a retreat in England, we find him recalling the vow with satisfaction, saying he looks on it as “the greatest grace I have ever received in all my life”; nevertheless the next note is this:
“I am made miserable on a matter of which I cannot speak; my imagination is mad and extravagant. All the passions toss my heart about; there scarcely passes a day but all, one after another, stir in me the most unruly emotions. Sometimes they are real things that rouse me, sometimes they are pure imaginations. It is true that by the mercy of God I endure all this without contributing much to it of myself and without consenting to it; still, at any moment I catch these foolish passions stirring up this poor heart. My self-love flies from corner to corner, and is never without a hiding-place; I feel very sorry for myself. Still I do not lose my temper, I do not let myself feel annoyed; what would be the use? I ask God to let me know what I ought to do to serve Him and to purify myself; but I am resolved to wait in peace till it pleases Him to work this miracle, for I am quite convinced that He alone can do it: “Quis potest facere mundum de immundo conceptum semine, nisi tu qui solus es?” (Job xv, 4).
Passages parallel to these might be multiplied. They tell with sufficient clearness the struggle that was always going on with an unruly nature; their proximity to the places where he speaks of the vow makes one suspect that the two are connected. In like manner we may judge of his prayer. It is true that in many places he speaks of his attraction for prayer; nevertheless no less often does he tell us of his dryness, always he emphasizes that his prayer is of the common sort, and that he does not wish it to be otherwise. There is no more striking summary of his mind than the following, taken from the notes of his retreat in 674:
“Since by the mercy of God I feel myself somewhat drawn to prayer, I have asked of God, with a large heart, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, that He would give me the grace to love this holy exercise more and more, unto the hour of my death. It is the one means for our purification, the one way to union with God, the one channel by which God may unite Himself with us, that He may do anything with us for His glory. To obtain the virtues of an apostle we must pray; to make them of use to our neighbor we must pray; to prevent our losing them while we use them in His service we must pray. The counsel, or rather the commandment: Pray always, seems to me extremely sweet and by no means impossible. It secures the practice of the presence of God; I wish, with the help of Our Lord, to endeavor to follow it. We are always in need of God, then we need to pray always; the more we pray the more we please Him, and the more we receive. I do not ask for those delights in prayer which God gives to whom He will; I am not worthy of them, I have not strength enough to bear them. Extraordinary graces are not good for me; to give them to me would be to build on sand, it would only be pouring precious liquor into a leaking hogshead which can hold nothing. I ask of God only a solid, simple manner of prayer, which may give Him glory and will not puff me up; dryness and desolation, accompanied with His grace, are very good for me, so it seems. Then I make acts of the best kind, and with satisfaction; then I make efforts against my evil disposition, I try to be faithful to God, etc.”
Shortly afterwards he concludes:
“Above all things I am resigned to be sanctified by the way that God shall please, by the absence of all sensible delight, if He wishes it so to be, by interior trials, by continual combat with my passions.”
There seems to be no evidence that he ever deviated from this path, or rose beyond the prayer of simplicity. In the retreat of 1677 he confesses that he finds little help in points for meditation, and decides to fall back upon his favorite method of the practice of the presence of God; that is all. But that is an experience of many souls of prayer, who nevertheless are far from being saints; it is foreseen and prepared for by every writer on prayer, within the Society of Jesus as well as without.
With all this as a background we may well now ask ourselves what was the characteristic of his sanctity. It has al ready been suggested that the need of unceasing battle with himself led him to make first one heroic vow and then another; the faithful fulfillment of those vows meant the making of a saint. But as a first characteristic trait we would notice Colombiere’s childlike simplicity; to the end he remained a child. This is manifest enough in the spontaneous way he writes of himself; it is manifest no less in his correspondence, in the stories he narrates, in the simplicity of his advice, in the confidence he shows towards his correspondents. But most of all does it appear in his attitude towards St. Margaret Mary. It was simplicity of soul that enabled him to understand her from the first; the same simplicity made him think of her, and speak of her with the greatest reverence; what she told him of himself he took as perhaps his chief source of encouragement. For example, what can be more simply childlike than the following? He has been speaking of his former temptation to vainglory and human respect:
“Formerly (he says) I was so strongly obsessed with this temptation, that it sapped all my courage, and made me almost lose all hope of saving my own soul while thinking of the souls of others. So strong was it that if I had been free I do not doubt that I would have passed my days in solitude.”
Then naively he goes on:
“This temptation began to weaken from a word which N.N. [meaning St. Margaret Mary] spoke to me one day. For once when she told me that while praying to God for me, Our Lord had given her to understand that my soul was dear to Him, and that He would take particular care of it, I answered her: ‘Alas! N.N., how can this agree with what I feel within myself? Could Our Lord love anyone as vain as I am, one whose only object is to please men, and to win consideration from them, one who is steeped in human respect?’–’O my Father,’ she replied, ‘all this does not really belong to you.’ It is true that this single word of assurance gave me peace; from that time I troubled myself less about these temptations, and they grew weaker and less frequent.”
In other places Colombiere falls back for his own encouragement on the words of St. Margaret Mary. Evidently, if he was her main support, she in her turn did no less for him. So simple, and childlike, and dependent was this guide of other souls.
Nevertheless we have not yet touched upon the quality which seems to us most characteristic of Colombiere. With a nature given to mistrust of itself and consequent despondency, with a physique which would never permit him to labor to the extent of his desires, placed in situations which invariably seemed to go wrong, or to give him little scope for his zeal, lastly with a spiritual experience in his soul which was more often desolate than consoling, it is no wonder that there grew within him an unbounded confidence in God, as the one mainstay on which he could rely. He speaks of trust in superiors, of openness with his spiritual fathers, of simplicity in dealing with others, of his love of friendship; but all these are treated more as external signs of self- conquest and charity, they are less considered as supports to himself. When he speaks of confidence in God it is quite different. He sees his sins, but the mercy of God is infinite, and he will not despair. He looks up to God in His majesty, to his Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, to the indwelling of God in the human soul, to the union of the heart of man with the heart of Our Lord by complete surrender; and he flings himself blindly into the arms of God to find there perfect peace. Nowhere does he write with more self-revelation than on the last day of his retreat in England. The passage is a summary of his life; we have but to read between the lines, giving each phrase its full value, and we seem to know Colombiere well.
“On this eighth day (he writes) I seem to have found a great treasure, if only I can profit by it. It is a firm confidence in God, founded on His infinite goodness, and on the experience I have had that He never fails us in our needs. More than that, I find in the memoir which was given to me when I left France, that He promises to be my strength in proportion to the trust which I place in Him. Therefore I am resolved to put no limit to my trust, and to spread it out to everything. It seems to me that I ought to make use of Our Lord as an armor which covers me all about, by means of which I shall resist every device of my enemies. You shall then be my strength, O my God! You shall be my guide, my director, my counselor, my patience, my knowledge, my peace, my justice, and my prudence. I will have recourse to you in my temptations, in my dryness, in my repugnances, in my weariness, in my fears; or rather I will no longer fear either the illusions or the tricks of the demon, nor my own weakness, my indiscretions, not even my mistrust of myself. For you must be my strength in all my crosses; you promise me that this you will be in proportion to my confidence. And wonderful indeed it is, O my God, that at the same time that you impose this condition, it seems to me that you give me the confidence wherewith to fulfill it. May you be eternally loved and praised by all creatures, O my very loving Lord! If you were not my strength, alas! what would I do? But since you are, you assure me that you are, what shall I not do for your glory? “Omnia possum in eo qui me confortat.” You are everywhere in me, and I in you; then in whatever situation I may find myself, in whatever peril whatever enemy may rise up against me, I have my support always with me. This thought alone can in a moment scatter all my trials, above all those uprisings of nature which at times I find so strong, and which in spite of myself, make me fear for my perseverance, and tremble at the sight of the perfect emptiness in which it has pleased God to place me.”
Could St. Augustine be more transparent? When in his sermons we hear Colombiere crying out that even were he in mortal sin he would still never doubt that God would save him, we understand the source of his unbounded hope. He was a very human being indeed; perhaps this was the reason why he was chosen before others to be the apostle of the human Heart of Jesus Christ. “Come to me all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you. . . . Learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart. . . . You shall find rest for your souls.” It would be hard to find a more perfect fulfillment of this prophecy than is found in the soul of Claude de La Colombiere.
This excerpt is taken from the book SAINTS FOR SINNERS by Alban Goodier, S.J., IMAGE BOOKS EDITION 1959