dimanche, juin 24, 2007

Ecce Agnus Dei !

Esteban: Jesus and Saint John the Baptist
Sevilla, 1670

The character of Saint John the Baptist is particularly interesting and this saint has a lot to tell us about the One he faithfully served until the day of his sacrifice. His birth, which we celebrate today, already has a supernatural aspect, as we read in today’s gospel. The birth of John has to be put together with the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Saint Luke points out very well the similarities between the conceptions and births of Jesus and of His Precursor, beyond the fact that they were related by the link of the blood, which also has its importance.
Saint Luke mentions the birth of Saint John in his gospel and then we have to jump over 30 years to meet him again. But we can imagine that Jesus and John used to meet regularly throughout their childhood and later since they are from the same family. Many artists, like the Spanish painter Bartolome Esteban, have represented the two characters together and their paintings can be used as good visual aids for our meditation. Since the day when he sanctified John in the womb of his mother, Jesus has prepared his prophet for his very particular task which was to give testimony of His mission and of His person, as we can hear from Saint John the Evangelist at the end of the Mass: There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him. He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light. (Jn.1:6-8)
The fourth Evangelists speak about Saint John and Saint Mark says that he was in the desert baptizing and preaching. (Mk.1:4) This sentence shows that Saint John the Baptist does not belong entirely to the Old Testament any more. Something new is coming. He baptizes and even if his Baptism is not yet one of the Seven Sacraments of the New Covenant, it is already an anticipation, a close figure of our actual Baptism. With John the Baptist, we are already introduced to the New Covenant in a certain way. Baptizing and preaching are indeed proper acts of the priests of the New Law since Jesus told His disciples to go to the whole world, to preach and to baptize.
Let us be clear: John the Baptist is not a priest of the New Testament. He is the last prophet who announces and inaugurates the ministry of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He does even more: he announces and reveals Jesus Himself. He shows Him to the world: Ecce Agnus Dei!
Ecce Agnus Dei: Behold the lamb of God! Saint John the Baptist indicates our goal. He does not bring people to himself but to Our Lord. His works and even his person are nothing in comparison to the person and the works of Jesus. He tells us: I am not worthy to loose the latchet of His shoe! (Mk.1:7) What a beautiful example of humility for us who esteem ourselves often as indispensable for our community, our parish, our diocese or whatever you want. As I like to say, cemeteries are full of indispensable people already forgotten by the world! And sooner or later, God will remind us that we are not as indispensable as we believe.
Saint John the Baptist is really a great man because he considers himself as nothing. He knows what is essential for his mission: He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30) Saint John the Baptist does not live for himself and for his glory. His life has even no value and he would give it without hesitation when it would be necessary to give the supreme testimony to the truth.
Ecce Agnus Dei! Behold the Lamb of God. Here He is, the One who will soon give you a new Baptism. My mission is now over. Do not follow me now, but follow Him! He is the light! Follow Him!
John is a disciple; He is truly and completely a disciple, as we are supposed to be, my dear Brethren! Like him, we are supposed to show the world where Jesus Christ is and to tell who He is. Ecce Agnus Dei! He is the Savior, the Redeemer, the only One who can save us. And He is present among us, through His Church, in His Church, by His Church. He is even present physically in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. We obviously don’t worship a piece of bread, but the Lamb of God, the same one designated by Saint John the Baptist. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world is present here, in the tabernacle, among us.
We have to tell it to our contemporaries; we must tell them! It is our duty and our mission. We cannot keep Jesus Christ for ourselves. And by the way, if we were truly loving disciples of Jesus, we would be missionaries almost naturally, because it is a natural consequence of love to spread and to share. If I love Jesus Christ, I also want Him to be loved by everybody.
Remember the beautiful prayer taught by the Angel to the Children of Fatima: "My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You!" We should say this prayer every day and I hope you do. But it is not enough! It is not enough to ask pardon for those who do not believe. We must make them believe. It is not enough to ask pardon for those who do not adore. We must make them adore. It is not enough to ask pardon for those who do not hope. We must make them hope. It is not enough to ask pardon for those who do not love. We must make them love. And if we believe enough, if we adore enough, if we hope enough and if we love enough, then, it is possible.
May Saint John the Baptist show us the way and encourage us by his example. May Our Blessed Mother make us witnesses of the light in the world, for the highest glory of God.

dimanche, juin 17, 2007

Annual retreat

The priests of the North American district of the Fraternity of Saint Peter are in retreat from Monday 18th to Friday 22nd. Please pray for them!

Les prêtres du District Nord Américain de la Fraternité Saint Pierre sont en retraite du lundi 18 au vendredi 22 juin. Gardez les dans vos prières !

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Abbaye de Lagrasse

There is one sentence in today’s epistle that merits being reminded of: God has care of you. (I Peter5:7) How often do we forget this fact! How often do we worry about things which are already in the hands of our Father! Poor men of little Faith that we are! Oh I know, it is very human and we are not so different than Martha who is upset because she does the work of her sister. We are not so different than the disciples who wake up Jesus because they think they are perishing. We are not so different than Philip who wonders how a great crowd can be fed with only a few loaves of bread. We are men of little faith, and because of this we worry. And often worry leads to suspicion and suspicion leads to judgment.

Someone in such a state cannot discern well what comes from the good spirit and what comes from the evil spirit. Then enclosed in himself he starts to brood. At this point, if only he could think that God takes care of him. But this thought which could give him peace is far from his mind. The evil spirit keeps him prisoner of his black thoughts and then, when he sees someone favored by the grace of God, he envies him. Like the Pharisees of the gospel, he thinks: This man receives sinners, and eats with them. (Luke 15:2) But Jesus came precisely for sinners, which means for each one of us. He came to put joy where there is sadness, to put hope where there is despair and to bring His grace where there is sin. So, when He gives His favors to someone, you should rejoice, as He invites us in the gospel to do: Rejoice with me! (Luke 15:6, 9)

But our adversary, the devil, is around us, like a lion, and does the opposite work of Jesus. Where there is joy, he brings sadness. Where there is hope, he brings despair. Where there is confidence, he brings doubt and suspicion. Where there is friendship, he brings rivalries. But we can resist him, because we are free and because God gives us his grace. Saint Peter tells us that all the brothers have the same temptations. (I Peter 5:9) Satan lets nobody alone. You can resist him if you are strong in your Faith. And Faith will bring confidence and will remove the black ideas out of your soul.

Now, with Saint Francis de Sales, let me ask you a question: What does God asks from us? ‘My son, give me thy heart!’ (Prov.23: 26) If you don’t trust God enough and still worry, you would answer: How can I give Him my heart which is full of disobedience toward His will? If you say, or just think that, then you need to hear what Saint Francis de Sales tells you: o poor man, why are you upset? Why do you refuse to give your heart as it is now? God did not tell you: give me a pure heart as the heart of an angel or of Our Lady. He just says: give me thy heart. He wants your heart. Give it to Him as it is.
Dear brethren, here is the way to obtain a great confidence in God and then a true peace. Give your heart to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He will take care of you, as He already does, but maybe you don’t realize it now. Give up the troubles of your heart and turn to your God with a great confidence. Then Satan will have no more power over you.
May Our Blessed Mother help us to find comfort and consolation in the Heart of her Son.

samedi, juin 16, 2007

Sermon for the Feast of the Sacred Heart

I would like to thank all of those who made the Mass at the Cathedral of Atlanta possible yesterday. A great thank to Richard Morris, our organist and choir director, who did a great job!

We have just heard from Saint Paul that the Charity of Christ surpasses all knowledge. (Eph.3:19) It surpasses all knowledge so much that even the highest and noblest of them, Faith, is nothing without Charity.
Charity is a kind of love; it is the most eminent love that we can find, because it has God for its object and origin. It is the summary and the achievement of our religion. The single word Charity expresses what the life of the disciples of Jesus is. I mean, what being true disciples is all about.
They draw their charity from its source: the Heart of Jesus. And charity never comes alone in a soul. It is accompanied with the Divine gifts, fruits of the greatest liberality of God toward us. As Pius XII says, It is altogether impossible to enumerate the heavenly gifts which devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has poured out on the souls of the faithful, purifying them, offering them heavenly strength, rousing them to the attainment of all virtues.
The fact is that one cannot have a real devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus without seeing his life change. The reason is that this devotion makes our hearts similar to the Heart of Jesus. By devotion, we do not mean the mere multiplication of the prayers, incantations and songs to the Sacred Heart. Unfortunately, the facts also show us that our churches are full of faithful ones doing devotions regularly and yet without any scruples regarding the sins of the tongue. Perhaps their devotions are more the result of a morbid deception, a lack of temperance yielded to the inclination to always be speaking. They cannot refrain their tongue from speaking and always have something to say whether to God or to men. If only they could take a little bit more time to listen, they could understand the dispositions of Christ’s Heart, His law of love which is higher than the human mind. Saint Bonaventure says, There is nothing higher than the human mind except Him who made it. Then instead of sins of the tongue, sound judgment would reach upward remembering that Not every one that says to Jesus, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that does the will of our Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.(Matt.7:21)
Now, what we mean, by devotion, is being really and totally devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The devoted person understands, as much as it is possible for a creature, what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth of the love of God. (Eph. 3:18) Those persons, like Saint John, have seen the Heart of Jesus pierced by love. Those persons have truly something interesting to tell us, but they are not those who speak more. There are other ways to speak than the use of the tongue. There are other ways to serve God than activism. In fact, there is a royal way, which is the way of contemplation and pure love.
Fortunately, we also have persons engaged on this way in our churches, but often we just don’t know who they are. And after all, do we have to know? Jesus knows them and this is what matters. Good does not make noise, but Jesus hears it. And when He hears someone doing good, then He establishes a relation from His Heart to this blessed heart and brings with Him peace and joy.
Dear brethren, we honor tonight the Sacred Heart of Jesus and we would like to express our gratitude for so many benefits obtained from it. The Heart of Jesus is our hope and our comfort in this world. It makes our lives sweeter and soothes our pains and sadnesses.
The devotion to the Sacred Heart does not remove the cross from our souls but it gives us more strength to carry it. The devotion to the Sacred Heart does not suppress temptations in our lives but it gives us more courage to overcome them. This devotion forms us and makes our hearts conform to the Heart of Jesus. Thus it brings humility and sweetness. A heart totally devoted to the Heart of Jesus is meek, humble and sweet. When you go to a place where the Sacred Heart is honored, you can really taste the peace of God, the sweetness of the place, the silence of prayer and you think: It is good to stay here.
I know a place where people say: It is good to stay here. It is even so good that once you are in this place, you cannot leave it. I have never been there, but I know that this place is the place where the Sacred Heart sits enthroned now and forever. We call it heaven.
Let us pray tonight to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and ask her to lead us toward the Heart of her Son. May she make us true devoted persons to the Sacred Heart. It would be the royal way which leads us toward heaven. Let us take it!

lundi, juin 11, 2007

Notre Seigneur à l'honneur !

Procession de la Fête-Dieu
de ci de là




Mableton ( 2006 )... en attendant les photos de 2007 !

Et la palme revient à Toulouse

Sermon for Corpus Christi

He that eats this bread shall live forever. John 6:59

Dear Brethren,
When a person comes to be baptized, the priest asks him: What do you ask of the Church of God? He answers through the mouth of his godparents if he has not yet reached the age of reason, “Faith.” Then the priest asks again: What does Faith offer you? “Life everlasting!”

Life everlasting! I guess we all desire it. One cannot obtain it if one does not desire it, because life everlasting is not something that arrives in ones life just by chance. God Himself is looking for men who seek it. He asks us through Psalm 33:13 Who is the man that desireth life and loveth to see good days? Then Saint Benedict imagined the rest of the dialogue between God and such a soul. "If hearing this thou answerest, I am he. God saith to thee: If thou wilt have true and everlasting life, keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile; turn away from evil and do good; seek after peace and pursue it. [Psalm 33:15] And when you shall have done these things, my eyes shall be upon you, and my ears unto your prayers. [Psalm 33:16] And before you shall call upon me I will say: Behold, I am here." (Is 58:9)

Behold, I am here! We can hear Our Lord saying this: Behold, I am here! I am here on the altar! I am here in the tabernacle! I can also be here in your soul if you accept me!
Dear Brethren, we cannot have life everlasting if we do not accept our Lord Jesus Christ in our lives. First, we must accept Him by Faith. But it is not enough. We must accept Him in the Sacrament of the Eucharist: I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:51-55
Jesus wants to share His own life with each one of us. For that reason, He gives us an incredible way: He makes Himself our food which can provide the necessary and sufficient means to obtain eternal life. The Holy Eucharist is our food as pilgrims walking toward eternity. It is the food that gives us the strength and the ability to remain in the state of grace, to resist the temptation, to strengthen our will and to heal our defects. For that reason, the Church encourages us to receive Our Lord every day if possible.
"Gustate et videte quam suavis est Dominus!" Pslam 33 says again: "O taste and see that the Lord is sweet!" (Psalm 33: 9) He really is! What a comfort for us to have Jesus with us and for us! His presence in our souls brings peace and joy. Once we understand this, we will understand what being Catholic means. This is my wish for each one of us on this beautiful day of the Corpus Christi feast.

May Our Lady teach us how to love Her Son and how to receive Him with Faith, Hope and Charity.


samedi, juin 09, 2007

About dispensations!

It happens sometimes that one asks for a dispensation in order to work on Sunday. Such a demand cannot be granted because dispensations are only for ecclesiastical laws. Keeping the Sabbath holy is a Divine precept and thus no dispensations can be given.

Let us see what are the laws of the Church in matter of dispensations.

Code of Canon Law

Can. 85 A dispensation, or the relaxation of a merely ecclesiastical law in a particular case, can be granted by those who possess executive power within the limits of their competence, as well as by those who have the power to dispense explicitly or implicitly either by the law itself or by legitimate delegation.

Can. 86 Laws are not subject to dispensation to the extent that they define those things which are essentially constitutive of juridic institutes or acts.

Can. 87
§1. A diocesan bishop, whenever he judges that it contributes to their spiritual good, is able to dispense the faithful from universal and particular disciplinary laws issued for his territory or his subjects by the supreme authority of the Church. He is not able to dispense, however, from procedural or penal laws nor from those whose dispensation is specially reserved to the Apostolic See or some other authority.

§2. If recourse to the Holy See is difficult and, at the same time, there is danger of grave harm in delay, any ordinary is able to dispense from these same laws even if dispensation is reserved to the Holy See, provided that it concerns a dispensation which the Holy See is accustomed to grant under the same circumstances, without prejudice to the prescript of ⇒ can. 291.

Can. 88 A local ordinary is able to dispense from diocesan laws and, whenever he judges that it contributes to the good of the faithful, from laws issued by a plenary or provincial council or by the conference of bishops.

Can. 89 A pastor and other presbyters or deacons are not able to dispense from universal and particular law unless this power has been expressly granted to them.

Can. 90
§1. One is not to be dispensed from an ecclesiastical law without a just and reasonable cause, after taking into account the circumstances of the case and the gravity of the law from which dispensation is given; otherwise the dispensation is illicit and, unless it is given by the legislator himself or his superior, also invalid.

§2. In a case of doubt concerning the sufficiency of the cause, a dispensation is granted validly and licitly.

Can. 91 Even when outside his territory, one who possesses the power to dispense is able to exercise it with respect to his subjects even though they are absent from the territory, and, unless the contrary is expressly established, also with respect to travelers actually present in the territory, as well as with respect to himself.

Can. 92 A dispensation is subject to a strict interpretation according to the norm of ⇒ can. 36, §1, as is the very power to dispense granted for a particular case.

Can. 93 A dispensation which has successive application ceases in the same ways as a privilege as well as by the certain and total cessation of the motivating cause.

mercredi, juin 06, 2007

Life is not an idea!

Here is another text from Father de Chivré that I found interesting.

Life is not an idea; it is not a feeling, nor an impression, nor an expectation; it is neither a truth nor a love; it is all of these, mixed together and inserted in the light of God. It is for this reason that very few are alive, because very few know how to love in the fullness of God.

There are no formulas of life; there are only formulas to learn how to be alive. But once the existence is acquired, the formula steps aside before the fullness it has generated, and the fullness replaces the formula as Redemption replaces the Law.

God is not a formula, He is the fullness.

This being admitted, how many formulas get nowhere, because of the fear of fullness that one estimates being laxity!

Look at those hordes of pious girls withered by their passions for the formulas of life: they generate only rickets that God loathes so much.

Can we have an inkling of the pettiness, of the tautness, of the wilted, of the sear of certain so-called consecrated loves to the fullness of God.

Can we believe in the slavery of certain religious authorities, shrewish because of so many formulas to be observed even though the fullness of life of their subservient has to expire through privations in the practice of these formulas which will be judge of their superiors as Jesus warned us: the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Oh! Foolishness of the false practice of formulas destined to be liberator but which become oppressive!

Original text in French:

La vie n’est pas une idée, pas un sentiment,
Ni une impression, ni une attente ;
Elle n’est pas davantage une vérité ou un amour ;
Elle est tout cela, fondu ensemble et enchâssé dans la lumière de Dieu ;
C’est pour cela que très peu sont vivants,
Car très peu savent aimer dans le Tout de Dieu.
Il n’y a pas de formules de vie,
Il n’y a de formules que pour apprendre à être vivant,
Mais une fois l’existence obtenue,
La formule s’efface devant la plénitude qu’elle a engendrée
Et la plénitude remplace la formule
Comme la Rédemption a remplacé la Loi.

Dieu n’est pas une formule, Il est la plénitude.

Ceci admis, que de formules n’aboutissent pas, par peur de la plénitude que l’on prend pour du laxisme !

Voyez quantité d’ordaillons de pieuses filles ratatinées par leur passion des formules de vie qui n’engendrent que le rachitisme en horreur à Dieu.

Peut-on soupçonner la mesquinerie, l’étroitesse, le fané, le racorni de certains amours soi-disant consacrés à la plénitude de Dieu…

Peut-on croire à l’esclavage-né de certaines autorités religieuses hargneuses à force de formules à faire observer, dût la plénitude de vie de leurs inférieures expirer d’inanition dans la pratique de ces formules qui jugeront les supérieures comme Jésus nous en a avertis : « La lettre tue, et l’esprit vivifie. »

O ! crétinisme de la fausse pratique des formules destinées à être libératrices et devenues accablantes…

mardi, juin 05, 2007

Saint Theophane Venard

It is not rare that I am asked: “Father, who is your favorite Saint?” It is always difficult to give an answer because the list of my favorite Saints is long. I even don’t speak about Our lady and Saint Joseph: they are above every other Saints. My Patron Saint, Saint Lawrence is, of course, one of my favorites. What about Saint Jeanne of Arc? I love her so much. She was a pure jewel offered by God to defend our Kingdom and I wish she could dwell in the heart of every French. I like to say that among my favorite Saints, there is also Saint Théophane Venard. He is not very known in America, yet he was the favorite Saint of Little Flower herself. Here is a text by Dom Antoine-Marie, abbot of the Abbey Saint Joseph de Clairval ( Flavigny, France ), which can help you to learn a little bit about this beautiful soul.

Father Demets

Dear Friend of Saint Joseph Abbey,

«I have read the lives of many missionaries. One I've read is the life of Théophane Vénard, which interested me and touched me more than I can say.» This is how Saint Thérèse of Lisieux expressed herself on March 19, 1897. Shortly thereafter, she confided to her sisters the reason for this preference: «I like Théophane Vénard even more than Saint Louis de Gonzaga, because the life of Saint Louis de Gonzaga was extraordinary and Théophane Vénard's was quite ordinary.» She added, «My soul is like his. He is the one who has best lived my way of spiritual childhood.»
Théophane was born on November 21, 1829, on the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in Saint-Loup-sur-Thouet, in the diocese of Poitiers, France. Baptized the same day, he received the first names Jean-Théophane, but kept only the latter, which means «manifestation of God.» His parents were fervent Catholics. Two years before Théophane, a little Mélanie had come to gladden the household. Two other boys, Henri and Eusèbe, would complete the family.
Théophane became an altar boy, and looked with secret envy upon the priest who had baptized him, officiating at the altar. His mother had explained to him what the Mass and the priesthood were. But Jesus Christ's call, «Follow me!» would echo more strongly when he was 9, in the solitude of the hillside in Bel-Air, where the boy led his father's goat to graze while he read The Propagation of the Faith Review, a magazine that recounted the deeds of missionaries. One day, he finished the life of Father Cornay, a native of the diocese of Poitiers who was decapitated for the faith in Tonkin (present-day Vietnam) in 1837. Théophane exclaimed, «I want to go to Tonkin, too! I want to die a martyr, too!» He had made his decision.
Théophane kept his secret to himself and asked his father if he could continue on to secondary school. In 1841, he entered the school in Doué, 50 kilometers from Saint-Loup. Though this separation from the family he loved dearly was heartbreaking for him, he was soon among the best in his class. When he was with his friends, he was sometimes given to mockery, irascible and quick-tempered, losing his temper at the slightest provocation. Like every boy his age, Théophane experienced highs and lows, but at this time, reprimands were more common than praise. Enlightened by the grace of God, he guessed that nothing was obtained without suffering or prayer. He also wrote to his sister Mélanie: «I have made a resolution that I want to tell you about. It is to say my Rosary every week.» Thanks to the help of this Marian prayer within the means of all, he gradually succeeded in mending his ways.
He made his First Communion on April 28, 1842, a heavenly day for him. The truths of the faith strengthened his soul and helped him to endure a very difficult trial without failing—that of his mother's death on January 11, 1849. He could find comfort only by throwing himself into the arms of the Blessed Virgin.

«May nothing hold you back!»

At the beginning of August 1847, Théophane left Doué for the Minor Seminary in Montmorillon. After completing his philosophy studies there, he entered the Major Seminary in Poitiers, where he wrote to his sister, «You will be happy to learn that one of our confreres, a deacon, is leaving Thursday for the Seminary for Foreign Missions in Paris. May God deign to guide his steps, and may Venerable Cornay watch over him.» Thus did he begin to prepare his family for his own plan to leave on mission. Doing this took time, cleverness and tact. Mélanie understood first. For her father, the sacrifice was more difficult, but in the end, in a beautiful outburst of faith, he gave his full permission. «If you see that God is calling you, and I have no doubt that you do, don't hesitate to obey! May nothing hold you back, not even the thought of leaving a grieved father.» He was scheduled to leave on February 27, 1851, at 9 o'clock in the evening. After the last meal together as a family and the recitation of the Rosary, Théophane read a few passages from The Imitation of Christ that were related to the situation, then recited the evening prayer, which was interrupted by the family's tears. Lastly, he asked for his father's blessing. Slightly trembling, the father pronounced these words, one by one: «My dear son, receive this blessing from your father, who is sacrificing you to the Lord. Be blessed forever in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!» When it was time to leave, the future missionary, knowing that he would never see his family again, kissed his family one last time, walked out of the house and got into a carriage. The depth of his suffering showed through to some extent in a letter he wrote later to a priest friend: «God supported me in the last moments of my family life, and even made them pleasant and agreeable for me. However, it's good that they were short—my soul was brimming over with emotion...»

In March 1851, Théophane entered the Seminary for Foreign Missions in Paris. On April 26, a short letter went out to his family. «Such news could not suffer a day's delay—I will be a priest on Trinity Sunday!» But he soon fell ill with a paratyphoid fever. After a novena to the Most Blessed Virgin, danger was quickly averted. Nevertheless, his entire life would be marked by periods of poor health.

On June 5, 1851, he was ordained a priest at the age of 22. He celebrated his first Mass at Our Lady of Victories, but no one came from Saint-Loup. The sacrifice had been made once and for all. From then on, his most ardent desires were for Tonkin. «The mission in Tonkin is the envied mission, since it offers the shortest means to go to Heaven... Oh! If only one day I, too, were called to offer my blood as a witness to the faith!» In September 1852, Théophane celebrated his last Mass in France, and left on mission for China, in accordance with the will of his superiors.

«Let's not waste our time!»

After a voyage of several months, the Chinese coast appeared on the horizon and, on March 19, 1853, the missionaries landed on the island of Hong Kong. Théophane did not yet know his final destination but, since he had been sent to China, he began to learn Chinese. This difficult task, the climate, and the heat seriously weakened his health, and he needed to rest. «Little Father Vénard,» as he was called, was always very cheerful! He was loved by everyone in this home, where everyone was close, but evangelization remained the primary concern of these apostles of Christ. China was there before them, and souls were waiting for the light of the Catholic faith. Théophane was animated by the same apostolic flame for the salvation of souls as Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, who wrote to her sister Céline on July 14, 1889: «Céline, during the short moments that we have left, let's not waste our time... let's save souls—they are being lost like snowflakes, and Jesus is weeping.»
Théophane expressed this great concern to his friend, Father Dallet: «Mother China and her daughters Korea, Japan and Cochin-China [modern Vietnam] must bend the knee before Christ.» However, he was not deluded. «The burden of the missions seems heavy to me, now that I am seeing it up close... I hope that at the moment that I must go, God's strength will help my weakness, and the light of His grace will help my inexperience.»
While he was getting ready to leave for China, a letter arrived for him from Paris, announcing, «You have been given Tonkin.» This was for him an inexpressible joy. «I have received my travel order for Tonkin... I am going to a part they call West Tonkin. It is there that Venerable Charles Cornay was martyred... In this Annamese land, where the persecution is the most active, a price has been put on every missionary's head, and when someone can seize one, he is decapitated without further ado.»
On May 26, 1854, Théophane left Hong Kong and arrived on July 13 in Vinh-Tri, the center of the vicariate of West Tonkin. He threw himself into the arms of the Apostolic Vicar, Bishop Retord. Approximately twenty-two months after having left Paris, his missionary apostolate began. Vinh-Tri was a village that had been entirely Christian for a century. Missionaries were openly received there, thanks to the benevolence of Viceroy Hung. This governor, father-in-law of the emperor Tu-Duc, had been cured of an eye disease by a Tonkinese seminarian, and consequently protected the Christians in his province. A seminary and various institutions lived and developed without being disturbed.

«Three cheers for joy anyway!»

Bishop Retord had, by means of his eminent qualities and his virtue, gained the respect of many Mandarin subofficers. Having arrived in Tonkin during a period of violent persecution, he had lived in hiding places for months at a time, without losing his legendary good spirits. When he became a bishop, he communicated his apostolic zeal to his entire diocese. His official episcopal motto, «Intoxicate me with the Cross,» was balanced by another familiar motto that he used to boost his missionaries' morale in difficult times—«Three cheers for joy anyway!» He had seen many of his priests die of affliction or under torture, but had not been captured himself. «I am sad that I have not joined them,» he wrote.
The bishop soon determined how valuable «Little Father Vénard» was. The liveliness of this newcomer, who most gladly laughed and sang, corresponded to his own mentality. Théophane, who had to learn the local language, worked with such a tenacious will that he could soon preach in Vietnamese. He liked everything in Tonkin, which made it easier for him to adapt. However, the food did not sit well with his stomach, and caused him a great deal of suffering. What did it matter? He was the first to laugh about it. Nevertheless, his health was again a cause of concern. He became weaker, in spite of the care lavished on him, and soon he had to be given Extreme Unction. They began a novena to obtain a cure for him; from the first invocations, the sick man felt well again. Without delay, he got down to business—baptisms, preaching, confessions.
«The missionary is a person of the Beatitudes,» Pope John Paul II reminds us. «Before sending out the Twelve to evangelize, Jesus, in his 'missionary discourse' (cf. Mt. 10), teaches them the paths of mission: poverty, meekness, acceptance of suffering and persecution, the desire for justice and peace, charity—in other words, the Beatitudes, lived out in the apostolic life (cf. Mt 5:1-12). By living the Beatitudes, the missionary experiences and shows concretely that the kingdom of God has already come, and that he has accepted it. The characteristic of every authentic missionary life is the inner joy that comes from faith» (Encyclical Redemptoris missio, December 7, 1990, no. 91).
The relative peace of the Tonkin mission did not last. The central government badgered mandarins (local functionaries) to track down priests. Fathers Castex and Vénard hid in the village of But-Dong, where they were received by a small community of Vietnamese nuns, the «Lovers of the Cross,» who until that time had never been worried. There, he could at least celebrate Mass and continue his missionary activity through prayer.
The nuns in But-Dong, who did not wear distinctive dress, worked in the fields or went from village to village selling remedies, which allowed them a way into pagan homes. They were trustworthy messengers among the various Christians, but their life was difficult and dangerous. To escape the mandarins' searches, the two Fathers hid between two partitions, waiting for the danger to pass. After several days, they left But-Dong. In a matter of weeks, they would change hiding places six times. In these travels on foot, Théophane fell ill again. He dragged himself along with great difficulty. Terrible asthma attacks weakened him so that his companion feared seeing him die of asphyxiation in an airless nook. But Bishop Retord was in Vinh-Tri—there, Théophane could be cared for. They stretched him out, almost dead, in the bottom of a boat where, panting and trying to breathe, he never lost his smile. He received last rites again, but did not delude himself. «I am holding on to life by just a thread. Three cheers for joy anyway!» Nevertheless, the cool of autumn revived him to some degree.

Only suffering gives birth to souls

Théophane offered his suffering and his seeming inactivity for the eternal salvation of souls, since this was God's will. «Only suffering can give birth to souls for Jesus,» wrote Saint Thérèse to her sister Céline on July 8, 1891. We can thus understand the saint of Lisieux's mysterious liking for the missionary of Tonkin.
With the winter months, his strength returned enough that Bishop Retord decided to take Théophane with him on his pastoral rounds. They visited one parish after another. The missionaries preached, heard confessions, administered the sacraments, reconciled with God those who had fallen, and encouraged all the faithful to improve. «He was never more fervent or more eloquent than when he was talking about the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom he loved, it was plain to see, with filial love,» attested Father Thinh during the process of beatification.
But the rainy season of 1856 was the occasion of a new illness—this time it was consumption, or tuberculosis, that made him consider imminent death. The bishop, upset, no longer knowing what to do, allowed Théophane to undergo a very painful Chinese medical intervention in which various well-determined parts of the patient's body were burned with little balls of an herbal medicine. During this painful procedure, Théophane held his crucifix with both hands, and did not let out a single groan. Before long, the illness lost ground. His immediate prayer, «to have enough strength to preach the Gospel,» was heard. He was going to be able to return to the active missionary life that he would lead for about three years until his arrest. His bishop testified to this: «I said that he had tremendous zeal. Even though he had the poorest health of all the missionaries in the vicariate, he did as much as all the others, often spending half the night in the confessional, sometimes even whole nights. His confidence in God was limitless and made him bold in his endeavors.»

A year of graces

After a relative lull, the persecution was vigorously started again in 1859 by the emperor Tu-Duc, who was determined to put an end to «Jesus' religion.» The newly proclaimed edict gave the death penalty to priests, promised a reward to informants, and set out penalties for mandarins who were kind to Christians. Théophane was thoroughly convinced that the year 1860 that was beginning would be that of his arrest and that God would grant him the grace of martyrdom. His bishop gave him permission to offer himself to God as a victim for the Church of Tonkin. Out of filial love for the Blessed Virgin, he consecrated himself to her, using Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort's prayer, placing himself entirely in her hands.
Thus was he armed for the final battles. He took refuge in the home of the widow Can, but a cousin of hers informed the police, and he was arrested on November 30, 1860. His vestments were taken away, and he was led away, tied up, while he continued to pray and prepare himself for martyrdom. Locked in a narrow wooden cage, he was transferred to the citadel in Hanoi. There, the viceroy himself came to interrogate him. Then, he gave orders—to build a more spacious bamboo cage, put a mosquito net around it, place a mat on the floor, forge as light a chain as possible for the priest, and see to it that the prisoner was decently fed. During the interrogation, Father Théophane had, in fact, made the best impression, and it was because of this that these relative comforts were granted him.
The catechist Kang who had been captured with the Father was not separated from his teacher. Thanks to a soldier's complicity, Théophane obtained some paper, ink and a brush. He wrote to his confreres and his family: «If I obtain the grace of martyrdom, I will remember you especially. Let us meet in Heaven! We will see each other above!» He did not know that his father had passed away fifteen months before.
His final judgment took place in Hanoi. He entered the courtroom and was given the honor of not being whipped. In their questionings, the various judges, mixing religion and politics, tried to make the missionary responsible for the bombing of Annamese coasts by a French-Spanish squadron, or even for riots generated by the emperor Tu-Duc's actions. Théophane calmly refuted these slanders to bring the debate back to its real basis—he had come to Tonkin only to preach Jesus' religion. They placed a crucifix in his hands. «Trample the Cross underfoot,» the viceroy told him, «and you will not be put to death!» At that, the missionary raised the crucifix in his hands with respect, placed his lips upon it for a long time, then exclaimed in a loud voice, «What! I have preached the faith of the Cross till this day, and now you want me to renounce it? I do not value life in this world so much that I wish to preserve it at the cost of an apostasy!» The viceroy uttered the following sentence: «The European priest Vin, whose real name is «Véna,» is condemned, on account of his blindness of heart and obstinacy of spirit, all other cause being dismissed, to having his head severed, then displayed for three days, and then thrown into the river.»
The execution of the verdict required Tu-Duc's signature. On Monday, December 17, 1860, a courier set out for Huê to carry a copy of the decision there. But the condemned did not officially know his fate until a few hours before the execution of the sentence, on February 2. Théophane's new cage, two meters long and a meter high, was beautiful and ornate. But what torment to stay in this narrow space! The guards themselves, won over by the captive's affability, allowed him to go out of it from time to time. He had other friends as well—Paul Muïn, a fearless Christian who had slipped into the police, could see Father Théophane four or five times a day.

A calm lake

«Although the majority are kind to me,» wrote Father Théophane in a letter to his family on January 2, 1861, «there are people who insult and mock me.» Fortunately, visitors became rare, and he could write to his bishop, «My heart is like a calm lake.» Up until the end, he prayed his breviary, the only book that remained in his possession. Théophane expressed his happiness by singing his desire for Heaven, and hoped to receive the Eucharist. The deacon Men succeeded in having Holy Communion brought to him by devout Christians who passed unnoticed. The priest Thinh, sent by the bishop, managed to hear Father Théophane's confession.
The morning of February 2, Father Théophane learned that he was going to be executed that very day. He thanked God, asked the Blessed Virgin to help him until the end, then, dressed in a feast day habit, walked joyfully to be executed, singing the Magnificat. The executioner, who had had a drink to give himself courage, had to make five attempts to detach the martyr's head with a saber. It seemed that with the third blow, Théophane was already in Heaven, in a joy without end... This was what he wanted with all his soul. He was happy beyond all measure.
Théophane Vénard's example, particularly his way of accepting his martyrdom, was a valuable aid to Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. The future Doctor of the Church drew light and strength from it.
The day after Théophane Vénard's canonization (June 19, 1988), Pope John Paul II, speaking to French pilgrims, said, «Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus was on intimate terms with Saint Théophane Vénard, whose picture never left her as she suffered the pangs of death. She had recognized her own spiritual experience in a farewell letter by Théophane: 'I do not rely on my own strength, but on the strength of Him who defeated the power of Hell and of the world through the Cross.'»
We entrust to these two great figures of recent Church history all your intentions, including your deceased.
Dom Antoine Marie osb.

vendredi, juin 01, 2007

Pilgrimage of Chartres!

Better than a long speech....
Third day, 6:00 am - It's time to wake up !

Catholiques et Français toujours !
When the two pilgrimages (Notre-Dame de Chretienté and SSPX) meet together!

Somes pictures