Dear confreres, candidates and associates,
Within a few days we will be celebrating the Solemnity of our founder, Saint John Eudes. We will receive it from God as the source of our “profound inspiration” (Cst 14). Saint John Eudes guides us not only to discern the various ways our today’s missions may take, in fidelity to his apostolic intuitions but also, and certainly on the fore, to guide us on our journey to holiness. And it is precisely holiness that we are interested in when learning about the life of those the Church acknowledges as saints: how did John Eudes follow Christ? How did he welcome God’s holiness in his life? What teachings is he giving us? How did he inspire our predecessors throughout our history and in our diverse Provinces?
Holiness is what is proper to God and therefore complex to define, except by discarding at the outset as a reduction to a mere moral behavior. To understand what is proper to God, we look at the one who is the faithful witness: How did Jesus live his holiness? His holiness resides in the total commitment of his being to love his Father, accomplishing his will and in his total commitment to others at every moment. Holiness might be defined as the movement of the inner being to love always more. This is what Jesus is.
Holiness is a free gift from God that we receive the day of our baptism. The Council Constitution “Lumen Gentium” is crystal clear about it: “The followers of Christ, called by God and justified in Jesus Christ not because of their deeds, but according the design and grace of God, have become, in the baptism of faith, sons of God and participants of the divine nature and therefore have been really sanctified. They consequently, with God’s help, maintain and bring to perfection within their life this holiness they received” (L.G.# 40). Our whole life, -in the diversity of vocations that constitute our congregation-, is a deployment of the initial gift: we really have received the capacity of loving in the manner of Jesus Christ, and it is our responsibility, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, to implement this ability, at every moment and in any circumstances. So, we will really enter the given gift: to love always more. By doing so, we accomplish our vocation.
The Jesuit Karl Rahner, meditating on this mystery of holiness gives depth to this universal vocation to holiness. According to him, holiness is translated by a bigger existential intensity of our actions. Let us think of Jesus with this following fresh look: what intensity of being and love we admire in the actions he performed and through the words he pronounced: “never before has anyone spoken like this one” (Jn 7: 46)… “Yes, truly, this man was the Son of God” (Matthew 27: 54). Our life’s intensity consists in making each moment a full reality, when the only thing that counts is to love this instant. The way to holiness is the gradual welcome of this fullness of being and of love at the very heart of our existence. The way of learning holiness during our journey is to live with an always deeper truth the love we insert in the actions we take and the words we pronounce. We know by experience that this process tunes in to the advancement of our freedom, taking our singular histories into account.
Here comes the question of the means we take to grow in holiness, in the sense of a love all the more existential in our words and actions, in our thoughts and interior movements. Let me develop this point of the means by suggesting three steps to celebrate the holiness of our founder on August 19.
To renew our longing to love more
We are members of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary set in view of this holiness the way we read in our Constitutions: “The congregation wants its members, dedicated to their apostolate journey towards the holiness to which they are called through the grace of their baptism and of their ordination” (Cst 6). Of course, this constitution 6 applies also to the associates because of their baptismal vocation. Through a mysterious Providence, God called us into this Congregation and we answered freely. The most fundamental reason of our answer is the fulfilment of our vocation to holiness. In a letter sent to his confreres missioning in Honfleur, December 1657, Saint John Eudes is clear: “The first goal of the Congregation is “to give [you] the means to come to the perfection and the holiness in accordance with the ecclesiastical state.”(OC X 417)
In his spiritual writings, Saint John Eudes passes on to us the most powerful means to go forward in holiness: let Jesus form his holy life in us or let him make us sharers of his holiness. Holiness comes true when our liberty and the grace from above are in communion: the Lord cannot act without our assent and our assent bears no fruit without his grace. On this occasion of the feast of Saint John Eudes, I invite each and every one of us to renew his longing for holiness, his initial surge of his encounter with Christ and his desire to live in the grace of the Holy Spirit. So many seductions can take God’s place. Our idols are swarming over, but in a one single embrace, as a Congregation, at every place where we will be on August 19th, we will ask for this grace for all: that we be renewed in our longing for God and in our choice to follow Jesus. And to keep on in this vital choice, let us choose again to consider prayer as “the first and the most important of our affairs.”(Cst 37) Prayer is an essential place where the formation of Jesus in us takes place, when we expose ourselves to the action of his grace that transforms us and to the Word that shapes us. Nothing can replace this precise time of personal prayer; let us attempt more to prolong it than to substitute it for other preoccupations.
To renew our will to live fraternity
The renewal of our eagerness to become saints is carried out together, in Congregation because we form a living body, and we are happy to be members of one another. The presence of others confronts us with the truth of our resolutions, for holiness comes to fruition through the human relationships we establish in community life, or in a family, in ministry and social life. There is a temptation of avoiding the other, with all the possible lousy tricks to carry out this avoidance and look for justifications. Let us not delude ourselves: we have to make progress on our way to holiness and to make this progress together. On this August 19th, let us choose again with a generous heart to walk together the journey to holiness through our common mission. Let us go beyond the inapprehension and quarrels of the past, and forgive without holding back the fraternal momentum, let us again develop trust when the leaven of suspicion has spread out. Once again, let us do works of mercy and patience towards our brothers, with the strength Christ Jesus will give us; he is love and bounty.
To renew our missionary impetus
I talked about prayer and common life; the third essential step is missing on our Eudist way to holiness: the mission. This is the third element of our way to holiness in the steps of St John Eudes. Union to Christ to grow in fraternal communion drives us to the mission. “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel”.( 1Cor 9;16) How to proclaim the gift of Christ today? How to invent ways for the new evangelization? How to form Christ in the heart of our contemporary fellow humans? When we get out of our self-satisfactions and personal agendas, to let ourselves be questioned by the missionary call, our journey to holiness is renewed. We perceive this experience in John Eudes ’life. His tireless zeal led him to be more united to Jesus, letting Christ form him to his own image as Messenger of the Father, Good Shepherd and Servant. With his companions John Eudes looked for new paths, through missions, foundations, preaching and teaching, liturgies and social life. The mission was for him his privileged space where his configuration of Christ took roots and reality. It is also ours.
We are missionary-disciples: this is not another attribute to discipleship. The two terms are intrinsically connected. This is the big intuition of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, tying up the renovation of the Church and her mission. During the Council of the Congregation last May, I had asked Fr. Fidel Oñoro to shed a light on the meaning of the mission in Evangelii Gaudium. With his biblical knowledge and personal understanding of the Pope’s thinking, Fr. Fidel opens the door to this this great programmatic text that is a new impetus to the mission of the Church. Our confrere’s text is added to my letter and offered to everyone for the reflection of each Congregation member. I thank Father Fidel for his contribution to our common reflection.
Our discernment on renewed paths for the mission of the Congregation, following the General Assembly, keeps on going in the Provinces and will become more precise in tune with the Church guidelines. During the celebration of the feast of Saint John Eudes, let us ask for the grace of a new missionary impulse in the Congregation, overcoming fatigues and disillusions of the past to write a new page in the mission of the Congregation. The General Assembly gives a precise focus: how and everywhere we are located do we implement the formation of Christ in the life of the faithful, lay and priests? We have a lot of progress to make to seek together and form ourselves in this formation of Christ in the heart of all those we encounter. Creativity is more than appropriate in this time in which we live.
These three points will allow us to go forward together to achieve our vocation to holiness. I am adding a fourth one that will be able to replace the three first ones, if we cannot fulfil them, for in a certain way, this fourth one will assume all the other ones: the loving service of the poor, for “charity covers a multitude of sins.”(1Peter 4: 8) Let us not forget this element present all along Saint John Eudes’ life, he who asked poor people to participate in the liturgical celebrations in particular in those he instituted. In one way or another, could we do the same as well when we celebrate August 19, 2017? It is a question of choice and single-mindedness.
Saint John Eudes, our founder and our source of inspiration, receives our gratitude and affection. The grace of God has been allowing numerous fruits of holiness to be born and developed in your spiritual family. Today, we want also to participate in the holiness of God, going forward together on the paths of the mission and the service of the poor. Clear us from all the hindrances that obstruct the way of Grace and intercede for us to take the means to answer our call to holiness. For our joy and the greater glory of God!
P. Jean-Michel Amouriaux cjm
The Superior General