You Will Be Saved If You Love Me

Taken from Magnificat magazine, January-February 2006.

  It would seem that nothing had destined René
Schwob to the thirty long years of self-denial that were to lead him to the threshold of the priesthood. Born in Paris in 1895 into a Jewish family of Alsatian origin, his youth was that of a rich young man, obliged to follow certain formalistic practices that more or less epitomized his family's religious spirit. At the age of thirteen, RENE SCHWOBhowever, René rejected these practices, saying, "My soul could find no sustenance in them." When his mother, who was not a very staunch Jew herself, called upon him to fast on Yom Kippur, he replied, "I don't have faith, so I won't fast." The life of an esthete and pleasure-seeker was opening up before young René.

Early calls

Around 1912, although it does not seem to have had any influence on him, for the first time Ren
é heard someone speak about Christianity otherwise than as a form of idolatry.
When World War I broke out in 1914, he was nineteen years old. He joined the army and was assigned to an infantry regiment. In September of that year his regiment was decimated in Artois, and Ren
é, seriously wounded, was abandoned on the battlefield. That is when the event occurred that was to determine the direction of his life and dictate the painful search which would lead him to the discovery of Christ. He describes it as follows:

I heard a voice say these unforgettable words to me: "You will be saved if you love Me." Since it was impossible for me to admit any salvation other than that of my body, out of pride, yes, and in good faith, and because I refused to change my idea, these mysterious words pursued me for twelve years without my ever consenting to submit to them. I had no idea whatsoever of any spiritual reality. That was the way I was, and I gloried in it.

The soldier never completely recovered from his wounds. He would be in poor health all his life. Some time later, his condition having slightly improved, he was admitted into the Naval Command and posted in Brest for a year, after which he left on a series of long voyages to the Far East. Those unforgettable words pursued him. He did some soul-searching and looked for tangible miracles.
Reluctantly and even unwillingly, having been prompted by a friend who assured him that it would work wonders for him, in 1922 he asked for Baptism. The priest he spoke to regarded his dispositions as insufficient and refused to Baptize him. Ren
é was delighted over this refusal, which released him from his responsibility; he continued his difficult course ... and his libertine's life. In fact, he would later admit:

I say it in all simplicity, in those days, although I did not devour any little children, I was totally inhuman, just like so many others who do not realize it. I was so taken up with pleasure-seeking and such a stranger to love that my insatiable desires were my only rule of life. The only thing that surprised me was that I felt so ill at ease ... I was irresolute about my own tastes, having no reason to resist them, in a state of freedom if you will, which today I realize was the opposite of freedom, and without the slightest inkling of the very existence of sin.
In 1923 Schwob, still in poor health, went to Lourdes. Later he said, "It was not so much to be healed as to give God the cue of my good will, thereby providing Him, if He existed, an occasion to show His."
In 1925, during a voyage to Japan, he met Paul Claudel and talked to him of his difficulties: he could not understand the faith at all and regarded dogma as absurd. During this period, when in Saigon, he entered a church during the recitation of the Rosary: Astonished at such dismal repetition, which seemed so foolish and ill-conceived for praising God, he stood up with "irritated scorn" and left the church laughing.
One day when he went to Mass, he could see nothing there but an empty performance.

As we can see, Ren
é Schwob was no angel! Like so many men of his generation, he had undergone the pernicious influence of André Gide. He was imbued with skepticism and prejudices; "I had been burdened by an artificial philosophy and the seductions of a milieu where religion was judged only by the practices of a dull middle class." His very nature seemed to set an obstacle to grace: he was extremely self-centered and sensual, too sensitive to the prestige of art, to honors and other worldly attractions.

 The author of several books---Ni Grec ni Juif (Neither Greek nor Jew), Vrai drame d'Andr
é Gide (The Real Drama of André Gide), and Rome ou La mort (Rome or Die)---in each one of them René looked complacently upon people, things and sentiments only in relation to himself, never overcoming his egocentricity. In reality, yielding to excessive self-love, he was incapable of forgetting himself. Moreover, he knew it better than anyone else and suffered over it, because his egocentricity only fanned the flames of his anxiety and dissatisfaction.
To finally arrive at Baptism, it took a long series of circumstances in which the truth, although it kept escaping him, never stopped pursuing him. It required grace and also the prayers of those who pitied him amid his "long, blind, painful anxiety."

A Baptism "without pleasure"

By the summer of 1926, René Schwob's physical condition had worsened, so he was sent back to France. On the way he contracted an extremely virulent pleurisy that placed his life in danger. Once again he considered Baptism. In Colombo, a priest was summoned on board. Schwob relates, "This excellent apostle explained to me that I was not nearly as sick as I imagined (although I was at my lowest ebb, and the doctors said there was no hope), that I would have all the time I needed in France to receive the required instruction." Actually; the good priest did not want to Baptize him because he doubted the validity of Schwob's motives.
But would he really have the time? First he would have to recover. Before René had left Shanghai, the Mother Superior of the hospital had given him a little miraculous medal. In accepting it, he had committed himself before her to become a Christian if he got well.

He did recover, returned to France and there ran into more hindrances of the kind he had encountered in Colombo. But now nothing would stop him. He wanted to become a Christian. He said:

If I am now striving for the Christian ideal, it is because none other is more foreign to me ... I have chosen the Catholic principles because they appear to me as being the most efficacious ones, and the Catholic ideal because it is the most demanding.

In November 1926, "without pleasure," finally he received Baptism from the hands of Father M.S. Gillet, O.P. Had Schwob reached the end of his quest? Had he found faith and, along with it, serenity? Far from it. But he was a man of rectitude and genuine good will. He wrote:
Without having a precise faith, I was reaching out in all directions for food to sustain me. I am a Catholic in name and will only, yet the things that give me joy are only those that manifest the Christian ideal.

The story of his Baptism seemed "incredible" to him. He did not believe "spontaneously" in Christ, in the Redemption or the immortality of the soul.
It is equally impossible for me to say that I do not believe in the Redemption or that I do. The same applies to the question of immortality or nothingness. I do not deny the positive solution, I am uncertain ... And if the staunchest believers do not have this incertitude, it is because, along with the will to believe that I have, they have the joy of the faith.

Therefore, incertitude concerning God or immortality cannot hold me back. I must spur my patience until the moment that God will perhaps add the joy of believing to my will to believe, my acknowledged need to believe. In the meantime, considering the fact that I recognize the superiority of the teachings of the Church over all others, it suffices for me to accept them without seeking to know whether I believe or not; that would be presumptuous and foolish. I must acknowledge what strengthens me. That alone is undeniable ... I accept all the dogmas of the Church ... I accept them without belief and without denial, in an incertitude which I recognize as being the result of my weakness and my inevitable incapacity to resolve anything that is not exclusively a personal experience. So incertitude cannot keep me from practicing religion.

There is an enormous measure of humility in Schwob's decision to abandon himself unreservedly to the Truth, which he could sense but which was still obscure and arid for him. He had previously taken cynical pleasure in evaluating everything, but now he suspended his proud reason to make way for God. Such admirable humility, the most essential disposition, was to charm the Heart of God living in the Sacred Host. Later he confided, "God was to carry me off in mystical fires."

Practice in order to believe
Therefore, placing his trust in the Church without first actually understanding the truth of the mystery of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Sacred Host, René Schwob accepted the fact that integral Christianity invites us to receive Communion as frequently as possible. From then on his course of action was decided, and heroically he went to Communion every morning. Heroically; for the little faith he had in Christ kept him from savoring the charm of the Divine Presence, and he literally had to force himself, every day to attend Holy Mass and receive Communion. The more aware he became of his weakness, the more he relied on Christ present in the Host.
At this juncture, it seems worthwhile to stress a very noteworthy point concerning Schwob's progression: his spiritual transformation, transformation by the Eucharist, did not come about in a day; in a meteoric manner as in the lives of certain converts. No, it came about gradually, thanks to his perseverance in daily Communion without any feeling of devotion, in a pure act of faith and submission to the counsels of the Church. He wrote:
Daily Communions were carried out as lofty, necessary formalities, but without any faith---at least not a conscious faith---not only in the Real Presence but even in the Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Fervent fidelity made up for my failings on this point, and I thought it simply had to be this way. And my passive obedience, during this incomprehensible suspension of my critical faculties, took the place of the light I was lacking. It was during these habitual Communions that I was converted by the sensible graces and illumination with which the Eucharist gradually inundated my stupefied heart.

Therefore, by a blessed absurdity, I began believing in the Real Presence even before thinking that Jesus could be the Son of God. To this day, at the slightest doubt, the slightest lack of fullness in my faith, I need only gaze again at the Host to experience a renewal of the miracle of His mute almighty power and be regrounded in its undeniable truth. Thus, for many years, thanks to the Host, this most indecisive of men, who took pleasure in changing ac cording to the latest truth, was never lacking in certitude for a single day.

In the preface to his work, Moi Juif he expresses the following wish:

May this book teach others that although the work of edification depends on grace, it nevertheless requires a preliminary effort of our will to annihilate ourselves, to avoid frightening away grace or putting it to flight at the very outset.

It is because René Schwob made this preliminary effort that the light progressively became clearer to him, and that from the simple practice of the Christian way of life, he advanced to a deeply theological knowledge of our Faith. He says as much:
It is not by hearing the precepts of God that the disciples were enlightened, but by carrying them out. Likewise, anyone who wants to understand what he hears must hasten to put into practice what he may have heard.

But why, from the outset, was Schwob so courageously faithful in his recourse to the Eucharist? It was primarily to have a well-defined reason for remaining chaste. He wrote:
These three days that I have been going to Communion every morning, I feel delivered from obsessive temptations and am experiencing an unhoped-for freshness of soul. I received Communion, and again I took courage to fight against myself and purify my life.

Confession delighted him. He admired the power of this sacramental grace which makes us strong against ourselves, and the wisdom of the simple directives received there which galvanize the soul against any renewed enemy offensives. Thus, to anyone who wanted to extricate himself promptly from his state of sin, the young neophyte found nothing better to advise than the practice of frequent Confession and daily Communion. He exclaimed:
When will I be pure enough to keep You continually in my heart, to cultivate You like a plant, that You may send out ever-flowering branches within me? O Lord, inspire me with such love that finally it will be easy for me to repel whatever might risk breaking You, frail God, hidden God. Yes, may I never again be able to tear You out of my heart.
He made daily Communion a rule: without it, he could do nothing. "At this moment, I need the Host like I need food."

In the school of the Eucharist

Schwob also received daily Communion to penetrate more deeply into the knowledge of God and His mysteries. His simple, faithful daily contact with the Sacred Host gave rise to and strengthened his soul's adherence to revealed dogmas. Others want to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt before starting to practice; he, by a secret illumination of the Holy Spirit, practiced Christianity to the full in order to obtain the grace of a sincere and total faith. His illuminations produced astonishing effects: he understood that the Eucharist prompts the soul to self-denial and the interior life, that it is a source of strength, that it is incomparable for giving growth to faith, that it is a factor of unity and unification.
It is not that he neglected to study the revealed truths. One after the other, Saint John of the Cross, Bossuet, Saint Francis de Sales and others made up his delight. But Christ remained his great Master, speaking in the very depths of his soul every morning during his Eucharistic encounter.

One morning he understood the strange evolution of his journey to God:

My great joy is what led me to conclude in the benefit of Holy Communion, and from that in the Divinity of Christ, and from Christ in the infinite grace of His Mother. I am well aware that this course is very different from the one souls generally follow. They are first persuaded of the mysteries, which give them every joy. It is by the fruits that I recognized the tree, its trunk and its roots.

The thought of the Host, revealing and pacifying, stayed with him and gave him the courage to make persistent efforts:
The thought that arose from the depths of my soul yesterday returned to beset me today: some day the Communion I receive will be the last one of my life; and looking back, I will deplore the fact that I made so few efforts towards my perfection and was so unsuccessful in those I did make. And this thought of that last Host suddenly clarified my thinking on my present life, on the fact that I must no longer waste time, no longer slacken my effort.

Then the scope of his efforts broadened every day; To Communion he added lengthy prayer and mental prayer, either in the solitude of his room or in church. Not wanting to be a halfway Christian, he obliged himself to pray for an hour each day so as to "compel grace." Most of the time these mental prayers gave him no satisfaction; to be able to go on, he had to think of them as a duty to be fulfilled. Most of the time, but not always. He said, "Last night, an hour and more went by like five minutes; this morning also, the entire Mass seemed to have vanished in thin air."

He was in admiration and deeply touched at the thought of the priest bringing Communion to the sick and the infirm.

 I blessed God for making Himself the food of our hearts by consenting to this miraculous humiliation of multiplying Himself in the round whiteness of the Host ... I imagined this Spirit of truth really and substantially entering the poor house where a sick person awaits Him. And I thought of the incomparable grace God was conceding to me, that of being able to receive Him so easily, whereas sickness or great distance from any church condemns so many souls to perpetual privation.
Supernatural lights, tears dilating his soul in God, successive consolations and aridities: under the fruitful invasion of these graces, which gave him the sentiment of the presence of God, an incomparable work was accomplished in Schwob's soul, a totally Divine transformation. Nevertheless, after so many personal efforts to obtain faith, he remained convinced that the culmination of his faith did not depend upon him but upon the breath of the Spirit, and that he had to wait for it in silence and prayer.

First he had to reconcile himself to the idea that he would have to live from then on in a perpetual state of danger and continual combat:
O Lord, it is a hard life You have come to offer me. I must deny myself, humble myself, let myself be led ... O Lord, I know that I can possess You only by virtue of efforts against myself. I know that it is a human, indispensable and supernatural necessity for a Christian to obey, to let myself be led, to entrust myself body and soul to Christ's representatives ...

To believe, one must practice with perfect good will. One must maintain his interior strength to overcome any distaste that his inadequate, presumptuous reason is always ready to raise in objection to God's demands.

At last the great discovery came to perfect the work of grace:

This morning in church came the discovery of true humility, the sentiment that we receive everything from the One we spend our time offending, the sentiment that we give nothing worthwhile in exchange for everything we receive, an inescapable feeling of embarrassment.

OUR LADY OF LOURDESThe Mother of God reveals Herself

Schwob had already gone to Lourdes three years before his conversion. A few years later he returned seeking other graces, other lights. He himself declared that "the old habits of involuntary rationalism and spontaneous unbelief" were not altogether dead. Speaking of the Virgin Mary, he admitted, "I did not see why people had so much confidence in Her."

That good Mother was to reveal to him not only Her role in the life of humans, but also the permanent interaction existing between Heaven and earth, something Schwob had not yet arrived at believing. "On the one hand, I believed in Heaven. On the other, I was all too obliged to believe in the earth. But between the two, the only communication was prayer, and I did not believe in its efficacy."
But all of a sudden, the Blessed Virgin seemed to him "the inevitable intermediary between Heaven and ourselves ... the Mediatrix of all grace." She now seemed so near, so attentive, so maternal that it "became harder for me to doubt in Her power than it had previously been to believe in it."

I did not so much believe in prayer because I had witnessed the healing of chronic illnesses, but rather because it became impossible for me to contest the nearness of the invisible world in which I sensed, without a doubt, that the Mother of Christ was walking about. And that She was also the Mother of the whole world. It is in the person of the Virgin that Heaven and earth convinced me of their intimacy.

Christ was Heaven coming down to earth to save it. But still, that was Heaven. In the Virgin, it was finally the earth whose
TEXT BOXascension I saw become real. And that was far more important to me, who had never been able to understand that man was truly destined to dwell in heaven while still continuing to pay attention to the living.

Those who knew him

All of those who knew Ren
é Schwob retained a vivid remembrance of him. Father Brunot, S.C.J., a Priest of the Sacred Heart
of Betharram, never forgot him: "His soul was as delicate as his body: His face was meek and full of transparency ... The day that the desire for grace established itself as master in his life, his gaze seemed entirely bathed in the miraculous light of the Host."

In 1934 and again in 1935, during two of Schwob's sojourns in Palestine, Father
Brunot had met him and nicknamed him, strangely enough, "the Wise Man of the Host." By then, Ren
é Schwob had long since been centering his entire spiritual life around the Eucharist, saying that he had never felt a temptation against the faith that was not immediately dispelled when he gazed upon the Host. During this period, just seeing the Host sufficed to make him burst into tears. Father Brunot said, "I found him weeping many times in the Reparation Chapel in Jerusalem, where the Host was perpetually exposed."
Having witnessed his Communion on Easter Monday of 1934 in the ruins of the Basilica of Emmaus, he relates it as follows: "Father Paul Couvreur, Abbot of the Trappist monastery at Emmaus, was celebrating Mass. Ren
é Schwob was the only one who went up for Communion. Very sensitive to the cold, he was wrapped in a huge blanket, beneath which he was virtually invisible. When the priest turned to him with the Host, he burst into tears; it was a good while before he could receive Communion."
Moreover, he never took part in any religious office without experiencing deep emotion. The Mass overwhelmed him, and it was again in tears that he received Communion in the grotto of the Nativity on Christmas night. Often he would wake up at night and weep at the thought of souls, his past life, the Passion of Christ.

During his first journey to the Holy Land with Mr. Massignon, Father Devigneau (Superior of the Latin Seminary at Beit Jala), took him to the Manger in Bethlehem. Schwob was not especially interested in the archeological details his companion gave him, but when Father Gillet said to him, indicating the silver star in the marble floor, "That is the spot," he could not hold back his tears and remained lost in silent contemplation for a long time.
All the testimonies concur in this respect: Ren
é Schwob had the gift of tears. When Father Denis Buzy; S.C.J., went to visit him in the Hospice of the Beatitudes near the Sea of Galilee, Mother Superior, an Italian, received him with these words: "You've come to see the Frenchman? Oh, if you only knew his comportment in the oratory before of the Blessed Sacrament! Piange, piange: He cries, he weeps! The very sight of him makes a deeper impression on me than a retreat."
One day he told Father Buzy of his wish to hear Saint John's discourse on the Eucharist read to him in the ruins of ancient Capharnaum. During the reading his eyes filled with tears, and the priest himself was so moved that he had to interrupt it.
"Tell me, Mr. Schwob," he asked, "when you received Communion without having the faith, what did you find so delicious in that Bread that made you so famished and incapable of going without it?"
The priest expected the revelation of a secret. But in reply, Schwob, his eyes bathed in tears, could only take him in his arms and embrace him.
He made astonishing remarks, real flashes of light. As he attended the veneration of the Martyrs' relics in the Roman Catacombs, he remained silent, gazing long and hard at the line-up of the faithful. When he came out he said, designating the underground entrance, "The Church is too happy; It is made to dwell down there."

Desire for the priesthood

As early as 1933 and 1934, Ren
é Schwob had the desire to become a priest. He entrusted the assessment of his vocation to a Dominican Father, who was very hesitant about encouraging him on this path. He himself began to think that he would not be able to withstand the discipline of the clerical state.

In those days he divided his time among journeys, pilgrimages and periodic pauses at his house in Vence or at a convent in Passe-Prest. During a retreat at Lourdes
and Betharram, he finally decided to make an "honest attempt" at the religious life. If his frail health could withstand the seminary regulations, it would be the sign from God that he was on the right road.

The superior of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart of Betharram related that one day he arrived, cheerful as usual but more intense. "I have always been nothing but an egocentric man," he told him, "I have never looked at men and the world except with respect to myself. I have never even contemplated religion except from that standpoint. Look at my books, Moi Juif and La capitale de la priè
re, even my last work on Palestine. It is me, always me! I'm sick and tired of me! I have a horror of myself, so I will make a complete change. I will get a facelift. I will take up the Mystères. There, at least, I will have to disregard myself; I won't be able either to seek or to find myself."

Thus, by disclaiming, as it were, his previous works, Ren
é Schwob rose to a new level of detachment. Slowly; he would rise to even higher ones, his entire will straining with the effort.
When the German Army occupied the free zone and arrived in Vence, he feared for his safety. He asked some friends to give him refuge, but met with several disappointments. Finally, the sanitorium for the clergy in Thorenc received him among its sick priests. He put on a cassock and became known to everyone as "Father Sorbier." That is when he expressed his desire for the priesthood to Monsignor Paul R
émond, who had been interested in his vocation for many years.

Monsignor R
émond provides precious testimony concerning this period in his life, at a time when all of Schwob's friends did not even know where he had taken refuge:

"In the sanitorium, he obliged himself to lead the life of a seminarian with admirable discipline and punctuality, studying philosophy and theology under the direction of some fellow patients who were professors in their diocesan seminaries. His vocation gained in strength every day; Only his poor health prevented him from receiving Holy Orders. Several times, upon his request, we scheduled his ordination, but we always had to postpone it because of health complications. Never
theless, he had donned the cassock and wore it with great pride and dignity."

At the moment of the Liberation, Ren
é Schwob told a friend how happy he was to be on the way to the priesthood; but illness, his faithful companion, still lay in wait for him. In June 1945 he entered the Augustinian Sisters' clinic in Nice. Two months later he was received in St. Anne's hospital in Toulon, where he underwent several operations. At the end of December he wrote:

I am just coming out of seven months of hospitalization, enormously enriched by those long days of forced impoverishment in which I learned more about the truth and immediacy of the Gospel teachings than I ever had in books. I would not want to have missed experiencing this long, hard and salutary trial. What an initiation to the priesthood! And how thankful I should be for having been led to it in spite of myself, in the total silence of my consistently blind and ignorant will. After this, one puts everything in its proper place, especially literature.

At the beginning of January 1946, Schwob was back in Vence [1], where he contracted the illness that was to take him to a premature death. Having spent all morning in prayer in a church, he caught a chill, contracted a pulmonary congestion and took to his bed in his unheated house. His condition worsened rapidly: Realizing that he was at death's door, serenely and simply he offered his life to God.

On January 24 Monsignor R
émond gave him the tonsure, the first symbolic step towards the priesthood. The next day, the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, his courage and resignation edifying the few friends who had come to his bedside, he died a holy death. Shortly before, he had said, "God is burning within me, and I long for death."

Several years after hearing his call, Ren
é Schwob had written:
I tremble as I think of those words which I have always believed Jesus said to me in September 1914 in Artois: "You will be saved if you love Me." At the time, I did not know either the meaning of God or what the love of Christ might be. And behold, this love has saved me with an incomparable grace. And when I recall the simplicity with which my salvation was worked out---by the respectful though unbelieving reception of daily Communion, until the day the Host at last became my indispensable food, and with God living in my mouth and in my heart---the ways of God seem even more hidden, even more unfathomable.

Now every word of the Our Father echoes within me, no longer in a pantheistic and truly atheistic way, for that sort of theism is atheistic, nor in the way I said it on my hospital bed, but in the Catholic manner. Now everyone of these words is the expression of my deepest desires, the only wishes I am able to entertain from now on.

The example of Ren
é Schwob is the kind we need in our troubled times. It is by the Eucharist, the power of the Host, that Christ Jesus intends to renew and save the Church and poor humanity. As for us, who have the joy of believing in His Holy Presence in the tabernacle where He intercedes for us night and day, let us beseech Him to inflame us with His love, and in His mercy to reveal Himself to all our brothers and sisters on earth.


SOURCES: Maurice Carit
é, Convertis du XXe siècle (Casterman: Paris, 1958), Vol. IV; pp. 39-54; L'Eucharistie (Bonne Presse: Paris), No. 112, May 16-June 16, 1930, pp. 269-272; Jean Roussel, in Ecclesia, Lectures chrétiennes, No. 23, February 1951, pp. 57-63; Dominique Auvergne, Regards Catholiques sur le monde (Desclée de Brouwer: Paris, 1938), pp. 47-53.

Vence is town and commune set in the hills of the Alpes Maritimes département, between Nice and Antibes.