You Will Be Saved If
You Love Me
THE SPIRITUAL ITINERARY
OF RENÉ SCHWOB: A POWERFUL TESTIMONY OF THE
OF THE SACRAMENTS, ESPECIALLY THE HOLY EUCHARIST, TO LEAD SOULS
UNTO THE VERY SUMMIT OF DIVINE LOVE
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, however, 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
Around 1912, although it does not seem to have had any influence
on him, for the first time René 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 René,
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. René 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
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
One day when he went to Mass, he could see nothing there but
an empty performance.
As we can see, René 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
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
Jew), Vrai drame d'André
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
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
But would he really have the time? First he would have to recover.
Before René had left Shanghai, the Mother Superior of the
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
The story of his Baptism seemed "incredible"
to him. He did not believe
"spontaneously" in Christ, in
the Redemption or the immortality of the
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
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
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:
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
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
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
He made daily Communion a rule: without it, he could do nothing. "At this moment, I need the Host like I
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Mary, he admitted, "I did not see why
people had so much confidence in
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
"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 ascension
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 René 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, René Schwob had long since been
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. René 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
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
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: René 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
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, René 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
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 prière,
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, René 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 Rémond,
who had been interested in his vocation for many years.
Monsignor Rémond 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
he had donned the cassock and wore
it with great pride and dignity."
At the moment of the Liberation, René 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 ,
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 Rémond gave him the tonsure, the
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, René 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
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 René Schwob is the kind we need in our
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.
O.D.M. COMPOSITION AND CHOICE
SOURCES: Maurice Carité, Convertis du XXe
Paris, 1958), Vol. IV; pp. 39-54; L'Eucharistie
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.
1. Vence is town and commune set in
the hills of the Alpes Maritimes département, between Nice and Antibes.