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Saint Claude de La Colombre:
"The Perfect Friend of the Heart of Jesus"


During a period of her life in which she was discredited and distressed, Saint Margaret Mary received this promise from Jesus: "I will send you My faithful servant and perfect friend." What an eloquent Divine testimony in favor of Father Claude de La Colombière, the Jesuit priest who became the confidant of Saint Margaret Mary and the first person to spread the message of Paray-le-Monial. His story is inseparable from that of the holy Visitation nun. Saint Margaret Mary was the one who received the requests of the Heart of Jesus; but it is because Claude de La Colombière helped her understood the value of the Message, and submitted entirely to the will of God at the cost of immense sacrifices, that the devotion to the Heart of Jesus was able to develop for the greater good of Christendom.

ON February 2, 1675, in Lyons, France, following. a thirty-day retreat, Claude de La Colombière made his solemn vows. It was his thirty-fourth birthday. He did not know that he had only seven years to live when obedience sent him to Paray-le-Monial, where he was to be the rector of a small college, superior of the Jesuit community and extraordinary confessor of the Visitation nuns, where he would meet Saint Margaret Mary. She had been a nun for only four years, and Jesus had already manifested Himself to her several times in extraordinary fashion. Much indeed could be said about the meeting and the spiritual journeys of these two Saints. In this article, however, we desire above all to acquaint our readers with the soul of Father de La Colombière by means of his Letters, his Spiritual Diary, his Retreat Notes and his Sermons.

Conformity with the Sentiments of the Heart of Jesus

Father de La Colombière was influenced by the spiritual current of the French school. He had a perfect knowledge of the work of Saint Francis de Sales which had familiarized him, so to speak, with the Heart of Jesus. Meditating on the Passion and on "the patience of the suffering Jesus," he finds in the Divine Heart the perfect school for souls.

May the Heart of Jesus Christ be our school! Let us make our abode there . . . Let us study its movements and attempt to conform ours to them. Yes, O Divine Jesus, I want to live there and pour all my gall into Your Heart, which will rapidly consume it. I am not afraid that impatience will come to attack me in that retreat. There I will practice silence, resignation to Your Divine will, and invincible constancy. There I will go daily to pray to You and thank You for my crosses, and to ask Your forgiveness for those who persecute me. [Saint Claude de La Colombière suffered numerous and painful contradictions in his efforts to obtain what the Heart of Jesus desired: propagation of the devotion and the establishment of a special feast.] There I will labor once and for all at acquiring patience. I realize that this is not a short task, but it suffices for me to know that I can attain it by working at it. I ask for Your prayers, O sweet Jesus; You offered them for Your enemies, so do not refuse them to me, for I hope to love You, and love even the cross and my enemies for love of You. [Meditations on the Passion (M.P.), 3]

During his ministry in England, on the eve of All Saints' Day in 1678, when a persecution against priests was looming, Father received a nighttime visitor, a Franciscan by the name of Father Wall.

"Father, I am a poor Friar Minor who comes seeking the strength and counsel of the Heart of Jesus from you; for everywhere in this country it is known that you are its apostle."

Father Claude replied, "No one can penetrate into the mysteries of that Heart without tasting the cup of bitterness that Jesus drank from so deeply at Gethsemane. Oh, if only I too could win the precious grace that your English priests are reaping in this 'land of crosses'!"

The two religious parted at dawn after celebrating Mass. The following year Father Wall was imprisoned and Martyred. Speaking of his conversation with Father de La Colombière, he had said:
I had previously heard about the famous Jesuit. When I was in his presence, I felt that I was speaking with Saint John the Evangelist who had come back to earth to rekindle Divine love with the fire of the Heart of Jesus. I felt that his attitude was totally the same as what the Apostle's must have been at the foot of the Cross, when the lance pierced his Master's side and revealed the tabernacle of His burning charity.

Father de La Colombière was indeed animated with the sentiments of Saint John, and he realized how necessary purity of heart is to unite oneself to God.

Should we be surprised if a cluttered soul cannot make room for Your love, which wants to reign alone? O Jesus, I am sure that when I offer it to You empty, You will not refuse to fill it up with Your love, come and abide there Yourself, make it an earthly paradise, and dispose it for the perfect charity with which it is to burn eternally with the Seraphim. [M.P. 2]

"Without Reserve"

The blue crest with three white doves of the de La Colombière family bore the motto "SANS RESERVE." Following the call that came to him from the Heart of God, Father de La Colombière decided to respond in a way that was "without reserve."
God has loved me too much for me to spare my efforts with Him from now on. The very thought of it repels me. What! I would not be all for God, after the mercy He has shown me? I would reserve something for myself, after all I have received from Him? Never will my heart consent to that course of action. [Retreats, 37: For the Retreats (R.) and the Spiritual Diary
(S.D.), the numbering corresponds to the "Ecrits spirituels" published by Father André Ravier, S.J., in the Christus collection (Desclée de Brouwer-Bellarmin, 1982.]

I can see that I absolutely must belong to Him, and I could never be able to accept any division. But we will have to see whether in practice I will have enough strength and constancy to uphold such a fine sentiment. I am very weak; it is impossible for me to do it by myself: I sense this truth. If I am faithful, O Lord, You will have all the glory for it. [R. 71]
He wrote to his sister, a Visitation nun:

I pray Our Lord to strengthen your heart and fill it so completely with His love that you will love Him only and desire to be loved by Him alone. [Letters, (L.) 2] Pray to God so that we may all love Jesus Christ above all things and that we may love Him only in all things. [L. 6]
Sanctity is beyond human strength, but those who pursue this goal with determination can always be certain of having the grace of God.

Once and for all, tell the world [which is the enemy of the spirit of God, as the Gospel makes clear,] that you scorn it and renounce it, and soon you will see that with Our Lord's grace, nothing is impossible for a soul that has a little love for God. [L. 121]

When his brother, Joseph de La Colombière, left on mission for Canada and seemed to have forgotten him, Father Claude wrote:

In his design to give himself all to God, I am delighted to be the first one he forgets. I pray Our Lord that He may give him the grace to forget everything, even himself. When someone has begun to savor God as he does, there remains little room for creatures in his heart. There remains little room even in his memory. Everything is occupied, for He is the One who fills everything completely. [L. 8]

This is a theme often found in the writings of Father de La Colombière. In his offering to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he writes:

  O Jesus, teach me perfect self-forgetfulness, since that is the only way by which anyone can enter into You.
-----There can be no peace except in perfect self-forgetfulness. We must reconcile ourselves to forgetting even our spiritual interests, in order to seek only God's pure glory. [R. 143] Sanctity is such an elevated and precious thing that we cannot purchase it too dearly. [R. 39]

This declaration by Father Claude is found both at the beginning and end of his Third Year Retreat. The offering without reserve is accomplished with time. The more progress a person makes, the longer he reckons the road still to be taken.

MOTIF  I have observed that one must take many steps to attain sanctity, and that with each step you take, you think you have advanced a great deal. And after having taken it, you see that it is nothing, you have not yet begun. A man who is going to leave the world regards that action as something after which there will be nothing left for him to do. But when he actually enters the religious life, with all his passions . . . and sees that he is a worldling outside of the world, he realizes that his efforts are far from over. Then another step to be made presents itself: to detach himself from objects from which he is not entirely detached by his state, withdrawing even his heart from the world, and having no love for any created thing. Withdrawing from the world is one thing, and becoming a religious is another. Once you have accomplished that, there is still another step to take: detach yourself from yourself, seek only God in God Himself . . . For that goal to be reached, O Lord, it is You who must labor exceedingly. [R. 17]
Father Claude de La Colombière considers himself to be far removed from his ideal; although he is very enlightened in his direction of other souls, he is somewhat grieved and wonders how he can reach his goal. He opens his soul to Saint Margaret Mary on this point:

I cannot attain the self-forgetfulness that will give me an entry into the Heart of Jesus Christ; consequently, I am far removed from it. I can see clearly that if God did not have pity on me, I will die very imperfect. It would be very sweet for me if I could at last, after so much time spent in the religious life, discover the way to acquire total self-forgetfulness. Ask our good Master for me that I may do nothing against His will, and that in everything else He may dispose of me according to His good pleasure. [L. 50]

One day he wrote to a Jesuit colleague:

The more knowledge I acquire, the more convinced I am that it is a great misfortune for us to amuse ourselves with anything that might please us here on earth, while we are able to use our time and our mind to sanctify ourselves by the practice of humility and total self-detachment.

Self-forgetfulness is very close to the spirit of childhood so dear to Saint Therese of Lisieux.

Remember only to sacrifice your self-will and personal judgment to your God in all simplicity, stifling all your own thoughts and [totally human] lights for His love, living like a little child who is unable to discern what is good for him . . . These words, which are in the Gospel, are for you: Unless you become like a little child, you will not enter into the kingdom of Heaven. [St. Matthew 18:3 (L. 97)]

We are attached to many things and are very often unaware of it.

As to the counsel you asked me for, I will tell you that since I have been sick, I have learned nothing else but that we hold to ourselves with many imperceptible little bonds; that if God did not set His hand to it, we would never break them, we would not even be aware of them; that it is up to Him alone to sanctify us; that it is no little thing to sincerely desire that God do everything that needs to be done for this purpose. For, personally, we have neither sufficient light, nor sufficient strength to do it. [L. 49]

MOTIFThe Necessity of Prayer

Father de La Colombière never composed a treatise on prayer, but his correspondence and retreats abound in exhortations to have intimate conversations with God.

Prayer is the only means of purifying ourselves, uniting ourselves to God and having God unite Himself to us in order to accomplish something for His glory. We must pray to obtain the apostolic virtues. We must pray to make them useful for our neighbor. We must pray not to lose them in our neighbor's service. The counsel, or rather the command, Pray always, [St. Luke 18:1]  seems extremely sweet and not at all impossible to me. It contains the practice of the presence of God. With Our Lord's help, I want to try to follow it. We always need God; so we must pray always. The more we pray, the more we please Him, the more we obtain. [R. 52]

Aridity and involuntary distractions often make prayer very mortifying, but then it is all the more pleasing to God.

What a great illusion
-----yet it is such a common one-----to imagine that we have little or great virtue according to our few or many distractions in prayer. I have known nuns who were elevated to a very high degree of contemplation and were often distracted in their prayer from start to finish . . . Even if you were ravished in ecstasy twenty-four times a day and I had twenty-four distractions while saying one Hail Mary, if I were as humble and mortified as you, I would not exchange my involuntary distractions for all your ecstasies devoid of merit. In a word, I do not know of any devotion in which there is no mortification. Do perpetual violence to yourself, especially interiorly, and never let your nature be the master or let your heart attach itself to anything, no matter what it may be.
 And I will canonize you, and I will not even ask you how goes your mental prayer. [L. 74]

You ask me the reason for the coldness you feel in your spiritual exercises. It is your too great desire to do them with sensible fervor. You must love God for Himself alone, with all your heart, and be ready to be content with His Cross as the only sign of His love. I know this disposition is difficult, but I implore you to aspire to it and make your efforts to attain it. [L. 142]

The Master: Meek and Humble of Heart

"Learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of Heart," [St. Matthew 11:29]  said Jesus in the Gospel. It is therefore by contemplating Him that we can learn true humility.

It is a great illusion to want all you hear about and all you see in books, as well as to burden yourself with so many devotional practices. Read very few books and make a great study of Jesus Christ crucified. [L. 100]

The humble soul is never satisfied with itself; it always seeks to do more for God.

I do not think there are any souls in the world with whom God is less happy than those who think they have reasons to be content with themselves. As soon as someone has begun to know how lovable God is, he must be very insensitive to prevent himself from loving Him very much. And when we love Him well, we never think we have done enough for Him. [L. 102]

The person who is humble of heart does not dwell on his neighbor's faults.

O my God, what a sad occupation it is to amuse ourselves examining the life of others! It would be better to be blind and simple-minded than to use your mind to consider and judge the actions of your neighbor. One whose heart is full of the love of God has many other occupations: he no longer thinks of anything but suffering for that which he loves, and he loves all those who give him an occasion to suffer for his Beloved. [L. 104]

Meditation on the betrayal of Judas alerted Father Claude to the dangers of human weakness and frailty.

It should inspire us with so much humility and fear! I could be an apostle today and a Judas tomorrow! Everything another man may have done, I can do. I would do still worse than all those whose lives and actions scandalize me, if You abandoned me for a single moment. Therefore do not forsake me, O my God! All my trust is in You. [M.P. 7]

The humble man does not seek the approval of mortals. He tries instead to please God, and to this end he applies himself to living in His presence.

To acquire scorn for the world, I believe the practice of the presence of God is very efficacious. Saint Basil says that a man who has a king and a servant for witnesses of his actions does not even think about the servant, but only about receiving the approval of the prince. It is a strange and very unfortunate servitude for a man to seek to please other men. When will I be able to say, The world is crucified to me, and I to the world? [St. Paul, Galatians 6:14]  I have fervently asked Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin to grant me this disposition. [R. 48]

Continued next page.


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