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Catholic Culture Podcasts

Homily of the Canonization Mass for Saint Claude La Colombiere

by Pope Saint John Paul II


True devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus can strengthen Christian communities against the onslaughts of unbelief, just as it did in 17th-century France. It can also counter the spreading of forms of meditation that "only mask a tragic spiritual emptiness," said Pope John Paul II at the canonization of St. Claude La Colombiere, S.J. La Colombiere, a 17th-century French Jesuit who was the spiritual adviser to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, and an apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was solemnly canonized on May 31, 1992, at a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. In his homily, the Pope noted that France during St. Claude's life had many of the characteristics of today. There was "high human culture" on one side, and "cruel conflict and human poverty" on the other. Also, "the clergy and religious orders were often decadent: As a result the people remained far from the light of faith, the benefits of the spiritual life and of ecclesial communion"

Publisher & Date

Vatican, May 31, 1992

1. "So that you love for me may live in them'' (Jn 17:26).

Christ prays in the Upper Room. He prays on the evening in which he instituted the Eucharist. He prays for the Apostles and for all those "who will believe through their word'' (Jn 17:20) down the generations and centuries. He is asking the Father that all "may be one'', as the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father: "That they may be one in us'' (Jn 17:21).

To be one: the unity of Divinity and the unity of communion of the Persons--the unity of the Father in the Son and of the Son with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Unity through Love.

Christ prays for love: "So that your love for me may live in them'' (Jn 17:26).

Christ reveals the secret of his Heart. Precisely this human Heart of God's Son is an ineffable sanctuary which contains all the treasures of love: it is a Heart "overflowing with goodness and love'' (Litany of the Sacred heart of Jesus).

2. The prayer offered by Christ in the Upper Room continues in the Church: from century to century, from generation to generation, it is a perennial "source of life and holiness'' (ibid.). But there are particular moments in history, specially chosen places and persons who almost discover and reveal anew this perennial and undying truth about love.

The man whom the Church today proclaims a saint--Blessed Claude La Colombiere--is certainly one of these persons.

An intense spiritual movement enlivened the Church in France

3. In France the 17th century has been called "the great century of souls''. It was a time of high human culture, of the development of the institutions of that prestigious European nation. But it was also a time of cruel conflict and human poverty. The clergy and religious orders were often decadent; as a result the people remained far from the light of faith, the benefits of the spiritual life and of ecclesial communion. However, after the Council of Trent, after founders such as Francis de Sales, Berulle and Vincent de Paul, an intense spiritual movement enlivened the Church in France. A great work of reform took place: the priestly ministry was renewed, notably through the establishment of seminaries; religious returned to the authenticity of their vocation, new foundations came into being; evangelization of the countryside took on new vitality through parish missions; a flowering of mysticism was joined to theological reflection.

In the middle of this century lived Claude La Colombiere, who entered the Society of Jesus at a young age. He exercised his mission in Paris and in several provinces; he had a notable influence because of his intellectual effort, and even more, because of the dynamism of the Christian life which he knew how to communicate.

4. A true companion of Saint Ignatius, Claude learned to master his strong sensitivity. He humbly maintained a sense of "his wretchedness'' so as to rely only on his hope in God and his trust in grace. He resolutely took the way of holiness. He adhered with all his being to the Constitutions and Rules of the Society, rejecting all tepidness. Fidelity and obedience were expressed, before God, by the "desire ... for trust, love, resignation and perfect sacrifice'' ( Retraite, n. 28).

Fr. Claude forged his spirituality in the school of the Exercises. We still have his impressive journal. He dedicated himself first of all to "meditating a great deal on the life of Jesus'' (Ibid., n. 33). Contemplating Christ allowed him to live in familiarity with him so as to belong to him totally: "I see that I absolutely must belong to him'' (ibid., n. 71). And if Claude dared to aim for this total fidelity, it was in virtue of his acute awareness of the power of grace which transformed him. He attained the perfect freedom of one who gives himself unreservedly to the will of God: "I have a free heart'', he said (ibid., n. 12): trials or sacrifices he accepted, "thinking that God only expects these things of us out of friendship'' (ibid., n. 38). His whole taste for friendship led him to respond to God's friendship with a loving zeal renewed each day.

Fr. La Colombiere was active in the apostolate with the conviction that he was the instrument of God's work: "To do much for God, one must belong entirely to him'' (ibid., n. 37). Prayer, he also said, is "the only way ... to have God united to us so that we may do something for his glory'' (ibid., n. 52). In the apostolate fruits and success come less from personal abilities than from fidelity to the divine will and openness to his action.

Saint Claude spread devotion to Sacred Heart

5. This pure-hearted and free religious was prepared to understand and to preach the message that the Heart of Jesus was entrusting to Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque at the same time. Paray-le-Monial, in our eyes, would be the most fruitful stage in Claude La Colombiere's very short journey. He came to this town, long rich for its tradition of religious life, to have a providential meeting with the humble Visitandine engaged in constant dialogue with her "divine Master'', who promised her "the delights of [his pure love.'' He found her to be a religious who ardently desired the "all-pure cross'' ( Memoire, n. 49) and who offered her penance and sorrows without hesitation.

Fr. La Colombiere, with highly reliable discernment, straightaway authenticated the mystical experience of this "beloved disciple [of the Sacred Heart'' (ibid., n. 54), with whom he had a beautiful spiritual kinship. He received from her the message which would have great repercussions: "Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it spared nothing to exhaust and consume itself in testimony of its love'' ( Retraites, n. 135). The Lord asked that a feast be established to honour his Heart and that a "reparation of honour'' be made to him in Eucharistic communion. Margaret Mary passed on to "the faithful servant and perfect friend'', whom she recognized in Fr. La Colombiere, the mission of "establishing this devotion and of giving this pleasure to my divine Heart'' (ibid.). Claude, in the years left to him, interiorized these "infinite riches''. His spiritual life then developed in the perspective of the "reparation'' and "infinite mercy'' so underscored at Paray. He gave himself completely to the Sacred Heart "ever burning with love''. Even in trials he practiced forgetfulness of self in order to attain purity of love and to raise the world to God. Sensing his own weakness, he gave himself over to the power of grace: "Accomplish your will in me, Lord.... It belongs to you to do everything, divine Heart of Jesus Christ'' (ibid., Offrande, n. 152).

6. The past three centuries allow us to evaluate the importance of the message which was entrusted to Claude La Colombiere. In a period of contrast between the fervor of some and the indifference or impiety of many, here is a devotion centred on the humanity of Christ, on his presence, on his love of mercy and on forgiveness. The call to "reparation'', characteristic of Paray-le-Monial, can be variously understood, but essentially it is a matter of sinners, which all human beings are, returning to the Lord, touched by his love, and offering a more intense fidelity in the future, a life aflame with charity. If there is solidarity in sin, there is also solidarity in salvation. The offering of each is made for the good of all. Following the example of Claude La Colombiere, the faithful understand that such a spiritual attitude can only be the action of Christ in them, shown through Eucharistic communion: to receive in their heart the Heart of Christ and to be united to the sacrifice which he alone can offer worthily to the Father.

Devotion to the Heart of Christ would be a source of balance and spiritual strengthening for Christian communities so often faced with increasing unbelief over the coming centuries: an impersonal conception of God will spread; individuals, moving away from a personal encounter with Christ and the sources of grace, will want to be the sole masters of their history and to become a law unto themselves, to the point of being ruthless in pursuing their own ambitions. The message of Paray, accessible to the humble as well as to the great of this world, answers such aberrations by clarifying the relationship of the human person with God and with the world of the light which comes from the heart of God: in conformity with the Church's Tradition, it turns his gaze towards the cross of the world's Redeemer, towards "him whom they have pierced'' (Jn 19:37).

May Saint Claude inspire Church to live consecration to Christ's Heart

7. We give thanks, again today, for the message entrusted to the saints of Paray, which has never ceased to extend its radiance. At the beginning of our century Pope Leo XIII hailed "in the Sacred Heart of Jesus a symbol and clear image of Jesus Christ's infinite love, a love which impels us to love one another'' (Encycl. Annum sacrum, 1900). Pius XI and Pius XII encouraged this devotion and saw in it a spiritual answer to the difficulties which the faith and the Church were facing.

Certainly, forms of expression and sensitivities develop, but the essential element remains. When one has discovered in Eucharist adoration and meditation the Heart of Jesus "ever burning with love for human beings'' ( Retraites, n. 150), how could one let oneself be seduced by forms of meditation which turn in on the self without welcoming the presence of the Lord? How could one be attracted by the proliferation of conceptions of the sacred which only mask a tragic spiritual emptiness?

For evangelization today the Heart of Christ must be recognized as the heart of the Church: it is he who calls us to conversion, to reconciliation. It is he who leads pure hearts and those hungering for justice along the way of the Beatitudes. It is he who achieves the warm communion of the members of the one Body. It is he who enables us to adhere to the Good News and to accept the promise of eternal life. It is he who sends us out on mission. The heart-to-heart with Jesus broadens the human heart on a global scale.

May the canonization of Claude La Colombiere be for the whole Church an appeal to live the consecration to the Heart of Christ, a consecration which is a self-giving that allows the charity of Christ to inspire us, pardon us and lead us in his ardent desire to open the ways of truth and life to all our brothers and sisters!

8. "Righteous Father, the world also does not know you but I know you, and they know that you sent me'' (Jn 17:25).

They: Claude La Colombiere--Margaret Mary Alacoque. The Church. During the Easter season the Church relives the theophanies of her Redeemer and Lord--the Good Shepherd who "lays down his life for the sheep'' (cf. Jn 10:15).

And the Church looks to heaven together with Stephen the deacon, the first martyr stoned to death in Jerusalem. the Church looks to heaven as Stephen did at the moment of his death as a martyr.

"Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.... Lord Jesus, receive my spirit'' (Acts 7:56-59).


John Paul II's Greetings to French Pilgrims

Dear friends,

Pilgrims of the dioceses of Autun, Chalon and Macon, who have accompanied your Bishop, Msgr. Raymond Seguy, I am happy to be able to briefly meet with you after the canonization of Claude La Colombiere. You have come to share in the entire Church's joy over the inclusion among the Saints of this son of your land, this great witness of the spiritual history of your country.

In welcoming you the precious memories of my pilgrimage to Paray-le-Monial return to mind. I am happy to greet among you the representatives a town with a long monastic and religious tradition, still alive and constantly renewed, with the particular lustre given it by the Visitation nun Saint Marguerite-Marie and the Jesuit Saint Claude.

In the seventeenth century the Lord chose your town to bring forth a new source of merciful and infinitely generous love on which generations of pilgrims would draw. The fecundity of grace attached to the cult of the Sacred Heart is especially manifest in the development of pilgrimages to Paray over the past few years. The diocese and the different communities present have helped bring many people to share in the wealth of the message entrusted to the Saints of your town.

I am happy to know that Paray nourishes the spirituality of many priests and religious and inspires the early formation of candidates to the priesthood. The sessions which bring together young people and families are a true motive of hope for the vitality of the Church in your country and of pilgrims from other nations. You also contribute greatly to sacred art so that our contemporaries can express the praise of God and celebrate the treasures of his love more eloquently.

I encourage all who are engaged in daily pastoral life and in the organization of pilgrimages and sessions: I have in mind most particularly the monastic communities, the priests of the diocese, the Jesuit Fathers, the Community of Emmanuel, the faithful of the city and of the Saone-et-Loire district, as well as all those who are united with them in this fervor. May Saint Claude La Colombiere and Saint Marguerite Marie sustain you with their intercession and obtain from the Lord that Paray-le-Monial radiate still more the spiritual hospitality he made of it.

In the joy of this feast-day I willingly call down on you God's blessing.

John Paul II's Address to Jesuits, The Apostleship of Prayer and Other Pilgrims

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. I am happy to welcome you to this special audience after yesterday's solemn celebration in which I had the joy of enrolling Blessed Claude la Colombiere in the list of saints. I address my affectionate greeting to all of you present, with a special thought for the Bishops accompanying you and for the priests of the Society of Jesus who have seen one of their confreres raised to the glory of the altars.

The decisive event which marked the life and spirituality of Saint Claude La Colombiere was certainly his meeting with Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque, which took place in the Visitation Monastery in Paray-le-Monial in February 1675. On the occasion of a meditation which he gave the community, an interior voice suggested to the woman religious to turn to him in confidence: "This is the one I am sending you.'' In face, from her first confession, Fr. Claude was aware of the authenticity of the mystical experience of the young Visitation Sister and Margaret Mary knew she was seeing the fulfillment of the vision of the flaming heart of Jesus with two other hearts which became lost in the divine heart: hers and that of the spiritual director who had been sent to her.

In her autobiography the great mystic then fully described the vision she had on 15 June 1675 in which Jesus, showing her his Heart, said to her: "Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it spared nothing to exhaust and consume itself in testimony of its love, and in place of gratitude receives ingratitude from the majority of them...''. For this reason Jesus himself asked that the first Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi be dedicated especially to honoring his Heart with participation in the Eucharist and with special prayers of reparation for the offenses committed against the Sacrament of Love.

Not knowing how to do everything that was expected of her, Sister Margaret Mary hesitantly asked Jesus for some direction; this is what she wrote in her autobiography: "He told me to turn to his servant whom he had sent me to fulfill this plan.'' Father Claude accepted the mission and thus became a fervent apostle of devotion to the Sacred Heart and of commitment to reparation.

2. As you know, Fr. Claude's stay in Paray-le-Monial was brief; however, he had perfectly understood that against the coldness of Jansenism and the religious indifference of many Christians, and even of consecrated persons, it was necessary to preach and help people feel deeply the true motive behind creation and redemption: Love! Consequently he continued to be the tireless herald of that message for the rest of his life.

Today, too, Saint Claude La Colombiere, that master of enlightened spirituality, teaches us that Jesus Christ alone leads to the true God, that love alone--which the Bible symbolizes as the Heart, the expression of Jesus' whole Person and mission--enables us to penetrate the mysteries of God, our Creator, Redeemer and Rewarder!

In fact, in the Heart of Jesus God shows that he wants to be understood in his absolute desire to love, forgive and save; in the Heart of Jesus God teaches that the Church, in her ministry and Magisterium, must always be loving and sensitive, never aggressive or oppressive, although she must always condemn evil and correct error; in the Heart of Jesus God has us understand that it is necessary to share in his work of salvation through the "apostolate of prayer'' and "commitment to reparation.''

Justly, therefore, the movement of the Apostleship of Prayer has these three ideals and goals: "the proclamation of and witness to the infinite treasures of the Heart of Jesus, who wants only to love his creatures and be loved; the constant sense of Jesus' true presence in the Eucharist, maintaining a deep, lively Eucharistic devotion through Mass, Communion, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; the commitment to reparation--including sacrifice and suffering, which Jesus himself expressed a desire for in his message to Margaret Mary. Thus Saint Claude La Colombiere once wrote to a person whom he was directing: "I do not recognize devotion unless there is mortification'' ( Letters, n. 74).

Conversion, salvation and the sanctification of souls is the true content of devotion to the Heart of Jesus and of the undying message of Saint Claude La Colombiere.

3. With pleasure I greet all the French speaking pilgrims present; I would especially like to address the Superiors and Fathers of the Society of Jesus. With you I give thanks for the canonization of your companion, Claude La Colombiere. You recognize in him a faithful son of Saint Ignatius, a model and intercessor for the Jesuits of today. His writings, which eloquently testify to his spiritual life, reveal his profound experience of the Exercises. He achieved an unlimited assent to the kingdom of God, he gave his consent to the person of Christ. The sorrow caused him due to sin was equal to nothing but his unshakable trust in the merciful forgiveness. In the image of the Son, he conformed his will to that of the Father, which he endlessly translated into prayer and preaching: "Just as I cannot live without you, make me never live but for you'' ( Sermon, 56). May the intercession of Saint Claude sustain you in your very diverse ministries on all continents, such as spiritual direction, preaching, education, theological research and instruction, the many forms of apostolate entrusted to you, and the mission ad gentes!

Naturally, the canonization of Claude La Colombiere leads me to emphasize the "munus suavissimum'' which he himself received from the Lord, to spread and preach the mystery of his Sacred Heart. It is the whole Society which continues to have this charge, as I myself had the joy of confirming for you at Paray-le-Monial, near the tomb of Saint Claude. There is a genuine kinship between Ignatian spirituality and that of the Sacred Heart. Do not cease to show your brothers and sisters that "near the Heart of Christ, the human heart learns to recognize the genuine, unique meaning of its life and destiny and to have a filial love for God and love of neighbor'' ( Letter to Fr. Kolvenbach, 5 October 1986).

4. I am pleased now to greet the Spanish-speaking pilgrims present for the solemn canonization of Claude La Colombiere, priest of the Society of Jesus. The Church wants to present him as an apostle of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This devotion was spread beginning with Father Colombiere's meeting with Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in Paray-le-Monial. In the Sacred Heart of Jesus is represented the infinite, merciful love which God poured out on the world through his divine Son. May the new saint help all of us to be apostles of this devotion and witness to Christ's love for mankind.

Commending you to his intercession, I impart to you and your families my Apostolic Blessing.

5. To the English-speaking pilgrims who have come for the canonization of Claude La Colombiere I extend a cordial welcome. I invite you to learn from the life and teaching of the new saint the value of personal and intense fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ, the supreme object and revelation of the Father's eternal Love. In the Heart of Jesus is revealed, in fact, all the richness of God's plan to lead man to full maturity and full happiness in the vision of his glory and in communion with the Blessed Trinity. Holiness, piety and apostolic commitment in the Church are all essentially related to the strength of our faith in the Redeemer and our imitation of his "compassion on the multitudes'' (cf. Mt 9:36): Entrusting you and your families to the intercession of Saint Claude La Colombiere, I invoke upon you the gifts of peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

I now affectionately impart my Apostolic Blessing to everyone.

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