Today, 19 Aug 2012, is the feast day of St John Eudes ( a.k.a. St Jean Eudes), a 17th century French priest, preacher and founder of two religious Orders : the Congregation of Jesus and Mary (a.k.a. Eudists) and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity. Because he let his heart be formed in the furnace of the Sacred Heart of Jesus he preached with extraordinary efficacy and led many souls back to God. When ever he preached the confessors of the area were besieged with penitents.
While I had always had a soft spot for St John Eudes because of his great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, fifteen years ago his holy life was most emphatically placed before our notice by God. Fifteen years ago a battle royal was going on, would our son be born on the feast day of St John Eudes or on the feast day of St Bernard of Clairvaux? At 11.10pm on 19 August 1997 the battle was decided, but it was a very close thing. So it is with special relish that I learn a bit more about St John Eudes today.
St John Eudes spread the good news of God’s love in as many ways as possible. He preached. He taught others to preach. He conducted parish missions. He wrote books, catechisms, prayer manuals, devotional material and the liturgical prayers for several feast days. Together with that, he responded to the needs of his time, setting up seminaries and places of refuge for penitent women of ill repute, no matter how difficult those tasks were.
St John Eudes was born in late 1601 in the little village of Ri, near Argentan, Normandy France into a rural farming family. Joy filled his parent’s hearts when his mother discovered that she was pregnant, because they had been praying for three years for a child. Soon after this happy news, they travelled some 50 kms away to a shrine of Our Lay to give thanks, and to dedicate this as-yet-unborn little one to her. Happily the good Lord granted the family six more children. In the region where John grew up, he saw for himself the outcome of inadequate catechesis : lives lived with minimal reference to the sacraments. For himself, when of age, John began receiving Holy Communion as frequently as possible – which in those days was once a month after a good confession.
Because of his desire for the priesthood, and gifts of intelligence, John at age 14 was sent to the Jesuit college at Caen, some 50 kms away to study. Around this time he made a vow of chastity and consecrated his life to Our Lady. After pondering for some time how to serve God as a priest, as a diocesan priest, Jesuit or religious, John became very impressed with the Oratory of Jesus in Paris, begun by Pierre de Berulle and modelled on the Oratory of St Philip Neri. In 1622 a house of these Oratorians opened up in Caen, and in 1623 John joined them, being ordained to the priesthood just before Christmas in 1625.
Strangely, almost as soon as John was ordained he fell seriously ill and was unable to work as an active priest. What he did do was use this time of illness to further his studies and to deepen his prayer life. Just as he was recovered, news came that near his home village a plague had taken hold. Volunteering to help them, John went off to care for the sick and to bring them the comfort of the sacraments. Returning to Caen he entered fully into the life of the Oratory before plague struck Caen itself. While some isolated themselves, John again volunteered to assist the victims, putting up with having to live in a large oak wine cask in a field so as not to bring infection to his brother Oratorians.
When the plague ended, John began his ministry of parish missions. Not for him any one or two week mission. He knew that at least six to eight weeks were needed to effect any lasting change, particularly with the high levels of religious ignorance in the places he preached. For him, ‘Preachers beat the bushes. Confessors catch the birds.’, so the real work of the mission was not complete until the people came to the confessional and experienced the mercy of God and started afresh with Christ in their lives.
The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity were founded first, unofficially, in 1641, and officially in 1657. Since often the religious ignorance of the clergy was as bad as that of the laity, John saw the need for the reforms of the Council of Trent which greatly encouraged the founding of seminaries for diocesan priests. It was this need which prompted his leaving the Oratorians in order to found the Congregation of Jesus and Mary for the purpose of developing and running seminaries. This was a move which attracted a lot of criticism but which achieved profound and long-term good.
Wherever John went he promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary and to the extraordinary union between these two Hearts. Because he preached from a heart in close conformity to that of Jesus’, large crowds came to hear him preach and to be converted.
After a long and fruitful life for souls, St John Eudes passed to his eternal reward on 19 August 1680 at Caen, Normandy. In 1925 Pope Pius XI canonised him.
An excellent source for finding out more about St John Eudes’ writings is at http://www.liberius.net/livres/The_spiritual_teaching_of_saint_John_Eudes_000000430.pdf
St John Eudes, pray for us.