Saint of the Day – 15 February – St Claude de la Colombiere S.J. (1641-1682) – Religious, priest, confessor, missionary, writer, spiritual director “Disciple of the Sacred Heart” – Patron of toy-makers, turners and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
All our life is sown with tiny thorns that produce in our hearts a thousand involuntary movements of hatred, envy, fear, impatience, a thousand little fleeting disappointments, a thousand slight worries, a thousand disturbances that momentarily alter our peace of soul. For example, a word escapes that should not have been spoken. Or someone utters another that offends us. A child inconveniences you. A bore stops you. You don’t like the weather. Your work is not going according to plan. A piece of furniture is broken. A dress is torn. I know that these are not occasions for practicing very heroic virtue. But they would definitely be enough to acquire it if we really wished to.
—Claude la Colombiére
St. Claude la Colombiére was one of the most effective preachers of the 17th century. Against this heretical view that humans could not obey God without the intervention of overpowering grace, he celebrated our freedom to choose submission. Calmly accepting even the tiniest vexations, as he argued above, could be chances to surrender to God.
At 17, Claude said, he overcame a temporary revulsion against religious life and joined the Jesuits at Avignon. His earliest assignments included teaching boys grammar and tutoring the sons of J. B. Colbert, finance minister to King Louis XIV. When he turned 33, Claude made his profession as a Jesuit. Reflecting on the significance of Christ’s 33rd year, he decided he must die more completely to himself. Thus he made a promise to follow exactly the Jesuit rule and to obey his superiors without question. “It seems right, dear Lord,” he wrote, “that I should live in you and for you alone, at the age when you died for all and for me in particular.”
The next year he was made head of the Jesuit college at Paray-le-Monial, where he met St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. As her spiritual director, (and she received confirmation in her heart that he was the one the Lord had sent her) he assured her of the authenticity of her revelations about the Sacred Heart. His writings provided a sound theological basis for the devotion and his preaching helped spread it.
“The love of Our Lord’s Heart was in no way diminished by the treason of Judas, the flight of the apostles, and the persecution of his enemies. Jesus was only grieved at the harm they did themselves; His sufferings helped to assuage His grief because He saw in tham a remedy for the sins committed by His enemies. The Sacred Heart was full of most tender love; there was no bitterness in it; no cruelty and injustice that He received moved it to feelings other than those of compassion and affection.”
In 1676, because of his reputation for holiness and oratory, Claude was sent to London as preacher to Mary Beatrice d’Este, duchess of York. He became well-known not only for his finely-tuned sermons but also for encouraging persecuted Catholics, restoring lapsed Catholics and converting Protestants. Saint Claude continued his good work in England until 1678 when he, along with many priests and religious, were accused of involvement in a “Papist Plot” to assassinate and wrest power from King Charles II. Saint Claude was thrown into prison, where he languished in horrible conditions, until the intervention of the Duchess of York and King Louis XIV. He was released and returned to France but his imprisonment had taken a serious toll on his health. He rapidly deteriorated and died on the first Sunday of Lent in 1682. He is considered a “dry martyr,” having long-suffered for the Lord.
When the news reached the Visitation monastery on the following morning, Saint Margaret Mary immediately urged her community: “Pray for him and get everyone else to pray for him.” However, at sometime around eleven that morning, she stopped praying, smiling and declared: “Stop worrying about him. Invoke him; have no fear, he is more powerful than ever to help you.” The prioress of the order, Mother M. Greyfie, gently inquired as to why she had felt the urge to stop praying. Generally, Margaret Mary would ask for prayers or mortifications when someone died. Saint Margaret Mary replied with an expression of great joy: “Father La Colombière has no further need of them. He is now in a position to pray for us, so well placed is he in heaven by the goodness and mercy of the Sacred Heart of Our Lord.”
Devotion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus only grew. Saint Margaret Mary continued to seek the intercession of Saint Claude for the next eight years, until she died, praying, “O Blessed Father Claude la Colombiere, I take you for my intercessor before the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ. Obtain for me from His goodness the grace not to resist the designs He has on my soul and to make me a more perfect imitator of the virtues of His Divine Heart.”