By CAROLE BRESLIN
The devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, paired with the Immaculate Heart of Mary, has become one of the most popular devotions for Catholics. Although the Sacred Heart had been part of the tradition of the Church for centuries, it never was promoted to the extent it is today until a young nun was urged by Christ Himself to do so.
The instructions she received brought her great turmoil until our Lord promised to send her a priest who would be her guide in response to His requests. This priest was a humble Jesuit, St. Claude de la Colombière.
Another saint in the long line of French saints, Claude was born in Saint-Symphorien d’Ozon in 1641 near the Alps. His father, Bertrand de la Colombière, and his mother, Margaret Coindat, were comfortably well off and pious. Perhaps they had made their expectations known that he would become a priest one day. With that in mind, he was sent off to the Jesuit college in nearby Lyon.
At this time he admitted to having a strong aversion to the religious life. However, he finally overcame his personal aversions and entered the Society of Jesus. To begin his journey as a Jesuit he was sent to Avignon for his novitiate. After two years of basic formation he then entered the college to study philosophy.
When he reached the age of 20, the Jesuits sent him to teach humanities and grammar for five years. The years he was there, 1661 to 1666, witnessed some turmoil. The area at that time was a papal state. With some altercations between the papal guard in Rome and the French ambassador, the troops of Louis XIV occupied Avignon. Furthermore, Calvinism was making inroads into the faith community which motivated the Jesuits to push even harder to serve the Catholics of the area and convert those who had fallen away.
By the time St. Francis de Sales was canonized in 1665, peace had returned to Avignon. Until that canonization, young Colombière was not particularly well known. However, after he was selected to give a panegyric on the saint, his remarkable gifts of presentation became known. The subject of his sermon was “Out of Strength Comes Sweetness.”
His superiors decided to send the not-yet-ordained man to Paris to finish his studies in theology. While there, immersed in the center of academia at the College de Clermont, he had the honor of tutoring the two sons of Jean Baptiste Colbert, the minister of the royal finances. This did not last long, however, as Colbert was no friend of the Jesuits and soon became offended by a note written by Colombière in satire.
By 1670, St. Claude took his final orders and became a priest. It must be noted that this was not the time when he took his final vows as a Jesuit. This event came some years later after he returned to Lyon and became a student of the preaching team of the Jesuits.
In 1673 he moved to the college church in Avignon where he was appointed to be a preacher. He labored diligently over his talks. They became and still are today a superior example of well-ordered, eloquent, doctrinal preaching.
He had then been in the Society of Jesus for 15 years. He then entered the final phase of his formation, the tertianship. During this period he performed the full Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. If anyone has done the 30-day retreat either as a religious or as a lay person (the lay 30-day retreat is commonly done in the home with frequent contact with a spiritual director), he knows the deep and lasting impact these retreats have on the spiritual life of the retreatant.
This was especially true of St. Claude de la Colombière. As a result he vowed to follow with great exactitude every rule of the Jesuit community — no small task. His peers remarked on his strict adherence to the constitution of the society.
Around this time he traveled to England and gave many talks which were so well received that the Duchess of York, the future queen, received him for his sermons. She even attached her name to them when they were published.
He also confronted the great error of his time, the heresy of the Jansenists. At the end of 1674, Colombière made his final profession. He consecrated himself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which no doubt brought him many graces and the providential foundation upon which he would lead St. Margaret Mary Alacoque who received revelations from the same Sacred Heart.
When he was appointed to be the superior of the college in 1675 at Paray-le-Monial, he soon met Margaret Mary. She pleaded with the Lord to send her a priest who would understand His instructions. Meeting and speaking with St. Claude, she recognized the man as having been sent by God.
Soon he became her personal spiritual director and they found great joy: she in finally being able to reveal all to him who seemed to understand all that was good and bad in her; he in being the instrument of the Sacred Heart through whom God would console her and open up the teachings of the Sacred Heart to the world. Colombière recognized that the devotion to the Sacred Heart was the best antidote to Jansenism.
Not long Colombière arrived at Paray, King Louis XIV’s confessor recommended that he be sent to London to preach. This trip brought on great trials for the faithful Jesuit to the point that his health broke down. He had been accused of converting Protestants and reconverting lapsed Catholics. Except for the intercession of the French king, he would have won the martyr’s glory. Instead, the English allowed him to return to his native land in 1679.
Unfortunately, the recovery of health that the Jesuits had hoped for never occurred. Finally, Colombière went to Paray for a visit, where, at the urgings of St. Margaret Mary, he stayed until his death on February 15, 1682 at the age of 41. The next morning St. Margaret Mary received assurance — supernaturally — that Claude’s soul was in Heaven.
His feast day is February 15.
O Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, through the intercession of St. Claude de la Colombière, may we develop a strong devotion to you and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. O Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, make our hearts like unto thine. O Jesus meek and humble of heart, have mercy on us. Amen.
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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)