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Home WHO WE ARE Virtual Library VIRTUAL LIBRARY Praying 15 Days with Emmanuel d’Alzon

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Praying 15 Days with Emmanuel D’Alzon
Founder of the Augustinians of the Assumption 

by Fr. Jean-Paul Perier-Muzet, A.A.
translated by Ghislain Dion and John Franck, A.A.

Assumption Publications Rome • Italy

Originally published by Nouvelle Cite, 2003

English publication rights for limited edition (1,000 copies) received from Nouvelle Cite (March 16, 2005)

English edition published by the Augustinians of the Assumption, Rome, 2009

Editorial assistance: Fr. John Franck, A.A., Fr. Aidan Furlong, A.A., Br. Paul Henry, A.A.

Front cover: Emmanuel d’Alzon

Back cover: the author, Jean-Paul Perier-Muzet, A.A.

Printed in the United States of America.

 

Contents

List of Abbreviations ………………………………………………...

1

Introduction: A Biographical Sketch .………………………………..

3

Chronology of the Life of Father Emmanuel d’Alzon ………………

8

1. The Loving Passion for Christ in His Kingdom …………………..

12

2. Giving Birth to Jesus Christ in Souls ……………………………..

16

3. Alive with the Strength of the Spirit ………………………………

20

4. At the School of Saint Augustine …………………………………

25

5. Before the Mirror of Apostolic Prayer ……………………………

30

6. Under Mary’s Cloak ………………………………………………

35

7. On the Road to Unity ……………………………………………...

40

8. The Ways of Faith, Joy, and the Cross ……………………………

45

9. The Cause of the Church, the Kingdom of God Prefigured ………

50

10. Bringing Christ to the Farthest Reaches of the Earth ……………

56

11. In Tune with Ones Time …………………………………………

61

12. The Coming Together of Hearts in God …………………………

66

13. Sharing the Life and Mission of the Assumption ………………..

71

14. Handing Over the Torch ………………………………………….

77

15. To God, Light of Truth, Source of Life, and Ocean of Love ……

82

Bibliography …………………………………………………………

87

 

 

List of Abbreviations

A.A.                   Augustinians of the Assumption (Assumptionists)

An. Al.               Anthologie Alzonienne, le P. Emmanuel d’Alzon par lui-même, 2003 (English edition, Dalzonian Anthology, Fr. Emmanuel d’Alzon: in His Own Words, Bayard, 2007)

A.S.                    Andre Seve, Ma vie, c’est le Christ: Emmanuel d’Alzon, Centurion 1980 (English edition: Christ Is My Life: The Spiritual Legacy of Emmanuel d’Alzon, New City Press, 1988)

B.P.                    Bonne Presse, today Bayard Press

CA                     Cahiers d’Alzon #1-21, edited by Fr. Herbland Bisson from 1954 to 1972

CD A.                Compact disk, texts of Fr. d’Alzon, Brussels, 2002

C.H.                   Historical colloquium, Emmanuel d’Alzon dans la société et l’Église du XIXe siècle, Centurion, 1982

Const.                Constitutions of the Augustinians of the Assumption, 1855-1865, edited in Rome, 1966 (English edition of “First Constitutions” in Foundational Documents, Emmanuel d’Alzon, Milton, Massachusetts)

E.A.                    L’Esprit de l’Assomption d’après Emmanuel d’Alzon, Rome, 1993 (English edition, The Assumptionist Spirit according to Emmanuel d’Alzon, Rome 1993)

Letters                Editions of the letters of Emmanuel d’Alzon

A.B.C                 (1822 - 1850) by Fr. Siméon Vailhé, in French, Bonne Presse, Paris 1923 - 1926, Numbering 1 to 728

Letters                Editions of the Letters of Fr. d’Alzon (1832-1880), Rome,

I – XV                in French, by Fathers Pierre Touveneraud (I - II, 1978), Désiré Deraedt (III - XIII, 1991 - 1996), Jean-Paul Périer-Muzet (XIV - XV, 2002 - 2003), Numbering 1 to 7074

E.S.                    Écrits spirituels, Emmanuel d’Alzon, edited by Fr. Athanase Sage, Rome 1956 (English edition, The Essential d’Alzon, about to be published)

L.G.                    Les assomptionnistes d’bier à aujourd’bui, Fr. Lucien Guissard, Bayard Éditions, 1999 (English edition, The Assumptionists: From Past to Present, Bayard, 2000)

MS                     Un maître spiritual: le Père d’Alzon, Fr. Athanase Sage, Rome, 1958

O.A.                   Oblates of the Assumption

Ora                     Orantes of the Assumption

P.S.A.                 Petites Soeurs de l’Assomption (Little Sisters of the Assumption)

R.A.                   Religious (Sisters) of the Assumption

R. L.                   Rule of Life of the Congregation of the Augustinians of the Assumption, Rome, 1984

T.D.                    Textes déposés du P. d’Alzon (Corpus Causae); texts submitted for the cause of beatification of Emmanuel d’Alzon

 

Introduction

A Biographical Sketch

Who am I? Who do I want to be? How will I become the person I want to be? It is true I have had a life plan for quite a long time. I know, or I believe I vaguely know, what I want to do, but I have never explored the depths of my own being, and I have never figured out exactly the means I would use to reach my goal Today, that’s what I really want to do. I want to know clearly who I am, who I want to be, and by which means I will become who I want to be (E.S. 736, February 19, 1831).

This search, begun by a young 21-year-old, would run through his whole life. Emmanuel d’Alzon (1810-1880) was a son of the Cévennes Mountains, and he spent virtually his entire life in the city of Nîmes, the “Rome of Southern France,” as it has been described in the 19th century. “Méridional” (southerner) by origin, attitude, and mentality: such is the geographical and psychological description of this man who in 1832 tied his destiny to the life of the Church, who became the Vicar General of his diocese, serving in that capacity for 40 years, and who founded two religious families, the Augustinians of the Assumption (A.A.) in 1845 and the Oblates of the Assumption (O.A.) in 1865, after contributing significantly to the development of the Religious of the Assumption (R.A.).

From his family ties in the Cevennes and Languedoc, Emmanuel retained several traits of the “Blanc du Midi” (the brilliant, piercing light of the Mediterranean basin). He had the same sharp, and even impetuous, spirit. He was true to the ideas, persons, and causes he embraced, and he described himself as having a straightforward temperament, a man who was, first and foremost, Catholic, that is, in his day, an Ultramontane, quick to engage in apostolic action and generous in his commitments. One only needs to browse through his voluminous correspondence, the more than 8,000 letters that have been preserved and edited out of the 40,000 that he is presumed to have written, to notice the fiery wit of a man of faith who was prone to action. With his wholesome frankness, he warned Mother Marie-Eugenie de Jesus, the founder of the R.A.’s: I sometimes fear that our southern ways may scare your German, or should I say Teutonic, mind (Letters B 436). A few years later, with more maturity and experience, he dropped the writer’s caution when he wrote to Fr. Picard, in the midst of the open crisis in France over the Papal States and the imperial policy: I fail to see the value of our small congregation if it does not commit itself to the Church’s cause (Letters III 1700). One quickly grasps that Fr. d’Alzon was a man of energy, passion and principle, uncompromising when he was dealing with something he deemed essential, often rushing toward his goals, but also remarkably persevering, even if he has sometimes been described as foolish, superficial, thoughtless, and inconsistent (Letters B 383).

But this purebred son of Southern France, who was more frequently in Rome than in Paris, also escapes categorizations and easy stereotypes. Politically, for example, he was for his entire life a steadfast and unrelenting anti-liberal (“liberal” referred to those who were known as “freethinkers” in his time), but he did not buck those developments that seemed inevitable to him and his time. Thus, after the Revolution of 1848 which ushered in the Second Republic, he became a kind of latter-day Republican, and his monarchist convictions did not prevent him from taking some interest in the newly emerging democracy at the end of the 1860s. An aristocrat by birth who inherited a sizeable fortune from his family after 1860, he did not foster relations with the most powerful class, the bourgeoisie, and had little time for its interests. He knew how to talk to common people, and he wanted to put his congregations at their service, as can be seen in his concluding address at the general chapter of 1868 (E.S. pp. 143-144). After demonstrating interest in the education of the upper classes, he gave free rein to other initiatives for the masses: Fr. Halluin’s orphanage in Arras (1868), the alumnates (high school seminaries) giving the poor access to priestly ordination (1870), the pilgrimages of the masses, starting in 1872, and the creation, with the help of Fathers Vincent de Paul Bailly and Francois Picard, of a popular press (Bonne Presse) with low cost publications (1873) in order to moralize, teach, and educate the people whom the anticlerical Republican Forces sought to free from the Church’s influence.

What a stunning journey this is, of a young rich man accustomed to life in the princely manor of Lavagnac, in Herault, and to the living rooms of the upper classes, who would die in poverty and destitution, clad in the humble habit of a religious apostolic monk, on November 21, 1880, in Nîmes, in his college under siege by the police. Such is the authentic journey of someone who was true to the Gospel and the exact opposite of the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-22. He was able to free himself of the typical destiny reserved for those of his birth and to Pill his life, rather, with a boldness, generosity and selflessness directed to more universal spheres and issues, responding to his Pauline motto: Christ is my life, or to this appeal addressed to his religious in the Directory: I cannot love Jesus Christ without wishing all creatures to love Him and this is why my life should be that of an apostle (II, 22).

Emmanuel d’Alzon gave his whole life to the Church. He was fond of recalling his triple incorporation into the Church or his three spiritual births, as he referred to them: his baptism in St. Peters Church in Le Vigan (September 2, 1810), which he commemorated each year as his true birthday, his ordination as a priest in Rome (December 26, 1834) after a period of intense suffering resulting from his friendship with Lamennais, and his choice of religious life on Christmas day, 1845, a reappearance of the star in the passage of time. Baptism, priesthood and religious life are not simply three successive stages in his life, but three landmarks in a journey that was constantly renewed under the sun of God s grace. They attest to the interiority of the faith of this man of God as it is expressed in this summary of his concept of the spirit of the Assumption: Love Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Church, and live totally in Christ, and the incisive and evangelical motto: May God’s Kingdom come within us and around us. The spirit that spurred Father d’Alzon finds its origin in this “faith-love” (A.S.) which transcended all borders, dioceses, countries or continents, for himself, for the battles he waged, and for the apostolic fields he chose for his two congregations.

This faith-love is as broad as apostolic prayer, as universal as the Church, and as focused as his own life.

As for myself, what I try to do is to engage in ad much mental prayer as possible and, what’s surprising, I have proof that I am doing good to souls when I have resisted the boredom of a prayer that is dry, arid, and full of aversion and distraction. I have learned to pray mostly as a result of my experience in prayer itself and I do not have much in the way of advice beyond what I have tried to do myself. Remain before God; tell him that you are nothing and how much you need him. Ask Our Lord to give us his spirit; ask the Holy Spirit to give us his love. It’s as simple as saying “Hello,” and by so doing I have found all the strength and hope I need. I do not know of any greater goal than to search for God with all one’s strength. In a word, I have tried to simplify things as much as possible and can only urge you to become as simple as possible in your prayer. (Letters XII 6518).

 

 

Chronology of the Life of

Father Emmanuel d’Alzon

1810            He was born on August 30 in Le Vigan (Gard), in southern France. His parents were the Viscount Henri Daudé d’Alzon and Viscountess Jeanne-Clémence de Faventine, an aristocratic family. On September 2 he was baptized with the name Emmanuel Joseph Mary Maurice.

1813            His sister Augustine was born.

1816            The family moved to their manor house in Lavagnac (Hérault).

1819            His sister Marie-Françoise was born.

1823            Secondary education took place in Paris at two prep schools: St. Louis (1823-1826) and St. Stanislas (1826-1828). Here he became friends with a number of well-known individuals of the period: Bailly, de Salinis, Lacordaire, Combalot, Du Lac, Montalembert, Félicité de Lamennais.

1824            He received his First Communion on July 1.

1828            In November he enrolled in Law School and renounced a military career.

1830            The July Revolution forced him to return to Lavagnac, together with his parents and sisters. Here he gave himself over to studying on his own.

1832            On March 15 he entered the major seminary in Montpellier where he stayed for one year.

1833            He decided to pursue his theological studies in Rome. He left for Rome on November 20 from the port of Marseilles.

1834            On December 26, he was ordained a priest in Rome.

1835            He returned to France and chose to enter the diocese of Nîmes.

1838            He was named Vicar General of the diocese, a post he retained almost his entire life. He dedicated all of his priestly life to numerous apostolic activities and social work, to preaching and spiritual direction.

1841            He became the spiritual director and religious advisor of Marie-Eugenie de Jesus, the foundress of the Religious of the Assumption, recently canonized in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI (June 3, 2007).

1843            He purchased the College de l’Assomption in Nîmes and began to fight for freedom of education for the Church.

1844            In June, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation, he made a vow to renounce all ecclesiastical high offices and honors. There was also reborn in him the idea of founding a religious community.

1845            At Christmas, he founded his new congregation, the Augustinians of the Assumption or Assumptionists. He began the novitiate together with one layman and four priests. On December 27 he initiated a Third Order, which included lay-people and priests.

1850            The bishop of Nîmes, Msgr. Cart, officially recognized the new congregation. On Christmas Eve, Fr. d’Alzon, together with four of his first disciples, professed their first public religious vows.

1854            In May, he suffered a serious blow: a cerebral hemorrhage which left him temporarily paralyzed on the right side and required several months of rest.

1855            He wrote the First Constitutions for his new congregation.

1856-1857  The after-effects of his hemorrhage returned.

1860            He founded the first mission, in Australia.

1860            As a result of Pope Pius IX’s request, he founded the Eastern Mission in Constantinople (Istanbul).

1864            Rome officially approved the congregation.

1865            He founded the congregation of the Oblates of the Assumption with rural young women of the Cevennes Mountain region, destined principally to be missionaries in Eastern Europe (Turkey and Bulgaria).

Fr. Étienne Pernet, one of his first disciples, together with Marie Antoinette Fage, founded the Little Sisters of the Assumption, home nurses, to help working-class families.

1870            He participated in the First Vatican Council as his bishop’s theologian.

1871            He founded the first alumnate or “apostolic school” (minor seminary) in Savoy for priestly vocations, primarily for children from poor families.

1872            In collaboration with Frs. Vincent de Paul Bailly and Picard he launched in Paris the Our Lady of Salvation Association, which focused on the Catholic press and large-scale pilgrimages.

1880            On the feast of the Presentation of Mary, November 21, he died at the College de l’Assomption besieged (like St. Augustine of Hippo, his spiritual father) by state authorities, who were threatening to expel the congregation from France.

1991            On December 21, Pope John Paul II declared him “venerable.”

 

 

First Day

The Loving Passion for Christ in His Kingdom

I will Leave it up to Our Lord to take care of everything or to destroy everything, not because I am tired or discouraged, but out of a determination that I am trying to render as loving as possible (Letters C 588).

Emmanuel d’Alzon was by nature a man of passion. His natural predispositions (a fiery spirit, a warm heart, and boundless energy) found their counterparts in his spiritual life. He was a man of action who needed to rekindle the flame of his life and of his actions with the deep and lasting source of his inspiration in faith: Gods love and, in exchange, a “faith-love” (A.S. ch. 3) he considered to be the most precious grace of his life. Here is how lie answered his bishop in 1846: You asked me to tell you in writing what I envision in my work. I think I can sum it up in two words: above all, the glory of God and our sanctification through the salvation of souls (Letters C 470). This is a re-expression of the very mystery of the Incarnation and Christ, the image of God and the way to salvation, the one Fr. d’Alzon calls the whole Christ, God and man, and, as God-man, priest, source of sanctification, and victim (Letters C 507). In simple terms, this is Jesus, the historical figure, but first of all, the Christ of faith in his ecclesial and sacramental body. But this reasoning of Fr. d’Alzon was not coldly theoretical. Intuitive and sensitive, he nourished his reflection with prayer, the reading of the Bible and the Fathers of the Church, as well as with the initiatives or apostolic endeavors that were to be undertaken. He was driven by his attention to a faith that is lived day to day, a deep yearning for conversion, and a constant desire for holiness, a wish reflected in the conclusion of many of his letters: Let us be saints, let us become saints.

More than one commentator or analyst of Fr. d’Alzon’s thought have turned their attention to the nature or characteristics of this faith of his inasmuch as it was systematized in any way in his writings, mindful that Fr. d’Alzon never claimed the title or function of theologian (Letters VIII 4113) or spiritual master. One could say that this observation serves as the starting point for some of these ‘‘schools’’ of interpretation or commentary, each one of which fittingly emphasizes one or another prominent or key element of his thought. All of them recognize the biblical, patristic and more particularly Augustinian influence in the thinking of Fr. d’Alzon, who drew extensively on the traditional theological heritage of the Church, particularly on what has been called the French school of spirituality. As a result, one can clearly perceive a few points of emphasis: an obvious Christo-centrism that highlights the Trinitarian dynamic of Christianity, a strong insistence on the mystical incarnation of the whole Christ, God made man present in history by means of his ecclesial body, a very clear, post-Tridentine perspective on the priestly ministry for the sacramental table of the Word and the bread. It is undoubtedly Fr. Athanase Sage who conducted the best study of the most influential themes of Fr. d’Alzon’s theological thinking (MS): the Kingdom, the Incarnation, the apostolic participation of the Christian in the salvific mystery of Christ, or Gods cause and the rights of the Church. Someone ill-humored might question the apparent ordinariness of these traditional doctrinal and spiritual emphases. But this focus, apart from its perfect orthodoxy and its coherent fidelity to Church teaching, ensured, at least within the Assumption Family, a valuable protection against practices that were overly devotional, transitory, and narrowly private.

In a nutshell, Fr. d’Alzon found a way to express the essence of his living faith: The spirit of the Congregation can be expressed very briefly as: love of Our Lord, of the Blessed Virgin, His Mother, and of the Church, His Bride (E.S., p. 20). One can see here his tendency of going to the heart of the matter, his tendency of staying in the nave of the church instead of losing himself in side chapels! His followers would remain faithful to this heritage by re-expressing, with the same appreciation for the triple or tripolar formula, the heart of the message of the founder. Thus their present Rule of Life says, We must display daring, initiative, and disinterestedness (R.L. I, 4), and Faithful to the will of Fr. d’Alzon, our communities are at the service of truth, of unity, and of charity (R.L. I, 5). Nor should we omit the enumeration of the theological virtues: Jesus Christ is at the center of our life. We commit ourselves to following him in faith, hope, and charity (R.L. I, 2).

There is yet another d’Alzonian adjective, loving, that qualifies and colors this faith from the inside. In his writings, Fr. d’Alzon coupled this adjective with words as varied as will, acceptance, submission, peace, penitence, and humility, an indelible sign of his most profound spiritual disposition. It is probably this subtle observation that inspired the present Superior General of our congregation, Fr. Richard Lamoureux (a providential name, meaning “the lover”), to entitle his second letter to the members of our religious order on the 150th anniversary of its foundation “Falling in Love Again,” which is the most pregnant summation of our religious being and raison d’être. The Gospel road followed by those who choose religious life is marked out by the double commandment of love which Christ presented as one: love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:36-40). For his part, Fr. d’Alzon did not omit any of the terms of the golden rule of the Gospel; he articulated them in a dynamic and faithful way so that the first commandment, which is the greatest, can be transformed into a second and similar commandment without separation, without fusion or confusion, because the essential link between both commandments is the love of charity. This is the grand entrance which, in the faith of Fr. d’Alzon, remains the constant and common horizon for any Christian life, be it the life of a baptized Christian, a priest, or a member of a religious order, an ideal that never failed to guide him. Through his words, his insights and his faith, Fr. d’Alzon entered fully into this passionate love for Christ in his Kingdom, because, as a disciple of the Gospel, he embraced its ways, perceived its light, and accepted its cost: My own passion would he the manifestation of the man-Cod and the divinization of humanity by Jesus Christ, and that would also he my philosophy (Letters B 3-48).  Instinctively, without a doubt; wholeheartedly, to be sure; with deep faith, most assuredly.

Father love me whom you have created. Come to me with your Son, and with the Holy Spirit who is the bond of love between you. Set up your abode within me, within my very heart. Do this for the sake of your dearly beloved Son. Do this now, and do it forever (E.S., p. 326).

 

 

Second Day

Giving Birth to Jesus Christ in Souls

It is for the Church that ministers of the attar look for vocations, that they strive to give birth to souls oriented toward perfection, that they ask of God this spiritual fruitfulness, not the fruitfulness of a pontiff who brings forth priests, but the fruitfulness of an apostle who makes Christians out of unbelievers, and saints out of Christians (E.S., pp. 355-6).

For several reasons, Christmas is a feast that was dear to Fr. d’Alzon. His first name is Emmanuel, so he can claim this solemn Christian feast as his own saint’s day. The joy of this celebration in the midst of winter, at least in the northern hemisphere, along with the humility inherent in the mystery of the Nativity, made a deep impression in him. In December 1845 he wrote: I was rather moved, deep within me.  I am embarrassed to admit this.  I wept quite a bit, but I think this came from the singing. I cannot bear the Adeste Fideles (“0, Come Let us Adore Him”) without being moved to tears (Letters B 442). Of course, it should be said that Christmas 1845 also marked the humble beginnings of his religious family. In fact, it was on Christmas night that the first group of novices came together in Nîmes and that, five years later, in 1850, the first public vows were professed by the five original Assumptionists; with Fr. d’Alzon, there were Fr. Henri Brun and Brothers Victor Cardenne, Étienne Pernet, and Hippolyte Saugrain. Christmas was a special celebration for him personally, but, beginning in 1845, it took on added meaning as a landmark of his community. This was a new birth. In a profound way, Fr. d’Alzon experienced this feeling of paternity or spiritual fruitfulness that corresponds with the deep meaning of Christmas, the birth of all beginnings and of all spiritual re-beginnings. He expressed this feeling repeatedly in his correspondence: I am anxious to encourage a number of people to make a gift of themselves to Our Lord, more particularly at Christmas. To me nothing is more wonderful than taking advantage of the feasts of the Church to have Jesus Christ born again each year in our souls, each time in a more perfect way, and then to grow and develop in imitation of our Divine Master alive within us. The triple incarnation of Jesus Christ in the manger, on the altar and in our souls is a mystery that should consume us completely (Letters VII 3446). Thus, for Fr. d’Alzon, Christmas is more than a simple date, although full of meaning; to be commemorated in his Christian, personal, and community calendars. Christmas, a symbol of spiritual childhood, is the expression of a mystery of faith that became a reality of life, of incarnation and of growth in his own existential rebirth.

So it was that Fr. d’Alzon quite naturally enjoyed developing a theme that is dear to the French school of spirituality: the mystical incarnation of Christ in souls or, in his own words, the spiritual birth of Christian life. In 1844, he became a high school teacher and the director of a boarding school in Nîmes (An. Al. ch. 13). Providence would have it that he take again the name “Assumption,” by which the institution had been known previously, so called because of the statue of the Blessed Virgin in her Assumption, located in the entrance of the building. The connection between the Assomption de Paris, the religious foundation of the Religious of the Assumption, a congregation of women that Father Combalot deliberately placed under the patronage of Mary, and the Assumption in Nîmes, the school that was I he cradle of Fr. d’Alzon s work in education and of his own religious family, did not fail to have a profound impact on his way of thinking about the faith. What is the noblest meaning of education if not to give birth in young people to the realities of spirit and soul? And what does it mean to found a religious family in the Church if not to manifest the fruitfulness of the Spirit in human history? Thus, in his mind, the figure of Mary assumed into heaven and the one of Mary in her glorious maternity become one and the same. Was not the life of God in his own life as a priest and a religious reawakened in this mystery of the birth of the Son and did not Mary’s giving birth make his own apostolic activity fruitful, enabling him to deliver up individuals new-born in the Spirit to a spiritual life?

The theme of mystical incarnation and configuration to Christ befitted the young men in his college and the realities of education; do they not resemble the image of the Christ-child as he grows humanly and spiritually? We should imitate the exemplary patience of Our Lord, who is never discouraged. There will come a moment, cut from God, when the Holy Spirit will breathe on all the hearts of these little ones shattered by sin, and new life will spring up; where we would only see dying embers, there will then be love and warmth... What we should strive to do, and I will repeat this ad nauseam, is to impart some energy to these kids and make them real men (Letters XIV 374 a). To the Religious of the Assumption, Fr. d’Alzon presents the model of Mary as Virgin and Mother: it seems to me that the daughters of the Assumption should have as their goal their own glorification in union with the glorification of Mary attained by means of the formation of Jesus in them. I find this thought of Saint Gregory Nazianzen that virgins are the mothers of Jesus Christ especially striking in relation to your order, whose purpose is to form the mystical body of our Savior through the imitation of Mary. A constant incarnation should be at work in and by you, through the imitation of Mary, who formed Jesus in her while he developed in her womb, and who gave him to the world when she gave birth to him (Letters XIV, 319).

Thus, the theme of mystical incarnation (M.S. p. 138) becomes synonymous with apostolic action itself in the Church, which is productive through the Spirit’s presence in her. If Christmas is the most vivid symbol of this by virtue of the mystery that is being celebrated, then faith in the man-God calls for the active incorporation of the Christian in Christ and his progressive participation in the apostolic fruitfulness of his spirit in view of the fullness of time.

Mary and Joseph, you were the first to adore God’s Incarnate Son. You adored him in the stable of Bethlehem when he first appeared on the human scene, and you adored him at Nazareth where nobody else knew who he was. Teach me how to adore him in humility, obedience and love —as I pray, as I work, as I build up my brothers. Let me turn my novitiate into another Nazareth, there to find Jesus. Here, with your example at hand, I must learn to make good use of his being so near, by acquiring all the perfection he is entitled to expect from such an unworthy recipient of so many blessings (E.S. p. 628).

 

 

Third Day

Alive with the Strength or the Spirit

Holy Spirit, through whom a God humbled himself taking flesh in the womb of the humblest of virgins, I implore your help. I know all the difficulties of the subject I am about to address; I know that when I talk of humility, I am attacking pride, self-importance, selfishness, and all those vices which are annoying to the One who would heal the wounds they have caused. Although I have examined my own heart and that of my brothers in order to paint a picture of these harms, I pray that your charity may flow from my lips in order that at this moment I be shaped by you to plant and build up and not to uproot and tear down (T.D. 42, 1 87- CD A. D001 31).

The Spirit of God has never ceased inspiring in the Church new forms of commitment to Christ.  This renewal is still going on today.  it is guided by new needs and the call of our times, by our experience of God and of life in God, under the influence and power of his Spirit. Let us be guided by the action of the Holy Spirit, that is, an action of love alone, Fr. d’Alzon wrote in 1844 (Letters B 324). Religious life at the heart of the Christian life is a realization of the mystery of unity that characterizes the Trinity. Community is a gift of the Father, of the Son and of the Spirit; it places itself under the action of the Spirit, who is the Spirit of communion of the Father and the Son. The Assumption as a religious reality in the Church is an original and convincing expression of the Spirit’s power in the various historical components of this family, mainly the Religious of the Assumption (R.A., 1839), the Augustinians of the Assumption (A.A., 1845), the Oblates (O.A., 1865), the Little Sisters of the Assumption (L.S.A., 1865) and the last-born founded in the 19th century, the Orantes of the Assumption (Or.A., 1896). The Assumption family, created thanks to the faith of its founders, is a breath of the Spirit’s life in the Church. Fr. d’Alzon wrote in 1853: I am devoted, as much as I can be, to the Holy Spirit, whom I love madly. At least, I would like to be madly in love with the Holy Spirit and our Lord (Letters I 254).

Fr. d’Alzon experienced this power of the Spirit in his life as a baptized Christian, a priest, and a religious. It is true this experience was not the subject of a special treatise or a major text on his part. With the exception of a few occasional sermons, the explicit references to the Holy Spirit are like a string of sporadic thoughts on the subject. But for Fr. d’Alzon, the third person of the Holy Trinity is not this unknown God, about whom systematic theologians and spiritual authors lament. It is true, however, that catechisms, devout literature, and manuals of theology or preaching of the time placed great emphasis on moral questions that dealt more with the question of religion than with revelation, on a kind of Old Testament theism than on a broad theology of the Spirit.

Fr. d’Alzon did not in fact go so far as to reverse this tendency, but he did mention this inattention to the Spirit on the part of preachers: How did you observe Pentecost? he asked his friend d’Esgrigny in May 1830. This is an important celebration which is little, very little observed, because the Holy Spirit is not known well enough (Letters A 24). Much later, between 1870 and 1874, Fr. d’Alzon, in his second circular letter on prayer, talked about how the Holy Spirit dwells within souls. He even made the Holy Spirit the theme of retreats or days of meditation, including one for the group of Adorers in May 1863. A computer count of different words in his writings gives interesting totals: some 1,409 occurrences concerning the Holy Spirit (3.22%), a number which, admittedly, is considerably lower than the references to Jesus or Jesus Christ (14,352: 32.8%) or to God (27,961: 63.9%).

It is quite revealing, for example, that in the spiritual portrait drawn of the founder by Fr. Andre Seve in the book he wrote for the centennial of d’Alzon in 1980, the author does not have a chapter on the Holy Spirit, but only twice mentions the action of the Spirit. Fr. Tavard’s presentation on the ‘‘Trinitarian spirituality” of Fr. d’Alzon (1982) makes up for this minimal treatment. Fr. Tavard speaks of what is essential by calling to mind prayer in a spirit of freedom and by opening the heart of the believer to the action of the Spirit or giving him access to God through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Fr. d’Alzon likes to pray to the Spirit of love, particularly returning to chapter eight of the Letter to the Romans. He also admits, in a letter to Mother Marie-Eugenie de Jesus, that we do not know well enough how to enter into a relationship with the substantial love that is the Holy Spirit. I blame myself greatly with regard to the way I honor the Holy Spirit, whose temple I am... Would it not be fitting that you and I immerse ourselves more seriously in our relationship with the Holy Spirit? (Letters I 238). None of the great scriptural paradigms concerning the presence and action of the Spirit is absent in the writings of Fr. d’Alzon, who talks about its breath, its living strength, its gifts to creation and to the birth of the Church, in Mary’s life, and in the sacramental and liturgical life of the believer. The Spirit of love and unity, who is the source of grace and prayer, who inspires the Scriptures, is called to mind by d’Alzon when he treats the constitutive elements of religious life such as prayer, community life, and the heart of apostolic action. In July 1854, Fr. d’Alzon wrote to Mrs. de Rocher, one of his spiritual directees: I would consider you very fortunate if this devotion to God the Father through Our Lord, and to Our Lord through the Holy Spirit gives rise in you to the virtues that the Holy Spirit grants to every faithful soul (Letters I 405).

On the occasion of the First Vatican Council, which marked a solemn and active time for Fr. d’Alzon, who was so deeply committed to the service of the Church, he expressed his trust in the action of the Spirit who guides, against winds and floods, the triumph of a sovereign authority at the heart of faith’s unity. He recommends to his religious the prayer Veni Creator in the morning, and he expresses the hope to dispose the Holy Spirit, Mary’s Spouse, to glorify Mary’s Assumption through chains of prayers.

It is in the personal life of Fr. d’Alzon that the specificity of the Spirit is expressed. In the Spirit, the life of God-communion becomes entirely gilt, loving exchange, unity, and forgiveness. In the Spirit, God gives himself to His creatures in a movement of unity, and, in return, man through the Spirit has access to this mysterious exchange which distinguishes and brings together the Uncreated and the created, the Unspeakable and the spoken, the Ineffable and the revealed. The holiness of Fr. d’Alzon resulted from a lifelong experience rooted in the Word of God, read, meditated, and prayed, an experience which enabled him to put into practice new initiatives. This action of the Spirit in Fr. d’Alzon’s life bore fruit. The Word consumed his life like a torch and in the end came to rest on his lips in the silence of prayer:

Lord, take away the obstacles on my road, and my love will flow toward you as a river flows to the ocean (CD A. C00332).

Speak with my Son’s voice, and I will reveal myself more to men, I will turn their hardened hearts into a new hymn of worship and love... I will take from this ocean of love and of strength what I need to save the souls of my brothers (CA II).

 

 

Fourth Day

At the School of Saint Augustine

In order to remain faithful to our motto, we must concentrate our energy on three principal means of which the first is to restore Christian higher education according to the principles laid down by Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas (E.S., p. 304).

Fr. d’Alzon was truly seduced by St. Augustine, this impressive figure known as the Patriarch of the West (E.A. ch. 11). Transcending time, there was a real spiritual, intellectual, and apostolic encounter between these two men whose existence is similar in more than one regard, despite the historical gap which separated them. Both of them longed for deep and solid friendships; both of them, in their pastoral undertakings, chose religious community life; and both of them, involved in battles regarding the ideas, influences and activities of their times, left this world at a time of apocalyptic intensity.

In his younger years, Emmanuel d’Alzon began to spend time on Saint Augustine’s writings. His correspondence reflects his studies and his interest and reveals evidence of an intellectual immersion that led to deep communion. The Confessions, the City of God, the De Ordine, the Homilies (or Tractates) on the Gospel of John, and the De libero arbitrio provide the background of questioning, inspiration, or confidential insight that Emmanuel d’Alzon shared with his correspondents: I read the Bible, Tertullian, and the Confessions of Saint Augustine. What a fine book the Confessions is! What a remarkable soul he possessed! He had his weaknesses, it is true, and his strengths; but also what expressions of deep sorrow! And what of his friendship with his friends! He talks about them so delightfully (Letters A 41). In his personal library and at his bedside, there could always be found one or another volume of the Migne collection of Saint Augustine’s works. Fr. d’Alzon, who had a perfect knowledge of Latin, was not only able but accustomed to reading the original text instead of wasting his time on commentaries.

A second phase in his encounter with Saint Augustine took shape during the years when the Congregation of the Augustinians of the Assumption (A.A.) was being established. Fr. d’Alzon chose the religious Rule of Saint Augustine, even though he studied the texts of founders or reformers as diverse as Benedict, Basil, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, Fr. Rancé, Vincent de Paul and Jean-Baptiste de La Salle: I became attached to the Rule of Saint Augustine (Letters C 470). He preferred this rule because of the spirit of brotherly love, the connection of the vita mixta in which action and contemplation mutually enrich one another, but also because of the ferment of a religious life in which the mystical dimension is thoroughly fed by doctrine. Over time, some have wondered whether this choice was not simply a matter of convenience. That would be to disregard, in the very genes of the Assumption, the scope of the issues Fr. d’Alzon carefully chose and what he considered to be most at stake: What is most essential in responding to Gods commands is to understand everything that God expects in matters of faithfulness with regard to his proddings and his generosity, he wrote in 1845 (Letters B 399). As a leader, Fr. d’Alzon, without downplaying the value of the priestly commitment, is conscious of what religious consecration brought to him: the energy of an apostolic team, the evaluation of one’s ministry in what is called today the review of life, the brotherhood of the community unit, and the regular support of liturgical prayer in common. When the moment came, in 1879, to consider combining the Assumptionists with another religious family for mainly practical reasons, Fr. d’Alzon preferred the Hermits of Saint Augustine, because his original intention had not changed since he wrote, in 1855: I will do all I can to reestablish the Augustinians in France (Letters I 518). This Augustinian bedrock is reaffirmed six times in the present Rule of Life (R.L. 3, 6, 55, 149, 151, and 172), the most expressive and symbolic reference, it seems to us, being the second one, which links the call of Christ, the name Augustinian and the fundamental d’Alzonian theme of the Kingdom: Called by Christ, the source of our unity, we choose to live in community according to the Rule of Saint Augustine, in view of the Kingdom—what a wonderful Spirit-driven combination.

The Augustinian paternity of the Assumption is not limited to its official name and the choice of a Rule, but it also includes a multifaceted spirit and practice: intellectual, doctrinal, apostolic, and mystical. The path of an Augustinian formation under the guidance of the bishop of Hippo is an invitation to conversion of heart, dispossession or emptying of self, desire for God, joy-filled obedience, and selfless love of souls. These are some of the major themes, with Augustinian color, to be found on the lips of Fr. d’Alzon, who, for his sons and daughters, became a reader of the Scriptures, a preacher of the Word, and a disciple of the Gospel, in the footsteps of Christ.

If one takes a look at the numerous study plans Fr. d’Alzon proposed for his congregations, Saint Augustine as a commentator of the Bible takes first place, even if, with the strong return of neo-Thomism, Saint Thomas takes a close second as the end of the 19th century neared: Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas are to be our guiding lights in both philosophy and theology. We must always turn to them to find a solution to problems they have considered (E.S. p. 1096). Is this an infrequent comment? Quite the contrary! These are words rooted in life and experience. Two years later Fr. d’Alzon himself gave a clear explanation of what he meant, leaving little room for interpretation: If the Assumption is to be a doctrinal congregation, its doctrine should be quite simple; it should be the doctrine of the Church commented by Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas, the most illustrious disciple of Saint Augustine (E.S. p. 722).

Of course, a congregation cannot fail to undertake regular reassessments of its fundamental options to make sure they are still relevant and permanent. The path it follows on earth, although certainly not to be compared to the Minotaur’s labyrinth and avoiding the song of the Sirens, sometimes resembles the champion s course. But, since the embryonic beginnings of what was called the University of Saint Augustine in Nîmes in 1870, Kr. d’Alzon s sons have certainly continued this tradition. They never abandoned the study of Augustinian thought, from the Revue augustinienne of Louvain to today’s Itinéraires Augustiniens, and the major undertakings of the Institut augustinien and its uninterrupted publications. Names like those of Fathers Bourque, Cayré, De Veer, Folliet, Fortin, Madec, Munsch, Neusch, Sage, or Thonnard bear the visible and scholarly crown of the Augustinian Assumption, in the footsteps of Fr. d’Alzon, who made Saint Augustine his interior master, after God: The more I study St. Augustine, the deeper I am struck by the truth of what he says: religious life depends on the practice of the evangelical counsels, which, in turn, depend on charity, the charity of God. Charity is what binds us together and religious life is the most perfect way of uniting us to God in charity (E.S., p. 305). But who can count the number of sons and daughters of the Assumption who have found or will find the Augustinian spiritual way which, through Fr. d’Alzon, converts the heart to love, this foundational experience of the joy of loving and being loved?

Lord, all my desire is before your eyes and my cries are not secret to you. All I desire is before you, you know everything of which I am sadly lacking. I do not hide anything from you: My one and only desire is you, and I do not want anything else (E.S., p. 360).

 

 

Fifth Day

Before the Mirror of Apostolic Prayer

Lord Jesus, who on this Earth went out seeking souls one by one you who waited for Nicodemus during the night, and for the Samaritan woman by the side of the well you who entered the homes of those who sent for you you who told your disciples to search for the lost sheep hear me, Lord Jesus. Teach me how to pray for the sick that they may be healed, and for the dead that they may be restored to life. Make my prayer more like yours, so that I may carry on doing your work in your way (E.S., p. 625).

Fr. d’Alzon set out on the road of prayer driven by the desire for and the gift of the grace of prayer, these two double-doors that lead to the only true entrance-way. Instinctively, he knew that there is but one prayer: that of Christ to his Father in the Spirit, a prayer he taught to his apostles in the Gospel. Every individual who prays becomes a contemporary of Christ, an apostle at his feet: O God, let me know you through Jesus Christ, let me serve you through the grace he gives me, let me love you forever as he loves you, for he is the only way to you (E.S. p. 622).

Nourished at the table of the Word and the bread, Fr. d’Alzon stands in the tradition of those individuals in the Bible who address their prayer to the God of love, knowing that He still remains the Unknowable, the Unspeakable, the Invisible; the Unnameable, the Absolute Other. Christian revelation does not allow one to open wide the door of sight or tangible evidence of God: I really felt that reasoning would not be enough to have faith, for faith is a gift of God... man cannot ascend to heaven and demand that God give him an answer, Fr. d’Alzon wrote in 1839 (Letters B 287). The believer has “dreams” of God more than he can know him by developing ideas about him, representations that are engraved in our conscious or unconscious; but his faith allows him to rediscover God as a living being and as the one who tirelessly seeks us. In prayer, an inversion occurs, and we as seekers of God become aware that it has always been rather the other way around, God seeking us out by calling us to his life and making us holy. And then, in his heart, the believer realizes Pascal’s proof that God lets himself be found, known, and loved, and that he can be recognized in prayer: in the torment of your absence, it is already you, Lord, who has met us.

The Christian experience of prayer is often mentioned in the notes of Fr. d’Alzon for sermons or retreats, with this Biblical dimension of Revelation and the New Covenant: God is the Holy One who constantly manifests himself in history, who has gone before us on the roads we travel, who made himself known through Jesus Christ, who is the way to the Father. God makes himself known in Jesus Christ, the door and entrance-way to the Father; Christ is the key to a door that reveals the Godhead, a door once closed, the key to a gate that reveals a God once obscure. As they do in shrines and churches, the eyes of a Christian pass quickly over bare walls and facades to rest on the cross. In Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, God takes on a human face; Jesus Christ, the icon of God, becomes the counterpart of human beings, thereby placing them under the eye of God and allowing his image to penetrate the human heart in order to transform their lives. The prayer of Fr. d’Alzon becomes acknowledgement of God in the faces, the situations and the demands of his contemporaries. This understanding of Fr. d’Alzon gave birth to a fortuitous re-formulation found in the Assumptionist Rule of Life: The spirit of the founder impels us to embrace the great causes of God and of man, to go wherever God is threatened in man and man is threatened as image of God (R. L. 1, 4).

The mystery of Redemption ushered in a new reality in which God is no more “dreamed of” in Christian prayer; the life of the believer passes into his prayer just as his prayer penetrates his life so that he can encounter God. The believer learns to live the very life of Jesus, in the same way that this same Jesus passed through human history — as a child, as a man among others, as a servant and crucified victim, in the humility of the human condition, in service and suffering, becoming the wounded God, the God humiliated on the cross at Calvary, uttering nothing but the heartbreaking appeal of a God who is learning suffering.

Such a way teaches one to pray. Of course, Fr. d’Alzon did not systematize a particular method of praying, but he left the Assumptionist tradition the main characteristics of a prayer we might call apostolic, that is, like that of the Apostles, open to the demands of human life. We can only list the main elements here, which appear as five musical notes:

♦       a prayer that is “Catholic-Christian,” that is to say, one that can be found at the center of the Church’s main nave; it is the living Church before the main altar; it is Christ welcoming everything that the Church offers to all the baptized in terms of the essentials, prayers she loves with their doctrinal, sacramental and liturgical content — without getting lost in secondary or superfluous practices.

♦       a prayer in the name of Jesus, directed to the Trinity, “to the Father through the Son in the Spirit,” in the great Christian tradition: to the Father, who is Godhead, Authority, and Principle; to the Son, who is Wisdom, the Word, and Understanding; to the Spirit, who is Life, Love, and Gift.

♦       an apostolic prayer by a religious, which combines the traits of this particular choice of life, as it arouses the heart to the vast reaches of charity, i.e. the “apostolic drive” to touch the masses. It is a prayer before God and on behalf of others, with no dichotomy between action and contemplation, a way of reconciling in prayer the two sisters in the Gospel, Mary, the pole of contemplation, and Martha, the pole of apostolic action.

♦       a liturgical prayer which favors the forms that the Church loves, the communion of hearts in the Church/Body of Christ, following the old saying, lex orandi, lex credendi, demanding both fidelity to the Tradition and openness to renewal. In the Assumption family, to be formed in prayer is to find a balance between liturgical prayer, which is common prayer, and personal prayer, which is more varied, freer, flexible, and less restricted.

♦       a doctrinal prayer. Prayer needs the support of an authentic spiritual theology if it is to avoid the impoverishment and the deficiencies of fashion. Without being a profession, prayer turns the religious into a professional of prayer, and that is why presiding at prayer always demands a good dose of doctrine if it is to avoid the dangers of distortion, ostentation, faddishness, or pharisaism.

To conclude, praying is believing, hoping and loving; it means always returning to the theological* dimension of the Christian being, this deep dimension Fr. d’Alzon loved to associate with religious virtues: believing by growing in a spirit of obedience, hoping by renouncing oneself and being purified of the slavery of the senses, and loving by learning to open love to what is universal and by self-giving. In a letter that he wrote to Mother Marie-Eugenie de Jesus, one discovers in Fr. d’Alzon a wonderful conviction and practice: it seems impossible to me that a superior can run her community with any degree of holiness if she does not do so by prayer (Letters C 506).

These are the major dimensions of his prayer, like the resonance of a hymn with notes that are in pitch, the beauty of a musical creation, the symphony of the master composer, the Spirit, and the instruments, that is, those who pray.

Lord, I am but a weak and fragile center; gild it yourself with the fire of your Love, enkindle it with the desire of pleasing you. Consume everything that is too natural in me, and let my prayer rue up to you like incense (CD A. D1313).

*          theological in the sense of the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity.

 

 

Sixth Day

Under Mary’s Cloak

Queen of Angels and Queen of those who are blessed in heaven because of the virtues they practiced on earth following your example, on the day of your triumph may you cast down a motherly glance on those of your children who are still struggling. Grant them your favor by watching over the Church of which they are members and whose mother you are; and let these words, as they inspire trust in your power, awaken in them at the same time the need to love the Church of your Son so that they may share his blessings (T.C. 42,10 - C.D.A. D01104).

Fr. d’Alzon would have been quite taken aback if somebody had told him that his congregations were not Marian; after all, he noted in 1846: I could have never imagined how much I would come to love the Holy Virgin (Letters C 454)! But that’s not the way the question would have been posed in the 19th century, that century that was so extraordinarily dedicated to Mary, the century of the Miraculous Medal of the Rue du Bac (1830), of La Salette (1846), and of Lourdes (1858).

With joy Fr. d’Alzon greeted the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX in Rome on December 8, 1854, fulfilling a wish, moreover, of the universal Church. Personally, Fr. d’Alzon could not have been surprised. In December 1849, during the provincial council of Avignon, he was preempted by the bishop of Nîmes and could not personally present a draft decree on that very subject: I rejoiced greatly at the thought that I was in charge of writing the decree on the Immaculate Conception; I was about to read it when the bishop of Nîmes (Cart) announced that he would do so. I have to admit I was a bit upset because I was delighted to think that I would be the one to raise up the monument of this Council in honor of the Holy Virgin (Letters C 654). At any rate, this event was celebrated with great solemnity in Nîmes: We shall light up the night Tuesday (December 26, 1854). For his part, there was even something of an ulterior motive, anti-Protestant in nature: The Protestants will not be able to gel to bed before 4 A.M.!

What is certainly more surprising is that Fr. d’Alzon had a sense that the Church was preparing to glorify Mary with the future dogma of the Assumption, even if, like a good Frenchman from the South, always in a hurry, he was just a bit ahead of the pontifical calendar (this dogma wasn’t proclaimed until November 1, 1950)! Three times he would mention it in his correspondence, for example in 1867, in a letter to Fr. Picard, a sign that the question was being debated at the time: Did you know that the Pope wanted to define the dogma of the Assumption just cu he did for the Immaculate Conception? (Letters VI 2656). Once again, in 1869, before Vatican I began, he wrote to Fr. Emmanuel Bailly: Could we not, with special prayers, dispose the Holy Spirit, the spouse of the Holy Virgin, to glorify the Assumption of his spouse? And could we not, for example, engage in prayer and sing litanies in Assumption’s chapel to ask that the dogma of the Assumption be defined? Furthermore, could we not also sketch the outlines of an association that would be committed to follow in all respects the spirit of decisions made by the future council? (Letters VII 3661). Finally, Fr. d’Alzon wrote this in 1877, again to Fr. Picard: I wonder why there were do many miracles during the octave of the Assumption, during a pilgrimage led by Assumptionists, and why, among the miraculously cured in Lourdes, there is a Little Sister of the Assumption and, in Nîmes, an Oblate of the Assumption. Could it be that the Holy Virgin is putting in place the first elements of the definition of the dogma of the Assumption? (Letters XII 6006). If this wish of Fr. d’Alzon was not granted during his life, the universal Church, the master of time and history, recognized the faith of believers in the Assumption of Mary, a dogma that was to be proclaimed on November 1, 1950, in Rome, by Pope Pius XII. And, as it is known, an erudite son of Fr. d’Alzon, Fr. Martin Jugie, worked on the definition of this dogma.

These reminders reveal at least what a prominent role this note of Marian piety and devotion of Fr. d’Alzon played in the Assumptionist tradition. We can find further evidence of this importance in the various pilgrimages Fr. d’Alzon made and promoted at the diocesan and national levels. Notre-Dame de Rochefort was dear to him, and he would lead the teachers and students of the college of Nîmes there on foot. Could he not have known that Fr. de Ratisbonne discovered the faith in Sant’Andrea delle Fratte in Rome, where, as a seminarian, he prayed to the Virgin with the members of the Order of the Minims? After 1870, he led and urged crowds to pray to Our Lady of Grace. In 1865, he gave new life to Espérou, an ancient site of Marian devotion preserved by the memory of an old abbey, Notre-Dame-de-Bonheur. At Lamalou-les-Bains, he contributed to the generosity of Dr. Privat for the construction of a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy, in order to provide religious services to those coming to the waters. Again, in 1876, he led a pilgrimage to the shrine of Notre-Dame-de-Prime-Combe, near Fontanès. On the heights of Guidon du Bouquet, near Alès, in 1864, he accompanied his bishop, Msgr. Plantier, for the blessing of a statue devoted to Mary, Most Admirable Mother. And we know, when he traveled, how much he liked to go to shrines in Paris, Lyon, and Marseilles: Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, Fourvière, and Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde. Of course, Fr. d’Alzon always avoided anticipating the decisions of the Magisterium of the Church with regard to recognition of facts pertaining to apparitions or the places where they occurred. For example, he waited until 1857 to go to La Salette, in Isère, where the original apparition occurred on September 19, 1846. And he was in no hurry to go to Lourdes either. He went there for the first time in 1868, and Mary’s apparitions to Bernadette took place in February 1858. Like all pilgrims of the People of God, he brought to the rock of Massabielle his personal intentions and those of his congregations: I have just arrived from Lourdes, where I prayed at length for you. I prayed for real holiness, humility, a spirit of faith and zeal. I also prayed for all your daughters, and I gave myself the pleasure of being locked behind the grill that protects the grotto from the public, for almost four hours. You can see that I have time to pray for my friends. I include with a photograph of Bernadette a small plant I picked just under the spot where the apparition took place... Lourdes brings me, it is hard to describe, a certain sense of peace, trust, and hope that my conversion will come to pass one day. At the Mass I said in a chapel inside the grotto, I placed your name first after that of my Assumptionist brothers (Letters VII 3372). Fr. d’Alzon began his relationship with Mary early on, in a single-minded and clear fashion: To know the Blessed Virgin, the Gospel is enough. Fr. d’Alzon and his sons have always placed new foundations under the protection of Mary: the College de l’Assomption in Nîmes, the Association Notre-Dame du Salut in 1872, the first novitiate of the O.A. In 1865 in Rochebelle, which was named after Notre-Dame de Bulgarie, the first alumnate in 1871 at Notre-Dame des Chateaux, the Association Notre-Dame des Vocations and many other foundations which came later and cannot all be listed here. It is really under the cloak of Mary (an expression used by Fr. d’Alzon in Letters I 252) that the Assumption was born, grew, and developed, Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Church, model of faith and virtue. The life of Fr. d’Alzon, this pilgrim of the Absolute, is a walk in faith, in the company of Mary, on the road of those who are thirsting for God.

Lord, when it comes to all your plans for me, let me imitate the dependence of your mother.  Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.  Speak, Lord, so that I may know your will.  You shall dwell in me through faith. I shall let you grow within me, and I shall grow with you in all the virtues for which you shall provide me both model and strength, until I become, in you, perfect man (T.D. 47, p. 347 - C.D.A. D01096).

 

 

Seventh Day

On the Road to Unity

O God, who desired, through your infinite love, to regenerate Man after the Fall, ...do not allow us to drift away from this center of unity which is your Church, to navigate through the storm in a boat other than Peter’s, or to build our salvation on a rock other than that on which you built your Church. Lord, to whom shall we go? (T.D. 42,109 - C.D.A. D00118).

Throughout his life, Fr. d’Alzon prayed, pressed and worked for Christian unity. Of course, he did it in his way and in the spirit of his time, seldom conciliatory or ecumenical, at least in the sense that this word took on at the dawn of the 20th century and that was confirmed by the leaders of Christian churches since the Second Vatican Council. More than ten times, we find in Fr. d’Alzon’s writings the centerpiece of Jesus’ prayer for unity, the Ut sint consummati in unum found in John 17:23: God enters individual souls and, through a kind of longing, brings them to unity. Ut sint consummati in unum: “May they he brought to complete unity.” One of the missions of the Assumption is to achieve unity, a unity of love, feeling, faith, longing, and the determination to bring about the triumph of the Church. For this, we need a boundless heart; we should love everything Our Lord loved (C.A. II, 27-28 or CD A. C00686). So, the bar has been raised even if the pitfalls are many.

Passing from the arena of prayer to that of apostolic commitments, one can realize how much Fr. d’Alzon was personally involved in the principal spheres of unity-building. His activity had a double focus: with regard to the Protestant world, on the one hand, and with Christians in the East, on the other. Here we have evidence that his concern with unity among Christian churches did not remain simply in the realm of good intentions or wishful praying. As soon as he arrived in Rome, he was keeping a watchful eye on the so-called Oxford Movement which was unsettling Anglican circles and which, with spectacular conversions like those of John Henry Newman and Thomas Allies, was raising hopes for a massive return of Anglicans to Rome. As a matter of fact, Fr. d’Alzon maintained more than cordial relations with Allies. He was deeply moved by Newman’s conversion: How can I describe what I am feeling? The emotional storm I experienced ended in tears brought about by the account of Rev. Newman’s conversion. More than ever I see my vocation clearly before me, demanding that I strive towards perfection (Letters C496). But, admittedly, Fr. d’Alzon was not very successful in his efforts to influence French Protestants and more particularly those who were Calvinists, the toughest to proselytize. He came back from Rome with every intention of working for the conversion of Protestants in southern France, but he would come against some harsh realities on the ground. His bishop, Msgr. de Chaffoy, wanted nothing to do with this kind of ministry in a city like Nîmes, where religious divisions, exacerbated by insurmountable political antagonism, continued to place various segments of the population at such loggerheads that violence could result at any moment. Here a few distinctions may be in order: the polemical tone of Fr. d’Alzon’s sermons did not prevent him from all personal contact with individuals, inquiring and even warm at times. Protestant ministers would come to visit Fr. d’Alzon; but personal contacts do not lessen in any way the ecclesial, doctrinal, liturgical and other obstacles bristling on both sides of the road towards unity. It should also be mentioned that Fr. d’Alzon erred in his unilaterally political interpretation of Protestantism in southern France, which was experiencing a renewal known as the Réveil. He down-played this movement, and he could not or did not know how to transcend the sectarian biases of his time. What prevailed in him was the fullness of doctrinal orthodoxy that considered the only good Protestant one who had been saved in the Catholic told, wrenched from the darkness of heresy, under the aegis of the Association Saint-François-de-Sales, a foundation to which he heavily contributed. What remains, beyond the inadequate means and methods he employed, is the purity of Fr. d’Alzon s intentions, the honesty of his initiatives, and his concern for unity.

Should the fervor with which he embraced the cause of Christian unity in the East beginning in 1862 be considered as if he were dealing a second hand, an alternative in his work for the cause of unity? Simply chronologically, this interpretation is debatable, for Fr. d’Alzon was interested very early on in the issue of unity in the East because of his relations with the Polish Resurrectionists. He wrote in 1847: Do you know the purpose of this congregation’s activity? They want to work for peace between the Churches of the East and the West. This is a wonderful endeavor with a very promising future, it seems to me (Letters C 493). Having received the blessing of Pope Pius IX for his ministry in the East and the West, Fr. d’Alzon and the young Assumption turned, in any case, to the other front of the battle for unity, the multifaceted world of the Balkans, filled with mirages and mysteries. The pioneer and founder was Fr. Victorin Galabert, to whom Fr. d’Alzon indicated the road to be followed: You are on the way traveled by many saints, the way of apostles. Become a great servant of God (Letters IV 2019). The choice of Fr. Galabert was the right one. He was a keystone in building unity, an ecumenist before the word existed. He came to be wedded to the Eastern soul, learned to love it, and served it to the point of exhaustion. The Near Eastern Mission led to the birth of yet another religious community, that of the Oblates of the Assumption, missionaries of unity, artisans of a charity that knows no borders and that will always remain the preferred way to achieve unity in deed. Despite all of this, for over 100 years, Fr. d’Alzon and his followers never broke free from the doctrinal corset of Roman and proselytist uniatism, this impasse of human making between Christians torn on the sacrifice on the cross. While on a visit, the East wrenched from him this exclamation, full of realism, but also with a measure of supernatural optimism: My God, into what kind of a hornets nest have I gotten myself! But one needs to be a little crazy to serve Our Lord (Letters IV 1910).

Be that as it may, the choice of the East brought promise for the future. In 1895, the Assumption experienced a real apostolic adventure, both doctrinal and ecumenical, of considerable scope; as a result of the publication Échos d’Orient, later called Revue des Études Byzantines, it gained the esteem of Orthodox intellectuals, by producing an open-minded public to the beauty of Eastern Christianity  its history, and its love for liturgy. Over the years, the initial proselytism slowly evolved in the light of ecumenism, anticipating in a way the wish of Pope John Paul II tor what he called “the two lungs of the Church.” it was in Bulgaria that the Assumptionists were to pick the first three Eastern flowers on their path towards official sainthood; Pavel Djidjov, Josaphat Schiskov, and Kamen Vitchev were beatified in Plovdiv on May 26, 2002, two fathers of the Latin rite joined by a father of Eastern rite. A splendid symbol that has been expressed in an icon by Fr. Donat Lamothe! Is it not true that Fr. d’Alzon’s struggle for unity, passing, in his own words, between schism and hereby, led in this way to the real and unique goal of ecumenism, which alone can unite, beyond borders, Christians without labels — that is, sainthood?

Lord, sustain and strengthen these immortal foundation-stones formed from twelve precious stones. Yes, we shall turn towards you for you have the words of eternal life, and you will give them to us through faith. Through faith, as St. Augustine says, we will go toward true knowledge the river of which flows from Gods throne and the Lamb. Insofar as our faith is humble and obedient, you will grant us the favor of knowing with certitude and clarity the mysteries of your power, wisdom and love (T.D. 42, p. 1009 - C.D.A. D001 18).

 

 

Eighth Day

The Ways of Faith, Joy, and the Cross

Jesus, you who on the cross were my model, my priest, my king, and my God, you who entrusted me to your mother, who forgave the thief, who thirsted for my salvation and who, after fulfilling the Scriptures, said that every thing was finished; you, whose power tore the veil of the Temple, tear the veil of my illusions; you who brought the dead back to life, bring me back to the life of grace; you who split rocks, break the hardness of my heart so that, dying with you, I may also rue to new life with you (T.D. 48, p. 10 - CD.A. D01201).

Emmanuel d’Alzon was not spared the wounds of life. His childhood was certainly a happy one, and so were his teenage years and youth, thanks to his cheerful ways; his nickname at the College Stanislas in Paris was “d’Alzon the Merry.” He came from a supportive and well-balanced family, enjoyed rich and wholesome friendships, and received a good education. All these assets held the promise of sure success, of a career that guaranteed renown, riches, and influential connections.

On the road of life, joy was his faithful companion; however, it would be wrong to think that everything came easily to him. Emmanuel d’Alzon had to subject his own character to gospel values, a nature that was quick-tempered and even impetuous, one that tended to be dominating, with flashes of stinging irony, pride, and a sense of self-importance: Please accept my apologies in your kindness and forgive me if, when I told you anger made my skin crawl, I did not specify the timed in my life when this occurred most frequently (Letters B 356). In him, frankness was not only genetic; it could also become a formidable weapon. Woe to those who were the target of his cut-and-dried, incisive and hard-hitting judgments. About Fr. Cusse, whose conduct he could not stand, he wrote: Pray much for Clichy, where one bad apple spoils the others. One can always throw a rotten apple out, but can’t do the same with people (Letters III 1230). To Fr. Galabert, he had this to say with a view to protecting him from a snake of the confessional: I would not be surprised if she ended up declaring her love for you in spite of how ugly you are. Nothing would surprise me in this matter (Letters III 1294). We can imagine that the one of whom he spoke didn’t find this picture too flattering. Did he find this other biting remark of Fr. d’Alzon in 1880, widely circulated, any more consoling, I am telling you that you are not the embodiment of cleanliness, that Fr. Emmanuel is bad-tempered, and that Fr. Vincent de Paul remains absent-minded (Letters XIII 7014)?

But Fr. d’Alzon had traits that make him endearing as well, despite his unalloyed directness: his customary joyfulness, his easy-going way, his faith-based optimism, and his passion for friendship. He worked endlessly on his own personality, guided by the five golden rules found in the community directives of chapter 18 of St. Matthew’s Gospel: the inversion of hierarchy in the Kingdom, giving honor to those who are lowly and who serve (18:1—4); the rejection of scandal (18:5-10); the search for the lost sheep (18:12—14); fraternal correction (18:15—18), carried out first on oneself; prayer (18:19—20) and the forgiveness of injuries (18:21—35). All of these were evangelical values he knew how to practice persistently throughout his life.

And Fr. d’Alzon was not spared the setbacks destiny imposes on human beings. First of all, his stale of health would be compromised after the crisis he suffered in 1854, leaving him almost paralyzed on one side and from then on causing him often to tremble nervously. Second, he suffered what he called the martyrdom of cash, a permanent lack of money in the face of the vastness of the works which he had undertaken and which his inheritance could meet only for a time. Someone recalled what he said on his death-bed when the doctor treating him told him that his health was a dried-up fund: I have dried up quite a few others as well! Deaths in his family — first, those of his mother and his sister Augustine in 1860, then of his father in 1864, and finally of his sister Marie in 1869 — were the cause of great suffering for him and left him as the only remaining member of his generation. He wrote: I accompanied my beloved Marie to her final resting place, and now, at every moment, I expect to see her in the parlor, in the chapel, in the corridors, in the garden. I know where her body is buried. I hope that her soul is in heaven (Letters VII 3547). And what can be said of the suffering caused by the painful defection of religious men and women, a blow to his spiritual paternity, particularly at a time when the harvest needed more laborers? The failure of foundations like Rethel in 1858 and the Australian mission, the latter largely attributable to the dishonesty of Bishop Quinn, who was more interested in finding apostolic workers on the cheap than in meeting their desire for religious life in community, left Fr. d’Alzon with the bitter and disconcerting taste of human machinations in prelate’s clothing. It would take too long to list all the crosses he bore throughout his life.

But it is well-known that discouragement never destroyed his supernatural frame of mind. Indeed, there is a more and more striking contrast that appears with time: to a pessimism that so many noxious ideas and trends of his day could have produced, he responded with a renewed optimism that led him to undertake fresh apostolic endeavors. For example, when policies of the French Republic threatened to dispel religious orders, he wrote: If I have to go into exile, I will leave for the East (Letters XII 6506). Even the hardest blows could not shake his faith. On the contrary, it experienced a vigorous revival. In 1858, the college in Nîmes seemed to be on the verge of financial bankruptcy, but Fr. d’Alzon faced the situation with the same faith as Abraham: It seems that God wants to place our small Congregation in absolute ignorance about its future. We will do as Abraham did, he who left his home without knowing his destination and whom God blessed because of the absolute confidence with which he pitched his tent from day to day. If only we had as much faith as the patriarchs did, what a splendid covenant we could make with Our Lord (Letters II 1055). Living the Christian mystery of death and resurrection cultivated within him an ability to go beyond suffering, which can be attributed to nothing other than the resources of his spiritual life. When Jean, the cook in Le Vigan, who was thought to be a millionaire and an eventual generous benefactor, disappeared suddenly without a trace in 1867, and with him the hope for part of his wealth, Fr. d’Alzon concluded tersely: it could be for the better. We would have been too rich. And it is better if we are less so (Letters VII, 3612). When illness forced him into inactivity at Lamalou, he wrote some of the most beautiful pages of the Directory, without ever complaining about his bad health. On the contrary, he looked after the spiritual needs of other people taking the waters at this spa. One last example illustrates his inexhaustible faith in Providence and divine mercy. This incident in 1875 affected him profoundly: All those who are filled with ambition find that 40 years as vicar general is indeed a very long time, and it is time for me to get out of here... I, too, am tempted to leave all of this behind me and become a monk for good (Letters XI 5473). Fr. d’Alzon had but one plan for his life, one horizon, one guiding light, that of joy in the faith, a joy that helped him not to be crushed by the cross, whether in the midst of great storms and or in everyday life. He had the flesh of one who is mortal, but also a foundation that was the unshakeable rock of his faith.

My God, help me to rue above difficulties and, as a religious and an advocate of your rights, to accept exile, prison and even death, if only I can remain faithful to you always (T.D. 47, p. 348 bis).

 

 

Ninth Day

The Cause of the Church, the Kingdom or God Prefigured

Lord Jesus, who made faith in your word, humility, and eagerness to obey you shine forth in St. Peter, and who rewarded his virtues by placing him at the head of your lambs and sheep, do not forget the Church you entrusted to him when you returned to heaven whence you came to found her and redeem her with your blood. Do not forget this Church which is exposed to such great perils (T.D. 42, p. 10 - CD.A. D00117).

It is always a risk to love the Church, for her mystical nature as the Body of Christ is exposed, as she runs her course through history, to conflicting testimonies given by men, especially in the person of her ministers and servants. In his life as a priest, Fr. d’Alzon was confronted from the very beginning by this terrible ambivalence. In fact, it began in 1834 with an act of mistrust towards him by the institution; the image of the Church as loving mother was overshadowed by her behaving cruelly. A few days before he was ordained, the young d’Alzon was brought in to sign an anti-Mennaisian text condemning insights that were dear to his heart and faith: The Pope was very glad I compiled so quickly. It is rather disturbing to make the Pope happy in such a way (Letters A 232). But this was not the end of the ordeal. As Fr. d’Alzon s life was coming to an end in 1880, Pope Leo XIII, going against the position of Superiors General of religious congregations in France in their determination to resist requests for government authorization, showed his disapproval and demanded from them diplomatic concessions. Again, Fr. d’Alzon complied, but with less indignation and more serenity: Since this is the will of the Pope, we cannot but obey. If we are the regiments of an army with the Pope as its head, colonels should execute orders when their leader speaks... The Pope bears responsibility for what he requests; it is our responsibility to obey (Letters XIII 7023-7024). On this point, the attitudes of Fr. d’Alzon and Lamennais differed, even if historians are still going on about this (C.H. 37-106).

Yes, Fr. d’Alzon ran the risk of loving the Church, and there was a cost to be paid in his spirit of judgment, his freedom of appreciation, and his independence of conduct. Msgr. Cart, his indecisive bishop from 1837 to 1855, made him wait five years before authorizing, without much conviction, d’Alzon’s free choice of religious life; he simply tolerated it without giving it outright approval. Msgr. Thibault, the bishop of Montpellier, penalized Fr. d’Alzon’s ultramontanism by forbidding him to exercise his ministry in his diocese, thus depriving him of the comfort of administering Extreme Unction to his dying mother in 1860. The most difficult part of Fr. d’Alzon’s life in the Church was not in undertaking so many endeavors imposed on him by his unwavering faith; it was, rather, in obeying decisions made by the hierarchy. As he made his way in the life of the Church, he accepted not to bring into opposition his love for the Church, on the one hand, and, on the other, the range of his desires or the interior rumble of his resistance. He knew the price of freedom by accepting to suffer for and because of the Church. What he hated most, “a certain Jesuitism” which Michelet described in 1846 and which takes on the abhorrent characteristics of “the man in black”* (denunciation, suspicion, failure to respect confidentiality, behind-the-back intrigue, and poisonous religiosity), he experienced as a flesh and blood member of the Church. Love for the Church the way she is, in both her human and mystical dimensions: this is the Church he carried in faith while he suffered in and because of her. It was love at the price of one’s life, something that other sons of his would experience on the way of obedience.

Fortunately, not everything was bleak and discouraging in the life Fr. d’Alzon experienced in the Church, a life synonymous with service, availability and responsibility. There was even a time when the skies cleared, that sunny period of his devotion to Pope Pius IX, whom he met at least ten times as the beloved leader of the suffering Church. This fascination with Pius IX was born of his faith steeped in ultramontanism, that movement which so profoundly affected the heart of the 19th century Church (An. Al., c. 20). Fr. d’Alzon shared fully in the symbolic identification of the three whites (the host, the popes cassock, and the Holy Virgin), characteristic of the devotion of an uncompromising Catholicism. The watchwords and excesses of this movement are well-known: an exclusive Latinization at the expense of other traditions, the concentration of Church authority in Rome, a maximalist view of infallibility, and theocratic absolutism. The Church would need at least a full century and a half to set herself free from this, and it is not certain that Hydra’s heads will not resurface one day.

How can we grasp the ultramontane hues of Fr. d’Alzon’s faith from within? One would be mistaken to think that they were just superficial or situational. They are part and parcel of the mainstays of his spirituality and ecclesiology articulated in a triple love, the Love of Christ, Mary and the Church, and expressed concretely in his love for the Eucharist, for the Pope, and for public manifestations of cult— in other words, Christ in his sacramental body, the Church, in her leader in the flesh, and Mary, the clearest expression of a human being utterly transformed by God s grace. Fr. d’Alzon’s idea of the Church is linked to the image of the Kingdom. Far from simply being theoretical concepts, Church and Kingdom were hardly distinguishable in his eyes given his experience of Church and society; it was an interpretation that did not benefit from the sort of distinctions that often accompany a sound reading of the Gospel. The Church is not yet the Kingdom, but an anticipation of, a preparation for and the beginning of the Kingdom. Christ founded the Church with human beings in order to give hope in the Kingdom a rooting here on earth, not to establish earthly power or states, and even less to confer any legitimacy on the failings and sins of members of the Church. If Christ had expected complete perfection from those he chose, the Kingdom would have failed from the very outset of salvation history; but the need for conversion and purification exists (or them until the end of time. And Christ did not idealize the image of the Church by giving his body to his disciples of flesh. Rather, he accompanied the apostles with patience and forgiveness and he educated them. Such is the healthy tension that remains throughout history between the twin concepts of Church and Kingdom, a tension that is painful but necessary and that the ultramontane movement tried to sweep away. That is why we have to admit that Fr. d’Alzon maintained some excessive positions, going so far as condoning the intolerance of believers. Intellectually and morally, this is completely unacceptable. The model of the Church is one of martyrdom embraced by those who have been consumed by the truth, not an inquisition that purports to purify the kingdom of truth with fire by consuming those who err. A sad lesson of history — it is as if the more one supports the sectarian element, the further one gets from the purity of Gospel values.

If one was to identify the greatest contribution that Fr. d’Alzon made to the Church, it would be his record of outstanding service, in his supernatural disposition of faith and zeal, rather than in the very concrete expressions of his historical commitments to the cause or the rights of the Church. These latter carry with them a part of human mortality which a faith, although heroic, a hope beyond all hope, and a self-transcending charity did not totally purify.

Let us not blame Fr. d’Alzon for his errors, but let us recognize his merit, for he was committed in faith and put his life at risk because of his love for the Church. And he did so wholeheartedly, with generosity, and not hoping for ecclesiastic titles or honors. Such a model will not perish. For, without the fights in which he engaged and which are not quite those of his contemporary sons, the causes the Assumption stands for today would not be entirely hers.

My God, may Thy Kingdom come. Yes, I must ceaselessly and relentlessly destroy everything in and around me which stands in opposition to the kingship of Jesus Christ. I must direct all my energy to raising his kingship up from the pit of humiliation into which his enemies have thrust him. It is my privileged task to restore him to majesty and glory (E.S., p. 932).

*       “l’homme noir” was a popular expression used by several French writers of the 19th century (e.g. Flaubert, Stendahl, and Hugo, but especially Jules Michelet) to refer to a certain disdain for the clergy.

 

 

Tenth Day

Bringing Christ to the Farthest Reaches or the Earth

Lord, make me be a man of prayer and a fearless preacher of your gospel; in whatever work I do, may I become holier, serve your Kingdom, and help sous on the way to salvation. Amen (E.S., p. 618).

ASSUMPTIONIST RELIGIOUS LIFE, LIKE A TRIPOD, rests on three legs and aims at striking a balance between the three, prayer, community, and mission. Prayer is the breath, community the heart, and mission the spearhead. In his own words, Fr. d’Alzon elaborated at length in his writings on these three constitutive components of apostolic religious life, especially in the Directory, the jewel of Assumptionist spirituality, the Constitutions (Const), the first version of which was written in 1855 and is the best version of all, since it was not subjected to what Fr. d’Alzon himself called the chaillotades (changes made by Msgr. Chaillot, a Roman canonist), and the Meditations, which Fr. d’Alzon set out to write in the last ten years of his life.

Let us take the time to elaborate on his theory and practice of ministry, two aspects that should never be separated in his life. As Vicar General in his diocese, Fr. d’Alzon was at the forefront of the apostolic administration and leadership of the diocese of Nîmes, planning for which falls primarily to the hierarchy, the bishops; during d’Alzon s life they were: Msgr. de Chaffoy (who died in 1837), Msgr. Cart (1837-55), Msgr. Plantier (1855-75), and Msgr. Besson, to whom Fr. d’Alzon tended his resignation in 1878. The first of these bishops was already an old man about to leave this world when Fr. d’Alzon came to know him. The second one, who was also from Besançon, excelled more in his prudence than in his boldness, often saying about his young Vicar General: “He’ll push me, and I’ll hold him back.” The next partnership, during Fr. d’Alzon’s full apostolic maturity, was certainly the most successful, even if Msgr. Plantier had a reputation as a Gallican before he was appointed in Nîmes, a matter of deep concern for Fr. d’Alzon. As time went on, this apprehension gave way to fruitful cooperation and lasting mutual esteem.

One cannot help but notice in Fr. d’Alzon’s writings the similarities and differences he sees between the religious and the secular clergy of his time, in their training as well as in their pastoral practice. Ordained to serve the local Church, members of the secular clergy generally confined their preoccupations to the diocese they were from or where they settled. Fr. d’Alzon used all his energy and authority as the Vicar General to open their mind to wider horizons, national or otherwise, to apostolic initiatives of a broader reach. He developed various initiatives like the Propagation of the Faith, the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul or the Tabernacles;, he introduced parish libraries and the Saint-Francis de Sales Association, and subsequently St. Peters Pence, the Pontifical Zouaves, and, after 1870, various congresses for the working class, and pilgrimages. Fr. d’Alzon seemed to be eager to shake off the ever-present danger of lethargy in parishes by introducing networks of movements, youth clubs, associations, and confraternities. It was hard work to mobilize the hearts and energies of the faithful in the various spheres of charity or devotion by requesting the help of the clergy. A few circular letters he wrote talk about this. Using images to illustrate d’Alzon’s point of view, we could say members of the diocesan clergy serve by living with the people whereas the members of religious orders are more mobile, move around, and give rise to new initiatives, leaving as a reminder of their visits, besides the sound of their voice, instructions to follow in order to keep new projects on track.

Fr. d’Alzon always gave as a guideline to members of his religious order that they should respect the pastoral priority of the secular clergy, and he even made that an order in his first Constitutions: Religious shall carefully avoid anything that could be a source of rivalry with the secular clergy, making every effort to limit themselves in all circumstances to what they have been expressly invited to do within the diocese. In their exercise of prudence, Superiors are strictly responsible to enforce this most essential point of our Rule. (Const., p. 72) in 1875, he reiterated the same point of view in the dispute between Fr. Picard and various bishops over the leadership of pilgrimages (Letters XI, 5472). In illustrating the distinction between religious and secular clergy, his favorite comparison comes from the military, not surprising in the writings of a commander: Like all duly organized societies, the Church has her army and her government. Her ministers, in the broadest sense of the word, are those who, in various degrees, have received the sacrament of orders; but these ministers are either magistrates or warriors. The magistrates are parish priests and their assistants as well as priest-administrators. The warriors are the members of religious orders who, with the discipline of their rule, are charged with attacking the enemies of the Church, while the magistrates try to keep the faith-fill in the fold (Letters XIV, 162 a). It is easy to understand that Fr. d’Alzon favors an apostolic religious life that is both assertive and on the offensive, because it can gel involved in situations where the secular clergy are absent or lack competence. If we leave the arena of strategy and turn to that of leadership, what are the areas or goals set by Fr. d’Alzon for his disciples? There are no limits other than those set by Rome, the heart of the Church and center of unity from which missions extend to the farthest reaches of the world, whence this concept of a mission with universal, catholic dimensions. Tongue in cheek, Fr. d’Alzon set the Great Wall of China as the limit for the mission of the Oblates in Nîmes, and it is a known fact that, towards the end of his life, he made Russia an apostolic obsession for Assumption religious. As soon as 1860, he sent his first missionaries to the other side of the world, to Australia, and he rejoiced when Saint Marie-Eugenie de Jesus, the Superior of the R.A.s, seized an opportunity to create a foundation in Capetown in 1852. If Fr. d’Alzon tried to escape the tyrannical rule of so many bishops, it is because he wanted to put his congregations under the universal supervision of Rome, which rarely rejects the gratuitous missionary initiatives of religious orders. Concretely, we know that when it comes to a particular assignment, things can be a little uncertain. Frequently, religious themselves must define on the ground what shape their commitments will take based on the needs, ones interests, and one’s abilities. As for the apostolic activity of the Assumptionists, one might describe it as a sort of exercise in on-the-spot inventiveness. This term seems to describe well the work of missionaries who set out with nothing but their faith and zeal as their first resources; only later do they begin to develop more concrete means of action, something for which Fr. Galabert, one of the first Assumptionist missionaries, pleaded with great insistence.

We should open up minds and hearts that they may see and appreciate the great need of God’s cause. We must extend the vision of those who are short-sighted and light a fire in the hearts of those who suffer from cold feet and of those who are terrified of catching cold if you ask them to sit too close to the fire! Happy are those Superiors whose ambition embraced the whole world because they want to spread the kingdom of Jesus Christ everywhere! (E.S., p. 693)

 

 

Eleventh Day

In Tune with Ones Time

Where shall we find enough bread to feed them all? This was the question Christ asked his disciples in the presence of the crowd that had been following him in the wilderness for three days. Today, the roles have been reversed: the crowd no longer longs for the truth, but it still needs to be fed. Jesus no longer poses questions to his disciples; they are the ones who seem to have permission to pose a question to the Master in their turn, “Where shall we find enough food? Lord, tell us what we have to do, how we can reach these hearts, and what type of food is most suitable” (T.D. 51, p. 112 - CD A. D01648).

The Gospel is always seen through the lens of one’s times, and this law of enculturation of the Christian message was no different in Fr. d’Alzon’s time. He lived in the 19th century, in a world permeated by the ideologies of the Revolution, by hopes for freedom, equality, and solidarity. Even if the life of a man of the Church is primarily shaped by needs and ways of preaching the gospel, it cannot be out of tune with the social, political, and economic developments of the time; otherwise, it would risk being out of touch with the day-to-day life of people. Fr. d’Alzon understood this when he wrote, with the boldness, and perhaps under the pretext, of his youth, in 1832: Every young man should be in tune with his time. And if he is Catholic, he should be a step ahead of his time (Letters A 111).

The example of Lamennais, the condemned prophet who wanted to bring together the Gospel and post-Revolution society, prompted Emmanuel d’Alzon to enter the stream of modern ideas, one that attempted to set the Church free from state control, even from a concordat, whether the state was monarchist, constitutional or other. That is why he fought for freedom of education and took over the direction of a bankrupt college in Nîmes in 1844. But after he lost all hope for an alliance between freedom and the Church, in the aftermath of the bloody days of June 1848, he became disgusted with what he called a bourgeois attitude, that kind of self-serving and impure mixture of the spirit of the world that includes Catholicism only for its own purposes. D’Alzon, who grew up in a culture of tradition and aristocracy which considered its own role as necessary for the creation of an elite with responsibility to care for the lower classes, unreservedly adopted the counter-revolutionary thinking that prevailed in the Church of his time. The Church, truly a fortress under siege, was laboring under a defense mentality towards enemies from within, including separated Christians, Catholic Liberals, and Gallicans, and towards enemies from without, the growing mob of revolutionary anarchists, anticlerical Republicans, rationalists of the scientistic bent, and the freemasons of secret societies.

For all that, Fr. d’Alzon, a staunch opponent of Bonapartism, that unholy alliance of bourgeois interests and a militarized social order, could not, as a man of the Church, base his hopes on the political, social, or economic developments that began to emerge in the 19th century. Popular aspirations for greater democracy, social justice, and better living conditions interested him only in as much as they let themselves be permeated by a Christian spirit, by a Christian rebirth. So it was that his hopes were dashed at the time of a possible restoration of the monarchy (the so-called Henriquinquiste restoration, after the name the pretender was supposed to take, Henri V). His world was in transition and the world that he hoped to see, the one he fought for, was a world which, in its legislation and economic and social policies, would introduce the primacy of the rights of God, another seminal theme of his thinking. Yet the society of his time seemed to be the prey of a materialistic paganization in which only the rights of man were championed. His standard or flag was the one which bore in gold letters the rights of truth, unity, and charity which the Church taught and practiced in accord with the Gospels command, pauperes evangelizantur (“that the poor may hear the good news’). He was delighted when Fr. Pernet founded the Little Sisters of the Assumption in 1865, because he thought this initiative was an effective social response, in line with the evangelical ideal of charity, capable of penetrating the working classes with Christian meaning. As a Christian of his time, Fr. d’Alzon did not endeavor to change social structures, but rather to infuse them with the Gospel spirit by means of the spiritual energies of the faithful. His involvement in various congresses for the working class after 1870 had no other meaning or goal than to bring about the Kingdom of God in the hearts of those able to exert an influence, from within, on needed social, legislative, and economic changes. His own brand of sociopolitical order was that of the “Christian dream” as he wrote: Fifty or sixty thrones have already fallen, and Satan is intent on overthrowing the throne of the Pope in the same way that he wants to overthrow the throne of Jesus Christ in heaven (E.S., p. 136) or when ho observed: In the Church we contemplate stability in the midst of societies which are crumbling (E.S., p. 137), thoughts that are reminiscent of the well-known dictum “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” Remarks like these indeed have an apocalyptic overtone, but, after all, the Apocalypse, or Book of Revelation, is part of the sacred scriptures, is it not? At any rate, there is no doubt that, in Fr. d’Alzon’s mind, the spirit of the Assumption did not rest on any social ideology, but on the truth of the Gospel, that workers in the vineyard, in their time, are expected to demonstrate enthusiasm and inventiveness in building up the City of Man and transforming it. After 1870, Fr. d’Alzon’s objective, which had been up to then the conversion of the elite to Christianity, became the evangelization of the people (Letters IX 4548).

Here again, should we hold against Fr. d’Alzon the fact that he did not go beyond the traditional model of Christian paternalism? it would be both unfair and foolish, for the real question that should be asked to such a critic is this one: what is it that he himself is ignoring unknowingly or, more positively, how is he working to change, in and around him, the realities of the world in which he lives? The world that we see in transition, the world we hope for, is none other than the one we have under our eyes and in our own prayers. Romantics are always looking for an answer — and a false answer at that — in an idealized vision of the past. Theorists with their ideologies of happiness like to invent the future in the context of eschatological or heavenly prophecies that history never ceases to shatter. It is always a major risk to disregard the present, a lesson in humility and realism that the human condition provides for historians and prophets alike. In the case of Fr. d’Alzon, the lesson did not lose any of its relevance. Even if he realized that an old world was disappearing, he always responded by setting an example of imaginative courage for a world that was emerging, a world Christ leaves freely to laborers of the Kingdom in each generation, a world they are called in their own time to imbue with a measure of eternity. Cardinal Marty, that exceptionally wise Churchman of peasant stock that Providence sent into the worldly circles of Paris, very aptly expressed the message of the Founder, during the centennial celebration of 1980. He told his sons of today, by way of introducing the next millennium, in an unforgettable appeal, “You are heirs; now become founders” For Fr. d’Alzon’s sons and daughters, that’s certainly enough to foster a program of apostolic action that would allow them, in creative fidelity, to cross seas, lands, and centuries.

How invaluable the light of Jesus Christ is if it teaches us that we should single-heartedly seek the pearl of great price for which the merchant in the parable willingly sells all his belongings to purchase. O, limitless good! O, incomparable beauty! O, inexhaustible source of joy! I wish to rush to you, free of all earthly possessions. Give me wings so that I can fly to you, far above the vain deceptions of the world. Let me find my rest in you and you alone. Yes, I leave it to you to decide what will truly make me happy. You are the fulfillment of all happiness. You will raise my mind and my heart to their true resting place by transporting them, now and forever, to the Kingdom above (E.S., p. 363).

 

 

Twelfth Day

The Coming Together of Hearts in God

Dear Eugene, I really enjoy your letters. Should our friendship be any the less because we are unable to see each other frequently? The love between us is not a matter of physical presence, but of our souls and hearts, and distance matters not to them (Letters A 95).

God did not seal our friendship to no avail. When I ask our Lord for a place in his heart, I will also ask him for one for you. The Confraternity of the Sacred Heart Is an excellent one, for members of This association meet twice a day in the heart of divine love (Letters A 95).

These two confidential notes of the young Emmanuel d’Alzon to friends of his younger years, who remained his friends throughout his life, reveal the tone of the voluminous correspondence of Fr. d’Alzon, the major part of which has been lost, according to Fr. Touveneraud’s estimations. Some 8,000 letters of his that have been published were a hidden family secret for a long time. They have certainly not yet entered the Hall of Fame of the French literary heritage, even if they are deeply rooted in 19th century French culture. To appreciate these letters fully, one often needs to decipher the historical background. It is the only way to understand many events of the time and many references made over the years, and to bring to life situations or people that the short memory of humanity casts into oblivion or into the valley of shadows. Only in this way is it possible to rediscover this man in his own context, grappling with the day-to-day problems of his time, when candles were the only source of light and there were no cars, no telephone.

Fr. d’Alzon was an avid writer. He readily admitted that preaching was much more difficult than writing. He was fond of expressing his feelings, ideas, and actions, and of using original and sometimes unexpected metaphors and comparisons to illustrate his thinking. In 1862, he wrote a witty message to Vincent de Paul Bailly about the organization of a pilgrimage in Rome for a group of priests from Nîmes: Imagine this scene. A convoy, not of merchandise, but of priests apart from a few packages is about to go to Rome for the canonization. There would be about twenty bundles of us, with the bishop himself perhaps in the lead. We’d be swooping down there like a flock of sparrows (Letters IV 1760). Blessed with a great ease of expression and a vivid imagination, combined with a sometimes ironic sense of observation, Fr. d’Alzon was trained in the classical style with a tinge of Romanticism. He enjoyed letting himself write often late into the night or even into the wee hours of the morning: I am sending you my blessing. Good night. Go to bed, and I will do the same (Letters IV 1939). He told stories, recounted funny remarks, and gave precise information and instructions. He knew how to get his readers’ attention and shake them up, all the while maintaining a proper and simple tone. He wasn’t too fussy about spelling, capitalization or punctuation. Did he not even claim once the protection of a privilege, the right to make spelling mil takes even if I am a member of the Higher Council of Public Instruction (Letters I 34)? it is true that he doesn’t set himself up as an example for his students! As to names, he decided once and for all that there is no specific spelling for them. This doesn’t make the work of his editors any easier!

But more seriously, with the many, many people for whom he was a spiritual director (unfortunately, his address book has also been lost!), Fr. d’Alzon raised the level of his correspondence to one of serious reflection and profound faith. In fact, he was quite conscious that his correspondence had become a real means of pastoral ministry. That is why it would be a mistake to consider his correspondence a lesser or poorer genre of his spiritual writings. It fully brings to light the spiritual marrow that gave him life; it sketches on a daily basis the various elements of his religious pedagogy, which demonstrated a capacity to relate to all circumstances and ages. Therefore it bears, as much as any other of his writings, the characteristics of the charism of his foundations as well as of his evangelical spirit: Farewell, dear sons. Take heart and strive for holiness. I wish you that perfection which consists in allowing your neighbor to live without fear of being devoured (Letters IV 1807).

The index of Biblical quotations and names he used (Letters XV) shows that Fr. d’Alzon was penetrated with the sacred scriptures, which he had read and meditated on. Almost all the books of the Bible are there. In his writings, the names of the greatest authors of theological and spiritual literature of the time, like Bossuet, Fenelon, Francis de Sales, or Bridaine, who lived not far away, are used to confirm the reliability of his spiritual guidance and give it the seal of recognized authority; but Fr. d’Alzon also referred to contemporary preachers like Fr. Lacordaire, Fr. Faber or Fr. de Monsabre. What is more remarkable in these letters is less the talent and culture of their composer than the faith and doctrine of a man of God who is comfortable with people of his time because he is familiar with the highest truths. To a mother who was tired of household and family worries, Fr. d’Alzon brought the peace that comes from carrying out one’s duties: Everything weighs on you, wears you out, or is a burden. My goodness, you can bring out of all of these burdens something marvelous, for you can change them into so many steps towards God (Letters VI 2835). To a nun who was worried about wasting time in vain, he agreed wholeheartedly with her: in fact, I want you to think of God, I want you to become attached to him because your whole being has been made for him, and I think that the greatest grace you can receive is for you to hasten to remain fixed on him (Letters IV 2105). To a treasurer who worried too much about the future, he ordered with all the weight of his authority: There are terrible complaints about the fact that you are not eating} that you have a premonition of your own death, and that you have dark thoughts. I order you to take good care of yourself in the name of obedience (Letters VII 3234). For one and all, he knew how to find the right words and attitude to restore confidence, balance, and re-grounding in one’s vocation. Fr. d’Alzon carried on a remarkable correspondence with Mother Marie-Eugenie de Jesus over a period of 40 years, one characterized by friendship and mutual sharing worthy of the most beautiful spiritual relationships, even if there were a few dark clouds: I, who lake refuge more and more in solitude, am seeing many things and people disappear from the scene, and it is painful. We really have to say: only God remains, and a few friends, God permitting. I consider you one of the best friends I still have (Letters XIII 6702). This was a friendship that he defined 30 years earlier as a springboard for seeking after God (Letters XIV 514), or as Leibniz defined it, a definition Fr. d’Alzon adopted as his own in a marvelous way: the joy one savors from others’ happiness (Letters XIV 594g). These gems are worth as much as a theological treatise.

For Fr. d’Alzon, what did writing letters mean? It was the passion for friendship refined in the fire of prayer.

I sometimes wonder whether there is in the world of the senses something that can match two hearts coming together in the love of God, two hearts who transform their friendship into a ritual by means of which they reach for the source of all love, and their feelings into a sweet sacrifice. God profoundly loves those who love each other in this way! (Letters A 104).

 

 

Thirteenth Day

Sharing in the Life and Mission of the Assumption

Indeed, my God, if up to now, my eyed have been captivated by the deceptive lights of the world, I pledge that, henceforth, they will be open only to your divine illumination. Help me understand that, away from you, all is lies and illusion, and help me love your teachings! Let your words be a lamp to guide my steps on life’s way till that day when faith, giving way to the reality of your promises, will be eclipsed by the pure and unchanging rays of the eternal dun (T.D. 42, p. 91 - CD A. D00115).

Throughout his life, Fr. d’Alzon knew teamwork. His apprenticeship came early, as a member of the bishop’s council in Nîmes. With a sense of humor he described his experience for a friend in 1836: Apparently, they thought I had a vocation as an administrator and so I was called upon weekly to give advice on cases of conscience referred to the council. Please, don’t make too much fun of a 25 year-old greenhorn sitting with five or six older men and very seriously listening, answering, asking questions and raising objections, and acting as if he knew as much as everyone else (Letters XIV 265 e).

The experience of teamwork continued later on. As the superior of a religious community, he set up an advisory council which grew over the years from three members to seven and then eight. Even if he sometimes found the consultation process cumbersome and slow, Fr. d’Alzon never forsook what he felt was an obligation for his conscience and a group responsibility. But listening did not mean delay in giving direction or making decisions. Thus, he wrote Fr. Picard in 1858 about the mounting difficulties of the foundation in Rethel: Let us make the situation clear for the cardinal [Cardinal Gousset], but we should not hurry. And let us keep our opinion secret. By us, I mean the religious in Rethel. When I am in Paris, in January, I will visit you. We will talk to the cardinal, and it is possible the situation will slowly change (Letters II 1113). The last adverb in the letter tones down a little the impression that we are dealing with the kind of veni, vidi, vinci, dear to Caesar.

But there is another area where Fr. d’Alzon was creative in a time where a clerical Church, with a solid, if not excessive, number of priests did not leave much room to the laity. In his apostolic endeavors Fr. d’Alzon wished to be surrounded by lay people, Christians who were deeply committed and involved, ready to engage in the same battles and run the same risks as members of religious orders. In Nîmes, the two major figures of the Apostolic Third Order, associated with the history of the College de l’Assomption, stand out: Mr. Germer-Durand and Mr. Monnier. Both were tenured university professors. This Third Order was meant to be the lay militia of the Assumption, along with its feminine counterpart, simply known as the Third Order of the Assumption. Fr. d’Alzon gave them instructions with as much regularity as his heavy schedule allowed. He also wrote for them the first main elements of what was to become the Règle de l’Assomption (Rule of the Assumption). After a period of inactivity, the women’s Third Order came back to life. Fr. d’Alzon gave a new form to this movement, which became the Adoratrices du Saint Sacrament (Adorers of the Blesed Sacrament). Something quite similar was picked up again much later by Fr. Picard, in 1896 in the more classical form of a religious congregation, the Orantes of the Assumption, which he co-founded with Mother Isabelle. Still, the basic concept remained unchanged: apostolic activity, the spirit of the Assumption, and the mission were to be shared with lay people who adopted this spirit and could give it life in various places or sectors of society so as to extend the influence of the Assumption in the world.

Of course, colleges and other academic institutions that were founded or operated by Assumptionists always needed lay teachers, administrators and staff members, if only to make up for the lack of religious vocations, at the high school and university levels. The same was true of other types of institutions under religious supervision, like hospitals, other social works, the Bonne Presse, etc. But that was not the reason at the outset. The direction taken by Fr. d’Alzon was the result of a deliberate and thoroughly considered act. Thus, the presence of lay people in the Assumption did not result primarily from a strategy to compensate for the lack of religious. Lay people may have been hired for professional reasons, but the decision was taken first of all in view of the apostolate and of sharing a common spirit and mission. Thus, the deep friendship between Fr. d’Alzon and Mr. Germer-Durand and Mr. Monnier was not restricted to their philosophical or professional agreement on teaching. It resulted, rather, from a deep affection, a common faith, and a responsibility for the mission of the great family of the Assumption in the area of education, not as something extended to include lay people, but as something which embraced them right from the jtart.

Of course, some will object that lay people in the 19th century managed to carve out a place for themselves in the Church outside the spiritual, missionary or charitable associations under religious or clerical obedience or leadership. And that remark is well founded. Pauline Jaricot led the Propagation of the Faith, a group of students joined Frederic Ozanam to launch the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Conferences, Louis Veuillot, who presided over the publication L’Univers, nearly became the spiritual director of the French clergy! Albert de Mun, Armand de Melun and Leon Harmel, three members of the laity, headed up works or associations of Christian inspiration for the working class, etc. But this observation simply reinforces the relevancy of Fr. d’Alzon’s impulse or intuition that lay people are, as a matter of right, participants in the Church’s mission, regardless of the concrete form their involvement may take or the type of supervision. Their full-fledged vocation does not make them in any way second-class citizens in the mandate to spread the Gospel; just the opposite. They are not there to fill gaps, but they are there to fulfill their dignity as baptized Christians in the waters of a spiritual family, the Assumption.

This involvement of the laity in the spirit and mission of the Assumption has taken various forms, such as the associations of Our Lady of Salvation (public prayer services and pilgrimages), Our Lady of Vocations (prayer and financial support of high school seminaries) or the Purgatory Crusades (prayer and support for priests), the Hospitallers of Our Lady of Salvation (escorting the sick on pilgrimages), the Our Lady of Salvation Fraternities of the Little Sisters of the Assumption (grouping of families where nursing auxiliaries of the Little Sisters would provide assistance in a Christian spirit), development offices (financial support and prayer for missions and vocations), and networks of benefactors, of readers and distributors of Assumptionist publications, of individuals who actively supported Assumptionist social, charitable, or educational works, or so many others who always supported the apostolic work of the Assumptionists wherever they were located. An organization is being set up right now to turn these rather scattered and fragmented groups into more structured, interrelated units. Let us simply remark that, from the very beginning, the role of women and families was considerable.

One can discover some written evidence of this conviction of Fr. d’Alzon in the articles he wrote from 1875 to 1879 for the publication L’Assomption de Nîmes, the forerunner of the present century-old L’Assomption et ses Œuvres, the basic goal of which is still the same, that is, to make known everything that the Assumption Family experiences in its various dimensions, religious and lay. Once again, in this regard, the future is wide open.

You may ask yourself, “How can do we such things?” Here is my answer: How could Mud Jaricot, a poor, young woman who was always sick, found the Propagation of the Faith? How could a poor woman in Lyon [Agathe Tavet], without any resources, start her work for the armed forces? ... How could three boarders at Saint-Maur in Nîmes launch the St. Francis de Sales mission? When Our Lord wanted to found his Church, he asked a poor fisherman: “Simon, don of John, do you love me more than these?” As to me, I dare ask two women of good will: “Alary and Isabelle, do you love Jesus Christ?” That’s everything (Letters V 2342).

 

 

Fourteenth Day

Handing Over the Torch

May Our Lord, the Holy Virgin and all the apostles take you under their wings, so that you may bring light to those who languish in darkness and in the shadow of death and guide them in the way to peace (T.D. 51, p. 300 - CD A. D01714).

Fr. d’Alzon knew he would not live forever.  On nearly all of his birthdays, he noted that he was getting older and it was time for him to turn his thoughts to heaven. Updates on his health became more frequent and alarming, like this one: For the past three days, I have been as sick as four dogs (Letters XIII 6808). As a result, it is fair to say that, in many ways, he prepared himself carefully for his earthly farewell. Since the 1870s, he had felt tired and old beyond his years, but not just physically. For this reason, apostolic initiatives of the Assumptionists, in the aftermath of the French military defeat to the Prussians in 1870, the taking of Rome by the Piedmontese, and the French civil war known as La Commune, were launched more and more from Paris than from Nîmes. Frs. Picard, Pernet, and Vincent de Paul Bailly were at the cutting edge of events that led to the creation of the Association Notre-Dame-de-Salut (Our Lady of Salvation Confraternity), an organization in charge of large pilgrimages, or the beginnings of La Bonne Presse (now Bayard Press), which was to become a powerhouse of Catholic opinion. Back in Nîmes, Fr. d’Alzon was a source of encouragement, guidance and advice, but he was no longer the driving force of the operation. He was well aware of this, but without the slightest sadness or bitterness, for he had full confidence in his colleagues.

At the general chapter of 1876, in spite of the opposition of many religious, he held fast to his plan to make sure that the governance of the Congregation would no longer be entirely centralized, but, from then on, handed over to provincial structures. Nîmes would remain the birth place but no longer the central hub; at the same time, the provinces of Paris and Andrinopolis were erected. Fr. d’Alzon was not trying to shed his responsibility, but effectively to transfer and share the exercise of central authority. Fr. Picard in Paris, Fr. Galabert in Andrinopolis, and Fr. Emmanuel Bailly were more than mere cogs on the wheel to carry out one man’s orders. They were partners who fully contributed to the reflection and decision-making which determined the future of the entire operation. Fr. d’Alzon felt the need to lighten the load on his shoulder and free himself for other matters: Here in Nîmes, I would like to let go of a lot of things do that I can do what I feel I should do before I die (Letters XI 5727).

During hours of solitude and retreat when Fr. d’Alzon assessed his activities and tried to reexamine his life, it wasn’t hard for him to prioritize the options before him: Before I die, I would really like to expand the mission of the alumnates, because I think it is one of the most important things for the Church (Letters XI 5276).

The alumnates were like prep seminaries (high school level) the mission of which was to nurture vocations to the priesthood for youngsters from poor social classes, very often from rural areas. Their origin is lost sometime back in the Middle Ages, in the shadows of monastic abbeys. Something similar was picked up and adapted in the 19th century, especially by Fr. de Foresta, a Jesuit, who built such institutions near colleges. They were given different names according to the various traditions which characterize the colorful world of religious congregations. As for the Assumptionists, Fr. d’Alzon himself signed the birth certificate of the first alumnate on August 28, 1871 on a small peak in Savoy, Notre-Dame des Chateaux, above Beaufort-sur-Doron. The school was set high in rocky solitude and in the bright sunlight radiating from surrounding glaciers, a dual symbol of the fecundity that was to insure the posterity of the Congregation for a hundred years. There is a tone of spiritual childhood in the descriptions Fr. d’Al-zon wrote at the time: Try to imagine that this hill which dwarfs the Cog commands a view of four splendid valleys: to the south, a long row of fir trees stretching seven or eight kilometers from Notre-Dame; behind us, a sugar-loaf peak behind which the moon deemed like a thief to us tonight; to the right, the magnificent valley of Vlllars and Albertville... and slightly to the right, the Arêches valley which is crowned by those mountains covered with eternal snows... What a world of nature! Evergreens, prairies and vast forests! Pure air! Fresh milk! It’s enough to whet your appetite! (Letters IX 4394).

Here were all the symbols of a new birth on this vocational Tabor, on this modern Megiddo towering over the valley of Jezreel. It seemed to reflect what Fr. d’Alzon had striven for throughout his life: to re-imbue his apostolic faith, characterized by preaching to the crowds on the plain, with the monastic tradition, re-discovered on the mountain of solitude and prayer. It is also a reflection of what the Congregation undertook as of 1870, with its popular forms of ministry, preparing the plan of attack he described as the Christian regeneration of the masses.

In the last decade of Fr. d’Alzon s life, from 1870 to 1880, there was established what would assure the life of successive generations of Assumptionists, the passing on of an emerging family spirit: the first disciples, who had shared the life of the founder, discovered in the students of the alumnates receptive young men to whom they could hand on the teachings and the traditions of the Assumption. In this bridging of generations, Fr. d’Alzon was able to guarantee a sense of family between the “old” and the “young”, the former being invited to rediscover in their immersion with the young the fervor of their own religious beginnings, and the latter to find strength in the life itself which their elders had received from the founder. It was a transmission that was both direct and unifying.

A similar transition occurred when the Bonne Presse was created. In the euphoria of the years around 1848, Fr. d’Alzon entered the field of journalism by launching a review entitled La Liberté pour tous in Nîmes. This publication was not particularly successful and its influence was limited to the city itself. A few years later, he gave the college in Nîmes a broader, national mission by introducing another review entitled Revue de l’enseignement chrétien in order to consolidate all the initiatives in education that were allowed by the so-called Falloux Law of 1850. In 1872, a related concern led him back to this arena, yet this time at the university level, to gain freedom in higher education. However, another kind of journalism characterized Fr. Vincent de Paul Bailly’s style. Rather than the heavy articles of Fr. d’Alzon, which were scholarly, well-argued and doctrinal in tone, he preferred lighter artillery: news items, the daily paper, images, and captions. After a few heated exchanges, Fr. d’Alzon set his disciple free, all the while keeping a watchful eye on him and scolding him, if necessary, with regard to his sometimes flippant style in the Pelerin. Here again, there was a clear transition between a publication aimed at an audience that was rather well-educated and limited in number to the columns of a magazine which, before the creation of La Croix, would develop and nurture a Christian awareness in and for the masses.

Lord, you instructed us to feed the crowd, but where will we find the kind of food they need! People are disgusted with the food of the past, just as the Jews in the desert could no longer stand the manna. We do not know which words to use to get the message across. Children s milk is below their dignity, but their stomach cannot handle the bread that is fit for the strong. Lord, show us what we have to do, teach us the way to speak to their hearts, tell us what food is most suitable for them (T.D. 51, p. 112 - CD A. D01648).

 

 

Fifteenth Day

To God, Light of Truth, Source of Life, and Ocean of Love

Lord, let my Love, burning more ardently with each padding day, bring me ever closer to you until the happy day when, having drawn my dying breath, I become united to you forever more. “The reason for loving God is God himself, and the measure of love is to love Him without measure” Saint Bernard (E.S., p. 418).

Fr. d’Alzon took leave of his brothers on earth on Sunday, November 21, 1880, in Nîmes, on the feast of the Presentation of Mary, as the Angelus bells pealed. The bishop, Msgr. Besson, had obtained from Jules Simon a stay in carrying out the state decree banishing all teaching religious congregations and sending them into exile, as the lay* (*“lay” in the sense understood in 19th century French history of the absolute separation of Church and State with undertones of a certain antipathy toward the Church) Republic had required. Some 73 religious were present at the bedside of their dying founder to receive his last blessing before they would have to leave for Spain or the East.

Humanly speaking, Fr. d’Alzon’s legacy seemed to be shaken to its very foundations: the Oblates were to undergo great trials two years later by being separated from the male religious; among the latter, the turmoil of dispersion triggered a few desertions. But under Fr. Picard’s leadership, the Congregation soon achieved greater unity, developed, and increased the number of its daring foundations, as if this farewell, difficult as it was, infused it with new energy. A man of supernatural conviction, Fr. d’Alzon was not daunted by the adverse winds that arose in his final days. For a long time he had practiced in his own life the spiritual advice he gave to a nun shortly before his death: Believe me, do not be jparing, but give of yourself and when you have given of yourself, do not be surprised that Our Lord will put you where it well pleaded him. Father, thy will be done! That was his cry as the night of his final trial began. Let it be your cry now in your present circumstances (Letters XIII 6663). Was the Republican government going to expel religious congregations? Fr. d’Alzon went about making arrangements calmly: Persecution is constant. Day after day. We are preparing to leave for Spain, God willing... In the end, may God be with us! (Letters XIII 7066). At the end of his life Fr. d’Alzon’s hope was as deep as his faith: Can you believe it? I compare myself to Abraham, who had only one son, and his son had only two, one of whom was set aside; yet he was the father of God’s people (Letters XIII 6634).

Fr. d’Alzon also prepared himself spiritually by one retreat after another like one he made at the Carthusian monastery of Valbonne: I do not feel I could live the life of the Carthusians, but their proximity is comforting; it is an invitation to enter into oneself and prepare for the Last Judgment. Silence brings peace, and one feels undeserving when in the presence of this life steeped in solitude (Letters XIII 7054). A man at peace, he prepared to leave his earthly dwelling to enjoy God’s presence, with a prayer full of confidence on his lips: O Jesus, I put all my trust in you. May you grant me the favor of preparing constantly for death; and if it means for me a punishment that I accept, let it be a means of mortification, a preparation for my homeland, the hope of possessing you, a triumph made possible by your agony and death (T.D. 47, p. 329 - CD A. D01088). Fr. d’Alzon s departure from earth was not an escape, but an “until we meet in God,” prayed in unison with his brothers, with total trust and abnegation.

The mortal remains of Fr. d’Alzon were transferred several times. His body was buried in the Saint Baudille Cemetery in 1880, but moved to the chapel of his College on the fiftieth anniversary of this institution, and then, in 1942, placed in the vault he had designed himself at the bottom of the stairway leading from the choir of the Oblates’ chapel, on Seguier Street in Nîmes. That is where he rests to this day.

To discover where his memory most clearly lives on, one needs to look simply at the life of the Congregations he founded. Like Augustine of Hippo, Fr. d’Alzon knew that the ways of Providence are neither limited to the past nor circumscribed by the present. For the first time his future was unveiled when, on December 21, 1991, Pope John Paul II signed the decree declaring Fr. d’Alzon venerable, after passing through, on its initial attempt, the maze which his cause experienced in Rome, lasting more than 30 years. But the Church, which received the promise of everlasting life, seems to be taking her time in this matter, and it is probably someone after this pope (i.e. John Paul II)—a pope who oversaw an astounding number of beatifications and canonizations— who will have the joy of pleasing the Assumption Family one day with this announcement, if such is the will of God (and of his humble servant). Did Fr. d’Alzon not fulfill his part of the bargain with Mother Marie-Eugenie de Jesus by dedicating himself to her holiness? She was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1975 (and canonized in 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI). He confided to her, if you can believe what he himself says, that, on September 8, 1846, he made this vow: I made one more vow, that of dedicating myself fully to your perfection. (Letters C 485). In reviewing the evidence for someone’s holiness to be recognized, the Church is not afraid to impose the most exacting scientific requirements. Let us leave to God the charge of manifesting his omnipotence in Fr. d’Alzon s regard, to Him who is the light and source of truth and an ocean of love. On this path to sainthood, Fr. d’Alzon allowed himself to be preceded not only by his spiritual daughter, but also by one of his first disciples, Fr. Pernet, who was declared venerable in 1983. In 2002, the martyrdom of three Bulgarian Assumptionists in 1952 was recognized. A series of causes has now been introduced; that of Fr. Marie-Clement Staub, a French Assumptionist who lived in North America and was the founder of the Sisters of St. Joan of Arc, seems to be well on its way.

As to myself, I have not refrained in these pages from painting a realistic portrait of Fr. d’Alzon, who, at one and the same time, was firmly rooted in human history and in his own personal relationship with God. Along the way, I did not try to hide a number of weaknesses in Fr. d’Alzon’s attitude or thought that can be partly explained by the spirit of a time that now seems quite remote from us, such as the anti-ecumenical consequences of his ecclesiology, his justification of intolerance, or his scathing judgments of people, which displayed a lack of charity. Nonetheless, my filial admiration and love for Fr. d’Alzon remain intact, based on frequent, assiduous study of his writings, the unqualifiedly apostolic character of his commitments, and the spiritual harvest of his endeavors. In the testimony of his virtues and activities, he left to the Church convincing evidence of a faith that was entirely dedicated to the glory of God, the sanctification of souls, and the building of the Kingdom in hearts. May his daughters and sons one day be able celebrate his holiness at the altar, with the whole Assumption Family in attendance. In Rome, visitors can find behind the altar of the General House chapel a mosaic symbolizing the love of Christ, Mary and the Church. In the center, Christ in majesty, with a crown and the red robe of witnesses, beckons to him Mary and the Church, represented by the bark of Peter. In this mosaic one sees the horizons of the life and faith of Fr. d’Alzon, who chose the Kingdom as his dwelling: a kingdom of life, of combat, and of love in which Mary and the Church are the towering figures.

Let us thank God, who prepared all these marvelous things! Let us glorify Paul the Apostle who accomplished them, and let us ask that we might partake of these same goods through the grace and charity of Jesus Christ Our Lord through whom and with whom may glory be given to the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen (T.D. 42, p. 141 - CD A. D0121).

 

 

Bibliography

The Works of Emmanuel d’Alzon

♦               All of the works of Fr. d’Alzon can be found in one place on CD, organized into five sections with a thesaurus: A (the major writings or directives), B (correspondence), C (other printed writings), D (non-published pieces), E (notes recorded by third parties). The most recent version may be obtained by writing to: Assumptionist Community, Rue des Braves 21, 1081 Brussels, Belgium (maranatha@advalvas.be).

♦               In order to obtain written copies, one may write to: Assumptionist General House, Archives Office, 55, San Pio V, 00165, Rome, Italy (availability depends on current stocks). The entire correspondence of Fr. d’Alzon is now available.

♦               A CD album of material regarding Fr. d’Alzon (photos, documents of the period, etc.) is also available at the Brussels address cited above.

Select Bibliography (Fr. d’Alzon)

+              The Assumptionist Spirit according to Emmanuel d’Alzon, Rome, 1993

+              Foy, Sr. Thérèse-Marie. Emmanuel d’Alzon, une vie chevaleresque, 75015 Paris, 203 rue Lecourbe (general house of the Oblates of the Assumption), 2000

+              Historical Colloquium proceedings, Emmanuel d’Alzon dans la société et l’Eglise du XIXe siecle, Centurion, 1982

+              Historical File, Vie et Vertus du P. d’Alzon, Rome, 1986

+              Périer-Muzet, Jean-Paul. Father Emmanuel d’Alzon: in His Own Words, A Dalzonian Anthology, Rome (general house of the Assumptionists), 2003

+              Seve, Andre. Christ is My Life: The Spiritual Legacy of Emmanuel d’Alzon, New City Press, 1988

Texts and History, Augustinians of the Assumption

+              Guissard, Lucien. The Assumptionists: From Past to Present. Bayard, 2002

+              Héritiers de l’Évangile. Prier trente jours avec les religieux de l’Assomption. Bayard éditions, 1999

+              Internet site for the Assumptionists: http://www.assumptio.org

+              Mémoire Assomptionniste: Écrits au fil des ans 1850-2000, Editions du Bugey, 2000

+              Kombi, Fr. Floribert Ngwese, A.A. He has gathered a repertory of the prayer formulas in Fr. d’Alzon’s writings. Here I would like to express a note of appreciation for this effort.

+              Périer-Muzet, Jean-Paul. Notices biographiques des Religieux de l’Assomption, des origines à nos jours, 5 volumes, Rome, 2000-2001

+              Tavard, Georges. La Foi et Le Royaume: Emmanuel d’Alzon et la spiritualité de l’Assomption, Cerf, Paris, 2003

+              Various booklets on Fr. d’Alzon and the Congregation published by the general house of the Assumptionists in Rome

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 January 2011 13:26
 
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