Saint John Eudes: Apostle of the Heart of Jesus and Mary

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Based on theological foundations and close mystical ties with Christ and Mary, he was at the forefront of the devotion to their two loving Hearts being one in the unity of spirit, feeling, and affection.

Newsroom (August 20, 2021, 10:47 AM, Gaudium Press) Born on November 14, 1601, in the village of Ri, near Argentan, John Eudes was the answer of Providence to the pleas of his parents. Overwhelmed by the prospect of having no children, they went on pilgrimage to a Marian sanctuary to implore this grace. There they consecrated beforehand the offspring of their union to Our Lady. In a short time, the child was born, and they quickly took him to the baptismal font.

During his childhood years, the family was able to see how God had accepted their offering: the child’s religious vocation was visible. While still a child, he spared no effort to receive communion frequently, against the Jansenist tendency then prevailing, as he confirms: “Being in a parish where very few people received the Holy Communion outside Easter, I began to know God, by a special grace of his Divine Goodness, when I was about 12 years old. I received communion every month after making a general confession. It was on the feast of Pentecost that He granted me the grace of making my First Communion. […] Shortly afterward, He also gave me the grace of consecrating my body to Him by the vow of chastity.”

Chosen for the service of the Church

When he was 19, he heard the call to the ecclesiastic life, and the diocesan bishop gave him the tonsure and minor orders.

His vocation, however, was yet to blossom. During his contact with the members of the newly founded Oratory of Berulle, John Eudes felt the call of grace to take a decisive step: to take part in this new spiritual family dedicated to honoring the mystery of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Impressed by the exemplary life of its clerics, he presented himself at the doors of the convent to request admission and the Superior of the community of Caen welcomed his request.

With a determined step, this 22-year-old entered the Congregation of the Oratory. Shortly afterward, they sent him to the seminary in Paris. His priestly ordination took place only two years later. And the following month, he was to accomplish his first mission.

Missionary vocation

Let us listen to him narrate the reasons which led him to embrace this cause early on, and which would be that of his whole life: ” There is something deplorable to the extent of shedding tears of blood to see that among the great number of men who inhabit the earth, who have been baptized and consequently admitted to the condition of being children of God, members of Jesus Christ and living temples of the Holy Spirit, and therefore obliged to lead a life in conformity with these divine qualities, there are many more who live like animals, like pagans, and even like demons; there is hardly anyone who behaves like a true Christian.”

The time he spent in the glamorous capital contrasted with the arduous work of his ministry in the regions where so many abandoned the Catholic population. For this reason, St. John Eudes exclaimed with justified indignation: “What are so many doctors and so many bachelors doing in Paris while souls perish by the thousands for lack of someone to stretch out a hand to save them from damnation and rescue them from the eternal fire? Believe me! I would go to Paris and shout at the Sorbonne and the other faculties: Fire! Fire! The fire of hell burns the whole universe! Come, doctors, come, bachelors, come, priests, come, all of you, ecclesiastics, come and help to put it out!”

They could measure the effects of his preaching by the attendance of the public, which often flocked to the cathedral squares by the thousands. The number of people who went there was not only concerning attendance, but also to the number of Sacraments administered: “It breaks the heart of a pious man to see a great number of these poor people coming from three or four places, despite the bad roads, to ask, in tears, to be heard in Confession, and who remain from six to eight days without being heard, sleeping at night in the porches and in the markets, whatever the weather might be.”

During the long decades dedicated to this specific form of apostolate, St. John Eudes organized about 110 missions which usually lasted several months and covered vast territories. Not even King Louis XIV and Queen Anne of Austria failed to benefit from his teachings, for the Saint preached in Versailles, where he severely condemned the misconduct of the sovereigns. Recognizing themselves worthy of those words, they both came to hold him in high esteem and favor him whenever an occasion arose.

The Dawn of Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

In this context of prolific pastoral activity, St. John Eudes noticed the damage done by the Jansenist heresy, which was then in full expansion. The followers of this harmful current, who pretended to have a high spirituality, led people to doubt God’s mercy. They mistakenly believed that God excluded them from the number of the chosen. Thus, countless Catholics abandoned the practice of the Faith out of despair of salvation.

Firmly convinced of the contrary, he soon set out to reverse this situation. His missionary activity had the purpose of bringing repentant souls closer to the Love of God. In this way, he assured them that God would never abandon them, even when burdened with serious faults. Faithful to an interior call that moved him to preach this love, the saintly priest did not delay in linking the infinite charity of Christ with his human-divine Heart. The organ in which the fullness of the Divinity dwells.

Indeed, “Saint John Eudes is the first theologian who dealt with the specific subject of the devotion to the Heart of Jesus,” states Lebrun. Overflowing with enthusiasm, the Saint proclaimed: “The majestic Heart of Jesus is a furnace of love which spreads its fire and its flames everywhere, in Heaven, on earth; and in the entire universe. All the creatures on earth, even the insensible, inanimate, and irrational, experience the incredible effects of the kindness of this magnificent Heart.”

To set this doctrine in the minds of the faithful, he composed a Mass and Office in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The texts bear witness to its author’s anointing, devotion, and purity of doctrine to this day. Thanks to St. John Eudes, the Divine Heart was officially honored for the first time in the history of the Church. That earned him the title of “author of the liturgical cult to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.”

When St. Margaret Mary Alacoque’s revelations occurred in Paray-le-Monial in 1675, St. Eudes had already prepared the people to respond to her call of love.

The Heart of Jesus and Mary

Those who did not want to recognize, in this cult, the breath of the Holy Spirit immediately rebuked him. Without hesitating, the Saint shrewdly responded: “If this devotion is opposed because of novelty, I will answer that novelty is very damaging in the things of faith, but very good in the matters of devotion.”

Convinced that this new devotion originated in the plans of the Providence, St. John Eudes showed, through theological arguments, that the Hearts of Jesus and Mary have no differences between them, but constitute, by the union existing between them, one Heart. “We have never intended, however, to separate two things which God has so closely united, such as the Heart of the Son of God and His Blessed Mother. On the contrary, the purpose of our congregation has always been to contemplate and honor these two lovable Hearts as one Heart in their unity of spirit, feelings, and affection. It is evident in the salutation we make every day to the Divine Heart of Jesus and Mary, as well as in prayer, in parts of the Office, and the Mass, we celebrate on the feast of the Sacred Heart of the Virgin Mary.”

Two new congregations for the Church

For 78 years, he was a constant lesson of perseverance. He never gave up in the fight against the enemies of the Church, eager to snatch the sheep from the flock of Christ. He dedicated himself up to his last breath for the good of souls. The mission he undertook when he wa 70 years old, where he experienced superhuman energies, was a sign that this dedication was a grateful offering to God: “God gave me so much strength in this mission, that I preached almost every day, for twelve weeks, to a huge assembly gathered in the cathedral, with the same vigor that I had when I was 30 years old. It is why I have resolved to spend the rest of my life in this mission.”

The most challenging moment for him was to leave the Oratory to which he was bound. He went to establish two new religious families for the Holy Church. In 1643, he founded the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, dedicated to training the clergy and keeping the parish missions going. In 1651, he founded the Refuge of Our Lady of Charity to help women at risk.

God had also reserved him the crowning achievement of spiritual descendants committed to glorifying him according to the charism that guided his existence. More than three centuries after the death of Saint John Eudes, his sons and daughters through valuable evangelization programs around the world echo what he constantly said: “Long live Jesus and Mary!”, which sums up the ideals that inspired this giant of the Faith

Sr. Carmela Werner Ferreira, EP

Compiled by Ena Alfaro

Text from the magazine Heralds of the Gospel, August 2015. n. 164, p. 18- 21

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