The feast of St. Claude de la Colombiere is very timely, as it lands on the day after Valentine’s Day. A day marked with hearts galore.
Up until this year, all I knew about the man is that he was the confessor to the mystic, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, and played a big role in promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. These are two very important responsibilities, and yet there is still so much more to know and admire about him!
St. Claude de la Colombiere’s Early Life
Claude was born in France on February 2nd, 1641. His family eventually moved to Vienne where he began his early education and later he studied rhetoric and philosophy in Lyon. He loved the arts, literature, and was considered a social butterfly.
While he was studying in Lyon, he felt a call to religious life, specifically to the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits, a religious order founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola. He entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Avignon when he was just seventeen years old. Here he made his first vows with the order and became a professor of both grammar and literature. He eventually traveled to Paris to study theology and returned to Lyon as a priest.
A Passion for Preaching
Claude dedicated himself to meditating on the life of Jesus, so as to belong to Him fully. He wrote in his journal, “I see that I absolutely must belong to him…I have a free heart.”
He accepted trials with the mindset “that God only expects these things of us out of friendship.” It was Claude’s friendship with Christ which gave him joy and perseverance to passionately and effectively preach the Gospel. A man of confidence and conviction, he was known for his great homiletics. He knew his target audience, enabling him to speak directly and in a way which caught people’s attention. His published sermons continue to bear fruit today.
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A Friend and Supporter
On his 34th birthday he was appointed rector of the Jesuit community at Paray-le-Monial as well as the spiritual director of the Monastery next door, the Monastery of the Visitation Sisters. Margaret Mary Alacoque was at this Monastery, and was waiting for the Lord to provide her a friend who would help to promote the message which Jesus was revealing to her, the message to promote devotion to His Sacred Heart.
Upon meeting Father Colombiere, it became apparent that he was the friend she was looking for. Father Colombiere believed that the apparitions which she was receiving were authentic and he strongly encouraged her to write down everything she could about the messages the Lord was giving to her. Father Colombiere was devoted to helping Margaret Mary in her mission to bring others into the love of Jesus’ Most Sacred Heart and played a big part in making this devotion more well known.
Travels and Tribulation
Claude spent less than two years in Paray, and in 1676 he was sent to be the preacher to the Duchess of York and moved to St. James Palace in London. During his time there, he witnessed many people become reconciled with the Church, writing, “I could write a book about the mercy of God I’ve seen Him exercise since I arrived here!”
He worked vigorously in London, but before long he showed signs of a serious pulmonary disease. His health continued to decline when in 1678 he spent three weeks in prison due to being falsely accused of being involved in a plot to kill the King. The allegations were made by Anglican clergyman Titus Oates and this conspiracy is known as the “Popish Plot.”
This plot claimed that the Jesuits were planning to kill King Charles II in order to bring his Catholic brother James to the throne. Fortunately, one of Claude’s assignments included tutoring the sons of the finance minister to King Louis XI, and so Louis was able to negotiate his release. While this saved him from martyrdom, he was still expelled from England and returned to France where his health deteriorated quickly.
On February 15th of 1682, the first Sunday of Lent, he died of a hemorrhage at the age of forty-two. Pope John Paul II canonized him a Saint in 1992. His relics are venerated near the Monastery of the Visitation in Paray-le-Monial.
Tender Care and a Wild Run
I pray that we heed the prompting of JPII in his closing homily for the canonization Mass of St. Claude, and remember that the canonization of this man is meant to “be for the whole Church an appeal to live the consecration to the Heart of Christ, a consecration which is a self-giving that allows the charity of Christ to inspire us, pardon us and lead us in his ardent desire to open the ways of truth and life to all our brothers and sister!”
The Sacred Heart…loves foolishly by the world’s standards. It cares tenderly for the small and sick that the world ignores. It runs wildly after one lost sheep. It rejoices lavishly over a single repentant sinner. It rescues each of us from where we were scattered when it was cloudy and dark.
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