CARMEL'S MOST RECENT BLESSED:
FR MARIE-EUGÈNE OF THE CHILD JESUS
The author, a Discalced Carmelite friar, is Bishop
of Raphoe in the north-west of Ireland. In this article, he evokes
the spiritual greatness of Fr Marie-Eugène, and draws links
with the teachings of the Carmelite saints which are echoed in the
life and doctrine of our most recent Carmelite to be beatified.
BISHOP PHILIP BOYCE
A prayerful spirit
The great charisms in the Church continue to give rise to new shoots
of sanctity. Blessed Marie-Eugène is the most recent one
in the Carmelite family. His beatification took place, appropriately,
on November 19, 2016, the feast of another holy Carmelite friar,
St Raphael Kalinowski. There were days of rejoicing and thanksgiving
in Southern France on that and subsequent days.
The beatification took place at the Parc des Expositions (the Exhibition
Centre) in Avignon. Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation
for the Causes of Saints, performed the ceremony. Over nine thousand
people, among them nearly five hundred priests with forty bishops
and numerous Carmelite fathers, were present. It was the crowning
of a life of faithful, and at times heroic, service to Christ and
to the Church.
The whole event was organised to perfection by members of the Secular
Institute, Notre-Dame de Vie (Our Lady of Life) which was founded
by Fr Marie-Eugène. One could easily perceive the devotion
and happiness of those belonging to or associated with the Institute,
who came in large numbers not only from France but also from other
countries such as the Philippines, Mexico, Germany and Italy. The
prayerful spirit, which was a characteristic feature of Fr Marie-Eugène
and of all his disciples, permeated the various celebrations.
A new form of consecrated life
The origins of the Institute of Notre-Dame de Vie go back to 1929
when some educated women came to Fr Marie-Eugène for spiritual
guidance and formation in prayer. The group was given official recognition
by the Bishop of Avignon and the Superior General of the Discalced
Carmelite Order on June 24, 1937. Ten years later, when Pope Pius
XII promulgated the Constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia (February
2, 1947), defining a new form of consecrated life in the Church,
namely Secular Institutes, it became clear that this was the canonical
form destined for Fr Marie-Eugène's group. They would unify
contemplative prayer and active apostolate in the different callings
and professions they had in society, becoming consecrated people
of prayer, bearing witness to Christ and his Gospel by their lives.
A number of diocesan priests began to come to Fr Marie-Eugène
as from 1959, and the priestly branch received an initial ecclesiastical
approval in 1961. Three years later, they took their first vows
as members of the Institute. There were also groups of lay men who
followed the same spirituality. Notre-Dame de Vie was officially
recognised by Papal approval in 1973 as a single Institute with
three branches: that of lay women, priests and lay men. They live
their consecrated life in the midst of the secular. At present there
are about five hundred lay members and over a hundred priests. While
living their ordinary life in the secular sphere, they are totally
consecrated to the Lord in a deep spirit of daily prayer.
Hope and new life
They now venerate their founder, Fr Marie-Eugène Grialou,
among the blessed in heaven. Here on earth, he searched for Christ
in the depths of the soul: in 'the centre, the room or palace occupied
by the King', according to St Teresa of Jesus. He now adores Christ
in the glory of all the saints in heaven.
Saints are given to us as pointers to heaven. They remind us of
eternal truths and of our final destination. They live in a heroic
and exemplary manner. They bring many souls with them to a life
of conversion and holiness. If it were not for the presence and
working of these saintly men and women, society would have fallen
much deeper into despair and discord, into falsehood and sin. Saints
give hope and new life to the Church and to the world.
An authentic model of holiness
Blessed Marie-Eugène is now one of those luminous figures.
He is now invoked, with the authority of the Church, not simply
as 'Fr Marie-Eugène', but as 'Blessed Marie-Eugène'.
We can celebrate his memory in the official liturgy of the Church,
pray to him, ask his intercession and imitate him as an authentic
model of holiness.
The influence of his holy life, of his charism and of his writings
has helped and inspired many people: first of all, the members of
the Institute of Notre-Dame de Vie and those associated with it;
then, his Carmelite brothers and sisters have been encouraged and
heartened to see one of their own make progress on the way of perfection,
live out in daily life the Carmelite ideal and give us a masterful
exposition of Carmelite spirituality. Many thousands of other people
know Blessed Marie-Eugène from his spiritual writings, especially
from his masterpiece in two volumes: I Want to See God and I am
a Daughter of the Church. These people, too, will rejoice on this
occasion and turn again to his writings for spiritual nourishment.
His struggles and his fidelity show us that sanctity is not an exalted
aim far beyond our reach, but is the outcome of a good life that
is lived with fidelity and perseverance in an ongoing conversion
of heart and mind to the living God.
'Tried as in a furnace'
Blessed Marie-Eugène was not a ready-made saint. If he were,
if he had not had to struggle, he would not be an example for us.
He had to control his impetuous nature, his impatience when things
were not going smoothly, and learn persevering endurance in the
dark hours of faith and contemplation. Holy men and women, whom
the Church puts forward as models of holiness, are able to help
us because they too had to struggle against imperfection. As Blessed
John Henry Newman once said, when speaking on this subject: a saint
has 'the same temptations as another; perhaps greater, because he
is to be tried as in a furnace, because he is to become rich in
merits, because there is a bright crown reserved for him in Heaven;
still temptation he has, and he differs from others, not in being
shielded from it, but in being armed against it.'
In this sense he was not unlike another Carmelite, St Elizabeth
of the Trinity, who was canonised last October. When she entered
the silence and peace of Carmel, she found that she had to battle
against hypersensitivity, scruples and dryness of spirit. She needed
the 'determined determination' of which St Teresa speaks in The
Way of Perfection (WP 21:2).
Similarly with St Thérèse of the Child Jesus. Blessed
Marie-Eugène had a profound knowledge of her spirituality.
He incorporated the essentials of her 'Little Way' of Spiritual
Childhood into the demanding asceticism of the passive Dark Nights.
Most people remain at the simple and undemanding appearances of
her 'Little Way'; but beneath their seeming simplicity, they hide
a wealth of profound doctrine and exacting self-forgetfulness.
From John to Thérèse
Blessed Marie-Eugène showed how Thérèse's
way of Spiritual Childhood is a modern application of the doctrine
of St John of the Cross with its rigorous demands of theological
hope and spiritual poverty, purifying and detaching the heart from
all created things. Thérèse understood that the very
fact of being little and helpless before God opens up the treasures
of the fatherly Heart of our God: our misery attracts his divine
mercy, our weakness brings his justice into action, our littleness
increases the outpourings of his love. However, we have to remain
little and humble, with blind confidence in his goodness. She once
wrote: 'what pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness
and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy
is my only treasure' (LT 197). Blessed Marie Eugène comments
on this theme:
The secret of Thérèse is no different from that of
Saint John of the Cross. The Theresian love of littleness and of
poverty united to blind trust in divine mercy, is it not the same
as the [Sanjuanistic] hope that is detached from everything and
that God immediately fills? For both Saints these two complementary
dispositions that purify and perfect one another are not only the
foundations of sanctity but also create it by attracting irresistibly
the outpourings of divine Love that transform and consume. But while
Saint John of the Cross is incomparable and displays his grace as
mystical doctor when he establishes and justifies these principles,
it belongs more especially to Saint Thérèse of the
Child Jesus to show us their application in the details of daily
On fire with the love of the Holy Spirit
Blessed Marie-Eugène was not a cold intellectual, content
to expound the theory, albeit in a superb fashion. He lived in daily
life the doctrine he illustrated in his books and articles. People
experienced how he was on fire with the love that comes from the
Holy Spirit. His zeal was contagious. Priests to whom he spoke or
whom he guided were made more deeply aware of the anointing they
had received and of the possibility and spiritual wealth of contemplative
prayer and union with God. Lay people were encouraged to seek God
in daily personal prayer and to make progress on the road to holiness.
One of his disciples, who was present at the last retreat he preached
at Venasque, has left us her impressions and given witness to the
zeal that consumed him, to his passion for souls and to his longing
to lead them to divine intimacy:
Fr Marie-Eugène used to say that our life here below was
given to us to live with the Holy Trinity, to the point that it
became 'everything in our life', despite our poverty, or rather,
because of our poverty. Is this an ideal reserved for an élite,
a select few? Is it a summit inaccessible for the ordinary run of
Christians? Fr Marie-Eugène did not think so: 'We often halt
before false obstacles, before things that, rather than obstacles,
are means. We stop short before our weakness, our poverty, our wretchedness,
our lack of intelligence, our lack of sanctity - as we perceive
it. But no! All such things are means to purify our faith. The wretched
state in which we find ourselves, the wounds we bear, the weakness
that forms and shapes us, the absence of virtue, the lack of a penetrating
intelligence - I say that all this is a means. Faith should in some
way use all this poverty as a springboard. If this poverty did not
exist one would have
to create it, so as to be able to lean
on it as an aid to reaching upwards to penetrate into God.'
A true father of souls
Blessed Marie-Eugène appears to us now as a consummate spiritual
writer, a competent spiritual guide along the demanding road of
silent contemplative prayer, a priest who lived what he taught,
a man led and formed by the Spirit of love. He had a deep personal
experience of the action of the Holy Spirit in the depths of his
soul, leading him to the heights of prayer. He often spoke and wrote
about it, urging his disciples to turn to the Spirit within them
and ask for an increase of love. His words are convincing and practical.
He draws any sincere reader along with him, and rouses the desire
to put into practice the ideal he describes and lives.
He was a true father of souls. He was aware that he was a spiritual
father of all the members of the Institute Notre-Dame de Vie. He
repeated it often, even on the evening of his last Easter Sunday,
the day before he was to die: 'My children, come nearer, I am your
Father, you are my children.' We all have him now as a spiritual
father, an intercessor in heaven, and look forward to the day when
he will, we firmly hope, be canonised.