Following on from the theme of yesterday’s post – the attempt to place oneself in and imaginatively engage with the events of the Nativity of Our Lord – I would like to share today an extract from a homily given by Saint Claude de la Colombiere (1641 – 1682), in which he urges us to reflect on what it means for Our Lord to be the Shepherd to the scattered flock of mankind. Saint Claude was born into a fairly well-off family in Saint-Symphorien-d’Ozon, within the urban area of Lyons. After an early inner struggle, he asked to be received into the Society of Jesus (having attended a Jesuit secondary school) and entered their novitiate at Avignon. Whilst there he learned much about the various political and religious conflicts of the time (e.g.; Louis XIV’s attack on the papal states and the growth of Jansenism) – such edification would serve him well later in life.
In 1674, he made his solemn profession as a Jesuit, and from this time developed a strong devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Shortly afterwards, when he was appointed spiritual director to the nuns of the Monastery of the Visitation at Paray-le-Monial, he came into contact with Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, and was thus able to empathise with her position, befriending her and aiding her in understanding the visions that she had received. As well as his talents as a confessor and spiritual director though, his preaching had become well regarded, for its clarity and beauty. It was on this basis that he was sent to England in 1676 to be official preacher to the household of Mary of Modena, Duchess of York and wife of James II, the last Catholic King of England.
Unfortunately, the English climate and the zeal with which he threw himself into his work contributed to ill-health, and this was exacerbated by his being thrown into jail after being implicated in the ‘Popish Plot’ fabricated by Titus Oates in 1678. As he was a subject of the French King and a member of the English royal court, he was expelled back to France instead of being executed, but by this point his health had been wrecked, and he died soon after returning to his home country, back at Paray-le-Monial, at the suggestion of Saint Margaret Mary, with whom he had continued to correspond. In the light of Saint Claude’s extraordinary efforts to return souls back to the sheepfold of Christ, the following passage thus takes on an extra poignancy.
In this extract from a homily preached to the Duchess of York and the royal household, Saint Claude counsels them/us to imagine with what eagerness God looks for His lost sheep, with what persistence He continues to hound us after we repeatedly turn away from Him, and the great tenderness and love that we see in His search for us. At this time of Advent, Saint Claude’s meditation is most apposite – for this is the time we reflect upon how God came down to us in the humility of the Incarnation, and attempt to imagine the great Love which motivates such an act of meekness and mercy. The God of the Cross and of the Manger is the One with which we have to do, and He will never stop His search for us, never stop humbling Himself in order to bring us home:
‘Imagine to yourself the sadness of the poor shepherd whose sheep has strayed. The only thing to be heard in the fields round about is the call of this unfortunate lad who, having abandoned the better part of the flock, runs about in woods and hills, passes by thicket and bush, mourning and calling out as hard as he can, unable to make up his mind to go back until he has found his sheep again and led it back to the fold.
Here is what the Son of God did when men had gone astray through their disobedience from their Creator’s way of behaving. He came down to earth and did not stint either care or labour to restore us again to the state from which we had fallen. It is what he still does daily for those who separate themselves from him by sin. He tracks them down, so to speak, never ceasing to call them back until he has restored them to the way of salvation. And indeed, if he did not wear himself out in this way, you well know what would become of us after the first mortal sin: it would be impossible for us to come back again after it. It is he who has to make all the advances, who must show us his grace, who must follow after us, who must invite us to take pity on ourselves, without which we would never dream of asking his mercy…
The zeal with which God pursues us is undoubtedly the result of a very great mercy. But the sweetness by which this zeal is accompanied shows an even more wonderful goodness. Notwithstanding the immense desire he has to cause us to return, he never uses force; he only makes use of gentleness for this purpose. In all the Gospel I see no sinner who was invited to repent except by endearments and kindness.’
Courtesy of Daily Gospel