Blessed Julian Maunoir – An Apostle of the Crucified

Blessed Julian Maunoir, S.J. was beatified 20 May 1951. This outstanding missionary was born 1 October 1606, at Saint Georges-de-Reintembault, near Fougeres, France. The most successful years of his long life were spent among the people of Brittany. He died 28 January 1683, at Plevin (Cotes-du-Nord). We have no intention of giving here the details of the life and the fruitful apostolate of the new Beatus. It would be unfortunate, however, to ignore that which made both the one and the other the marvelous success that they were. For Blessed Julian was an apostle of the Passion of Christ. He made it his life, and he made it his ministry. That combination pays off every time—in personal sanctity and the salvation of souls!

Blessed Julian’s childhood is a vindication of Second Nocturns. As a boy, he loved to read and reread the Gospel accounts of the Passion of Our Lord. When Friday came around, he would line up all his little companions and march them off to Church. There he would mount the pulpit and lead his tiny charges in the recitation of specified prayers. It is said of him that he could never recite the words of the Creed : “… He suffered . . . was crucified . . . died . . .” without bursting into tears.

It is evident that the Passion of Christ must have well tempered the chosen soul of Blessed Julian long before he decided to enter the Company of Jesus. Nevertheless, the graces of the novitiate and the formation of a spiritual master soon channelled his spiritual forces into a definite pattern. His great devotion was the practice of the frequent thought of the Sufferings of Our Lord. He decided, so reads his diary, “to work hard at transforming himself into Jesus Christ, by imitating Him in all things and at every moment, and especially in His sufferings.”

Elsewhere, it reads : “I heard an interior voice repeat four or five times: ‘Ah, if you only knew, if you only knew!’ The tone of awe made me understand how wonderful it is to cooperate with Jesus Christ in the salvation of souls. It gave me untold strength to follow my resolution to pursue Jesus Christ everywhere, in search for souls, to endure the greatest fatigue, to expose myself to the greatest dangers . . . for God is my strength. Since Our Lord has suffered so much, it is necessary that I, according to the measure of my grace, accept what suffering He pleases to send, without consolation, without impatience and without interrupting for a single moment the constant practice of the love of God.” God would be, and God was his strength. “I am strong,” he wrote, “with the strength that Our Lord has merited for me by His sufferings.”

His devotion to the Passion never lagged throughout the years that followed. On the vigil of his reception of Orders, the Divine Master spoke to him interiorly at the moment of his Communion. “How long I laboured for them; I wept, I suffered, I died for them!” And Blessed Julian cried out: “I cannot describe how those words penetrated me. All the desire that I had heretofore felt mounted in such a crescendo that if it had been necessary to die at that moment in order to save one single soul, I would have done it with all my heart!”

All the inevitable activitiy that came with being a missionary in the Society — or in any order for that matter — seems never to have lessened the ardor with which Blessed Julian followed up his great love: the Passion of Christ. Even the unparalleled success of ministry — little short of phenomenal – could not turn him, as it might do one of lesser stamp. Far from seeking his own glory in the long series of triumphs that he could not deny, he always answered with the words of St. Paul: “God does not will that I should glory save in the Cross of Jesus Christ.”

Knowing the value of suffering as a means to the apostolate, he had an insatiable longing for suffering. “I will suffer,” he once wrote, “with patience every injurious word spoken to me and every injurious thing done to me. I will look upon them as angels from heaven, sent to test me, to animate and purify my love.” As one readily surmises, the enemy of all good was never far away – with his agents and instruments.

The secret behind Blessed Julian’s success on the Missions, next to his personal holiness and the special inherent power of his favorite subject, seems to lie in the fact that he was a teacher. He possessed in a rare degree the qualities that make a successful instructor. He was endowed with a very mild disposition, a charming personality — one that attracted whomever it met and overcame with gracious simplicity, nobility and modesty. “He did not possess a towering intelligence,” says the Abbe Bremond, in his Histoire du sentiment religieux. “We know that in his discourses he said nothing but what was most commonplace.” Nevertheless, he knew his audience — it was a people that needed instruction — and measured himself accordingly. When he spoke his face seemed to light up with eagerness and excitement. His voice took on power and unction. The picture that he made stole into the hearts of his listeners and was never effaced.

To Blessed Julian the secret of his success, if there was any secret, was the subject on which he spoke most frequently: the continual remembrance of the sufferings of Our Lord. Every day, on his missions, he taught the faithful to meditate on the sufferings of Christ. For this purpose, he composed a booklet entitled “The Temple consecrated to the Passion of the Lord,” together with hymns and a catechism on “The Prayer of the Heart,” an expression that is still used in the Breton dialect to designate mental prayer.

By this means he succeeded in forming the interior life even in the simple shepherds and shepherdesses. “While watching their flocks, these straightforward souls would turn the depth of their heart into a kind of oratory. There they would spend the time thinking of the sufferings of their Saviour, and of the most sublime truths of religion.” (Sejourne, Life of Ven. Pere Maunoir, II, 253)

His purpose was always the same : teach the people to meditate on the Passion. To this end the fervent missionary would divide a week’s parish mission, or retreat, into seven stations, as he called them. On Sunday, it was Jesus praying in the Garden of Olives, falling into the terrifying agony that made Him sweat blood. Mondday, it was the flagellation; Tuesday, the crowning of Thorns; Wednesday, the unjust condemnation to death. On Thursday, the sorrowful journey to Calvary; Friday, Christ’s death upon the Cross, and Saturday, our Blessed Mother receiving into her arms the bruised body of her Divine Son. First of all, the preacher would urge his audience to form an actual picture of the scene, and there direct their thoughts and affections. Then, before the reasonings of the mind might slow down the sentiments of the heart, he immediately began to make a meditation out loud. This method, in accord with the rules laid down by the author of The Spiritual Exercises, was most successful.

At other times he counselled his beloved people to kneel before the Crucifix, there detach themselves from every created thing, and speak to Jesus by the use of ejaculations. “My sweet Jesus, when I see your sufferings, I desire to do everything for love of You.” “My sweet Jesus, hanging on the Cross, save my soul at the hour of death.”

He made use of every means to accomplish his purpose. He often exhorted his listeners to look at the Holy Face. “See that Head of your Divine Master crowned with thorns. See the tears running down his face. Why do you think our Divine Master weeps? Is it because of the sufferings he undergoes? Alas, no! He would gladly endure a hundred times as much, for one single soul. The tears flowing down his cheeks are caused by obstinate sinners who refuse to repent. Always be devoted to that precious Blood, to those sacred tears . . . The evil spirit will have no power at the death of one who has been devoted to the sufferings of Christ.”

Yes, Blessed Julian Maunoir might be called the Apostle of Meditation on the Passion. He taught it everywhere, always. Very fittingly, his last words to those assembled around him were on the same subsubject. “Adore our Suffering Lord, compassionate Him, thank Him for the love for men that he has proven by dying for them. Offer to suffer with Him, beseech Him not to allow anyone to offend Him. Ask Him for the grace never to offend Him. Promise that you will serve Him until death, and beg Him for the grace to live up to so wonderful a promise.”

– from The Passionist, 1951