Venerable Emmanuel d’Alzon – Closing Address at the General Chapter – 17 September 1868

8kb jpg portrait of Venerable Emmanuel, artist unknownTHE SPIRIT AND WORK OF THE ASSUMPTIONISTS

“Make every effort to preserve the unity which has the Spirit as its origin and peace as its binding force” (Ephesians 4:3).

Fathers, my sons, I gladly borrow these words of the Apostle, because I think they summarize our work and the valuable meetings that we conclude today: a spirit more energetically united in principles more clearly expressed; the bond of charity grown stronger, more intimate, more fruitful, thanks to the fraternal exchanges in which we tried to give to our minds and hearts the transparency of crystal, because we had nothing to hide, nothing to silence. For this we will long be grateful to the Father of light, from whom all perfect gifts flow and from whom we have received such abundant favors during these blessed days.

As we take leave of one another, I want to entrust to you, if I may put it this way, the legacy of our common thoughts and of our common sentiments, by reminding you once again, and probably for the last time, on what foundation Assumption is built, and by what means we want more than ever to develop Assumption. I will undoubtedly reveal nothing new to you. I will tell you nothing that you haven’t already thought out better than I can express it. Still, what we are now celebrating will give to my words a greater weight. Because of our imminent separation, the words will also assume a character of sadness, but an accent of confidence as well because of the bonds that unite us, for nothing so much as separation teaches brothers how much they can love one another.

I – THE FOUNDATION ON WHICH ASSUMPTION IS BUILT

Our spiritual life, our religious substance, our raison d’ĂȘtre as Augustinians of the Assumption, is to be found in our motto, “Thy Kingdom Come:” the coming of the reign of God in our souls, by the practice of the Christian virtues and of the evangelical counsels in keeping with our vocation, and the coming of the reign of God in the world by the struggle against Satan and the conquest of souls ransomed by Our Lord and yet still immersed in error and sin. What could be more simple! What could be more ordinary than this form of the love of God! If to this basic love you add the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of the Blessed Virgin his Mother, and of the Church his Spouse, you will know in its briefest expression the spirit of Assumption.

But what is special or characteristic about this? Don’t we have here something that any true Christian would accept? What notion, beneath these basic ideas, can help distinguish us from other religious families? Do not religious and Christians repeat every day in the Lord’s Prayer the words that we want to make our battle cry: “Thy Kingdom Come”? Do not all Christians and religious have to love Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, the Church? Once again, why claim as our own that which is the legacy of all?

To begin with, we need to recognize the primary characteristic of our Institute: simplicity of means. It is often said that the least common thing in the world is common sense. Would it be a paradox to say that in the Catholic world the rarest thing is Catholic common sense? That is why we claim this for ourselves as an original trait. We are quite simply Catholic, but as Catholic as it is possible to be. We are entirely Catholic. And because today there are many half Catholics, Catholics for the time being, Catholics by compromise, Catholics who think they are Catholic, we, who are frankly Catholic, Catholic before all else, completely Catholic, we are considered by most to be men apart, perhaps even extraordinary. This is the first aspect of our character as Augustinians of the Assumption.

Our character reveals itself even more if we speak of our love of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Besieged on all sides, this Divine Lord is a fool as far as the “learned” men of our day are concerned.

Who wants Jesus Christ today? By whom is he not scorned? “This is the stone,” said the Prince of the Apostles to the inhabitants of Jerusalem fifty days after the Savior’s death, “this is the stone rejected by you the builders but which has become the corner-stone” (Acts 4:11). Yes, it is always the same terrible stone of which the Savior himself said, “And he who falls on this stone will be dashed to pieces; anyone it falls on will be crushed” (Mt 21:44). Well, it is this stone on which, in the example of God, we want to build because it is the foundation of our faith, “Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection” (Heb 12:2). For us everything is renewed in Jesus Christ. This is our only message, “Here are we preaching a crucified Christ” (1 Cor 1:23), because he is our only wisdom, “The only knowledge I claimed to have was about Jesus, and only about him as the crucified Christ” (1 Cor 2:2). Through him and only through him we go to the Father, “No one can come to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). And it is in him that “all the jewels of wisdom and knowledge are hidden” (Col 2:3). In him resides all the fullness of our perfection, “Because God wanted all perfection to be found in him” (Col 1:19). We have seen him full of grace and of truth: of truth, to dissipate our darkness; of grace, to free us from evil. We need listen to no other teacher. He has the words of eternal life. “Lord, to whom would we go?”

Yes, we go to Jesus Christ. We affirm Jesus Christ against those who deny him, or hate him, or abandon him. The denial of the unbeliever, the hatred of the impious, the neglect of the indifferent or of the traitor, are for us so many reasons to surround Jesus with a love that is more ardent, more active, more tender and more solemnly demonstrated. In him, we love God. And, although we are unworthy, we proclaim his divinity. We love the man, i.e. the most perfect model and tenderest of friends. We love the God-man, i.e. the peace-maker of heaven and earth, the doctor of the true law, “finis legis Christus” (Rom 10:4). He initiates us to the supernatural world; and by cleansing us in his blood, he transports us by his power and his mercy into the higher spheres which no one wants today because they are the true domain of the Sovereign whom no one wants today either, precisely because of his blessings. Yes, we love him because he gives us true light and true benefits. We love him with the same kind of love as did the early Christians, because he still faces the same enemies he faced then. We love him with the love that made the Apostle say, “If anyone does not love Jesus Christ, let him be cursed” (1 Cor 16:22). This may not be very tolerant, but you know that those who love much tolerate little. Properly speaking, true love is revealed in the power of a noble and frank intolerance. In these days, with no energy left for either love or hate, men do not see that their tolerance is just another form of weakness. We are intolerant, because we draw our strength from our love of Jesus Christ. This is another trait, clearly delineated, which separates us from many people.

The love of the Son leads us to the love of the Mother. Our tenderness for the most holy Virgin knows no limits, no more than does her tenderness for us. Jesus Christ is for us the most perfect of models, but Jesus Christ is God. Mary, a mere creature, is also a model for us, but if I may say so, she is less discouraging to our weakness because she is less than absolutely perfect herself. She is a model for imitation by her adopted sons who want to follow her along the way of holiness and in all the virtues proper to sanctity. She is a model for all Christians, especially for those chosen souls compelled by the need for a more perfect, more pure, more self-sacrificing life, and who come to us for direction.

The life of Mary, beginning with the privileged beauty of her spotless conception and up to the almost divine transformation of her triumphal Assumption, shows us how high a creature can rise by humiliation, sacrifice, suffering, abandonment, and intense sufferings of the heart. This life shows us the unrelenting demands that God imposes on chosen souls. In this way, God helps us understand the perfection, the gentleness, and the trials of the supernatural order. We must then bring this teaching to all those who want to see in one soul all the kindness that God showed toward His most beloved creature.

The incomparable innocence of Mary and her no less incomparable suffering give us in their apparent contradiction the key to a mystery the world cannot understand: that of the joy of demonstrating one’s love by suffering and of the power of sacrifice rooted in love. Cannot Mary, the Mother of Jesus, also be a model for us in the mystery of the Incarnation? Yes, there again, she will be a model for us by the ardor with which she inspires us and by the desire to give birth to souls for Jesus Christ and to give birth to Jesus Christ in souls: “My children! I must go through the pain of giving birth to you all over again, until Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19). This is the cry of apostolic anguish which for us as for Mary begins at the crib and ends only at the cross. But this kind of piety can be very far from the kind of devotion which, pretending to be tender is soft, and fearing scandal lacks energy, and whose concessions and daily betrayals dare show the cross only surrounded with flowers and perfumes, with Calvary hidden behind vague clouds of vapor.

What shall I say about our love for the Church? The Church is so admirable a thing that the expressions used by the sacred writers seem powerless to capture her greatness, her riches, her power, her beauty, her glory. Listen as they describe the Church as the tabernacle of God among men, the column and the unshakable foundation of eternal truth; as the mystical body and the final perfection of Jesus Christ; and again, as his spotless bride, completely beautiful.

For the Church, the Son of God came down to earth and united himself to humanity. He wants to extend her influence. She is his city of predilection. She is the army by which he will crush his enemies. Of all these titles of the Church the most touching one for us is that of spouse. We love the Church because Jesus Christ loved her. And our love has three facets: it is supernatural, daring, and disinterested.

First of all, it is supernatural. The supernatural order fills us with admiration for the Church. Everything has been done for the elect who subsist only in the Church. If ever the struggle between good and evil, truth and error, Jerusalem and Babylon, heaven and hell, the Church and the Revolution, has been made clear, it is certainly today. Listen to man repeat after Satan, “I will not obey. I will rise to the skies and will be like the Most High” (Is 14:14).

Man goes so far as to deny God, because he finds God a hindrance that imposes upon him the yoke of conscience, duty, and virtue. The only way man can break this yoke is to say, “God does not exist.” Before such blasphemy, we can only say, with the leader of the heavenly hosts, “Who is like God?” Satan, in order to overthrow the Church, is trying his hand at overthrowing the entire social order. The fifty or sixty thrones that have fallen during the last century are the result of his latest efforts to overthrow the throne of the Vicar of Christ on earth, because Satan is powerless to overthrow the throne of Jesus Christ himself in heaven. “We do not want him to reign over us,” cry out the infernal cohorts, and after them, the mob of unbelievers, the impious, the disordered of all kinds and the immoral. These are the slaves of the prostitute whom the Apostle (John) saw seated on the beast filled with blasphemies. She was dressed in purple; she was holding a gold wine-cup filled with the disgusting filth of her fornication; and on the forehead was written a name: “Mystery! Babylon the Great, mother of all the filthy practices on earth” (Rev 17:3-5).

Can you find a more prophetic, more accurate picture of the Revolution? This is the great enemy of God and His Church. Our love for the Church will find its measure in the zeal we bring to combatting the Revolution. We love the Church because she holds all the treasures of the supernatural order which were entrusted to her by her heavenly spouse and which the Revolution hates. In her, we find the preaching of truth, the perfect law, and the seed of all virtue.

In her, we find the true Kingdom of God on earth, the assembly of saints and disciples of Jesus Christ. In her, we contemplate stability in the midst of societies that are crumbling. Because of her, we have the divine hope of a happiness unattainable by man alone. Because of her, we experience the strength to fly from this earthly exile toward heaven, our eternal and glorious home. But all this is beyond nature. All this belongs to the divine order, to which we are initiated by Christ only through His Church. It is for this reason that our love for the Church is, above all, supernatural.

Furthermore, our love for the Church is bold. When the dangers are so imminent, when the pitfalls yawn so deep at our feet, when the hopes of hell reveal themselves in the deadly cries of savage joy that we hear each day, it is more than cowardice to follow the prudent theories of the flesh, i.e., of human concerns and political schemes. It is treason; it is sacrilege. We are accused of taking too many chances, and this is to our glory. Oh prudent men! I suspect that you found Jesus Christ terribly foolhardy when he risked the life of the Church by dying on a cross. The martyrs were crazy too, and the Apostles insane, when they very courageously gave witness to the resurrection of Christ, during the persecution by Jews and pagans. In our madness, we envy the boldness of the martyrs and the audacity of the Apostles. So it is with such boldness that we claim to love the Church, to serve it with all our might, not overly concerned with the contradictory judgments of men, but mindful especially that the world was saved by the folly of preaching and the imprudent boldness of preachers.

This was the kind of love that the prince of the Apostles and the great Doctor of the nations had in common. Needless to say, so bold a love is rare today. But, by the same token, it gives us an original character. It is an added reason for us to be what we want to be.

Finally, our love is disinterested. I don’t dare say chivalrous, like that of all great religious institutions at their beginnings. It is sad to see how much man hurries to make his own the little bit of good he is capable of doing, how much he aspires to be the only one doing it, and to prevent others from doing it when he cannot do it himself. My brothers, may this never be our temptation! Let us love the Church enough to rejoice about all the good her children do for her triumph. Let us exclude no form of holiness nor of charity. We cannot make them all our own. Let us love, admire, encourage in others what we ourselves are incapable of. May the general good be our sole preoccupation. Let us say like Moses, “If only the whole people of Yahweh were prophets!” (Num 11:29). The victories of the Church would be more numerous and our love for her more consoling, if we left aside mean and personal considerations and made the triumph of the Church the exclusive desire of our hearts. I cannot recommend enough such disinterested love to you. If you tell me that it is rare, I repeat that in possessing it in all its breadth and generosity we will be more easily distinguished and recognizable on the road that we wish to walk.

Let us love the Church supernaturally, boldly, and generously, and you will see what blessings here below and what rewards in heaven God has prepared for our work. And if we are not found to be very cleaver, the way certain people are, at least we will not have to blush because of our motives.

II – THE MEANS TO DEVELOP THE WORK OF ASSUMPTION

Now, allow me to tell you, in a very few words, the practical conclusions to be drawn from the fundamental ideas that I have presented to you.

From our motto, “Thy Kingdom Come,” it evidently follows that we are an apostolic Institute. The zeal that we should have for God’s rights and the salvation of souls is the essential expression of our charity. Abnegation and the forgetting of self are above all imposed upon us. We put all to good use “as long as Christ is announced.” We try to take no account of the causes of internal dissensions among the children of God which, under the guise of rights or of Christian dignity, divert our useful efforts from the battle against our common enemy and cause us to waste time with struggles among brothers. When Christians and their leaders no longer want us in one country, we shall move to another. That is the precept of Our Lord which, when applied, will give us the necessary freedom that apostles need.

“I cannot desire what I don’t know.” To be loved, Jesus Christ must be known. We must study him especially in the inspired books. Jesus Christ will be for us the prized treasure sought under the veil of sacred studies. We shall strive to know him as God, as man, and as the author of the supernatural gifts which reconcile us with the Father. Saint Augustine, our patriarch, will be our principal guide. His treatise on the Trinity and his admirable books, which have won for him from the entire Church the title of Doctor of Grace, are the guidelines for our study on these important questions. We also add the “Letter to Volusian” in which he treats of the Incarnation; and as an introduction to true philosophy, the treatises “Against the Academicians,” “On Free Will,” and the “Letter to Dioscorus.”

Jesus Christ known by us is the knowledge which we want above all to communicate, first, by preaching: “Here are we preaching a crucified Christ” (1 Cor 1:23). This is the distinctive characteristic that sets us apart from the empty, purely human, natural preaching, in which one hardly dares preach Christ, and especially dares not speak of his cross. Our second means is education, teaching. If someone asks us what education means for us, we reply that education is the formation of Jesus Christ in souls, just as teaching is the enlightenment of souls by the splendor of Jesus Christ. This is the guiding principle in the schools that we establish; and if we ever found a Catholic university, we will inscribe on its facade, “May they know you, the one true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3).

The love of Jesus and Mary, his Mother, is for us a summary of all wisdom in the mystical life. The perfection of Jesus Christ as manifested in the New Testament, and the virtues of Mary which reveal themselves to the innermost soul despite their veil of humility, are like two volumes where we meditate on the sanctity to which we are called.

Love of the Blessed Virgin inspires us with another love that is spread in the world by the cult of the Mother of God. I speak of the love of purity and chastity. From the very beginning, it has been one of the outstanding traits of apostolic men, and Church historians tell us that the immediate cause of the martyrdom of Peter and Paul was the constant effort of these two apostles to form virgins in pagan Rome and even in Nero’s palace.

We wish to help Mary, our Queen, bring many virgins to the immortal King of the ages. The feeling for beauty found in pure and chaste souls contributes to lifting us up, as on the wings of angels, toward the throne of the spotless Lamb. And if we are chided for fostering religious vocations too much, our answer should be that our sole regret is that we have not fostered them enough.

Lastly, the love of the Church offers us, in present times, a new horizon. Cast your eyes about you. Do you not realize that the abyss is becoming deeper, the ruins are piling up, that catastrophes are on the way? In the midst of all these upheavals, the Church, stable upon its rock, sees the old world sink, as on the banks of Hippo Saint Augustine watched the Rome of the Caesars submerged by the rushing waves of barbarians.

The City of God is for us like a second revelation, and the more we study it, the more we may find in it by analogy the secret of the future. What sadness and discouragement came from the immense ruins brought about by the sword and the torch of an Attila or a Genseric? Somehow it was God who was sweeping away a rotten society in order to prepare a new one. The bishops of Gaul did not mistake it. Let us have the intelligence of our forefathers. They welcomed and transformed feudal barbarism; let us welcome and transform democratic barbarism. No doubt, some regrets for vanished grandeur were felt by some of the ancient Gallo-Roman pontiffs. Nevertheless, they rebuilt France as bees rebuild a hive. Let us do the same. Without useless regret for the past, without too many illusions about the future, let us keep on with our work as God proposed. Possibly it will be even more successful with re-Christianized peoples than it was with the barbarians torn from the grossness of a savage world.

At this juncture, two questions arise. Who will be our guide? What will our work be?

Who will be our guide? The Pope. It can be said that since Philip the Fair, politics has consisted in a massive conspiracy against the papacy. Kings wanted no Pope; today no one wants kings. Where are we going with this anti-monarchic hatred? But what difference does it make? Though power is necessary, it need not be concentrated in the hands of a king. God considered it an insult when the sons of Jacob requested a king. We need not discuss the matter further, but it is a fact that we cannot deny. It is evident that the democratic tide is rising every day, and it is on the verge of spilling over into revolution. Who knows what minor incident will set the storm off? As for me, I consider the Church and what she has done in the past, and I wait.

I am neither excessively sad nor overly hopeful. The essential is to be confident in Jesus Christ, in Mary, in the Church, and to keep working. All the rest doesn’t matter. But I am wrong. Who can say that our efforts will not bring joy, as long as they are intelligent efforts? And this brings me to the beginning of an answer to the second question I posed: what works should we undertake?

Beyond those I have already mentioned, our works are all those by which people can be raised up again, and instructed, and learn about leading a good life, and whereby democracy itself can be made Christian. You can already imagine what possibilities are opened up for us in our visitation of the sick, the evangelization of the poor, the direction of orphanages, the dissemination of good books, and other works that I cannot enumerate because new possibilities arise daily. But we do all this under one condition: that the material charity we dispense be the means for providing spiritual alms. We tend the bodies of people so that we might have the right to penetrate as far as their souls. The few coins we place in a poor man’s hand preview the great treasures of faith that can be poured into souls that thirst after truth, and for the lack of it have forgotten their great need.

Through this work with the poor, we reach the rich. Experience has shown that they can be reached more easily and in a manner more worthy of ourselves and of Our Lord if we meet on the common ground of charity.

Love of the Church stirs up another love in our hearts. The Apostles were commissioned to preach Christ’s message not only in Jerusalem but to the end of the earth. Yes, our ambition extends also to foreign missions. What providential grace has already given us so many missionaries when we are still in fact not very numerous? But besides ourselves, notice that we have called upon others to assist us. In the past, virgin women consecrated to the Lord were hidden behind the most strict cloisters. Today they are asked to travel even beyond the seas.

This has been a tremendous change, thanks to the mercy of God and the great devotion of these, his spouses, who want to sanctify themselves, as we do, by a great apostolic love for the Church. From that point of view, their spirit in a way deepens our own.

Certainly, all this is very serious. The issues that I have briefly discussed and that are intimately linked up with what is characteristic of our vocation could be very troublesome, if we did not see the head of the Church calling together the bishops from the four corners of the globe and inviting them to confront these same problems in a most solemn manner, problems that preoccupy all mankind, to which the Church alone can provide the last word.

We must wait for these important solutions, but formed by the constant teaching of the Roman Pontiff, we need not hesitate to foresee in what direction the answers to these hard questions will go. There may be annoyances that crop up, but these should not worry us too much; simply make an effort to diminish the pain by being patient and charitable. Let everyone enjoy the freedom the Church grants, but remember to defend the doctrine she teaches, the truths she defines, the laws she promulgates, the condemnations she pronounces. The Church has always acted to promote the life and happiness of people. Our glory should be in carrying out, even in our weakness, the work that the Church proposes, without worrying about obstacles that may arise, or enemies to be defeated, or the consequences to which we might be exposed because of her cause. Thus we may accentuate a bit more the position that we want to take.

Now, fathers and brothers, our work is finished. Praise God for having inspired us with a common vision, and for the forceful resolutions we now promise to develop and maintain with fervor and good judgment. Let us always have for each other the affection of true religious, based upon respect and our need to remain strongly united. We must form but one body in the sincerity of our hearts and in the steadfast honest of our relations. May our indissoluble bond be Jesus Christ.

The Apostle said, “Though there are many of us, we form a single body, because we all have a share in this one loaf” (1 Cor 10:17). Let the altar be our center, because we find Jesus Christ there. It should also be for us the throne of our king. You have noticed that recently this most excellent offering has received even more universal homage in the sacrament of his love. This is only fitting. Is it not good that when the throne of the king’s representative appears shaken, the throne of the Sovereign himself be more resplendent with our praise? It is no mean honor for us that we have been able to contribute even if only slightly to the extension of this cult of reparation. There indeed we again find Jesus, our love, giving himself to us and teaching us to give ourselves to him and to the service of the Church for him. Let us pursue our goal with joy and confidence. In that way, after our efforts to build up the Kingdom of God on earth, we will be worthy of delighting in that same Kingdom of heaven for all eternity. Amen.