A Homily from the Archbishop of Paris

Friday, June 8, 2007

A Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated at St. Peter's Basilica the day after the canonization of Mother Marie Eugenie. Most Reverend Andre Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, was the principal celebrant. In attendance were thousands of Assumption pilgrims who filled the basilica with their joy and thanksgiving.

We print here below Cardinal Vingt-Trois' homily.

"Yes, we are rejoicing after the magnificent celebration of yesterday around the Holy Father, and with all our hearts we can sing: "Jubilate Deo, cantate Domino" (Rejoice for God, sing to the Lord), and: "Without end I'm singing the love of the Lord." What motivates our joy is not only the majestic greatness of our celebration, but above all the privilege of sharing in the extraordinary event of a canonization. It is indeed an amazing event, for the Church, with all her authority in the Holy Spirit, assures us that in those who are canonized, the work of God the work of salvation and gracehas been achieved and has reached its fulfillment. We believe and we know in faith that one of ours, a human being, has reached participation in God's glory even before the final resurrection:  the resurrection of the flesh.

It is as if the gate of heavens had opened up for a moment -- as if we were granted the privilege of catching a glimpse of one of us standing close to God. As we give thanks for the canonization of St. Marie-Eugenie Milleret, we are thus in the same position as the seer of the Book of Revelation when he hears in the heavens a powerful voice, like that of a vast throng, and we join in the celestial song that proclaims: "Alleluia! Salvation, glory and might be to our God," and also: "Let us rejoice and shout for joy and pay homage to him, for the wedding day of the Lamb has come! His bride has made herself ready." What we have been experiencing since our baptism, what we are striving to take part in by listening to God's Word, by working on ourselves, by trying to conform our hearts to God's will, by obeying His commandments -- all this deep and painful work of grace has been successfully carried out and accomplished in Marie-Eugenie. Her heart has been broadened, purified, magnified. It has borne such fruit that God's judgment has given her to share His glory, and that God allows us to hear the news and to participate in the joy in the heavens.

If you are here this morning, brothers and sisters, it is because you have a special link with our sister Marie-Eugenie and her religious family: for some of you she is a relative; many have received the same call to the religious life; and no doubt many more are simply grateful for the education they benefited from, where they could recognize the beautiful fruit borne by the life and work of the founder of the Sisters of the Assumption. But this canonization gives a universal relevance to the joy that each one may feel personally. Our sister is now presented to all the faithful as a figure of the whole Church of which they are the members. She is a model of the Christian life, a soul in which what God wants to make of every one of us has been accomplished so well that she has become transparent to the divine light. United with all the saints -- albeit in her own, absolutely unique way -- she is the magnificently dressed Bride to whom God has given fine shining linen, and she is going to the wedding banquet of the Lamb. Today we share her joy and we anticipate the eternal joy that we wait and hope for. We rejoice because we know her, because we in her can make out more clearly some of the aspects of God's work:  that mysterious work which nothing has been able to stop since Christ's Resurrection, but which remains so remote from this world's logic and pomp.

Our thanksgiving has an accurate definition in the opening prayer of St. Marie-Eugenie's feast: "In the faith that she had rediscovered you made her realize that all honor and glory are restored to you through humanity regenerated in Christ." The few words of this prayer reveal Marie-Eugenie's relevance today. Like many in modern societies, she had experienced the ordeal of a broken family and financial difficulties destroying the initial harmony. Like many again, and although she had been baptized, she had been educated with no religious practice or knowledge of the faith. Yet it should not be forgotten that she found in her mother, even when the family was well off, a model of care for the others and genuine generosity. Even if as a girl growing up in an elegant environment she did feel a hunger and thirst for something different, discovering the faith never was to lead her to scorn or hate the world or declare it worthless. What changed her outlook was a passionate quest for intelligence. She was an eager listener of Fr. Lacordaire's Lenten lectures at Notre Dame of Paris, and she learned to love people as well as to value them.

In Christ, Marie-Eugenie discovered not only the one who pulls humanity out of its misery, but also the one who reveals to us how deeply the denial of love or sin can destroy men, as he announces the splendor of the destiny which Gods offers them. What we are to find in Christ is not only health. It is rather the ability to give to God all honor and glory which, if we stop to think about it, is a higher and greater calling! What we learn from Christ is not simply generosity, caring for the others or even dedication, since what we receive from him is the grace to love as He himself loves us and thus to enter the mystery of God's life itself: "If you heed my commands, you will dwell in my love, as I have heeded my Father's commands and dwell in His love." This is what we heard our Lord say in the Gospel that has jut been proclaimed. This is the heart of the Good News. It is through such a conversion to love that God's reign can spread in this world to which Marie-Eugenie was to consecrate herself.

The conviction that all honor and glory are restored to God through humanity regenerated is the root of St. Marie-Eugenie's educational enterprise. The limits of her own training, the ordeals she had had to go through, the loss of her social status because of her father's bankruptcy:  all this had prepared her to realize that women have another vocation than playing, even perfectly, the role society expected them to play. In a strongly hierarchic world, she grasped that in God's view only the person mattered, with his or her fundamental liberty, and that all that was taught made no sense unless it helped in shaping a spiritual man or woman, that is to say someone capable of accomplishing his or her missions and taking up the challenges of life, not merely to meet the social demands, but out of love, simply finding in the circumstances the opportunities to share that love dwelling in the heart.

Such a goal may seem obvious today. Yet I invite you to think it over for a while. We must acknowledge the extent to which this vision of life shook up the mentalities of the time. Above all, this perspective introduces a dynamic that goes against the accepted interpretation of history. Marie-Eugenie's educational enterprise of promoting girls cannot be separated from her discovery of Christ, the Church, prayer and the life of grace in our hearts. Where the historians of social habits tend to see nothing more than the success of a rebellion against traditions and the institutions, Marie-Eugenie operates a lever which commands much more power -- that of personal liberty. Liberty usually triggers all kinds of demands; we translate it into rights to be won, that others ought to respect. The history of women since the middle of the 19th century will then be seen as the story of such a long, fortunately successful struggle. However, Marie-Eugenie reminds us that true liberty, in-depth liberty, the kind of liberty that no one or nothing can take away, the one which can be experienced whatever the social status but which also actually transforms the apparently best established positions:  this liberty is that of the person, of the heart which only Christ really reaches, touches and liberates. And the educator can help, so that the genuine educator deserves the title that St. Paul does not hesitate to give himself: "We are God's fellow-workers, and you are God's garden."

Dear friends, you girls and boys, you first who are being educated in the schools of the Sisters of the Assumption, but also all the others, listen to the message that God is sending to you by inviting you to celebrate St. Marie-Eugenie. The classes you attend, the exams you take certainly aim at making you capable of reaching a social status thanks to what we call good jobs -- which today often means well-paying jobs. This is not to be overlooked. But what matters most is that you become free women and men, each one of you in his or her own style:  women and men capable of acknowledging what God expects from you and to do it. You are God's garden, you are God's building. You must strive to make the most of what you learn and receive to progress toward greater liberty:  liberty from ignorance, and even more liberty from lies; liberty from the needs and worries of this life, but even more liberty from your own cravings, which should not rule you and rather stimulate you to go forward; liberty from social or economic dependency, but even more from narrow-mindedness and hardheartedness.

And you, dear Sisters, you teachers and educators who work within the framework of the schools of the Assumption, you too parents who were educated in these schools and remember those happy years with enough gratitude to have come on this pilgrimage, do not forget what St. Paul tells us and what St. Marie-Eugenie believed with all her soul and through her experience: "No one can lay other foundations than the one that already exists; and this foundation is Jesus Christ." This does not simply mean Jesus Christ as a character of the past, a particularly important wise man, or a model that we can cast a glance at every now and then to pluck up some courage. No, this means patiently, endlessly listening to Jesus Christ, welcoming Him and imitating Him. This means Jesus Christ reigning in our hearts, Jesus Christ recognized as the one who chooses us to make us His friends. "I call you friends, because I have disclosed to you everything that I heard from my Father." When you talk to young people; whether they are your pupils or your children, do not forget that what matters most in their earthly lives is that they may become true worshippers in spirit and in truth (John 4:23; see the opening prayer).

Dear brothers and sisters, as you prepared within your respective communities the gathering for this canonization, and also during the few days of this pilgrimage, you have had the time to learn about St. Marie-Eugenie's life and work, or to develop the knowledge you already had. She experienced pain and suffering, both in her body and in her soul. But what is disclosed to us today is that these aches, which are inherent in all the struggles of our torn world, were set against a background of joy:  the joy of living according to God's heart and to cooperate in his design: "Blessed be the people who acclaim the Lord. They walk in the light of your face, O Lord." The magnificent basilica where we are celebrating this Mass is wholly meant to be a hymn to God's joy that penetrates the souls and bodies:  from the Confession which, under this altar, honors the remains of St. Peter, his martyrdom and the testimony of his faith, to the saints represented above the nave by their statues, some of which seem to be carried away by inspiration. The diversity of the clothing, of the times and of the conditions in life suggests the variety of the fruits of the Spirit. Everything here invites us to join in the praise of God:  here and now, without any doubt, but even more in all our lives with their joys and sorrows. May St. Marie-Eugenie teach us fully and joyfully to live human lives regenerated in Jesus Christ.


Thanksgiving Mass for the Canonization of St. Marie-Eugnie Milleret de Brou, Monday, June 4, St. Peters Basilica, Rome
Homily by the Most Reverend Andre Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris