By Fr Thaddée Mupapa, SSS
This session took place from 27 June to 6 July 2017 at the family house of our holy Founder in La Mure under the guidance of Fr Manuel Barbiero. The following Sister Servants and SSS religious took part: Theresa Pham Thi Kim Hong and Maria Nguyen Thi Phuong, both from Vietnam, Patrick Costello from Ireland, Flavio Fumagalli from Italy, Martin de Porres Ochola from Uganda, Chally Gombessa from Congo-Brazzaville and Thaddée Mupapa from Congo-Kinshasa.
The objective of this session was to help participants to understand and deepen appreciation of the path that led Father Eymard to make the vow of personality and consequently to envisage the step that each one has to take to become transformed by the Spirit into a disciple-apostle of the Eucharist in following Christ. The daily activities programmed were as follows: the celebration of the Eucharist, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Liturgy of Hours, time for reflection and sharing. This was structured by: a communal reading of the Great Retreat of Rome, periods of pilgrimage and desert, reflections on the vow of personality, the Virgin Mary and the gift of self.
- Communal reading of the Great Retreat of Rome (1865)
Our Rule of Life sets out the starting point of this retreat: “his whole life witnesses to the gift of himself to Christ” (RL 2), and “Sharing in this gift of himself to us, we place ourselves at the service of the Kingdom, fulfilling the words of the Apostle: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’” (RL 4). Thus our entire life is focused by the gift of self lived by Father Eymard.
Moreover, two remarks are important for a sound understanding of the retreat of Rome. Firstly, this retreat took place without a plan or timetable; and then the notes jotted down by Father Eymard have a personal character; according to his own sensitivity and graces certain notes apply only to him.
Also, Father Eymard was daily nourished in preparing himself for this vow by: a disposition of allowing himself to be led by the Holy Spirit, the Eucharistic celebration (particularly the Word of God and Communion), Eucharistic Adoration, the Liturgy of Hours and reading the Imitation of Christ. In this way he became disposed to realize in his life what Christ carries out in the Eucharistic consecration: taking, giving thanks, breaking and giving.
Based on the conversion of St Paul, Father Eymard raised the following question at the beginning and end of his retreat: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” So this retreat was like an ongoing search for God’s will, to which he abandoned himself. And Father Eymard stated that “God loves the gift of self more than the apostolate of the whole universe.” In effect, Christ’s central action in the Eucharist is giving. This is linked to love, exemplified by the love between two spouses. God is the Spouse and a soul is the bride.
Moreover, the vow of personality is not only linked to the grace of baptism, but also it is a new incarnation of Christ realized through the Eucharist. This brings about a transformation in such a way that Christ becomes in a person: the centre, life, wellbeing, love. Thus, Christ’s actions and thoughts become those of a person.
On the other hand, the vow of personality is a gift of the Holy Spirit. For during the Eucharist the Holy Spirit transforms both the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ as well a person by forming Christ’s life in us. It follows that in allowing ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit that we will come to make the gift of our personality (cf. Lk 1:35).
Father Eymard discovered the love of God through creation: God loves human beings and gives them everything that they have and are. The Eucharist is summit of this love. For God wants to remain with us. Also the secret of prayer consists in being nourished by God, discovering his grandeur, goodness, tenderness through creation. So in order to realize this, we must work hard to forget ourselves, not to seek ourselves in any way when praying. This love is both the true formative element as well as the means of practicing this vow of personality (cf. Mt 11:29; Gal 2:20; Jn 14:6; Acts 9:6; Phil 2:5-11; Jn 13:1-17). So Father Eymard concludes: God’s love, this is my law, my way, my virtue, my joy, my wellbeing.
Father Eymard recommends that everyone should live from an interior life, a life of union with the Lord Jesus Christ. He says that it is easy to give one’s heart, but to give one’s mind is hard. This sacrifice is not given to everyone, he admits. For this, the grace of God is needed. For the gift of one’s mind is the deepest part of ourselves and it is difficult to renounce our thoughts, our judgments. This is why we have to make an act of faith, then our intelligence is opened to see God’s will even in the small events of our life. Furthermore, prayer is indispensable in order to enable us to listen to God.
- The Virgin Mary and the gift of self ; Mary makes us another “Jesus Christ”
Father Eymard was attached to the Virgin Mary since his childhood. He saw in Mary a model of compassion for the poor. This is why, entrusting to her all his sufferings and projects, he thanked her for the graces of vocation, priesthood and the foundation of the Congregation. The mission of Mary consists in forming us and accompanying us so that the Eucharistic celebration may bring about the incarnation in us, making us another Jesus Christ.
Even more, we can speak of the Mass of Mary and our Mass. Just as the Virgin Mary at the moment of the Annunciation was listening to the Word of God, in the same way at the Eucharist we become available to receive this Word. Just as this Word became flesh in Mary, so too God’s Word is said to become flesh in us.
We see that the vow of personality is above all a gift, a grace. It implies a dimension of faith in God’s ever greater love for us. It must be lived in faithfulness to God’s will in spite of the difficulties we may meet. So we are invited to ask ourselves often: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” This question invites us to give our availability, our will and our interiority for the realization of God’s plan in us. And the Virgin Mary accompanies us so that the Eucharistic celebration may bring about the incarnation of Christ in us.