by Fr. Jerome Fasano
In these days of evident decline in devotion to the Real Presence of our Eucharistic Lord, we need to rediscover the life and writings of one of the greatest apostles of Eucharistic devotion which the church has ever known. I am referring to St. Peter Julian Eymard, founder of the Priests of the Blessed Sacrament.
St. Peter was born near Grenoble, France, the site of the great Carthusian monastery, in the year 1811. Working at his father's trade, he nonetheless found time to study Latin and take private instruction from a priest. This led to his entrance to the seminary of Grenoble in 1831. By 1834 he was ordained and commenced parochial work After some time in the diocese, he sought and received permission from his bishop to enter the Marist Congregation in 1839. By 1845 he was already provincial of the Marists at Lyons, France.
Throughout these years, his spiritual life revolved around an intense devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. As he would often say, "without it I should have been lost!" On a feast day of Corpus Christi, he had a profound experience while processing with the Sacred Host, which led him to exclaim, "my soul was flooded with faith and love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Those two hours seemed but a moment. I laid at the feet of our Lord, the church in France and throughout the world, everybody, myself. My eyes were filled with tears: it was as though my heart were under the wine-press. I longed at that moment for all hearts to have been within my own and to have been fired with the zeal of St. Paul" (Butler's Lives of the Saints)
After making a pilgrimage to Notre Dame de Fourvieres in 1851, he writes, "One idea haunted me and it was this: that Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament had no religious institute to glorify His mystery of love, whose only object was entire consecration to its service. There ought to be one...) promised Mary to devote myself to this end. It was still all very vague and I had no idea of leaving the society...What hours I spent there" (Butler's Lives of the Saints).
Moved by his ardent devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, St. Peter Julian attempted to form within the Marists an association of people fervently dedicated to adoration of our Lord in the Eucharist. But this activity was judged by his superiors as being incompatible with their specific mission. Thus, he received permission to leave the Marists and became founder of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers. For the remainder of his life, he served as superior-general of this congregation specifically devoted to Eucharistic piety.
On January 6, 1857, St. Peter Julian Eymard, with one companion, began exposition in his new chapel, preaching to a large crowd assembled to hear him speak of his Eucharistic love.
Progress in his new congregation was slow at first with exposition being held only three times each week. With the encouragement and support of Pope Pius IX, a second house was opened at Marseilles in 1859. After this, development became more rapid and the Blessed Sacrament fathers and brothers were soon able to maintain perpetual adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
In a short time, the men were joined by a congregation of cloistered women whose main purpose was perpetual adoration of the Eucharist. For lay people, a confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament was also established and gained much popularity into our own time.
A SAINT REFLECTS
Long before Eymard's canonization on December 9, 1962, St. John-Baptist Vianney, the patron saint of priests who knew St. Peter Julian personally, would say of him, "He is a saint. The world hinders his work but not knowingly, and it will do great things for the glory of God. Adoration by priests! How fine! Tell the good Father Eymard I will pray for the work every day." It was on August 1, 1868, after discouraging illness and hard priestly labors that St. Peter Julian Eymard died and at once, miracles began to occur at his tomb.
I can still recall how moved I was several years ago when attempting to get out of the rain, I walked into a church in Rome, the name of which still escapes me, and I was overwhelmed by the sight of the Blessed Sacrament exposed upon the altar in great magnificence and splendor. The church was filled with people in quiet adoration.
Then, I noticed on the side wall of the church, a tomb bearing a reliquary of glass which permitted one to see the body of a priest in all his vestments, whose face was turned towards the monstrance, gazing lovingly even in death at the Blessed Sacrament which was the supreme love of his life. I had accidentally come upon the tomb of St. Peter Julian Eymard and I shall never forget the impression that the scene made upon me!
THE REAL PRESENCE TODAY
St. Eymard certainly has something to say to all of us today — priest and lay person alike! As we lament an obvious decline in Eucharistic devotion, with Mass attendance falling, many at Mass going to communion while neglecting or ignoring the sacrament of Penance, fewer priestly and religious vocations, increased incidents of desecration and satanic vandalism of our churches, widespread liturgical abuses, etc, we need to rediscover and promote the works of this holy saint. Herein lies a positive solution to so many ills of our contemporary church.
He understood the power and vital importance of Eucharistic devotion. How can we expect people to reverence human life in our day, seeing every individual created in the image and likeness of God 'if we continue to fail to recognize that God Himself and His divine life is really present in the Holy Eucharist? Will a society which continues to ignore the Eucharistic life in the tabernacle ever be able to properly reverence human life in the womb? Will people who remain coldly indifferent to God's Real Presence amongst them in the Eucharist ever be able to take seriously His presence amongst the poor, the hungry, the sick, the homeless and the needy?
Love calls to us from the Tabernacle! St. Peter Julian can help us respond in our own day by helping us grasp the reality of His love! The Eymard League has gathered together the work and teachings of St. Peter Julian Eymard on the Blessed Sacrament in nine small, handy volumes, which serve to immensely aid and inform our Eucharistic devotion. I highly recommend these works to anyone interested in increasing and promoting Eucharistic devotion in our day.
© Inter MirificaTaken from Great Catholic Books Newsletter, Volume II, Number 2