A special devotion to Divine Mercy: St. John Eudes

Of all the divine perfections mirrored in the Sacred Heart of our Saviour, we should have a very special devotion to divine mercy and we should endeavor to engrave its image on our heart.

To celebrate the feast day of St. John Eudes (1601-1680) on Aug. 19, the following is an excerpt from Dr. Robert Stackpole's book, Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press): 

Saint John Eudes was born into a peasant family in Normandy, France, in 1601. After discerning a call to the priesthood he joined the Oratorians, and studied under two of the greatest French Oratorian spiritual masters: Cardinal Pierre de Berulle and Fr. Charles de Condren. Berulle emphasized in his writings a scriptural doctrine that had been neglected too often in the past: the following of Jesus is not a mere "Imitation of Christ" - an external conformity to His example - but a complete surrender to the indwelling of Christ in the depths (le fond) of the soul. When He lives within us in our very depths, then He shares with us His grace and virtues, His interior dispositions and sentiments. He lives in and through us the mysteries of His own incarnate life.

It is not surprising, therefore, that one of the earliest and most important works to come from the pen of St. John Eudes was entitled The Life and Kingdom of Jesus Christ in Christian Souls. The first section of that work bears the subtitle: "The Christian Life Must be a Continuation of the Most Holy Life Which Jesus Lived on Earth."

New Religious Order
In 1643, St. John Eudes founded a new religious order - the Congregation of Jesus and Mary - principally dedicated to priestly formation and missionary work. Later in his life, he became noted for his devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and for his strong opposition to the Jansenist heresy that was plaguing the French Church in his day.

The Jansenists became famous for insisting that no one should make a sacramental confession without perfect contrition for their sins, nor presume to receive Holy Communion without having made such a confession. The result was a dramatic decline in the frequency of the reception of the Sacraments throughout France, and a decline in appreciation for the merciful love of God.

Saint John Eudes discerned that the best remedy for this spiritual illness was devotion to the loving, compassionate Heart of Jesus. In fact, he was the first to seriously develop the liturgical worship of the Sacred Heart, so that at his canonization in 1909, Pope St. Pius X called him "father, doctor, and apostle of the liturgical cult of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary." It is especially in the latter period of the life of St. John Eudes (that is, post 1643) that we find passages in his works extolling the merciful love of the Sacred Heart of Christ, above all in his work entitled The Sacred Heart of Jesus. Perhaps no one has written more movingly of the interior life of Jesus - His dispositions, virtues, sentiments, and affections - than St. John Eudes did in this book.

Burning with love for us
For example, although he does not use the word "mercy" in the passage below, it is clear that the merciful, compassionate love of the Heart of Jesus is precisely what he is describing when he wrote chapter 8, entitled, "The Sacred Heart of Jesus Is a Furnace Burning with Love for Us in His Sacred Passion":

The first cause of those most painful wounds in the Sacred Heart of our Redeemer is our sins. We read in the life of St. Catherine of Genoa that one day God let her see the horror of one tiny venial sin. She assures us that, although this vision lasted but a moment, she saw nevertheless an object so frightening that the blood froze in her veins and she swooned away in an agony that would have killed her if God had not preserved her to relate to others what she had seen. Wherefore she declared that if she were in the very depths of a sea of flaming fire and it were in her power to be set free, on condition that she should once more behold such a spectacle, she would choose to remain rather than to escape. If the sight of the smallest venial sin brought this saint to such a pass, what must we think of the state to which our Savior was reduced by seeing all the sins of the universe? He had them continually before His eyes, and His vision being infinitely more powerful than that of St. Catherine, He could behold infinitely more horror.

He saw the immeasurable insult and dishonor caused His Father by all sins; He saw the damnation of a countless number of souls resulting from those sins. As He had infinite love for His Father and His creatures, the sight of all those sins rent His Heart with countless wounds, such that if we were able to count all the sins of men, which are more numerous than the drops of water in the sea, we would then be able to count the wounds of the loving Heart of Jesus.

The second cause of His wounds is the infinite love of His Sacred Heart for all of His children, and His constant vision of all the afflictions and sufferings that are to happen to them, especially all the torments that His holy martyrs are to suffer. When a mother watches her beloved child suffering, she feels the pain more keenly than the child. Our Savior's love for us is so tremendous that if the love of all parents were centered in a single heart, it would not represent even a spark of the love for us that burns in His Heart. Our pains and sorrows, ever present to His vision and seen most clearly and distinctly, were so many wounds bleeding in His paternal Heart: Vere nostros ipse tulit, et aegrotationes nostras portavit. These wounds were so painful and deep that they would have caused His death a thousand times over, even immediately after His birth, if He had not miraculously preserved Himself, because during His whole earthly life His Sacred Heart was continually pierced by many mortal wounds of love.

Therefore we have the greatest obligation to honor the gracious Heart that sustained so many wounds of love for us. ... With what affection should we embrace, and endure all our afflictions, out of love for Jesus, our Savior, since He first bore them for love of us! Should they not be most sweet to us, since they have already passed through His most gentle and loving Heart? What a horror we should have of our sins that have caused so many wounds and such intense grief to the divine Heart of our Redeemer ... !

Let us learn from the foregoing example that it is not our Redeemer's fault if we are lost. There are hearts so hard that, even if Jesus Himself were to come down from heaven to preach to them and they were to see Him covered with wounds and bathed in His blood, they would still not be converted. O my God, let us not be one of them, but give us the grace to open our ears to the voice of all the sacred wounds of Thy body and Thy heart, which are so many mouths through which Thou dost call us unceasingly: Redite, praevaricatores, ad cor. "Return, ye transgressors, to the heart," which means to My Heart that is all yours, since I have given it entirely to you. Return to that most loving Heart of your Father, which is full of love and mercy for you, which will receive you home, heaping upon you blessings (Preserving Christian Publications, 1977 edition).

Pardon promptly
As St. John Eudes was one of the leading proponents of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it is interesting to note that he also discerned a close connection between the Heart of Jesus and Divine Mercy. In his collection of meditations entitled The Sacred Heart of Jesus, the saint reflects on mercy as the principal perfection of that loving Heart. In the section of that book bearing the subtitle "The Divine Mercy Should be the Object of our Very Special Devotion," he writes:

Of all the divine perfections mirrored in the Sacred Heart of our Saviour, we should have a very special devotion to divine mercy and we should endeavor to engrave its image on our heart. To this end three things must be done. The first is to pardon with all our heart and promptly forget the offenses done us by our neighbor. The second is to have compassion on his bodily sufferings, and to relieve and succor him. The third is to be compassionate toward the spiritual misfortunes of our brethren, which are much more deserving of our commiseration than corporal ills. For this reason we ought to have great pity on the numbers of wretched souls who have no pity on themselves, using our prayers, our example, and our teaching to safeguard them from the eternal torments of hell.

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy.


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