Saint John Eudes (+1680) was, like all saints, ahead of his time. During the fractious century in the wake of the Protestant ‘reformation’, he saw the need of men – priests especially – totally dedicated to God. At first joining the Oratory in France, which, unlike the other Oratories of Saint Philip, was a religious order, he proved himself a zealous and indefatigable pastor, well-read and well-formed, spiritually and intellectually. Part-way through his life, he discerned a call to dedicate himself specifically to the formation of priests, most of whom were ill-equipped for their demanding role. He saw that priests must be leaders, true shepherds, able to guide their flock through the increasing complexities of the vita moderna – and things have not gotten easier since then.
So he founded the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, initially established on March 25, 1643, commonly called the ‘Eudists’, which continue in formative work to this day.
Saint John Eudes also found time – saints always seem to ‘find time’ – to write voluminously, spreading the then-new devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, emphasizing the mercy of God against the rigour and paralyzing pessimism of Jansenism. This, all without losing sight of the need for a healthy and balanced asceticism, working and praying hard, but all motivated by the love of God and our fellow man, and not some dour fear. Like his spiritual father, Saint Philip Neri, he would have no ‘sad saints around his house’.
There is a move to have Saint John Eudes declared a Doctor of the Church; we will see, for that is a rather restricted group (36, and very slowly counting). But his works do make for profitable reading, and I would recommend today’s Office.
Also, please do peruse the reflection of Pope Benedict XVI from this day in 2009, where the Pontiff describes Saint John Eudes as a model pastor, in the context of the Year of Priests, from what seems a more halcyonic time.
We could use Eudes’ example in our troubled days, where so many priests seem to sad of their sacrifice, regretting their celibacy, their poverty, their workload, and the whole ‘gift of self’, which is required not just of priests, but in any vocation (just ask any married man, or woman).
As we heard in the reading on the feast of Saint Lawrence, God loves a cheerful giver, so, like Saint John Eudes and the whole host of saints, may we keep our hands on the plough, not look back, give all, and happily, so we gain it back a hundredfold.