The Perfect Friend – St. Claude La Columbiere
There are hundreds of Jesuit Saints, Blessed, Venerables, and Servants of God. This is not because Jesuits are holier than others. It’s partly due to the fact that Jesuits have been so involved on the front lines of Church life ever since Ignatius of Loyola founded our community in 1540.
There are bishops, priests, brothers, scholastics, and even candidates among the list of Jesuits on the path to canonization. There are martyrs and confessors, theologians and pastors. They have been involved in a wide variety of works.
They are from all over the globe, with a heavy concentration of Jesuits who served in so-called mission territory. There are individual Jesuits and groups (such as the North American Martyrs). Some are famous and others are not very well known. The Jesuits have a special supplement to the Roman Missal and Lectionary, with special prayers and scripture for the specific Saint or Blessed. That’s helpful for our own identity as Jesuits, but it is also a way of teaching others about Jesuit history.
St. Claude La Colombière is celebrated today. He was born in 1641 in France, the third child born to his parents. He received his education from the Jesuits in Lyons. He entered the novitiate at 17 and had a fairly typical formation.
In 1675, he was appointed superior of a Jesuit residence in Paray-le-Monial. There he also became the spiritual director of Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation nun. She felt isolated in her experience of having experienced a series of private revelations from Christ. She felt she was being called to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart of Christ. The other sisters did not believe her. They thought that she was being deluded.
The arrival of Colombière as confessor to the community was a Godsend for Alacoque. It turns out that she had a vision of the Lord saying, “I will send you my faithful servant and perfect friend.” She felt that she had finally found a priest in whom she could truly confide. After a while and much prayer, he became convinced of the validity of her visions. He became both her supporter and a zealous apostle of the devotion. His preaching and writing helped propagate widespread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Later, during an assignment to England, he continued to guide her by letter. The religious climate in England was anti-Catholic. He was sent to prison and his already-fragile health deteriorated. The King of France intervened, thus Colombière escaped execution, but was expelled from England.
He returned to France and engaged in two years of ministry, as spiritual director to Jesuit novices, before dying on this day in 1682, at the age of 41. Colombière was beatified in 1929 and canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1992.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart is one of the most widely practiced Roman Catholic devotions. Its concern is the longsuffering love and compassion of the heart of Christ towards humanity. The popularization of this devotion in its modern form is derived from the visions of Alacoque and the promotion of Colombière.