I would like to use this Easter message to share with you my very favorite School, of Spirituality called “The French School.” The French School of Spirituality emerged in the 17th century as a reaction against the prevailing dry and academic scholasticism of the time which led to a very terrible heresy called “Jansenism,” which taught that God’s mercy was difficult to receive, and which
emphasized the depravity of the human soul. The French School emerged out of the Carmelite monastic traditions which emphasized God’s tender and transformative love, the importance of prayer, a loving reverence in the reception of Holy Communion, and daily contemplation of God.
Its founder was the brilliant Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle (4 February 1575 – 2 October 1629) who founded the Oratory of Jesus in 1611. The French School is characterized by its emphasis on the interior life, especially the practice of mental prayer, or meditation. It also emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit in the spiritual life, and the importance of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation. Some salient features of this school:
The Eucharist is seen as the source and summit of the Christian life, and it is the center of the French School's spirituality. The French School emphasizes the importance of frequent reception of the Eucharist and the need for a devout and reverent disposition in receiving it.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus is also central to the French School's spirituality. It represents the love of Jesus Christ for humanity, and it is through devotion to the Sacred Heart that Christians can deepen their relationship with Christ. The French School encourages acts of reparation to the Sacred Heart as a means of expressing love and gratitude to Christ.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary represents the love and compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary for humanity. The French School encourages devotion to the Immaculate Heart as a means of imitating Mary's humility, purity, and love for God.
The French School also stressed the importance of humility and perfect detachment, and perfect trust in abandoning oneself to Divine Providence.
If someone wishes to follow the French School of Spirituality in their prayer life, they can begin by practicing mental prayer, also known as meditation. This involves focusing one's mind on God and his presence, and reflecting on scripture, the lives of the saints, and other spiritual writings. The French School also emphasizes the importance of developing a daily routine of prayer, including the Rosary, as well as frequent reception of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Acts of
charity and service to others are seen as an important part of the spiritual life in the French School.
When receiving Holy Communion, the priests, monks, nuns and laity who embraced the French School were instructed to meditate on several things in order to prepare themselves to receive the Eucharist worthily.
First, they should meditate on their own unworthiness to receive the Eucharist. The French School teaches that we should approach the Eucharist with a deep sense of humility and contrition,
recognizing our own sinfulness and unworthiness to receive such a great gift. Of course, this meant to never receive the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin. But it also meant that one should realize that receiving Holy Communion is the greatest privilege on earth, and so one should have the firmest commitment to love God above all things.
Second, they should meditate on the love of Christ for them personally. The Eucharist is a sacrament of love, and by receiving it, we are receiving the love of Christ. The French School encourages us to reflect on the infinite love of Christ for us and to respond to that love with gratitude and devotion.
Third, they should meditate on the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. The Eucharist is not only a sacrament of communion with Christ, but it is also a sacrifice. The French School teaches that by receiving the Eucharist, we are participating in the sacrifice of Christ and offering ourselves to God as a living sacrifice.
Finally, they should meditate on the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. They should reflect on the fact that they are receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ and prepare themselves to receive him with reverence, gratitude, and humility.
Some of the greatest saints associated with the French School of Spirituality include:
- St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), who wrote the classic spiritual works "Introduction to the Devout Life" and "Treatise on the Love of God."
- St. Jane Frances de Chantal (1572-1641), who founded the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary and emphasized the importance of gentleness and charity in the spiritual life.
- St. John Eudes (1601-1680), who founded the Congregation of Jesus and Mary and promoted a devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
- St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), who received visions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and promoted a devotion to the Sacred Heart.
- St. Louis de Montfort (1673-1716), who founded the Company of Mary and promoted a devotion to Mary, especially through his classic work "True Devotion to Mary."
- St. John Vianney (1786 – 1859) whose devout life and intense love of the Eucharist, Mary, and the grace of penance (especially fasting) and Confession makes him the ideal model of a parish priest such as myself.
- St. Thérèse of Lisieux, also called St. Teresa of the Child Jesus or the Little Flower (1873 – 1897) whose “Little Way” can be summarized as “being Love” or “loving greatly in the smallest things” offers for all Catholics a model for holiness. In St. Thérèse of Lisieux the French School reached its fullest flowering