Saint Claude was a Missionary and ascetical writer, born of noble parentage at Saint-Symphorien-d’Ozon, between Lyons and Vienne, in 1641; died at Paray-le-Monial, 15 February, 1682. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1659. On February 2, 1675, in Lyons, France, following a thirty-day retreat, Saint Claude made his solemn vows, as a means of attaining the utmost possible perfection, to observe faithfully the rule and constitutions of his order under penalty of sin. It was his thirty-fourth birthday. Those who lived with him attested that this vow was kept with great exactitude.
Father Claude did not know that he had only seven years to live when, in 1674 obedience sent him to Paray-le-Monial, where he was to be the rector of a small college, superior of the Jesuit community and extraordinary confessor of the Visitation nuns, and where he would meet Saint Margaret Mary. She had been a nun for only four years, and Jesus had already manifested Himself to her several times in extraordinary fashion. During this period of her life in which she was discredited and distressed, Saint Margaret Mary received this promise from Jesus: “I will send you My faithful servant and perfect friend.” What an eloquent Divine testimony in favour of Father Claude, the Jesuit priest who became the confidant of Saint Margaret Mary and the first person to spread the message of Paray-le-Monial and was thereafter a zealous apostle of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. His story is inseparable from that of the holy Visitation nun. Saint Margaret Mary was the one who received the requests of the Heart of Jesus; but it is because Father Claude helped her understood the value of the Message, and submitted entirely to the will of God at the cost of immense sacrifices, that the devotion to the Heart of Jesus was able to develop for the greater good of Christendom.
Life in England
In 1676 Father Claude was sent to England as preacher to the Duchess of York, afterwards Queen of Great Britain. He lived the life of a religious even in the Court of St. James and was as active a missionary in England as he had been in France. Although encountering many difficulties, he was able to guide St. Margaret Mary by letter. His zeal soon weakened his vitality and a throat and lung trouble seemed to threaten his work as a preacher. During his ministry in England, on the eve of All Saints’ Day in 1678, when a persecution against priests was looming, Father received a night-time visitor, a Franciscan by the name of Father Wall. “Father, I am a poor Friar Minor who comes seeking the strength and counsel of the Heart of Jesus from you; for everywhere in this country it is known that you are its apostle.” Father Claude replied, “No one can penetrate into the mysteries of that Heart without tasting the cup of bitterness that Jesus drank from so deeply at Gethsemane. Oh, if only I too could win the precious grace that your English priests are reaping in this’ land of crosses’!”
While awaiting his recall to France he was suddenly arrested and thrown into prison, denounced as a conspirator. Thanks to his title of preacher to the Duchess of York and to the protection of Louis XIV, whose subject he was, he escaped death but was condemned to exile (1679). The last two years of his life were spent at Lyons where he was spiritual director to the young Jesuits, and at Paray-le-Monial, whither he repaired for his health. His principal works, including “Pious Reflections”, “Meditations on the Passion”, “Retreat and Spiritual Letters”, were published under the title, “Oeuvres du R. P. Claude de la Colombière” (Avignon, 1832; Paris, 1864). His relics are preserved in the monastery of the Visitation nuns at Paray-le-Monial.
Father de La Colombière never composed a treatise on prayer, but his correspondence and retreats abound in exhortations to have intimate conversations with God. He Wrote “Prayer is the only means of purifying ourselves, uniting ourselves to God and having God unite Himself to us in order to accomplish something for His glory. We must pray to obtain the apostolic virtues. We must pray to make them useful for our neighbour. We must pray not to lose them in our neighbour’s service. The counsel, or rather the command, Pray always, (St. Luke 18:1) seems extremely sweet and not at all impossible to me. It contains the practice of the presence of God. With Our Lord’s help, I want to try to follow it. We always need God; so we must pray always. The more we pray, the more we please Him, the more we obtain.” He also wrote “Aridity and involuntary distractions often make prayer very mortifying, but then it is all the more pleasing to God.”
“What a great illusion” he would say “yet it is such a common one to imagine that we have little or great virtue according to our few or many distractions in prayer. I have known nuns who were elevated to a very high degree of contemplation and were often distracted in their prayer from start to finish . . . Even if you were ravished in ecstasy twenty-four times a day and I had twenty-four distractions while saying one Hail Mary, if I were as humble and mortified as you, I would not exchange my involuntary distractions for all your ecstasies devoid of merit. In a word, I do not know of any devotion in which there is no mortification. Do perpetual violence to yourself, especially interiorly, and never let your nature be the master or let your heart attach itself to anything, no matter what it may be”
Talk on the spiritual exercises and coldness of heart and love of God alone Fr. Claude wrote “You ask me the reason for the coldness you feel in your spiritual exercises. It is your too great desire to do them with sensible fervour. You must love God for Himself alone, with all your heart, and be ready to be content with His Cross as the only sign of His love. I know this disposition is difficult, but I implore you to aspire to it and make your efforts to attain it.”
Saint Claude, faithful servant and perfect friend
of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Pray for us!