Martyrs of Angers

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Martyrs of Angers as described in a homily by Fr. Richard Mc Cullen, C.M. February 20, 1984

I invite you to join me in a coach which is traveling from Angers to Paris on the 2 February 1640. One of the passengers is Mademoiselle Louise Le Gras. She is looking somewhat pale because during the past few weeks she has been quite ill. She has spent almost three months in the city of Angers and her principal preoccupation has been the negotiation of a contract with the Administrators of the long-established Hospital of St. Jean. According to the terms of the contract, the Daughters of Charity would undertake the nursing of the sick poor in that hospital. It was only the day before, the first of February, that she signed the contract. The Company, she thought to herself, is but six years established and it has now for the first time taken over the care and the nursing of the poor in a hospital.

The negotiations over the hospital have been tiring and protracted. It is true that she has in her satchel a number of letters which Monsieur Vincent had written to her during the past three months. In them he had given her great support and expressed his concern and that of the Sisters in Paris for the health of Mademoiselle. She begins to nod off to sleep, thinking about the first of February. The years begin to pass by, like the kilometers on the road, and it is now the 1 February 1794. She sees to her amazement two of the Sisters with their hands tied together, being led out to a field on the edge of the city to be executed by a firing squad. The contract, which she had signed the previous day, did not envisage such an eventuality. She finds herself protesting: "The contract, the contract; it is against the contract." Then she seems to hear the two Sisters reply to her: "But who shall separate us from the love of Christ...shall persecution...or peril...or the sword....No, in all things we are more conquerors through Him Who loved us.... Neither death, nor life, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, Our Lord." (Rom 8:35?39).

"They must be going to be martyrs then," Mademoiselle concludes. "Christian martyrs," she reflects, "do not think in terms of contracts. The weeks of negotia tion before the signing of the contract were weeks of calculation. But martyrdom is outside all calculation. What enables Christians to accept martyrdom is the love of God which has taken possession of their hearts, and who can measure or calculate what is infinite, as is the love of God."

"Could it be," Louise asks herself, "that these martyrs would one day be honored by the Church at a time when Christians needed to be reminded that in the service of God, in the service of the poor, we can be too calculating? Could there come a time in the future when Sisters would measure out too carefully what they would give to God through their Vows of Poverty, Chastity, Obedience and Service of the Poor? Although it is not according to the terms of the contract I signed, that two of our Sisters should suffer such a violent death, still God could strengthen Sisters of other generations through the fortitude which they are now displaying."

Mademoiselle moves forward to speak a word of encouragement to Sister Marie-Anne and Sister Odile as they stand bound together in that field outside Angers, awaiting the moment of death. She reminds them that Our Lord had prayed for them. "Keep them in Thy name, that they may be one as We are one." (Jn 17:11) She just has time to say that to them before they offer their lives to God, not calculating the cost.

It was then that she awoke. It is still the 2 February 1640. She is still on the road back from Angers to Paris where she will report to Monsieur Vincent all that has happened. What she would write some seventeen years later to two of the Sisters at Angers is already taking shape in her mind: ...the Daughters of Charity of Angers have been singularly blessed by God for the service of the sick poor of the hospitals. May He be forever blessed! One of the practices of all our Sisters strikes me as excellent and I beg them and you also, my dear Sisters, to continue it. It consists of informing the Sister Servant of everything that occurs in the hospital. She is to be the only one to render any account to any of the numerous people involved, after she has learned from you the state of affairs in the matters for which you are respnsible. If you always respect this custom, you may be certain that all will go well. You will be respected by those outside the Company, and the union and cordiality prevalent among you will be so strong that it will form an impregnable rampart against the devil." (Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, ltr. 554, p. 578-579).

Yes, it was impossible for the devil to break the union between Sister Marie-Anne and Sister Odile on the 1 February 1794, a union which was, to quote a phrase of St. Vincent, "cemented by the blood of the Divine Saviour." (Dodin, Entretiens, p. 93). Their union with each other and with God, cemented by the blood of Jesus Christ, was on a February morning in 1984 proclaimed by the Vicar of Christ to be shining out in the heavens because, although in the sight of the unwise they seemed to die, they were, and are, "in the hand of God Who watches over His holy ones." (Wis 3:1).

from Deep Down Things - Richard McCullen, C.M.

See also Odile Baumgarten and Marie-Anne Vaillot - Presentation Thomas Davitt, CM