Thought and the religious experience of Brother François

(Setting aside the old fashioned language, readers will appreciate that the thought and the religious experience of Brother François is part of a precious heritage. It should not be difficult to make it known in ways that are more suited to our language and sensibilities today.)

1. Strive to keep Jesus always alive in your hearts and in your whole house, in such a way that you and your house may in various ways have a likeness to this Divine Master.

2. One thing that should never be forgotten is that the formation of the young Brothers is only at an initial stage in the novitiates, and that it must be continued in every community where they are sent.

3. Our piety is a deep sharing in the filial spirit of Jesus Christ towards his Father; it strengthens our reliance on God and our absolute confidence in Him, like a child who puts even his least needs and lightest pains in the hands of the best of fathers.

4. “Help your Brothers to become pious;” he wrote to a Director, “you will make them happy, and you will surely save them.” (Fr. François: 60 Ans d’Histoire Mariste, p.333)

5. Never was there one like Mary, thinking so little of herself, and so preoccupied with Jesus. Jesus dwelt in his mother in all His fullness; in her he lived, acted, and overcame everything. He made her one with Him just as He was one with the Father.

6. Let us go to Mary with the utmost confidence, for there is nothing that the spirit of her Son will refuse her. He is as devoted to her as she is to him, granting her every wish, and she freely uses this influence with Him as if His power were her own, bestowing His blessings wherever she wishes. That is the measure of Jesus’ love for her, the love that is the source of her power.

7. It is above all in Communion that we are united intimately with Jesus; we become one in body and spirit with Him, and live His life. There he makes us pure, humble and holy, blessed with every virtue.

The devil knows how efficacious Communion is, and he is pleased when by trickery and deceit he leads us to miss out on just one.

8. We have to say with St Thérèse, “in suffering or in death.” This is the best of dispositions. We must be strong of heart, prepared for and ready to accept either with joy. In fact, every moment of suffering is so precious, and our life is so short, that we should be glad that no one escapes the bitterness of the cross.

9. When we are happy, peaceful and joyful, the devil is sad, discouraged and put out; and when we are sad, anxious and wistful, the devil is happy, delighted to be on top of us. Never forget this advice: God permits you to have all kinds of trials because He has His own view of things, He has His own plans for you, and He wants you to learn to handle all the ups and downs of life.

10. Sometimes it is good to have people who contradict us, who have a negative, unfavourable opinion of us, even though our actions are well intentioned and right. That often helps to keep us humble and free of pride.

11.Let us admire the loving design of divine Providence: the things that we see as misfortunes or things we regret often become a great source of grace and blessings for us. If God touches us painfully with one hand, he caresses us with the other. When we throw ourselves confidently into His arms and give ourselves entirely to Him, he envelops us in his mercy and his fatherly protection.

12. Whoever visits the sick must have the heart of a mother and the level headedness of a doctor. (Op. cit., p. 321).

13. Let us form such a habit of ejaculatory prayer that keeps our spirit and our heart continually turned towards God.

14. We have to develop the habit of savouring prayer, tasting it and digesting it as it were, interiorising its sentiments, just as the body digests food and receives its nourishment from it. If we rush our food, it burdens us rather than comforting us, tires us instead of refreshing us. So it is with prayer when it is rushed, said carelessly, or without attention. (Op. cit., p. 333.)

15. It is not enough for us to pray now and then, or even reasonably often during the day; what is necessary is that our prayer courses through our whole being, becomes one with us, has a permanent place in us and mingles, as it were, with our flesh and blood so that, like the psalmist, our heart and our flesh thrill with love at the thought of the living God. (Op. cit., p. 335.)

16. Our greatest happiness, even in this life, is to return love for love to the One who loves us with an everlasting love. (Idem)
17. When we have acquired the fortunate habit of recollection, fervour, and self scrutiny, these qualities become as intimate and unrestricting to us in the same way that good habits come to a well brought up person, habits like modesty, discretion, politeness, respect, honesty and so on, which seem so foreign to one who has always lived rather wantonly and grossly. No one is more prudent, correct, and well ordered as he who is in control of circumstances and not controlled by them; such a one is at peace with himself.
18. How essential it is for us to live a life of faith, so that we may always be protected from sin by remembering the great truths of faith, be sustained in our efforts to be virtuous by the unfailing promises of faith, and be guided on our pilgrimage towards eternity by the light of faith. (Circular on the Spirit of Faith, Summ., p.551)
19. Let us retire often into the sanctuary of our souls, find God by faith, adore Him, offer ourselves to Him, and in His presence make numerous acts of adoration, contrition, love and confidence. (Idem, pp. 551-552)
20. My Jesus, I am blind. Amen! Jesus, I have terrible headaches. Amen! Jesus, I am deaf. Amen! Jesus, I am not able to attend Mass or pray the Office. Amen! (Prayer of Mgr. Foulquier, former bishop of Mende. Brother François quotes this prayer with admiration.)
21. Divine Heart of Jesus, let me always love you more and more. Receive, O Sacred Heart, all my thoughts and my desires, my freedom, my memory, my will, my actions and my life. Accept my pains and sorrows. I give myself to you forever. Lord, every moment of my life is for you, everything I do is for you. Grant that I am always worthy of your grace, and that I please you and serve you in just the way you want me to. (Notebook, Summ., p. 555).
22.My very dear Brothers, as I apologise for yet another painful and important function that I was unable to carry out, I realise that my affection for you, my attachment and my solicitude for everything concerning the Institute will never diminish, and that, on the contrary, these feeling can only grow stronger as long as God leaves me here on earth… In fact, when one has been for 20 years the head of such a dear and interesting Society as the Society of the Little Brothers of Mary, when one has had such frequent, intimate and pleasant contacts with its members, how could one forget them? And of course, would not these affectionate feelings and precious memories leave their mark forever on one’s spirit and heart? This is surely a precious consolation for every moment of one’s life.
Yes, my very dear Brothers, I have always loved you tenderly, and I always will. Yes, the thought of you will always be a very dear memory, and I shall never cease to care about you, I will always hear the news of you with lively interest, and I will do everything I can to obtain for you all that you may need spiritually and materially. (Circular to announce the election of the Vicar, Br. Louis-Marie, 1860, Summ., pp. 556-557).
23.I leave you at the foot of the cross with our dear Mother and the beloved disciple; that is where we find our strength, our hope, our consolation, our joy and our peace. In union with your prayers and the merits of your patience, and with deep affection, I embrace you in the Sacred hearts of Jesus and Mary. (Letter to a sick Brother, Summ., p. 558)
24. The members of the Little Brothers of Mary will always speak humbly of their little congregation, and will hold all others in greater esteem, honour and consideration than it. But, as for affection, attachment and love, they will prefer it to all others. (Summ., p 573)
25. One day, when I was the cook at the infirmary, and was making an onion soup, I put in the vegetables before the water was boiling. Brother François was passing by at that moment, and he corrected me, saying, “Never put the vegetables in before the water boils; that will give the Brothers indigestion and make them tired.” (Op. cit., p.573)
26. (After the election of Brother Louis-Marie to replace Brother François in 1860) “If God really wishes me grant me a little strength and health, it will be my greatest pleasure and my warmest happiness to be able to welcome you still, chat with you, comfort you and be like a grand father with his little grand children. If, however, it pleases God to prolong my sickness and my ill health, I will offer them to him in place of what I am no longer able to do myself. Taking a lead from Moses and Samuel, I will continually pray that you may be victorious over the enemies of salvation and gain the graces you need to fulfil the end of our holy and sublime vocation.”
27. I read that when he retired to the Hermitage, and had no other title but grandfather, which he liked being called, he wrote the following which was not meant for the eyes of others: “I see myself as an old pot, cracked and broken, useful for only the dirtiest everyday tasks, scarcely worth saving because it is of so little value.”
28. Such blindness and frightening stupidity, to pass one’s life solely concerned with the affairs of the world, putting all one’s efforts into cobwebs that death will sweep away in half a second. (Fr. François, 60 Ans d’Histoire Mariste, p. 175)
29. The whole house of Our Lady of the Hermitage can be considered the Reliquary of venerable Father Champagnat. He built it, and he lived in it for sixteen years. Everything speaks of him, for he had a hand in everything, guided everything.
30. “… I tell you, you will never have a talented community member, a man of character, who will not sometimes become rowdy or get up to some pranks. Those people who are never negligent and never let off steam are usually persons without energy, who leave almost negligible signs of their unremarkable passage through life without causing much embarrassment. At the same time, however, they manage things in just a middling way and can never get a class moving. The talented Brother is a man of character, a man of strong will, who rarely fails to be a good teacher.”
31. I am here at the head of my Brothers, to love and cherish them with the heart of a father, to be their guide and their model always and everywhere. (Op. cit., p. 73)
32. A Prayer of Brother François, Superior: My God, grant that by your grace I may become a Brother Superior after your own heart, attentive to every duty, having in mind only my work, having eyes for no one but You, seeking only You, hoping only in You, fearing only You. Give me zealous co-workers, send good labourers into your vineyard for your harvest. Grant me discernment in choosing them, piety in forming them, wisdom in employing them, and vigilance and health in governing them. Bless them, keep them, sanctify them, let them be men after your heart, filled with your Spirit, and always attentive to their ministry. (Op. cit. p. 79)
33. Although he was superior general at the time, it was in the capacity of infirmarian that he wrote in a letter to a Brother: “Don’t do anything rash that might injure your health; avoid cold damp draughts, keep your feet warm and dry, follow a reasonable programme, and avoid anything cold, strong or acidic. Drink a little milk from time to time, and take every means to get over your ‘flu; wool next to the skin, and plaster on the arms are useful at these times. (Op. cit., p.82)
34. It is necessary to ask God for wisdom, prudence, kindness… You must lovingly place before Him your needs and those of the ones in your charge. Begin by winning the hearts of the novices and showing your interest and commitment to them; regard them as privileged children of the Blessed Virgin… but don’t be afraid of work and trouble… virtue should be seen by them through qualities that make it something desirable. (Op. cit., pp. 83-84)
35. I know by experience how much the deterioration of one’s intellectual faculties makes administration a painful and overwhelming business, but on the other hand, it seems that God in his goodness is pleased that this should be so, for, the weaker we are, the more clearly the power of His grace is proclaimed. (Op. cit., p. 86)
36. O Holy Spirit, Your mind is one with eternal truth, your heart with eternal love. (Op. cit., p. 89)
37. Three becomes more than ten when God puts his hand to a task, and this is never more the case than when he is so bold as to use human means, making it necessary for us to undertake something that is beyond our own strength. (Op. cit., p. 118)
38. He wrote to a Brother: “You have a discipline with seventy strands (your students), and twice a day you have to take that discipline for three hours at a time… When you need to speak you must accommodate your language to the level of the young, and even if you are tired you still have to keep talking. Oh, no! You are praying when you have to keep yourself in check, you pray several times a day when you have to exercise restraint. No, you don’t need to become a Trappist. (Op. cit., p.131)
39. Brother Avit, a very intelligent Brother, was named School Visitor. Brother François gave him much advice, including the following: “When you are visiting the classes, if there is something that needs to be changed, make sure that you do not say anything in front of the children that might hurt the Brothers. Do not find fault with any child or give him advice in front of the others, but correct him apart, and speak to him heart to heart, with kindness and goodness.” (Op. cit., p. 140)
40. To have real success with the children you need to gain their love and respect. When the students love the Brother who is with them they are content and happy with him and have no wish to cause him any trouble. When they respect him, his presence keeps them in order and modifies the light heartedness and the distractions that come naturally to them. To earn their love, it is necessary to love them, to be in the midst of the students like a father with his children. They must see that he loves them, that he is interested in everything that concerns them: their health, their troubles, their joys, their work, their fun, and … it is necessary that they see you are happy with them and that you wish only their earthly and spiritual well being. (Op. cit., p. 159)
41. Make sure that you act out of love, and not fear. Fear is like hoar frost: it hardens, shrinks, numbs and destroys; love is like the sun: it opens things up, softens, gladdens, and makes things come alive. (Op. cit., p. 201)
42. Some phrases that occur frequently in Brother François’ correspondence
“I love you; you know I love you and wish only for your wellbeing.”
“You know that I love you very much and that I deeply desire your progress in perfection.”
“You know, dear Brother, that I have always loved you tenderly.”
(Op. cit. p.215)

43. You have to be prudent even when requiring the best of things, and, when you require something, avoid every suggestion of rigidity, exaggeration, or of pushing too hard in the quest for perfection until the moment is right.. I want to bring you to imitate Eternal Wisdom: keep striving hard to achieve the end that it has in mind, but choose means that are gentle. (Op. cit., p. 215)

44. I know several Brothers who left our Society to shut themselves up in solitude. Not a single one persevered in that. Where are they today? Who knows? (Op. cit., p. 221)

45. When you take recreation be sure that it is real recreation. I strongly recommend this advice; it is more important than we sometimes think, and it is not without reason that it has a place among the means of perfection. So do everything you can to make sure that the Brothers always enjoy their recreation.
Don’t put yourself in prison for the sake of your students. You need your recreation. It is much better that the students learn less, and that they are attached to the Brothers and love them, than if they are required to write things over and over again and find that the Brothers treat them harshly to make them work. (Op. cit., p. 222)

46. Jesus made a start by doing things before talking about them. And Champagnat in his turn? He rose every day at 4.00am, gave us a simple and homely catechism lesson and taught us to do the same; he loved the Eucharist; he knew how to take new paths while always remaining very open to his superiors; he knew hardships; he practised penance to a high degree, etc. (Op. cit., p. 250)

47. What will save us from this fatal hardness of heart? What will give us tender hearts, hearts open wide to savour the law of God and to embrace it with courage and perseverance? The answer is, piety. Our hearts are naturally hard and resistant, ungrateful and rebellious, inclined to the pleasures of the senses and opposed to the law of the Spirit. Our hearts become tender through prayer and meditation. (Op. Cit., p. 287)

48. Our spiritual resources are not self-sustaining. If we do not build them up and renew them by piety, they are unable to deal with the duties that must be done, the temptations that must be overcome, or the virtues that must be practised; we fail in humility, obedience and the other virtues, we fail in the evangelical counsels, in our vocation, in our vows, and we even fail in the commandments of God. (Idem)

49. “Those religious orders,” he said, “that have not preserved poverty,” (and he stressed this word) “holy poverty that gave them birth, do not have the appearance of religious orders because they no longer bear the family resemblance to their mother.” (Op. cit., p. 304)

50. For me, life would be insupportable if I had nothing to suffer for the name of Jesus Christ. (Op. cit., p. 305)

51. When I am cold and I cannot sleep, I pray for the poor and for travellers. (Idem)

43. You have to be prudent even when requiring the best of things, and, when you require something, avoid every suggestion of rigidity, exaggeration, or of pushing too hard in the quest for perfection until the moment is right.. I want to bring you to imitate Eternal Wisdom: keep striving hard to achieve the end that it has in mind, but choose means that are gentle. (Op. cit., p. 215)

44. I know several Brothers who left our Society to shut themselves up in solitude. Not a single one persevered in that. Where are they today? Who knows? (Op. cit., p. 221)

45. When you take recreation be sure that it is real recreation. I strongly recommend this advice; it is more important than we sometimes think, and it is not without reason that it has a place among the means of perfection. So do everything you can to make sure that the Brothers always enjoy their recreation.
Don’t put yourself in prison for the sake of your students. You need your recreation. It is much better that the students learn less, and that they are attached to the Brothers and love them, than if they are required to write things over and over again and find that the Brothers treat them harshly to make them work. (Op. cit., p. 222)
52. Good government is brought about by loving prayer rather than by imperious demands. (Op. cit., p. 306)

53. The art of leadership? People are won over by the leader’s total devotedness to them. (Op. cit., p. 306)

54. Turn advice, reprimands and penances into prayer, in the same way as you make a salad with oil and vinegar. (Op. cit., p. 333)

55. He spoke of prayer in this way: “The best kind of prayer is one in which God speaks to our heart and our heart to God, not by using formulas, but through the natural attraction that causes the soul to be lifted up to the source of all good.” “This is the way, above all, that brings together the means of enhancing recollection, that invaluable interior spirit that is necessary to animate and sanctify our actions, and without which those same actions would lack all virtue.” (Op. cit., p. 335)

43. You have to be prudent even when requiring the best of things, and, when you require something, avoid every suggestion of rigidity, exaggeration, or of pushing too hard in the quest for perfection until the moment is right.. I want to bring you to imitate Eternal Wisdom: keep striving hard to achieve the end that it has in mind, but choose means that are gentle. (Op. cit., p. 215)

44. I know several Brothers who left our Society to shut themselves up in solitude. Not a single one persevered in that. Where are they today? Who knows? (Op. cit., p. 221)

45. When you take recreation be sure that it is real recreation. I strongly recommend this advice; it is more important than we sometimes think, and it is not without reason that it has a place among the means of perfection. So do everything you can to make sure that the Brothers always enjoy their recreation.
Don’t put yourself in prison for the sake of your students. You need your recreation. It is much better that the students learn less, and that they are attached to the Brothers and love them, than if they are required to write things over and over again and find that the Brothers treat them harshly to make them work. (Op. cit., p. 222)

56. There will always be a question mark over our charity if it does not bear the seal of patience; a clay pot can return to mud if it has not passed through fire. (Idem)

57. A man of faith accepts from God’s hands whatever is given to him, convinced that he could receive from the God’s goodness only something that is for his wellbeing. If we lack this precious gift of trust, we and God are almost strangers… however, before long, the spirit of servitude gives way to the sense of being God’s son. (Op. cit., p. 336)

58. Our model, Mary: “Make every effort to foster the presence of Jesus in us and in our children. Have for our Brothers and children the same love that Mary had for Jesus. Listen to the Word of God and keep it in our hearts as Mary did. Like her, live a hidden life.” (Op. cit., p.340)

59. The blood that gives life to the heart of Jesus comes from the heart of Mary, and the grace that sanctifies Mary comes from the heart of Jesus. (Op. cit., p. 341)

60. Let your thoughts often turn towards Jesus, and also towards Mary, His mother and our mother too. She stood by the foot of the cross, suffering with Jesus, and it is there that we became her children, there that Jesus gave her to us as our Mother. She is our good and loving mother, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Mercy, Our Lady of Compassion. We are the children of her sorrow, the suffering members of Jesus, her Divine Son, who suffers in us and pays the price for our suffering. In this way we are very dear to the maternal heart of Mary. As a tender mother, she loves us and helps us, and if she does not immediately relieve us of our suffering it is because she knows how much it may be for our good. (Op. cit., p. 342)

61. I want this place (the Hermitage) to be pure and holy. I have it in mind that if it happens that the Brothers stray from the path of perfection, this will always be a blessed place, and will be a mirror and model of what is best, like a chandelier before the throne of God and before the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary. My children, look after this place well, and never abandon it… for it is holy; it is the place where Jesus Christ and his Virgin Mother Mary dwell. This is where the Lord multiplied our numbers when we were very few. So have a great respect for this place. Whoever prays devoutly here to obtain a grace will be granted what he asks for. (Op. cit., p. 362)

62.
«Can’t we say that the true religious are almost as rare as the true Christians? Alas! we can say so; the saints’ species is almost extinct, faith has decreased so much!» (Essay on the Marist Spirituality Origins, p. 169; Br. André Lanfrey, September 2001; Circular: The Spirit of Faith, first part, 1st December 1848)

62.
«The spirit of Mary’s Brothers, their distinctive character must be a spirit of humility and simplicity that prompts them to imitate the Holy Virgin, their Mother and their model, in taking a special liking for a hidden life, for the humble assignment in the poorest locations, in exercising their apostolate quietly. However, the ordinary teaching work they will seek, they will do it in an excellent way and, the religious education they will impart will be attractive and rich. It is only through the light of a keen faith that we will learn the excellence of humility and simplicity that the world despises, that our souls will be happy to avoid men’s approbation and, that our glory will be to live unknown and hidden. Indeed, only the faith in Jesus Christ’ Word and examples, in his adorable heart’s kindness and, the knowledge that the gates of heaven remain closed to whoever does not possess a child’s simplicity, only these aspects of faith can dissipate our selfish illusions and make us discover that the true glory, the real security are to be found in humility, simplicity and modesty.» (Reference as above)

63. The Presence of God

«But, let us seek God above all inside us, in the inner parts of our hearts; for this is where he lives like in a sanctuary to receive our worship and praises. ‘Don’t you know that you are God’s temples and that God’s Spirit lives in you?’ (1 Cor. 3, 16) Let us worship Him, let us offer ourselves to Him, let us give Him our thanks and praises. By short but fervent prayers, by renewing our intention to please Him and to act for his glory only, let us express our contrition, our love, trust and our requests. There is the great secret of holiness and perfection.»
(Essay on the Origins of Marist Spirituality; p. 172)

64. Love that Can Be Expressed in a Multitude of Ways

«O God, I love you with my whole heart. May your will be done! I want to please you only. I would like everybody to love you. I want only what you wish. Do with me and whatever I own, anything that will please you. I entrust myself in you. Never allow that I separate myself from you. I adore you and I give myself completely to you. Lord, come to my help; Lord, hasten to rescue me. I thank you for all the graces you granted me. Have mercy on me. O Jesus, I love you, but increase my love. Do not let me perish. Deliver me from temptation. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, come to my help, etc.»

65. Holiness in Daily Life

«Faith also tells us that all perfection consists in doing well our ordinary actions. For, perfection consisting in our union with God and in the conformity with His will, we have only to do what God wants and to do it the way he wishes, in order to become perfect. We certainly know that our daily exercises are precisely the only things that God requires from us since our Rule imposes them on us; therefore, we have simply to remain faithful to them, to do them well, that is to do them the way God wants us to perform them and with pure intentions. God’s kingdom is inside us. (Luke, 17, 21) and our salvation is already assured: by simply doing our daily duties, without having to add any time nor pain, we can succeed in reaching perfection and holiness.»

66. What are the Means to Acquire and Preserve the Spirit of Faith?
«I will name four of them: the regular reading and meditation of God’s word, the spirit of contemplation, frequent communion and the exercise of the presence of God.»

67. N.B.: Basilio’s ideas on God’s Word already appear…

«The attentive reading, the comprehensive study of the divine word is the soul’s food. This study strengthens it against temptations, inspires holy thoughts and keen desires for heaven, enlightens it with the lights of faith. This study warms up and energises the will; it consoles a person from all the difficulties and life’s afflictions; it fills him/her with a spiritual joy.»

68.
«The Eucharist will blunt sin’s dart; it will cool down the sensuality’s fire; it will submit the flesh to the spirit and will eliminate any wantonness. Besides enlightening our minds it will strengthen our will to fill us with the joys and consolations of serving God. Through its interior and divine activity that it will spread in all our souls’ faculties, it will lead us to virtuous acts that used to appear difficult.»

69.
«If we can ever manage to establish a loving relationship with the Sacred Heart, and taste his burning love we will discover what the spirit of faith is, what it is to live in faith! The one who knows Jesus Christ does not care any longer for his whims or for whatever worries him; his aim is to despise himself and anything else to unite himself to Jesus Christ.»

70.
«Let us get near Jesus Christ by knowledge and love, but specially by
imitation.»