Saint Peter Julian Eymard
Peter Julian Eymard is called, among other things, “Champion of the Blessed Sacrament”. He had such a singleness of purpose, in his great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament that he would Found an Order devoted solely to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the spread of that devotion. That Religious Order is called “Priests of the Blessed Sacrament.”
There’s a teaching here, which we don’t want to miss. He went from Diocesan priest, to the Order of Mary, to founding an Order in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. Wherever you find the Mother, you will find the Son; wherever you find the Son, you will find the Mother. Wherever you find the Mother and the Son in the Eucharist, you will find the priesthood. We have never researched or written about any Saint who has not had a great devotion to the Eucharist, coupled with a great love for Our Lady. Peter Julian Eymard confirms this in his choice of ministries.
But his path to Our Lord Jesus and Our Mother Mary was not an easy one. To begin with, there was a great feeling of anti-clericalism in France. Remember, he was born in 1811, not that many years after the French Revolution, in which priests and nuns were executed wholesale by the guillotine. And the year he was born, Napoleon was still the Emperor of France, and most of Europe.
Add to that Peter’s father did not want him to become a priest, or live the religious life. They were poor, and Peter suffered poor health. The situation in France at that time was so bad that most children suffered malnutrition and/or many of the other diseases of the poor. Needless to say, it was a struggle for Peter from the beginnning. But he had such a burning desire to serve Our Lord Jesus and His Mother Mary that virtually nothing could stop him. Finally, on July 20, 1834, he was ordained Fr. Peter Julian Eymard.
At the beginning of his priestly ministry, he devoted his time to normal parish activities, but he felt a powerful draw to the Blessed Sacrament. The Eucharist was always the Center around which his life revolved. He proclaimed more than once, “Without it, I would have been lost.”
One time, while carrying the Consecrated Host in procession on Corpus Christi Sunday, he had a religious experience:
“My soul was flooded with faith and love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Those two hours seemed but a moment. I laid, at the Feet of our Lord, the Church in France, myself, and everybody throughout the world. My eyes were filled with tears: it was as though my heart were under the wine-press. I longed, at that moment, for all hearts to have been within my own and to have been fired with the zeal of St. Paul.”
He left the diocesan life to enter the Marist community, where he had been a novice in 1829. When he was leaving the diocese to enter the Marists, his sisters begged him to reconsider. he told them, “God calls me now. Tomorrow will be too late.”
Even during his time with the Marists, he couldn’t help pondering and meditating on the Eucharist. A pivotal point in his life occurred on a pilgrimage to a local Marian shrine in 1851, Our Lady of Fourvieres. The Lord put a thought into his head, and he could not get it out of his mind. There was no Order devoted to the Blessed Sacrament! In his own words,
“One idea haunted me, and it was this; that Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament had no Religious Institute to glorify His mystery of love, whose only object was entire consecration to Its service. There ought to be one….I promised Mary to devote myself to this end. It was still all very vague and I had no idea of leaving the Order (Marists).”
[Author’s Note: When you hear the words, haunted, or “I couldn’t get it out of my mind”, you know it’s the Lord. Blessed Juliana of Liege, whom the Lord used, to institute a Feast Day in honor of the Blessed Sacrament, expressed her feelings in the same way. She had a vision which haunted her day and night. Everywhere she went, every day, it was there. So, my brothers and sisters, if you feel an overpowering feeling that has to do with the Eucharist, in particular, you can be pretty sure it’s the Lord hounding you (like the hounds of Heaven which St. Augustine speaks of). And He won’t let you live until you do what He wants.]
He felt he couldn’t hold back any longer. The burning inside of his heart to protect, adore and give honor to his God, Jesus in the Eucharist, took over his entire being. He presented his idea for a new Order of the Blessed Sacrament to his Superior General, who told him to wait. Obedience, being at the zenith of his vows, he waited. He was still chomping at the bit, but because his Superior asked him to wait until his plan had more substance to it, he obeyed; something we seem to have lost the meaning of, in today’s world. For five years, he waited, and then in 1856, with the approval of his Superior, he presented his proposal to the Archbishop of Paris, who approved it in twelve days! He not only approved it, he gave St. Peter Julian his first house in Paris; and on January 6, 1857, Feast of the Ephiphany of Our Lord Jesus, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in his chapel for the first time. The little community of priests consisted of St. Peter and one other priest. It was small, but it was a beginning.
They had to change houses in 1858, and they moved into a small chapel in Paris. St. Peter Julian called this his “miracle chapel”, due to all the graces and miracles obtained through the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, in that location. Also, in 1858, his zeal was so great to spread devotion and veneration to Our Lord Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament, he and a fervent woman, Msarguerite Guillot, founded a group of cloistered nuns, Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, whose charism was and is Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration.
[An aside – Mother Angelica’s order, Poor Clares of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration was founded in France in 1854. Their main work is to adore Our Lord Jesus in the Eucharist, 24/7. While they were not founded by St. Peter Julian Eymard, they were greatly influenced by his movement in Paris.]
In 1859, Pope Pius IX greatly praised the movement. Spurred on by that endorsement, the Order grew in leaps and bounds. More houses were opened in France. Vocations, which had been slow in coming at first, grew in extraordinary proportions, and before long, the Order of the Blessed Sacrament became a full-blown congregation of priests and lay brothers. They were available for any and all kinds of tasks within the Church, but everything had to take second place to their adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The community’s initial outreach in Paris was to prepare young people to receive their First Holy Communion. They extended their missionary work to invite non-practicing Catholics, urging them to come back to Mother Church and embrace the Treasures of Our Church, especially the gift of Our Lord Jesus in the Eucharist.
Once he had received the praises of Blessed Pope Pius IX, his community began to spread its wings all over the world. Communities of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament can be found all over the world, in Holland, Spain, Canada, the United States, South America Belgium and on and on. The power of the Eucharist and their great love and zeal for Our Lord Jesus gave them the impetus they needed to grow.
He was a staunch soldier in defense of the Eucharist and Eucharistic devotion. Although he was known to be kind and gentle, he had no problem getting up and letting the church of any given country know how they were offending the Lord by their behavior.
It was his first trip to Belgium. He went to the Church of the Miracle of the Eucharistic of Brussels to conduct Eucharistic devotions. He said, “I was edified; but what grieved me was to find the large churches of the city closed part of the day. I protested this abuse.”
He continued with his tirade against Belgium in a later sermon. He said: “Brethren, it pains me to have to tell you, but my heart wept when, on entering your capitial city (Brussels), I found your churches closed. What a scandal for you! I am here to preach on adoration. But of what good will my words be to you;! Your closed doors prevent you from approaching tghe tabernacle.”
In researching the life of St. Peter Julian Eymard, we found that he truly put everything into the Hands of the Lord through the Blessed Sacrament. An example of this was when he wanted to go to Rome to get Papal approval of the Community, and obtain a Plenary Indulgence for adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, even if the Tabernacle is closed. He picked the worst possible time. The Archbishop of Paris, whose recommendation he needed, had just died. Now, St. Peter Julian wanted to wait for a new Archbishop to be appointed, but as the Pope, Pius IX, who had been extremely supportive to St. Peter Julian’s Order, was very ill, it would not be wise to wait to go to Rome. However, the week, he and his two companions went to Rome was Holy Week; Rome was extremely busy, as was His Holiness. But St. Peter Julian placed everything in the Hands of Our Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. His philosophy was, if the Lord wanted it, He’d have to make it happen. Apparently the Lord wanted it; because St. Peter Julian Eymard got everything he asked for.
His great work for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and his ongoing work for the Faithful to receive frequent Communion was endorsed and encouraged by many popes. Even after his death, St. Pope Pius X gave his backing to frequent reception of Holy Communion in 1905, and allowed young people to receive Communion once they have reached the Age of Reason.
Peter Julian Eymard died on August 11, 1868. He was beatified in 1925, and raised to the Communion of Saints by Blessed Pope John XXIII, at the close of the first session of the Ecumenical Council, December 9, 1962.
St. Peter Julian Eymard leaves behind great insights into the Eucharistic life. He wrote many spiritual works.