By Valérie Gioanni
La Mure - June 25-July 4, 2018.
We had decided to make this retreat at La Mure as proposed by Father Manuel Barbiero in order to deepen our understanding of the “gift of self” so dear to Father Eymard. I call this a “retreat” since these 10 days were not only a time of formation, nor even a simple session on the “gift of self”, but a valuable time to remain “at the Lord’s feet and to listen to his word” (Lk 10:39).
It was a valuable time in which we have allowed the Holy Spirit to lead us, but also a special place because we have experienced these 10 days in Father Eymard’s house. We were moved to celebrate the Eucharist and to pray in the room in which the saint spent his last days, entrusting ourselves as well to the Mother of God.
The following persons gathered with Father Manuel Barbiero: Fathers Claude Taffet from Canada, Gabriele di Nicolò and Guglielmo Rota from Italy, Richard Mouanda and Carlos Dos Santos from Congo Brazzaville, Mateus Almeida from Mozambique, who (to our great joy) came to La Mure only 2 months ago, as well as Edith Grimaud (a lay associate) and her husband Jean-Claude from Grenoble, and Valérie Gioanni from Lyons.
All together we read again the Great Retreat of Rome in order to try to understand all the insights, concerns and above all the path along which Father Eymard was led towards making the gift of his personality on 21 March 1865.
From our first day of the retreat, Father Eymard’s main concern became our own: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” (NR 44,4) This question enabled each one to experience all the interior dispositions of surrender that it implied. For to be a listener to God’s will and to welcome it into one’s heart entails understanding that one has first of all to “renounce one’s own will,” renounce self-love, renounce one’s self-assurance, inner securities, cut the moorings to go forward, to be freed from everything hindering the Holy Spirit from entering into our hearts and the paralysis in our attitudes.
Like Peter-Julian Eymard, we experienced all the difficulty, all the deep sadness of this path of renunciation. We were the children of Abraham addressed by the Lord: “Go! Leave your country…” And yet, the saint told us, it is only by being stripped of the old man in oneself that we would find peace and freedom (cf. NR 44,14).
After that, the second question that Father Eymard asked himself became also ours: “how to get there?”… how reach this kind of renunciation? His response springs up as a way: “BY LOVE!” (NR 44,62)
Following the footsteps of the Saint, we went to the rock of Saint-Romans, where Father Eymard discovered God’s tenderness. We took time to be silent in contemplating the wonders that God has done in our lives and to recall all the acts of love he bestowed on us. Because God first loves us (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), contemplating his infinite love stirred up in us gratitude, trust and the desire to return his love. Our love was thus but the response (a poor stammering) to God’s love.
Therefore, what we call “renunciation” or “stripping” of self the first day became an offering of love, a gift of the whole of one’s person. For the characteristic of love consists in giving, giving everything up to the gift of self, up to the giving of my interior, up to the renunciation of one own will…
Thus stripped of self, our heart was able to welcome Christ fully and to live in communion with him. This wonderful communion of love between our humanity and his divinity (some of us would speak joyously of a hypostatic union!) found its full realization in the Eucharist. It is there that Christ comes to be incarnate in us… to live in us! He is then able to whisper to our heart what he wants us to do: to love as he loves and to celebrate love… each one in his own cenacle. For indeed, Father Eymard understood this well: that Christ does not want to be enclosed in a tabernacle, in a cenacle nor even in our churches, but he longs to be incarnated in us, in our lives, our families, our communities, our workplaces. The Eucharist must be lived everywhere… in every house, in every street, everywhere that love is given and shared. This is for everyone to discover the Cenacle where he is awaited, in order to celebrate the sacrament of love!
During these 10 days, we shared our doubts, our hopes, our joys, our laughter, our sufferings… our lives. Perhaps even some tears of being moved were shed here or there. But… this was also the time of the world cup and France has brilliantly defeated Argentine!
In this gathering made up of a great diversity of culture, age, life, we shared a joyous brotherhood.
flawless organisation, his thorough teaching, his patience, his kindness and the solicitude with which he sought to enable each one to move forward along his or her path of faith?
Thanks also are due to all the lay persons of the association of “The friends of Father Eymard in Matheysine”, who discreetly ensured that we did not lack anything, as well as to our friendly cook, Séverine, a true cordon bleu!
We hope that all those who will read this account may be able to experience this time of grace in the very places where Father Eymard lived, and to hear also in the silence of their hearts the response to the question that all of us asked ourselves: “Lord, what do you want me to do?”