After the Concordat of 1802, great missions were preached in France as urged by Pope Pius VII in order to restore the faith and renew Christian life.
The Fathers of the Faith simultaneously gave, in the five parishes of the city of Amiens, a mission that opened on April 29, 1804, and that lasted until May 24. The mission was a huge success! Julie and Françoise collaborated by instructing the women of the populace.
After her miraculous cure (Amiens, June 1, 1804), Julie left for Saint-Valery-sur-Somme and Abbeville with Fathers Thomas and Enfantin. Her letters give testimony to her active apostolate and to the success of the mission at St. Valery, during which 40 marriages were rehabilitated. Of the mission at Abbeville little is known, the archives having been burned during the year of 1940.
Here is a letter from Julie to her friend Françoise:
“To Sister Blin, Amiens (St.Valery) June 23, 1804
The mission at St.Valery is going very well… our good fathers are pleased, especially the parish priest. A great many people come to the evening instructions; there are fewer at the morning ones. I cannot tire of admiring the goodness of my God. How good he is! Pray to him with all your hearts, my dear daughters…!
Shall I tell you something? At St. Valery I have to instruct men who are just as ignorant as those who were sent to me during the mission at Amiens. I do what I am told, always a poor useless servant; I am convinced the good God could very easily do without me, poor frail creature that I am. I am writing you in a hurry—you will have to read my writing as best you can. I am finishing this letter in the presence of a man to whom I am teaching the Creed. He is nearly ninety! He has not made his first Holy Communion, but has the best will in the world….”
The order, given in August by the powers that be to the Fathers of the Faith to leave the diocese of Amiens, interrupted Julie’s missionary activity.
Julie must certainly have remembered this endless expanse of water at Saint-Valery-sur Somme at the moment of the vision she received on February 2, 1806, knowing that her daughters would one day go across the seas. This was confirmed for her by Monsignor de Broglie at the time of her arrival in Ghent in 1807 (in spite of the strong opposition she received at the time from the bishop of Amiens and the superior of the community in Amiens, Father de Sambucy, who did not understand her point of view): “No, Mère Julie, you are not made to stay in a single diocese.”
Does this not connect us to the Gospel message: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Mk. 16:15
It is thus that, cured of her paralysis that gave her so many occasions to engage in contemplative prayer, Julie always held the conviction of what God had given to her to see and to proclaim. “What we have seen and heard, we proclaim now to you.” 1 Jn. 1: 3
- What is the source of evangelizing action?
Let’s first listen to what is said to us today by Pope Francis in his exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” (all the numbers indicated across from the words of the Pope come from this document):
“For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” (No. 8)
Simultaneously, here is now the voice of Julie:
“A person who truly loves the good God does great things with him and becomes a powerful apostle.” (Julie, Themes)
“In mercy and love, God gave us enough grace and strength to become an apostle.” (Julie, Conference 1812)
“How good is the good God, ah! Yes! How can we make it known to the whole world?”
Some other words from Pope Francis:
“In every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God, who has called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by the power of his Spirit. The life of the Church should always reveal clearly that God takes the initiative, that “he has loved us first (1 Jn. 4:19) and that he alone ‘gives the growth’ (1 Cor 3;7). This conviction enables us to maintain a spirit of joy in the midst of a task so demanding and challenging that it engages our entire life. God asks everything of us, yet at the same time he offers everything to us.” (No. 12)
Wasn’t this also the Julie’s personal conviction?
“If one simply opens the eyes of faith, said Mère Julie while going to the chapel, one would feel in the place where the good God waits for us, where he looks at us, where he offers himself to us, hands full of graces and a heart ready to receive them.”
Our spirituality is apostolic, in the tradition of Saint Julie. Her unique experience of prayer and of action caused her to find the presence of God everywhere, and in a special way among the poor. “We are only for the poor, absolutely for the poor.”
Let’s us trust in the good God – it is his work. That is the only prayer I can say: ’My God, it is your work!’ With this prayer, I pass through all difficulties.” (Julie, Letter 434)
“God has permitted me to be deprived of every kind of support. God alone is necessary for his work, since he has permitted things to be as they are.” (Julie, Letter 74)
We must put all our confidence in the good God, my good daughter; you and I, we must do only that from morning to night and say to him: ‘My God, it is your work, it is your work.’”
- What is evangelization and what it is not.
In “The Joy of the Gospel”, Pope Francis reminds us in No. 15:
“All have the right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows but ‘by attraction.’”
“I am confident that you accomplish all your little labors for the greater glory of the good God, who calls you to the sick poor. Ah, above all, know how to be filled with the spirit of the good God when going to them! Do not speak immediately of religion unless you see an opening. It often puts off persons with little or no religion.”
Pope Francis in No. 10:
“And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ.”
The voice of Julie:
“We choose persons with a cheerful disposition to form children.”
Wasn’t Julie herself called: “the smiling saint?”
“The good God loves a soul who recognizes in Him her beloved Father; He cherishes a child who gives herself peacefully, joyously to his love.”
“If we give authority to a gloomy person soon the whole house will be joyless.” The joy of the Holy Spirit must appear in your whole exterior; only thus will you be able to attract souls to God.”
Pope Francis in No. 242:
“Faith is not fearful of reason; on the contrary, it seeks and trusts reason since ‘the light of reason and the light of faith both come from God’”
“Talk sense to your children, religion without doubt, but let us begin by sense; that is the most useful thing in the world for finding an entrance to their hearts.” (Julie, Letter 206)
- A universal message
Pope Francis in No. 181:
This is the principle of universality intrinsic to the Gospel, for the Father desires the salvation of every man and woman, and his saving plan consists in ‘gathering all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.’(Eph. 1:10)”
The voices of Julie and Françoise:
“Our charity must not limit itself to the love that we have for one another. It must make our love as wide as the world.” (Julie, Themes)
“Nourish in yourselves the apostolic flame and hold yourselves ready: the mission of the entire world enters into the end of our Institute,” also said her friend, Françoise Blin de Bourdon.
“How good the good God is! Yes, indeed. Why can we not proclaim it to the whole world?”
For Julie and Françoise it wasn’t only a vision, nor advice, but it was their entire life given indefatigably to the directly of universality. Let us remember the opening of communities everywhere in the world.
In the book, “The Call of the Road,” by Agnès Richomme, after having described the Amersfoort and Coesfeld foundations, we read: “Thus, without any juridical tie with the Institute of Namur, founded directly by Mère Julie Billiart, two Congregations claimed to be from her spirit and remain faithful to her memory, rightly considering themselves her daughters.” These are our cousins, the Sisters of Notre Dame of Amersfoort and the Sisters of Notre Dame of Coesfeld.
And is this not a beautiful testimony given, not only to the intrinsic value of this spirit of Mère Julie, but also its value of adaptation?
The congregation of SND Amersfoort founded July 29, 1822 was formed after three Dutch candidates were admitted to the novitiate of Ghent by Mother St. Joseph in 1819. To learn more: Click here http://snddenheritagecentre.org/MUSEE/index.php/expansion-dans-le-monde/nos-cousines-et-associes/amersfoort
In 1850, Abbot Elting, from Coesfeld, and the bishop of Münster, sought the help of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Amersfoort to form in religious life two teachers who took care of orphaned girls. Three Sisters of Notre Dame of Amersfoort arrived in Coesfeld, in Germany, where the candidates were instructed according to the spirit and the Rule of the Sisters of Notre Dame. To learn more: click here (http://www.snddenheritagecentre.org/MUSEE/index.php/expansion-dans-le-monde/nos-cousines-et-associes/coesfeld)
It is thus that the strong ties were established between the three congregations. Even if they didn’t acknowledge Julie Billiart as their foundress, the Sisters of Notre Dame of Amersfoort and of Coesfeld have a true devotion to her.
Today, the Sister of Notre Dame of Amersfoort are present in Holland, Indonesia, Malawi, the Philippines and Malasia and are engaged in education, pastoral work and health care (http://srsourladyamersfoort.blogspot.com/). As for the Sisters of Notre Dame of Coesfeld, they are principally engaged in education but also work in clinics, are occupied with homes for the elderly, for abandoned children; they work in special education for the handicapped. … (http://snd1.org/en/)
Regularly, we receive at Namur the visit of our cousins coming from the four corners of the world! It is always a great joy for us to discover to what extent their love for St. Julie is very strong.
- A Message that is always new
“If we succeed in expressing adequately and with beauty the essential content of the Gospel surely this message will speak to the deepest yearnings of people’s hearts since we were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters.” ( No. 265)
- With Mary, Mother of evanglization
“With the Holy Spirit, Mary is always present in the midst of the people. She joined the disciples in praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14) and thus made possible the missionary outburst which took place at Pentecost. She is the Mother of the Church which evangelizes, and without her we could never truly understand the spirit of the new evangelization. (No. 284)
“We must remain united with the Blessed Virgin in the sacred cenacle, to be with the disciples, the apostles, to persevere there in prayer with the entire holy Church.” (Julie, Letter 208)