Beholding His Mother

Editor’s Introduction: The following is excerpted with permission from Emmanuel d’Alzon: Apostle for our Time, by Father Wilfrid J. Dufault, A.A.

JUST AS the great monastic reformers like Dom Guéranger and Dom Columba Marmion had a refined, sublimely theological approach to the monastic vocation, Ven. Emmanuel applied himself to the active apostolate with an unction that can be called cultivated, intelligent, and intense. It poured itself forth in the love of God and an ardent apostolic zeal.

The following excerpt gives a thumbnail sketch of the founder’s sublime thoughts on Our Lord, Our Lady, the Church, and the religious life. (For our use, we have removed subheadings, footnotes, and many parenthetical references to the works cited. However, the typographical styles employed in the original remain intact.)

From the days of his youth, Emmanuel d’Alzon practiced and preached the love of Our Lord, of the Blessed Virgin, and of the Church. When he learned how [Blessed] Mother Marie-Eugénie had joined these three loves into a single expression, he welcomed the idea and adopted it. In the early draft of the Order’s constitutions, about the year 1850, he observed:

Our more particular spirit stems from a most ardent love of our Lord Jesus Christ and of his holy Mother, who is our special patroness, together with an ardent zeal for the Church, and an inviolable fidelity to the Holy See.

This thought was the object of his meditation through the 1850s, particularly during the several years of his illness. He sought the intimate link that unites the three loves. He hinted at it when he wrote to Mother Marie-Eugénie in 1854 that he felt “the need of loving very much Jesus Christ and all that Jesus Christ loves, only because he himself has loved.” The originality here consists in having discerned and underlined the reason for loving the neighbor, namely because the neighbor is loved by Jesus himself. Mary, the Church, our brothers and sisters, all are first loved by Jesus. They are the friends of our divine Friend. Speaking a few years later to the members of the Third Order, d’Alzon said:

If we truly love Our Lord, we will love what he loves, and ever more in the way that he loves. We will have much love for his Mother… much love for the Church his Spouse, that was born on the cross from his open side, much love for his children, our brothers and sisters, who are members of the Mystical Body, Jesus Christ.

Elsewhere d’Alzon wrote:

What a superior at Assumption must aim at above all is to induce people to love Our Lord and all that Our Lord has loved and in the order in which he loved. It is all there: to love Jesus Christ and all that he loves.

At the same time Father d’Alzon was searching for the best phrasing to express the triple love. By 1858 he had found it. To young François Picard, whom he was sending to head the community of Rethel, he wrote: “Remember that the spirit of Assumption is the love of Our Lord, of the Holy Virgin his Mother, and of the Church his spouse.”

He used the same phrasing when he drafted the Directory (1859) and defined the “spirit” of Assumption for the Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament. He kept using it when addressing his religious. His desire was that the educators would instill it in their students. By 1868, when delivering the closing instruction to the General Chapter, he proclaimed that the triple love, along with the “principal love” (i.e., love of God) constituted the spirit of the Assumption.

Whereas the modern tendency is to have love of neighbor lead to love of Christ, Father d’Alzon loved Christ first, then the neighbor. Father Sève says it thus:

If you love Him, it is impossible not to assimilate some of His fraternal love, it is impossible not to be impelled by Him towards those whom He loves, for whom He came, for whom He suffered, and who are now incorporated into Him in the body of the Church.

Since d’Alzon’s love of neighbor was rooted in his love of Our Lord, and since in his eyes the neighbor is first the Blessed Mother, then the Church, it can be asked if the triple love has a bearing on d’Alzon’s apostolate, and why. It is a question which he himself addressed in his first Circular Letter . The essential answer, given on the first page of the letter, is as follows:

These three characteristics (of the triple love) call for a triple action and, as it were, for a triple apostolate. The love of Our Lord Jesus Christ should instill in us the desire to make him known through teaching and preaching. The filial devotion to the Blessed Virgin should prompt us to help direct and sanctify souls that are called to a certain degree of perfection, a work which seems to be far too neglected in our time.

In keeping with the notion of triple love, Father d’Alzon, in the address to the General Chapter of 1868, stated that “the love of the Son leads us to the love of the Mother. Our tenderness for the most Holy Virgin knows no limits, no more than does her tenderness for us.” Loving Mary because Jesus loved her means loving in her what made her lovable in the eyes of her Son. Father d’Alzon honors in Mary the Mother of the eternal Word. He writes:

God the Son requests of Mary the means of acquiring a body, in order to come into the world through her. To accomplish such a wonder required infinite love and divine omnipotence working together.

Then he boldly states:

The same wonder is there for me. Jesus Christ wants to be formed in my soul. In that consists all the perfection of the religious’ life. Jesus Christ wants to come into the world through me. That is, he wants to be manifested, preached and proclaimed in all my actions and in all my words. In that lies the perfection of the apostle.

Besides deserving our love as Mother of God, Mary is lovable as our Mother. For Jesus on the cross committed us to her care when he said, “Woman, behold your son” (Jn. 19:26). She loves us as her children from the moment when, “by the most incomparable act of love, she gives her son for the life of the human race.”

With that in mind Father d’Alzon asked anyone who sought to join the Congregation to check whether he agreed to place his entire life under the protection of the Blessed Virgin and to consider her as his Mother. D’Alzon sees Mary not only as our Mother but also as a model for us to imitate: “She is my model,” he writes in the Directory.

I must strive to imitate her as much as a religious in pursuit of holiness is capable of imitating the Queen of heaven and earth.

D’Alzon dwelt repeatedly on the fact that Mary became our Mother by virtue of the very suffering she endured along with her Son. Thus she revealed how compassion or suffering with Christ is a condition of apostolic efficacy. Speaking to the students at Nimes, he developed this thought:

Mary adopts mankind by suffering… Not that the blood of Jesus Christ was insufficient [to achieve our salvation], but because this divine blood, [was] designed to raise up mankind, intended to reveal its effects in the most admirable way, that is by communicating them with their potential for saving souls, first to Mary, then to others chosen to help him as he wished… It is up to you to see to what extent you wish to be helpers of Jesus Christ.

Concluding a retreat given to his religious, d’Alzon asked:

Could I not imitate Mary at the Cross, when her Son’s apostolic life is ending? If all my life, the cross is the goal of my labors, if I work, act, preach, evangelize, suffer all in view of becoming a worthy disciple of the Cross, may I not have the right to go sometimes and stand between Mary and Jesus, at the feet of the divine Crucified one, so as to learn how to sacrifice myself and to die.

A final remark: Mary loved divine Truth as no other creature could love it. This is why she is hailed for pursuing the father of lies, and for exterminating all heresies. Father d’Alzon gave a remarkable lecture to the students at Nimes on the age-old battle between Satan and Mary Immaculate. That is the reason why the apostles of truth have a signal love for her whom the Church calls the Queen of Apostles.