The Inspired Prophetic Letter,
written by Jean-Pierre Medaille
"Our little design and the persons who compose it will be nothing for themselves but wholly absorbed and emptied of self in God and for God and with that, they will be all for the dear neighbour, all for God and the dear neighbour, nothing for themselves."
The so-called Eucharistic Letter from which this quote is taken is a letter written by the Founder of the Congregation of St. Joseph to one of its first members. The letter is a precious testimony to the original inspiration which is at the heart of the spirituality and mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
The Founder of the Congregation, Jean-Pierre Medaille, was a Jesuit missionary whose journeys took him through the towns and villages of Auvergne in central France. In the course of his missionary travels he met a number of widows and young women who desired to give their lives wholly to God but who were not called to the cloister or did not have the means to enter it.
To respond to the aspirations of these women, Father Medaille conceived and carried out a project which he modestly referred to as a little design. It was to be a new form of association of women, without cloister or distinctive dress, whose members would consecrate their lives to God, live together in small groups, and combine a life of prayer with an active ministry to the sick and the poor.
The letter reveals that it was in prayer that Father Medaille came to envision this new institute and to see in a prophetic way its true vocation: to allow itself to be emptied of self and filled with God, and to communicate to others the love and life it received.
Feeling And Understanding Concerning The Design
May I share with you the humble thoughts which the Saviour in his measureless goodness has designed to communicate to me concerning his design. He has revealed to me a perfect model of this little design in the Holy Eucharist - the Eucharist which is the source of all our pure and holy loves on earth.
Jesus, in the Eucharist, my dear daughter, is entirely empty of self. And ought not we also, in accordance with his will, strive to establish an Institute totally empty of self?
Yes, my dear sister, our cherished association is to be a body without a body, and if I dare say it, a congregation without a congregation, and perhaps in time a religious order without being a religious order. In a word, it will never appear to be anything in the world, and it will be in the eyes of God whatever he, himself, in his infinite mercy is pleased to make of his Institute.
It seems to me, my dear daughter, that I envision our association - which in reality is nothing - established in a great number of places and yet established in such a hidden way that only the persons who compose it and their superiors will know about it. God grant that it may be established throughout the whole Church.
It will be, with God's help, invisible, as Jesus in the adorable Eucharist is a God who is hidden, totally invisible. Moreover, it will be very little, both in its own eyes and in reality, just as Jesus reduces himself in the smallest particle of bread and wine.
O God, how happy our little Institute will be if it maintains this spirit of littleness, humility, and self-emptying detachment, and a life hidden for all time, and if God wills it, even for eternity.
Now what I find so marvellous in this new design is that it is without a visible father or mother, founder or foundress, without a house of its own. In a word, I see it stripped of everything.
However, through the goodness of God, it will have all of these to a greater degree. Its father and its mother, its founder and foundress, will be Jesus and Mary, invisible to the eyes of the body but clearly visible to the eyes of the spirit.
As for our part in it, my dear daughter ,that amounts to nothing but a hindrance to his work.
Accordingly, let us look at Jesus in the Holy Eucharist completely stripped of everything. We give him adornments and we take them away at will. He accepts them or lets them go without any resistance. And yet he is his own Author, his own Father, so to speak - as he is ours - and the priest at the consecration is no more than the instrument of his power.
O what a parallel between our real nothingness and the self-emptying of the dear Saviour in his divine Sacrament! What a condescension that for so great a mystery, he makes use of a priest, a frail and often sinful man! What condescension that he should make use of us for our little Institute!
In the second place, in the most holy Eucharist we have a perfect model of the poverty, chastity and obedience of our little Institute.
Is there anything so poor in the world as this great Saviour who hides himself, not only under the reality of a piece of bread, but under its formed appearance, in an impoverishment and diminishment so great that a mere fragment of what seems to be bread hides him!
And what detachment does he not have from the things given him for his use! Whether they are elaborate or simple, whether they are lent to him, or are given him for a long time or a short time, whether they are taken from him, he remains equally content, perfectly stripped of everything.
In the same way, my dear daughter, in our poverty we will be so perfectly stripped and despoiled of everything, that with the use of nothing more that what will belong to us - which will no longer be ours since we have consecrated it to God and to the association of the little design - we shall always be perfectly content whether we have much or have little or have nothing at all. For indeed our new little design requires of us an entire detachment from all things.
As for the chastity and purity embodied in this mystery, it is seen in the fact that this dear Saviour, virgin and beloved spouse of virgins, has eyes, tongue and heart only for his dear spouses. In a word, his use of the senses is for the sole purpose of purifying hearts and making them holy.
And would we not be happy is the same were true of us! If only we had eyes, ears and hearts for the dear Saviour alone, and if the entire use of our senses tended toward the holiness and purification of hearts, in accordance with the various circumstances of your sex! This is what the chastity of our very little Institute will bring about, with God's help.
But is not the holy obedience of this dear Saviour and Master truly marvellous! Has he ever had a thought or uttered a word of resistance to the will of the priest who consecrates, touches and carries him, wherever he wills.
O God! Yet how many reasons would this dear Saviour not have for refusing to come to our hearts when given to us or when we ourselves receive him in this holy Sacrament! This mere thought would move me to tears if my heart were not harder than marble. Nevertheless, my dear daughter, this Saviour has never refused to come into our hearts at the precise moment the priest wished it.
I leave to your own reflections the other marvellous perfections of this divine obedience.
May it please the divine Goodness that we who belong to an Institute emptied of self may have an obedience like his. May we never have a thought or feeling or word contrary in the slightest way to obedience. Let us in imitation of this dear Saviour obey like a child, not rationalizing or being concerned about anything except to allow divine Providence to lead us like a tender mother who knows what we need and who, after all, is bound to care for the children nestled at her breast, as the souls of the little design must be.
O cherished and humble obedience, the certain mark of true virtue! May you always be truly perfect in all the members of our new religious body - if I may call it such, since it seems to me that it is not the reality of a body, but only its shadow.
And if we desire, my dear daughter, to have a model of love for God and charity towards our neighbour, where can we find it better than in the Blessed Sacrament? This mystery is called the love of loves. It gathers up in itself the whole extent, perfection, operation, continuance, constancy and expansiveness or grandeur of all holy loves.
Since in our cherished Congregation each member ought, according to the design, to possess the fullness of the Holy Spirit in her heart, and since the Congregation itself professes to be one of the most pure and perfect love of God, it will find in the Holy Eucharist much to imitate. An evident sign of the genuineness of this love will be that, with God's grace, it will have all the dimensions of "length, breadth, height and depth" which Saint Paul attributes to it.
Moreover, my dear daughter, this Holy Sacrament is a mystery of union, and it brings this very union about. This Eucharistic Jesus unites all creatures to himself and to God, his Father, and - think of the title communion - he unites all the faithful to one another in a common union. Of this union Jesus speaks in profoundly moving terms when he asks his Father that all may be one, that they may be perfectly one in him and in God, his Father, just as the Father and he are but one.
There, my dear daughter, is the end of our totally selfless Congregation. It is wholly directed toward the achievement of this total double union:
of ourselves and the dear neighbour with God
of ourselves with all others, whoever they may be,
of all others, among themselves and with us,
but all in Jesus and in God his Father.
May the divine Goodness bring us to understand the nobility of this end, and help us to be fit instruments in bringing it about.
You will note that I have called this double union total. By this word I mean to express all the perfection that can be found in the reality and practice of love of God and love of the dear neighbour.
May God grant that we may be able to contribute, as weak instruments, to the re-establishment in the Church of this total union of souls in God and with God.
Not to be overlong in explaining my thoughts, I shall say by way of summary, that our dear Institute ought to be all humility, and ought to profess always to cherish and to choose what is lowliest. It is in this way that the most lowly, profound and selfless humility is manifested.
And so it must be all modesty, all gentleness, all candour and simplicity, wholly interior, spiritually alive. In a word, it must be empty of self, detached from everything.
It must be wholly filled with Jesus and with God, with a fullness which I am unable to explain to you adequately but which the divine Goodness will bring you to understand.
Of this fullness I can only say to you that it brings it about that the infinite Being of God and of Jesus, intimately present, seems to vivify in an almost tangible way the soul and body of a mere 'nothing' and cause it to live by the very holiness of an infinite God who possesses the immensity of all things.
Now, my dear daughter, is not all of this found in a marvellous manner in the Eucharist? What is more humble than our dear Jesus in this mystery? What more modest, more compassionate and gentle, more simple and open, more filled with God and empty of all else! There, my dear daughter, is the model of the Virtue of our Institute.
The nature of our Institute presupposes a secret association of three persons living together in the same house, all brought to perfect unity by detachment from everything that might have of their own, all united to God by secret vows, all committed to the advancement of the glory of God and the sanctification of the dear neighbour. For it seems to me that our little nothing has for its purpose the greater perfection of souls rather than merely their salvation.
O my dear daughter, what secret intimacy of the three divine persons do we admire in the Holy Eucharist! What solemn offerings and secret consecration of the dear Jesus for all mankind! What power this august Sacrament has to advance the glory of God and the salvation of souls!
Now our little community must communicate itself: first and foremost to sixteen persons in honour of the twelve apostles and four evangelists invoked in the litany of the saints: secondly, to the seven persons dedicated in a special way to the service of mercy and charity; to the seventy-two others who become involved through the efforts of the above-mentioned sixteen and seven. The number seventy-two is arrived at the following way: the leader of the twenty-three is given responsibility for winning six souls for God and for their own sanctification, while each of the remaining twenty-two is to win three souls each, taking care to attract, instruct, and lead them to the practice of deep holiness.
In this manner, my dear daughter, the Eucharist was communicated to the apostles, then to the seven deacons and to the seventy-two disciples, in order to be widely diffused by their efforts and communicated to all the rest of the faithful.
In our Institute, with the help of God, the food will be extremely frugal and the clothing simple. There will be this distinction, however, that the use of food and clothing will be determined by each group according to the different circumstances of each. This, my dear daughter, is what we observe in the species of the Holy Eucharist. These are very common, but nevertheless they allow for differences in taste and colour according to the different kinds and quality of flour used.
The houses of our daughters should be, like the tabernacle, always locked, and the sisters will leave them only through obedience and to return without delay, and only in order to devote themselves to activities which advance the glory of God. Do we not see this clearly in the Holy Eucharist!
As to the activities of our little sisters, they will be with God's help very interior, both for their own sake, as required by their Directory, and for the manner of life they will try to inspire in others so that the whole world will strive more than ever to live for God and to serve him "in spirit and in truth". By serving God in spirit, we learn to live the interior life. By serving God in truth, we discover the various services required of us by divine Goodness who desires all things to be in proportion, suitable and adapted to differences in sex, rank and age. Now this is what the dear Jesus very clearly brings about in the Eucharist and in communicating himself to others through the Eucharist.
In summary, as our dear Saviour appears to us in the Eucharist as living not for himself but entirely for God his Father, and for the souls redeemed by his Precious Blood, so, my dear daughter, our little design and the persons who compose it will be nothing for themselves but wholly absorbed and emptied of self in God and for God and with that, they will be all for the dear neighbour, all for God and the dear neighbour, nothing for themselves. May God deign to accomplish his marvels according to the measure of his good pleasure.
Blessed be God.