In the short time that .we have today, I will speak of four key experiences.
Her BIRTH and FAMILY EXPERIENCE:
Marie Eugénie was born into a family marked by the French Revolution. Her parents espoused the ideals of the Revolution: liberty, equality, fraternity. They wanted to see a more democratic government and improved conditions for the poor. They were passionate about politics.
On both her father and mother’s side, Eugénie was linked to the nobility. But her father, to mark a break with class and privilege, dropped the particule “de” before Milleret , becoming simply Jacques Milleret. While the aristocracy was associated with the land, M. Milleret was a banker. Her parents placed themselves in the rising middle class of professionals – who worked for a living and made their fortune as lawyers, bankers, industrialists….
Eugénie’s mother was an orphan who had had to learned take care of herself and to assume responsibility. Thus her children were brought up in a atmosphere of liberty and, at the same time, with an acute sense of responsibility with regard to duty and to helping the less fortunate. Her mother had high human ideals and insisted that the children be honest, straightforward, energetic, having a sense of duty and above all – kind and respectful of human dignity. When Eugénie was converted and came to know other Catholics, she realized that her upbringing in virtue had been more Christian and Christ-like than that of many Catholics.
With all this, the young Eugénie had inherited intelligence and received more formal education than most of her feminine contemporaries.
You, who are alumnae, undoubtedly recognize much you received in your formation at the Assumption.
What we call “Character formation,” the kind of human being you are defines you more as a Christian than pious practices or devotion, defines you as Assumption.
FIRST HOLY COMMUNION
What the young Eugénie Milleret did not receive in her family was Faith. Her family had some kind of belief in God and respected many of the customs and formalities of Catholicism, but Marie Eugénie tells us that Jesus Christ had no place in her education.
Out of custom and some kind of religion, Madame Milleret did had Eugénie make her first Holy Communion when she was twelve years old. She received some instruction but it made no impact on her young mind. The experience of receiving Jesus in Communion, however, was unforgettable.
It was an experience of GOD: She was completely lost in God.
It was an experience of JESUS CHRIST : as the one who gives us access to God and allows us to adore God perfectly.
It was an experience of the CHURCH: which she would serve but which “ you do not yet know.” She had the intuition that the Church would be her family and home.
Although this remarkable experience was indelibly engraved in her soul, Eigénie forgot about it. On one hand, she hadn’t realized how extraordinary her experience was; on the other, there was no follow-up in her life until her conversion.
Next: I think it is worth mentioning St. Marie Eugénie’s experience of the Cross, the CROSS that no life escapes.
She had not been close to her father who was very absent. (Marriage in those days was usually not for love.) The stock market crashed in 1830. M. Milleret lost his fortune and his chateau – their home – and .her parents separated. Her brother Louis stayed with her father and Eugénie went to Paris with her mother. A few months later, Madame Milleret was dead and Eugénie was left an orphan. Five sad years followed.
CONVERSION in the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris
Though taken in by relatives, Eugénie found herself alone. She laughed and danced and appeared happy, but she confided in no one. Questions about religion and the meaning of life stirred her heart and mind. Of one thing she was sure: she wanted to do something worthwhile with her life She wanted to love someone passionately.
In 1836, she was living with very pious cousins – so pious that they made religion very little attractive for Eugénie. But, out of curiosity, she decided to attend a Lenten sermon by the renowned preacher, Father Lacordaire . There, in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, God awaited her.
As she listened to Lacordaire, her questions were answered, her prejudices faded, she was convinced by his words. Eugénie realized she had been converted: encountered Jesus Christ and the Church. Her heart and mind were filled with faith and love.
The young convert immediately set about “reforming” her intelligence. This meant studying her newly discovered faith and seeing life – all of reality- in the light of that faith. At the same time, she was seeking how she could serve Christ and the Church. When she went to confession to a certain Father Combalot at St. Sulpice, he recognized the woman who could found the congregation of women he dreamed of: a congregation rooted in the spirituality of h ancient contemplative orders but also a teaching congregation that would form young women to be wives and mothers influential in the transformation of society.
Eugénie wasn’t enthusiastic about schools and teaching but the idea of transforming society spoke to her soul. The new congregation would work in the Church for the coming of God’s Kingdom, for the reign of justice, peace and love. The vision of a society transformed by the Gospel fulfilled her youthful desire to do something worthwhile for the world, to effect change in her country so that “no person would be oppressed by another.” The Kingdom of God was central to Jesus’ message and life. With “God alone” as motto for the sisters’ personal life, “Thy Kingdom come” would be the motto of their apostolic life. “To extend the Kingdom of God in oneself, in others and in the world” is the raison d’etre of the Assumption.
St. Marie Eugénie would never have chosen the Assumption as title and patronage of the Congregation –that came from Father Combalot –but she readily espoused the name and the Blessed Virgin! Mary had not had any role in her life as she has for so many Catholics. But, as Mother Marie Eugénie grew and the Congregation of the Assumption grew, Mary took her place.
First of all, Marie Eugénie recognized Mary as the first and best disciple of Jesus. She most closely “adhered” to Jesus and his teaching. She is the one who teaches us how to love and follow Jesus. She is the perfect adorer of God “in spirit and in truth.” As a woman, moreover, she is the model for us. She most fully realized God’s plan for humanity.
This is seen in her Assumption. In the Assumption, we contemplate the love of Jesus for Our Lady, his desire to have her with Him in glory, and we contemplate her desire to be with Jesus. She teaches us to focus our gaze and our affection on Jesus, to rise above the passing things of this earth and to place all or confidence and hope in God, in God’s Love.
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During the day, reflect on what you received from your education: from your family, your upbringing.
Consider how Christ (God) has revealed himself to you.
Consider how your education and life experience have made Jesus, and all He loved: his Father and the Kingdom, the Church, his Mother Mary important in your life.
And what you would like to improve, the grace you desire from this weekend.