Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Marie Madeleine "Victoire" de Bengy and Fr. Joseph Varin, S.J.

A momentous event in 1815 had unexpected consequences for Victoire. When Napoleon escaped from Elba, Joseph Varin, former Royalist soldier and now Jesuit priest, was again a hunted man. Victoire offered him safe refuge at Parassy, even though, in her own words a dreadful thought came to mind. It seemed to me that if Father Varin came to my house, I would have to enter religion. Despite her fears she did not withdraw her offer of hospitality. The Jesuit remained with her for five months. In his company she came to know more of the Society of Jesus, to imbibe the spirit of the Society of Jesus from his conversation and to practice its spirituality. As she began to follow a more ordered life of prayer and discernment, the quality in her character which her family knew so well "What Victoire wants, Victoire gets," her mother used to say, was transmuted into a determination that what "God wants, God should get." One link in the chain taught her to trust. She was daily aware of what she calls terrifying details of the army's advance; in due course the troops entered the village and the officers arrived at her home. They did not even bother to reply to what I said but continued to speak and act as if they owned the house. I was terrified and prayed silently to the Lord with all my heart. But her situation changed when the Colonel realized that she was the sister of Claude de Bengy with whom he had studied. I have to admit, Madame, that your position was more unpleasant and dangerous than you could have imagined. She was to need great courage and trust in the years ahead A significant decision Step by step, though never in a straight line, she followed what she believed was the path laid out for her. One missionary priest whose advice she sought in Bourges, having listened to her account of herself gave as his opinion that God wants your whole heart. You must give it to him without reserve. This opinion was confirmed the following year, 1816, in Amiens when Father Sellier urged me to lead a more perfect life and to make the vow of chastity. I positively refused to do either. In her honesty Madame d’Houët came to acknowledge that on her return to Bourges she experienced such utter weariness and distaste for amusement that I found it impossible to resume social life. Then on Trinity Sunday, 1817, as she was praying before Mass quite suddenly and unexpectedly it was made known to me that God wished me to make the vow of chastity there and then, in his presence. What was asked of me appeared so clear and positive, that in spite of the strong natural aversion I had felt up till then, I no longer had the slightest objection... I readily and joyfully made the vow. She made it immediately but conditionally, the condition being that she would renew it on a day to be approved by Father Varin if he agreed with what she had done. It was six months later that he agreed but by that time people and events had so confused her that all her old fears came rushing back. I positively refused. I said that if God called me to be a religious I would do so willingly but if I remained in the world, I did not wish to bind myself... But she had long prayed to know what God wanted and to be strengthened to do it, faithfully and joyfully, as soon as it was made known to her. I went to the church of St Geneviève and remained there a long time. Only God could change my heart and conquer my resistance. In his infinite goodness this is exactly what he did once more and accepted from me what a mortal man in a similar situation would undoubtedly have refused. Returning to her rooms she confided to her journal: I have spent the evening sitting on the floor, weeping... I continue to have a terrible repugnance. With utter trust, on December 9th 1817, before Communion I pronounced my vow ... at the same moment all my fears and misgivings vanished for ever. This day, the most beautiful of my life, has ever since been for me a great source of consolation and a motive for eternal gratitude. But consolation did not mean pain and suffering were excluded from her life. She describes Father Varin S.J. as "this holy man who wanted at all costs to unravel what came from God and what might have merely sprung from my imagination."
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