September 30, 2011

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Same Eucharist venerated by St. Theodora and Bishop Bruté sustains our faith

(Listen to the archbishop read this column)

(Editor’s note: Pope Benedict XVI accepted Archbishop Buechlein’s resignation for health reasons on Sept. 21. The following column is from the Oct. 5, 2007, issue of The Criterion.)

October is a significant month for two pioneer missionaries of the Catholic Church in Indiana.

On Oct. 3, we celebrate the feast day of St. Theodora Guérin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She was canonized as a saint of the universal Church on Oct. 16, 2006.

On Oct. 28, 1834, the Servant of God Bishop Simon Bruté was ordained as the founding bishop of the Diocese of Vincennes, which would later become the Diocese of Indianapolis. He felt truly unequal to the task.

The Catholic Church in Indiana has been blessed by these two founding pioneer missionaries. From truly austere and primitive beginnings, we are beneficiaries of their persevering faith and evangelical zeal. It is not a coincidence that both of these pioneers of the early days of the Catholic Church in Indiana had a profound and active devotion to the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament.

If one studies the life of Bishop Simon Bruté, you learn quickly of his devotion to the Eucharist. As a child, during the French Revolution when many priests had been imprisoned, Simon secretly brought them Communion in prison. He endangered his own life in order to do so. His love of the Eucharist began at an early age.

Besides celebrating daily Mass, often several Masses a day, in his early missionary days and throughout his life,

then-Father Bruté walked hundreds of miles to offer Mass or to carry the Blessed Sacrament to the homebound, the sick and the dying.

One of my favorite stories about Bishop Bruté concerns a midnight Communion call that he made to an elderly man who was at death’s door. It was in the dead of winter, and the bishop had asked a guide to show him the way to the dying man’s home in the dark of night.

There was a deep snow, and after walking a short distance the guide said, “I cannot do this. I am returning home.” Bishop Bruté said, “Let me walk ahead of you. Follow in my footsteps.” The bishop took Communion to the dying man.

Within weeks of his death, the bishop rode on horseback from Vincennes to offer Mass in Madison in southern Indiana in place of an absent pastor. He could barely stay on the horse. He died of tuberculosis within days of his return to Vincennes. This was a dedicated pastor who loved the Eucharist, and made sure it was available under the most trying circumstances.

Mother Theodore Guérin loved the Eucharist and had a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament from her early years in France, even before she became a consecrated religious.

Upon arrival in the dark woods west of Terre Haute, her first act, with the accompanying five nuns in her missionary band, was to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament in the old log chapel of the local priest.

This gesture would be like a symbolic center of the mission of the Sisters of Providence. Before every foundation of a new school for poor children in Indiana, Mother Theodore spent time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Divine Providence truly blessed her missionary endeavors, of which we are beneficiaries even to this day.

We have received the gift of the same holy Eucharist which Bishop Bruté and Mother Theodore revered. In a certain sense, through Divine Providence, these two holy, courageous and generous missionaries made this gift possible in our part of the world. And in gratitude, we realize it is our turn to hand on the faith in the Holy Eucharist to those who come after us.

It is amazing to realize that the same Eucharist celebrated and venerated by Bishop Bruté and Mother Theodore sustains us and nurtures our life of faith.

Indeed, the same Holy Spirit that guided their lives in challenging circumstances does the same for us.

Mother Theodore and Bishop Bruté both struggled against huge odds in fulfilling their part in carrying on the mission of Christ in our part of the world in primitive times. I am sure they had no idea how fruitful their endeavors would be. They are ready examples for all of us—no matter what our path in life may be. Despite the limitations of their poor physical health and the limitations of material resources, they forged ahead with courage and tenacity.

We might be inclined to think, well, they were extraordinary people with special gifts. That may be so, but the fact remains that they were human persons like us as well. They responded to God’s grace and they sought the strength they needed in the sacraments of the Church, especially the Eucharist.

We have the same opportunity and the same responsibility to say “yes” to God with whatever limitations we may have. God blesses our efforts, too! †

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