It is eighty years ago this morning that, in the silence of this church of Cossé en Champagne, the parish priest, Father Guesdre, celebrated the Holy Mass and read the same Gospel that we have just heard.
On July 16, 1901, the season was splendid, the sun was shining, the town and its surrounding countryside were bathed in a profound peace. And, in the evening, while the Angelus rang in the romanesque bell-tower and to which the neighboring bell-towers pealed in reply, a small Yvonne had just been born in an old house of Cossé, not far from the church, at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Beauvais. This child, who would become Mother Yvonne-Aimée, would always consider it a grace to have been born on the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, under the sign of the Virgin, Mother of contemplatives.
On July 18, Yvonne was baptized in this church by the parish priest. Later, each year, on July 18, Mother Yvonne-Aimée could not hide her happiness: “This day is,” she would say, “the anniversary of the day when I became the Good Lord’s daughter.”
In 1942, she was passing by Cossé, where I myself had been invited. She took me to the tomb of Mr. Alfred Beauvais, her Father, who died too early, “Mr. Alfred” as he was called by the peasants who adored him, for he was simple, righteous, happy, spontaneous, generous, broad-minded and accessible. In large measure, she took after him. From Mrs. Beauvais, she inherited the habit of intense and orderly activity; and from her ancestors of Maine, a strong catholic faith and a beautiful human balance. I still hear Mother Yvonne-Aimée evoking, in this place, her memories of childhood: the games in the house, the evenings in front of the fireplace where logs were burning, the small grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in the garden where her young father would take her to pray. She asked me to come with her to the baptismal fonts, the very ones where she had received the grace of a second birth. It was in fact a pilgrimage to the source. Indeed, through the short existence which was hers, a spring of “graces” sprang forth from here, in favor of your Federation and the Church.
t who was Mère Yvonne-Aimée?
To answer this question, it seems to me best to cite for you those informed judgments which were made regarding her life, her work and her Christian experience.
The Historian, Daniel Rops, did not know her, but, he said, he admires the beauty of the rare texts of hers that we know, in which, he noted, one believes that he hears the echo of Saint Catherine of Siena or of Blessed Mary of the Incarnation.
On the other hand, General Audibert, chief of the Western Resistance, was the witness and one of the beneficiaries of the hospitality which she offered to the wounded parachutists or men of the Maquis during the occupation. Suprised by her courage and her presence of mind in the enormous danger and risks that she took in the name of this Christian hospitality, he greeted her with a smile and these two words: “My General.” And, when he heard of her death, he wrote painfully: “When someone with this clarity, this power, this grandeur disappears, it seems that the sky is darkened for us.”
Here, now, some judgments emanating from religious authorities :
- For Dom Sortais, Abbot General of the Trappist Monastery, Mother Yvonne-Aimée was a great Superior who built all her work on the rock of faith. Personally, Dom Sortais had noticed the gift which she had for pacifying and opening up souls.
- Dom Cozien, Abbot of Solesmes, observed in Mother Yvonne-Aimée, I quote him: “the sense of prayer, of liturgical beauty, of praising God, in the school of the Church.” He added these words full of meaning: “All the life of Mother Yvonne-Aimée was under the influence of God.”
- Monseigneur Picaud, Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux. The Carmelite nuns of Lisieux admire the way in which Monseigneur Picaud understood Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and Mother Yvonne-Aimée. Weighing his words, he said about Mother Yvonne-Aimée: “She was a great witness of the supernatural world.”
- Cardinal Larraona, who was the Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Religious, declared: “I remember very well Mother Yvonne-Aimée. By taking the initiative of gathering in a Federation the Monasteries of her order, she accomplished an exemplary work which can inspire us here, in Rome.”
It is impossible for me this morning to analyze all the characteristics of Yvonne-Aimée. Her personality followed a constant progression and reached, around the age of 40, a human and Christian plenitude. I will emphasize only two points:
- her conformity to God’s will,
- her faith and her love for the Eucharist.
An expression of Jesus which she kept in her heart, upset her and awakened in her an echo without end. Here, then, from Saint Mark: “Who are my mother and my brethren? And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, “here are my mother and my brethren! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
In much the same way, Mother Yvonne-Aimée could remain for a very, very long time meditating this other expression of Jesus which she found inexhaustible: “Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” To her novices she would say, in association with the preceding phrases: “My little sisters, love is above all in the will.”
This mysticism of the will places Mother Yvonne-Aimée in the great spiritual current which begins with Saint Thérèse de Lisieux, Saint François de Sales, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Bernard, Saint Augustine, and many other saints, the Virgin Mary, Servant of the Lord, and Jesus Himself, whose nourishment was to do the will of his Father. For Mother Yvonne-Aimée, as for these spiritual masters, the divine will has nothing of an abstract or imperious commandment. This divine will is wisdom, truth and mercy. It is a call to freedom and to love, like in Psalm 122 where the eyes of the servants look to the hand of their Master, or like the tender, calm and spontaneous wife who stirs at the least desire of her beloved. Yvonne-Aimée listened to His voice, His word in the Church. She was always attentive to His least desire. She would go straight to the service of Jesus, King of Love. One day she said to me: “My way is that of the Angels who never cause God to wait.”
Already, as a 10 year old, first Communicant, she wrote in her own blood: “I want to be only Yours, but I want especially to do Your will.” One understands, according to one theologian, the rapid ascent of a soul thus delivered to God, until complete abandonment. To a love which transports you, do not ask where it is going.
Yvonne-Aimée and the Eucharist.
During the celebration of Mass, she would stand very upright and recollected in her stall. When the host was elevated and before prostrating herself, she would fixed the Host and the Chalice with an intense gaze, a glowing look and often in the evening and sometimes at night, she would come close to the grill of the choir and pray for a long time, kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
You have in hand texts where she let her faith spring forth toward the Eucharist. You know what an interior and decisive event her First Communion was, indeed, a great spiritual event. And you also know how much she prayed for priests.
It is at the age of 22 years, that, for the first time, not without a prophetic intuition, she began to search for profaned hosts. One saw Yvonne-Aimée, a young girl, returning wounded and covered with blood after having received blows when she sought to seize hosts carried off by sacrilegious and irreligious people. In this charisma which struck the writer, Julien Green - he speaks about it in his journal where he calls Mother Yvonne-Aimée “an admirable woman” - in this charisma of searching for profaned hosts, Monseigneur Picaud saw a recompense of the intrepid faith of Yvonne-Aimée. With the passage of time, one could discover also a reminder of the constant tradition of the Church, which, opposing innovators, affirms that the real presence of the Body and Blood of the Lord subsists apart from the liturgical celebration. Perhaps also, one could perceive a reminder of this extraordinary respect with which Christians, even when this requires risking their lives, must surround the broken bread for a new world, the admirable sacrament where appears most clearly, she said, the Mercy of Jesus, the sacrament which builds the fraternal unity of Christian communities.
Several years before the Council, Mère Yvonne-Aimée wished that masses would be celebrated in the evening. One can imagine the joy which she would have felt at being able to receive under both Species and the enthusiasm with which she would have followed this international Eucharistic Congress which opens this evening in Lourdes.
My sisters, you have the right to be happy to count among those of your Order an Yvonne-Aimée, this sure guide, this dazzling light, this burning fire and you are right to commemorate here her birth and her baptism. Indeed, the town of Cossé will never have seen such a number of white Augustinians. She must be delighted by this, as she certainly is delighted by your will to unceasingly deepen your canonical vocation which she found so vast and which she strove, 30 years before the Council, to adapt adequately to new times with a creative fidelity.
For her part, beyond the question of charismas which put her at the service of the Church, her life was very simple because it was based on charity which is the fundamental law of your Communities. She was larger than life in her way of loving. There was something eschatological in her. Sometimes, there was in her a prophetic anticipation of the future. And nonetheless, however, she was incredibly human, living completely in the present moment and well in her time. She accomplished much: as a young girl, in the service of the poor in the slums of Paris, as Prioress of Malestroit, as founder and first Superior General of your Federation. There were those who said that everything she did was a success. She was the first one to laugh at this naive idea and not to believe herself infallible; she was the first to accept failures, disappointments and contradictions. Of course, she enjoyed a high score and achieved a considerable and enduring work; but something would have been missing in the beauty of her life, if she had humanly succeeded in all she undertook. And, in order that her resemblance to Christ was closer, she received, when she was about 20 years old, an important grace of compassion. She endured in her body, her heart and her soul, a surprising amount of suffering, a martyrdom at certain times, but without ever imposing on her entourage. .
The more she advanced in life, the more she envelopped herself in silence. Within the action which mobilized her womanly qualities, one perceived her to be very small in front of God and as clothed in tenderness and strength, as immersed in the peace and joy which are the fruits of the Holy Spirit. She had only to exist, her life was a call, her life is a call.
Brothers and Sisters, in conclusion, I would simply say this: there will be only one way to know in-depth Mother Yonne-Aimée - but, to call upon her. Experience shows that as soon as one speaks to her, she reveals herself in reply.
Abbot Paul Labutte
Speach in Cossé en Champagne
On July 16, 1981