Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre
Volume 3, Chapter XVII

The Religious Life


A Sermon Pronounced by His Excellency Archbishop Lefebvre
On the Occasion of The Golden Jubilee of the Religious Profession of
His Sister, Mother Marie Gabrielle

20 March 1980

On Thursday, 20 March 1980, at the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Pius X, located at St. Michel-en-Brenne, France, Mother Marie Gabrielle, a sister of Archbishop Lefebvre, celebrated the Golden Jubilee of her religious profession. It was one-half century before, that, having completed her postulancy and novitiate, Mother Marie Gabrielle pronounced officially the evangelical vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The celebration of this anniversary was peaceful and reserved. Archbishop Lefebvre offered a Pontifical High Mass. This was followed by a dinner in honor of Mother Marie Gabrielle, whose sentiments were those of profound thanksgiving for the joy, the privilege, and the honor of having served Almighty God faithfully for fifty years.

The Religious Life

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

My dear brethren:

Is it not indeed appropriate that on the occasion of this golden jubilee – the fiftieth anniversary of the religious profession of Mother Marie Gabrielle – is it not appropriate that we try to meditate for a few moments on what the religious life really is? You yourselves, my dear sisters, are destined for this privileged life; this life to which you have been called by the Good Lord, for which you have been chosen from the moment that Almighty God decided that you could be part of His family, that you could enter into the very dwelling of the Blessed Trinity; from that day forth a man's life is changed. Thenceforth, by mysterious means, by the means which Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself chose, He draws souls to Himself, permitting them to enter into this intimacy with God; this intimacy that we call grace – the grace of baptism. Our Lord willed to come and dwell among us, He willed that we be temples of the Holy Ghost while here upon earth, during this terrestrial life in preparation for the bliss of eternity. Thus Our Lord exercises this attraction upon souls from the moment when He takes possession of them on the day of baptism. From that moment onwards Our Lord does not cease to call these souls to a greater union with Him, to a greater union with the Blessed Trinity. And thus it is during the course of our entire existence; by the grace of God, we are given opportunities willed by Providence, willed by Our Lord, which lead us to this intimacy with Him, with Almighty God. Our Lord calls certain souls to give themselves more fully to Him even while here on earth; He calls them to unite themselves more fully to Him. I think that I know particularly well the atmosphere in which Mother Marie Gabrielle received the grace of baptism and was able to grow in the life of grace. It was by our family. A Christian family, a family profoundly Christian; a family profoundly attached to God. As children we had the example of our parents; we lived in a home that was truly Christian, where our entire life was centered on religious ceremonies, assistance at Mass and Holy Communion. We were also placed by our parents in schools which were profoundly Christian, profoundly Catholic. We were thus able to find in these schools the continuation of that which had already been prepared in us at home. Grace was thus developed in our hearts and the Good Lord willed to choose five of eight children in our family to be especially consecrated to Him. This does not mean, of course, that those who chose the state of marriage are not sanctifying themselves in marriage, but nevertheless, it is evident that by a religious vocation Almighty God calls and draws souls to a life more profoundly Christian, more perfect, simple, and detached from the things of this world; a life which facilitates union with Our Lord.

This religious life Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself willed to institute – it is entirely natural that at the beginning of Christianity souls consecrated themselves to Our Lord by the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and that families were constituted to live these vows.

Why these three vows? They are necessary in order to detach our souls more than radically from the attraction of the things of this world, from the enjoyments of this world. There is a disorder which was introduced into our nature by sin. The attractions caused by this disorder are diametrically opposed to the call of Our Lord Jesus Christ and seek to remove us from Him. These attractions are the influences of the devil and all the agents of Satan.

Therefore, in order to provide us with the dispositions which facilitate our attachment to Our Lord Jesus Christ and the service of souls, there is nothing in all the world as effective as the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. These vows submit our entire being to the Faith, our body and souls to Our Lord Jesus Christ. Experience teaches is that the practice of this poverty, chastity and obedience helps us to unite ourselves to Our Lord during the course of our lives.

This is why it is a great grace, a very great grace, that Our Lord grants to a soul in choosing it to enter into the religious life and give itself entirely to Almighty God. During the course of a long religious life, such as that of Mother Marie Gabrielle – fifty years of religious profession, which is no small thing – the Good Lord gives many occasions to detach oneself more fully. These occasions are many and diverse; it could be by changes in assignments, changing countries in the missionary life, leaving one’s family, leaving for distant countries, detaching oneself from the affections of one's family – but never in one's heart. We remain attached to our families, we pray for them. We are attached to them, but we detach ourselves from them in order to serve more fully Our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus this missionary life spent in diverse countries known to Mother Marie Gabrielle, gave her the occasion to detach herself even from European customs which are ours and to which we are attached in a special manner. All of this serves to detach us more fully from the things of this world in order that we may be filled by the gifts of the Holy Ghost and the spirit of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And the devotion which one has towards these poor people, miserable in their condition, serves to excite our fraternal charity. Thus the spirit of Our Lord pushes us to devote ourselves entirely to these souls who have need of His grace, of His example, of His charity.

If there is one thing that in the missions, in the countries which one might describe as rather abandoned – abandoned materially, spiritually and intellectually – if there is one thing that greatly impresses the natives in these countries, it is indeed the religious life. The life of the religious sister strikes more profoundly than the life of the priest in the peoples of these primitive countries. It is with great difficulty that they are able to understand why a priest leaves his country and his loved ones to come and evangelize these mission countries; but it is much more difficult for them to understand why young ladies, women, detach themselves from their homes and loved ones in order to come and devote themselves entirely to these natives. They find it difficult to understand for they cannot imagine a young lady not becoming the mother of a family, establishing a home and having children. These natives are therefore stupefied to think that these women are able to come and replace, in a certain manner, the comfortable home that they have had by total and complete dedication, without limits of times or affections, to these natives. In this way, these natives touch as it were with their finger the Truth and the holiness of the Catholic Church, for they see it manifested in a very special manner. I have frequently heard from the Africans themselves that the presence of a religious sister in their country was for them one of the greatest proofs of the sanctity of the Catholic Church. This charity, this apostolate exercised in these poor countries has certainly been for Mother Marie Gabrielle, the occasion to develop a great fraternal charity. The bodies of these poor natives ravaged by disease, ravaged by tropical maladies, permitted Mother Marie Gabrielle to practice this virtue of fraternal charity, and certainly in the given special graces.

It was later necessary for her to leave these African countries for a certain time in order to exercise a more specialized and important function in her congregation. There is, without doubt, a certain rupture on such occasions, but these are opportunities of greater detachment; this time it was not the abandoned populations of Africa which were calling her but rather the interests of her society, her congregation recalling her to Europe. It was necessary for her to accept this because of holy obedience – yet another means of detachment.

She therefore spent several years as Assistant General of her congregation and then returned to Africa. She returned to Senegal, where the Good Lord had yet another trial awaiting for her. It was perhaps the most painful, the most crucifying, it was the sorrow that we have all unfortunately seen in our religious congregations: the decadence of the religious life. By an incomprehensible mystery we saw bit by bit, the fervor of the religious dissipate, diminish and disappear – the religious life to which we were all consecrated, these religious families that we loved and admired, for they were truly beautiful religious families, holy, religious families in which we could truly sense the presence of the Holy Ghost in souls and in the apostolate; it is truly incomprehensible! And thus one no longer found in one's congregation the necessary spiritual support which is normal and which is part of the religious profession which one pronounced at the beginning of one's religious life. The Good Lord therefore asked yet a greater sacrifice which was necessary in order to prepare a religious family to keep the religious life. But then again, the Good Lord has permitted her to have new consolations in the midst of immense trials; consolations precisely in order to transmit this religious life to which she has remained profoundly attached, consolations in order to transmit the principles of this religious life to those who, like you, have been chosen by Almighty God to benefit from the religious life in order to unite yourselves to Our Lord Jesus Christ in a special manner, a more profound and total union.

What joys then, what great joys! I can say both for her and for myself what a great joy it is to transmit authentically what we received in our early years when we gave ourselves totally to Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a joy to be able to transmit in a really authentic manner that which the Church gave us in the first years of our religious formation. Consequently we are able to allow you to benefit, and to allow the seminarians to benefit, in a truly authentic priestly formation such as the Church gave us. By experience we are persuaded that the formation which has been given by the Church is the true formation; the formation which has always been given by the Church and which unites us to Our Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot break the structures which have been formed by the Church: poverty, chastity and obedience. We cannot break the cloisters without spreading therein the spirit of the world, the evil spirit of the world, the spirit which reigns in the world submitted to Satan and the other evil spirits.

It is therefore a great consolation, a great joy that the Good Lord has permitted Mother Marie Gabrielle to be with us today to transmit to us that which the Church has given to her and that which her experience has gained for her through the course of her religious life. We have known holy religious brothers and sisters who truly lived the religious life and who now certainly rejoice in the union of Our Lord Jesus Christ in which they share for all eternity.

We, therefore, rejoice with Mother Marie Gabrielle for all the graces that she transmits to you by her experience, and for the opportunity which Providence has given her to start this Congregation of the Sisters of the Society of St. Pius X. May Almighty God be praised for this. And we shall close, I think, with a glance towards our heavenly Mother, for if ever there was a religious soul, a soul that was drawn by Our Lord in such a manner that she never sinned and was exempted by Our Lord from original sin, it was indeed the soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is truly the model of the religious sister. She is the great model that we must imitate, that we must follow, through whom we must pray, in order that through her we might keep the authentic religious life that she has transmitted to us, since in all truth no grace comes to us except through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Consequently let us be attentive and careful in order that we be true and holy religious. This is, in fact, the best way that you can show your gratitude to Mother Marie Gabrielle for the dedication she has shown you.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.


Chapter 16

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