PART FIVE: The Dioceses of Reims, Toul, and Rouen
Among the missions in the diocese of Reims, one of the most important was the one given by order of the king in the city of Sedan in 1643. Following is the letter of the superior of the mission to Monsieur Vincent.
I must say, Monsieur, that since it has pleased God to form the little Company of the Mission, it has never worked so usefully or so importantly as it has here. Heretics continue to be interested and come to the sermons, which they loudly praise. We must work with the Catholics almost as neophytes, for since the time four or five years ago when the town was opened to all preachers, nearly everyone is taken up with controversies. Few enough, however, trouble themselves about religious practices and exercises. We have run across some who frankly admit they have never thought it necessary to confess all their sins. The same sort of abuse exists with the blessed sacrament and other things as well. We have to begin from the first principles of religion. This is not to say this work is without consolation, for the people listen with pleasure to what we have to say and faithfully put it into practice. They cannot admire enough the graces God has given them, nor can they begin to thank him as much as they would like.1
We may judge the great fruit of this mission by the evident needs of the people. The late Archbishop d’Etampes of Reims thanked Monsieur Vincent in a special letter which he wrote to the superior of the Congregation.2
Several other missions were given in other places in the same diocese, among others at the village of Sillery, after the war. The superior wrote to Monsieur Vincent that only eighty persons still lived in the village, since all the others had died from the dire conditions of the times. These few survivors showed such good dispositions that nothing more could be hoped for, especially in those who came to the altar to receive communion.
They communicated with such feeling that their tears were a tribute to the real presence of their divine Savior, who took possession of their hearts. They were so converted to the Lord that not only did they renounce sin, but resolved to suffer with patience and submission and out of love for him alone, whatever would please his divine will. This is how they themselves spoke, often repeating, “All for the love of God.”3
This same priest wrote to Monsieur Vincent some time later from the village of Ludes, where he had given a mission.
All has gone here as you wished. That says it all. One of the fruits of the mission was the completion of the church, which would never have been accomplished unless the mission were held here. The taverns have closed, and the evening parties stopped. The people have done away with swearing, and they speak the holy name of God only with great respect. We see people in their houses falling on their knees to ask pardon of those they have offended.4
He wrote again from the village of Fontaine, in the same diocese.
God blessed the previous missions, and seems to have increased his grace for this one. Concubinages which have lasted twenty-five years have ended; lawsuits are settled; many people, both from this village and surrounding area, who have been away from the sacraments for twenty, thirty, or thirty-five years have recognized and repented their sins. People from the town have called their relatives even in distant places to come and share in the fruits of the mission. Some gentlemen have come from as far away as seven, ten, or fourteen leagues, mostly from the region of Rethel.5
Lastly, this good missionary worked in the town of Ai in the same diocese. He reported as follows to Monsieur Vincent:
We arrived here to find that some of the leading people of the town had spoken against us, and had persuaded the people not to accept us. After several days of patience, God, who sent us here by the orders of our superiors, so changed the hearts of the people that never did a mission start better. The people confessed very exactly, with all signs of a true contrition. They repaid what they owed, went to ask pardon of one another in their homes, prayed both morning and evening, and resolved to change their way of living to a truly Christian behavior. They could not hear enough of the word of God. The minister who lived here has fled. The few heretics in town, unlettered vine-dressers, have attended all our sermons.6
Monsieur Vincent had sent priests of the Congregation to the diocese of Rouen several times to conduct missions with the same happy results, by God’s grace, as in other dioceses. To avoid repetition, we will be content to cite a letter of the archbishop of Rouen to Monsieur Vincent, written in 1656, which expresses his appreciation of the missionaries and their work.7
I do not hesitate to write to you, for you have been unstinting in your help for us. The help the diocese has received through the saintly workers you have sent is evidence enough. How I thank our Savior to see his spirit so abundantly poured forth upon the priests whom you have formed by his grace. I could have no greater wish for the Church and for the glory of his sacred name, than that all priests have the same ability and the same fervor. I return your valiant Monsieur N. and his generous troops who have fought so bravely against sin. I hope on other occasions they will again enlist under the standard of the primate of Normandy. He appreciates their virtue and admires their zeal, and remains without reserve, in the army of the Lord, your very humble, etc.8
The missionaries established themselves in the town in Toul, in the diocese of the same name, despoiled by the ravages of war. They received God’s blessings upon the missions they gave there. The superior of the group wrote as follows to Monsieur Vincent at the conclusion of three missions:
I cannot fully express the goodness of God towards us. We have heard around five hundred general confessions with no relief for a full month. The harsh winter weather left the roads covered with snow up to two feet deep. Yet this did not keep these poor people, rich in faith and eager for the word of God, from showing their attachment to the kingdom of heaven despite the annoyances they had to put up with from the soldiers. All we hoped for has come about, and we may rightfully say that Jesus Christ has graciously spread everywhere the good odor of his Gospel.9
In another letter written some time later, he said:
We have just finished a mission in the large village of Charmes. After working five weeks there we have finished. We are somewhat worn out, but our hearts are filled with joy and consolation because of the blessings God has showered upon us and all the people of this parish, and even of neighboring parishes. The pastor is a devout man, and everyone in the parish, from himself to the least person, came to make their general confession, no one excepted. These confessions were so well made, in such sentiments of true conversions, that I do not remember any in the last twenty-five missions at which I have participated where the people have seemed so moved as in this one. After being reconciled to God and to their neighbor, each one seems committed to following our counsel about living in the grace of God. There is a monastery of religious in the town,10 the members of which, particularly their superior, a true saint, were completely astonished to see so many miracles.
All these glorious triumphs of grace which our Lord has won over once-rebellious hearts, who now give him glory by their true repentance, demand that we give him most humble thanks. I realize I must work more than ever before, for I recognize how the missions are such a great means of aiding souls. I have returned from this mission with this thought and resolution.11