Lenten Conferences of Fr. Lacordaire No. 10

by | Mar 1, 2024 | Formation

At the request of Frederic Ozanam and other university students, the Archbishop of Paris, Monsignor de Quélen, instituted the Lenten Conferences at Notre-Dame, which are still held today. The first cycle of conferences took place from February to March 1834. Father Lacordaire, who would later join the Dominicans but was then a diocesan priest, preached those of 1835 and 1836. These extracts come from those conferences.

Charity is the principal sign of the transformation of the soul

Conferences of the Rev. Père Lacordaire, p. 373-377

It would seem natural to believe that man, having attained to a certain amount of riches, and having more than enough, would feel no pain in giving that which is useless, even to the superabundance of luxury: but this is an error. Man never gives willingly. When he no longer knows what to do with his gold, he buys the land which produces it. Destitute often of posterity, or reduced to nephews whom he detests, he purchases still, and if there is not enough land within his reach to satisfy his eager desire for possessions, he buries in deep coffers that gold become doubly useless, affording himself sometimes the pleasure of gazing upon it, of counting it, and of ascertaining exactly by how much his happiness is increased! What joy is there in this?…

The poor do not understand the state of the man who is rich and who loves better to heap up and hide than to give: but so it is. The time arrives even when the rich man wearies of being so, when he can do no more with his fortune, when he is a prey to an immense distaste for all that which surrounds him: he might, it would seem, lay open a new vein of pleasure by reclaiming a ruined family from misery… But satiety, when it has increased and reached the state of pain and misery, does not even then teach man the secret of stripping himself of his possessions. He considers that the honour of being richer than other men is worthy of being purchased by suffering… In effect, if man does not love his fellow man, if he hates labour, and abhors the sharing of his possessions, who does not perceive at the end of these tendencies of the soul, as an inevitable consequence, the establishment of servitude? Why should I not abuse my power against the man whom I despise, in order to subject him to toil from which I free myself, and which serves at one and the same time my fortune and my pride? Why should I not occupy as many men as I am able, at the lowest possible cost, for the satisfaction of all my senses? Why, if I am able, should I not have, as they have in India, men to drive away importunate animals from my face, others to bear my palanquin, others to keep a glass of water all ready for me when I may be thirsty, others to accompany me and do me honour? Perhaps I may not have the opportunity of subjecting my fellow-men to myself; but has the occasion ever been wanting in the world to oppressors? When the causes of servitude are set up in the heart of man, who will resist it? Where shall we find the fulcrum of the weak against the strong? Who will stand up and speak for man, if man despises him? By the very effect of a want of love, and of the greedy desire to become greater, disinherited generations must be produced: those generations will bestir themselves, will alarm the more fortunate of the world, it will then be needful to create a power which may deprive them of the idea of rebelling, and which may afford to selfishness tranquil and untroubled sleep. What means are more natural than reducing men to a kind of servitude which degrades them in their own eyes, and does not even permit them to dream of taking their revenge? These are not… chimerical interpretations of the sentiments of man. God has permitted servitude to exist even to the present time, to reveal to you continually what you are without the charity which comes from him.

You might have believed that you loved mankind of yourselves, and that philanthropy would suffice to establish universal fraternity. God has taken care to undeceive you. Let Europeans, Frenchmen, descend a few degrees of latitude, and be transported under a hotter sun, their philanthropy vanishes at the doors of a sugar manufactory. Become possessors of slaves, they discover the most powerful reasons in the world in favour of servitude; even those which I spoke of but just now, the necessity of labour, the impossibility of performing it themselves, the duty of accumulating riches, the inferiority of the subjected race; men will go far to seek that privileged race, and if they are not yet near enough to the brute, they will take care, by ill-treating them, and by depriving them of education, to bring them down to the desired level of vileness and brutishness, so that all may judge them to be incapable and unworthy of liberty.

Behold man… and what obstacles Catholic doctrine must have found in him to the establishment of fraternity. Let us see what it has done in order to be the stronger. When Jesus Christ determined to found the apostleship, he pronounced these words: “Go and teach all nations.” He did more to found fraternity. He returned to it on several occasions, and laid down three celebrated texts. “I give you,” said he on one occasion, “a new commandment: That you love one another, as I have loved you. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”(1) In the first place, … remark [notice] that expression: I give you a new commandment. Jesus Christ made use of it only on that occasion, at least in so distinct a manner. Humility, chastity, the apostleship, although new things, were, however less new than this precept: Love one another. And Jesus Christ adds, that it is the sign by which his disciples would be recognised; not that humility, chastity, and apostleship are not very evident and very sure signs of the Christian profession, but because charity is the ocean in which all the other virtues begin and end. It is charity which makes the humble, the chaste, the apostle; it is charity which is the principle and the end, and, consequently, the capital sign of the transformation of the soul.

(1) St. John, ch. 13, v. 34, 35.

Jean-Baptiste-Henri-Dominique Lacordaire (1802-1861) was a renowned preacher and restorer of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) in France. He was a great friend of Frederic Ozanam (in fact, he is the author of a very interesting biography on Ozanam) and very close to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Image: Lacordaire, painted by Louis Janmot (1814-1892), friend of Frederic Ozanam and an early member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

*Source: Conferences of the Rev. Père Lacordaire: Delivered in the Cathedral of Nôtre Dame, in Paris. Author: Jean Baptiste Henri Dominique Lacordaire. Translated from the French by Henry Langdon. Publisher: T. Richardson in 1853.