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Marie remembers her first communion

 

Excerpt from the autobiographical memoir of Marie of the Sacred Heart

 

My first Communion was advanced a year because my aunt fell gravely ill. Since I was very advanced in catechism, the first mistress told me if I was very good, I would make my first Communion at age 9 because they wanted to give that consolation to my aunt before she died. This thought gave me a lot of courage. I had a great desire to make my first Communion and I learned my catechism with an unequalled zeal. The religious questions interested me very much. It was a celebration for me to go recite my lesson for Fr. Boulangé. I still see him in the parlor where he gave us catechism. When he asked questions that my companions didn’t know the answer, I was dying of envy that he would ask me. I said to myself: “Oh! I want him to ask me, how well I know the answer!” This is what happened most of the time, he was also very happy with me. I wasn’t satisfied with just learning my catechism; I did a lot of practices so that little Jesus would be really happy in my heart, that he would find himself well received. I thought deep in my soul that he made everyone think my aunt was dying because he was in such a hurry to give himself to me and this thought filled me with joy. However it really was true that my aunt was very sick and all the community was persuaded that she wouldn’t have the consolation of seeing me make my first Communion. I had such an unshakeable faith that I believed the opposite. One day when we went to see my aunt in her infirmary and she could hardly speak to us because she was so sick, the infirmarian tried to make me understand that it was important to abandon ourselves to the good God’s will since she knew that I prayed fervently for my aunt’s healing. I looked at her, stupefied, and said to her: “But my good Sister, if I did that, I wouldn’t get anywhere. If, unhappily, it wasn’t the good God’s will, I would be sure of not being heard. So I take care to not talk about his will, but I try to change his will.” The good Sister began to laugh and couldn’t answer me back.

It was St. Joseph whom I addressed to obtain this healing. I had a very great confidence in him and to touch his heart, this is what I did. At the back of the little sheepfold (the place in the garden where we played during recreation) there was a statue of St Joseph in a niche surrounded by jasmine. I picked up all the little flowers that fell at his feet and threaded them one after another as I made crowns that I threw him with great devotion in the two empty spaces of the niche. For me, threading flowers was the biggest practice since I couldn’t run and play with my companions. Try as they might, they invited me to take part in their games but I invariably replied, “I like making crowns for St Joseph better”. When I arrived at recreation, my first thought was to see if the jasmine was bare, not because it gave me pleasure but because I dreaded this kind of amusement a lot that I had undertaken for the healing of my aunt. It seems that I remember one day the mistress made me leave all my crowns and told me to play like everyone else. She didn’t need to tell me twice for I thought: “St Joseph sees that it’s not my fault if I abandon it, so it’s not that which will keep my aunt from being healed. Several weeks before my first Communion she was so ill that all hope seemed lost. Our mistresses looked at us with an air of consternation and we didn’t go to see her anymore in the infirmary for fear of causing her the least fatigue. To each religious I met I said, ”Sister, how is my aunt?” And if someone gave me bad news, I satisfied myself with going into the chapel to look at St Joseph, but with a certain look that spoke volumes…And when I looked at him like that, whether for scolding him or thanking him, I left reassured and convinced that my aunt would heal. Mother, for her part, wrote me beautiful letters to encourage my faith. I still remember these words, ”My dear little Marie, the good God won’t refuse you anything on the day of your first Communion. On this day your aunt must be able to say to you, “The good God healed me! You prayed so well for me!” Ah! These letters that were the admiration of our school mistresses, they were inadvertently burned! How many times did I hear that there was no mother like ours? They were right. At last I received the much desired grace. My aunt healed despite the adverse predictions. She was able to attend my first Communion and lived another seven years; she died a year after I left boarding school. When near death, she told me that she owed me seven years of her life.

I return to the time that preceded my first Communion. I was so scrupulous that it poisoned my life, all the most extravagant thoughts that crossed my mind I would immediately go to tell them to the first mistress of the boarding school. She was the one who prepared our first Communion. I was so afraid of not making a good one. But the first mistress wasn’t the only one to hear my craziness because I can really say it was craziness. The fear of having bad thoughts overcame me and each time that I went to confession (which was a real torture for me) I said them over and over in the smallest details, but not without having made big sighs, everything that crossed my mind. I didn’t forget the story of the big snakes and I was too afraid that one would hide in my heart so I forced them to come out, even the ones which weren’t there. One day at the end of my confession, the chaplain said to me, “From now on, I forbid you to speak a single word of that again.” Ah! What relief I felt, it’s impossible to say it! From that moment all my scruples vanished as if by magic. To encourage us to make many acts of virtue, they made us count them on what was called a chaplet of practices. I wasn’t always faithful at moving the pearls, but I knew how to move myself out of trouble. One day it was acts of love that I was supposed to do. When I saw the mistress with her paper and pencil to make a note of our virtues, I said to myself, what will become of me? I forgot! But until she gets to my row, I still have time, quick, quick, let’s hurry: My good Jesus, I love you, my good Jesus, I love you!...” When she got to me, I proudly replied, “sixty!”

But I still think my acts of love were too hasty and that another time I should do it another way.

At last the beautiful day of my first Communion arrived without troubles, the most beautiful day of my life besides my profession. Ah! About that day I can say that I heard said to Mama a beautiful poem of which I can only remember these lines: Beautiful day among days! Your memory remains like a faithful friend which nothing can separate. You always appear to me, transparent and blue like the temple at night with a heavenly vapor on the sacred tabernacle. They gave me the act of faith to recite. With what deep feeling I said it in the name of my companions, but especially my own. But when I went up to receive the blessed Host, I was preoccupied with only one thing; to make a good first Communion. They told me that the rest of my life depended on it. I recollected myself as best as possible but like a child, I received no particular light for the direction of my life and had no extraordinary consolation. I repeat however, I was very recollected.

Toward the end of Mass, Sister M. Paule, the first mistress of the boarding school, approached close to the grill of the choir and like a vigilant mother handed out several pieces of chocolate to those she thought were the most delicate. No one took care of me and I felt happiness at being forgotten among creatures and that they left me alone with Jesus. At last they gestured to me to go back into the convent because the first Communion ceremony took place in the exterior Chapel because of the parents. I then saw papa and mama. They were in the first rows, a place of honor for all the parents of girls making their first communion. I felt then a sentiment of noble pride. How beautiful they were to me then, my beloved parents. For me, there were none like them in the entire congregation. Besides, papa was very handsome and had a rare natural distinction. Mama wore a very simple black silk dress but her very noble and worthy manner appeared to my eyes as brilliance without equal. Oh! I found myself privileged to be their child. That day we didn’t dine in the refectory with the other boarding school students but they prepared a table in another separate room which had a garland of flowers around it. To say how much that delighted me! Everything was heavenly this day!...That afternoon we went out again into the exterior chapel for Vespers, the Act of consecration and the renewal of Baptismal Promises. Then papa and mama went to the parlor to see my aunt, we were both with them. They were very surprised to see that they had to say goodbye to their little girls on such beautiful day as they thought they could take us until the next day. My aunt told them that the rule forbade it to better keep the children recollected on such a holy day. The evening of my first Communion, once entered into my boarding school cell (our beds were separated by a partition made of boards and were surrounded by curtains that resembled real little cells) I burst into tears. The mistress rushed over to me, really worried, wondering what made me cry like that. But I couldn’t answer her. At last, through my sobs I said to her, “It’s because the day of my first Communion is over!”

The next day we were returned to our parents. Ah! This next day was marked by sadness for me. I had found again papa and mama, me who suffered so much from being separated! With them it was like being in Heaven but this heaven was to be short because that evening they had to leave us! Also my happiness was far from being complete. We took a walk in the country. Soon I found myself in a field of big daisies and cornflowers. But to pick them I had to let go of my dear father’s hand, I preferred to be close to him. I looked at him, I looked at mama…In my little 9 year old heart there were abysses of love and tenderness for them. I also thought a lot about my little sisters Léonie and Helène who had stayed in Alençon.

 

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