A few months before his death, the philosopher and historian Hippolyte Taine (1828-1893) was marveling at the tireless dedication of the religious orders, especially that of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, committed to the more toilsome works of charity. “How is it,” he asked their superior general, “that these weak women, voluntarily separated from the world, so often rebuffed by ingratitude, and exposed to the temptations of loneliness and the melancholy of discouragement, do not succumb? Where do they find the strength to overcome all these obstacles, and resume their usual tasks every day with the same patience, gentleness, and serenity?” “It’s quite simple,” replied the old priest. “They have the Eucharist. A quarter of an hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is enough to compensate them for all their pains, to console them in all their trials and tribulations.” Taine was amazed at his reply. He apparently could not grasp it. But Christian common sense understands wonderfully well.
The story is told of the old grenadier, a resident of the Old Soldiers’ Home, Les Invalides, at Paris around the year 1760. Every day he used to spend a long time in the chapel before the Blessed Sacrament. One evening, the chaplain of the Home, about to lock up the chapel for the night, found the old soldier “prostrate before the altar, weeping.” “O Father,” the soldier pleaded seeing his chaplain, “let me have another fifteen minutes, I beg you by the birth of our adorable Redeemer.” The priest, deeply touched, grants the requested delay, returns to the sacristy and comes back after a quarter of an hour. “He found his penitent in the same position, but he was dead.”
One April in 1794, Father Coudrin, the future founder of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (also known as the Order of Picpus after the street name of its first motherhouse), was being pursued by the Sansculottes. He hid at Poitiers in a house on Rue d’Olérons, just a hundred yards from the revolutionary tribunal. In this modest dwelling, an association of pious ladies had as its mission to roam the streets of Poitiers and care for the sick, assist the dying, catechize children, and hide refractory priests—and all of that during the darkest days of the Terror! But these brave souls do not let themselves be intimidated by the fury of the revolution. The secret of their intrepidity may be learned from Miss Geffroy, their superior: “Once, when a rigorous search of houses had been announced, being before our Lord, the thought came into my mind that if I were to place at His feet two adorers, nothing would happen to us. In those days I was prompt to act without deliberation or counsel; no sooner thought than done. So I placed at either side of the altar a small chair; I took one and had one of our religious take the other. That was the beginning of the perpetual adoration that is still practised in the Order of Picpus. The external ladies divide the daytime hours, and we take care of the night.” This pious and holy audacity procured for them a special protection throughout the Revolution.
In 1873, Fr. Damien De Veuster became the chaplain of the leprosarium located on the Isle of Molokai (in the Hawaiian Islands). He was to devote himself for sixteen years to this hard labor before dying as a leper himself. Thanks to his apostolate, the hell of Molokai, made of selfishness, immorality, and despair, was gradually transformed. Every day he held a procession of the Blessed Sacrament and established perpetual adoration by the lepers. Those who could not walk would face the chapel to adore. One year before his death, in 1888, he wrote: “This is the fifteenth year that we’ve been keeping up nocturnal adoration, lepers though we be.”
And he explained: “It is at the foot of the altar that we delve the strength necessary in our isolation. Without the Blessed Sacrament, a situation such as mine would be unbearable. Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the tenderest of friends to souls that seek to please Him. His goodness knows how to proportion itself to the littlest of His creatures as to the greatest. Do not be afraid, then, in your solitary conversations, to tell Him about your wants and worries, your fears and anxieties, of those who are dear to you, your plans and hopes. Do not be afraid to speak freely and confidently.”