Homily Pronounced at the Funeral Mass of
Mother Jeanne-Françoise de l’Assomption,
née Jeanne–Marie Eugénie Fournier,
of the Congregation of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified
on the Feast of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal,
Saturday, 12 August 2017
in the Collegial Church of Notre–Dame–de–Liesse in Annecy
Ninety–four years ago, in this magnificent collegial church of Notre–Dame–de–Liesse, little Jeanne–Marie Eugénie Fournier was carried to the baptismal font to be plunged into the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A few years later, little Jeannette received her First Holy Communion in this same church. Today, on the liturgical feast of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, Mother Jeanne–Françoise de l’Assomption is welcomed in the very same place where she began her long life of love, of suffering, and of offering.
And, again, sixty–five years ago, she, whom most of you call Tante Jeannette, gave herself to Jesus crucified, saying to him, Suscipe me, Domine, that is, “Take me to thyself, O Lord; take me with thee on the Cross; unite me to thy sacrifice to the Father; make of me a single offering
consumed in the fire of the Holy Spirit upon the altar of thy Heart.” And the Lord answered her: “I receive thee as my spouse: all that is mine shall henceforth be thine; I am taking thee with me into all my mysteries. With thee I will share my great Passion; with thee I will share my deep wounds; with thee I will share my shedding of blood, my death suffered in all bitterness, my descent into Hell, my awaking on the morning of the Resurrection, my gaze all illumined by the gaze of the Father, my ascension to His right hand in glory, and my hidden, humble, silent life in the Sacrament of my love. All this is thine because thou art mine, and nothing will ever separate thee from my love.”
Sixty–five years ago as well, Jeannette, become Sister Marie–Chrysostome, spoke to the Father, saying: Fiat mihi secundum Verbum tuum, “Be it done unto me as it was done unto Thy Word.” And forty years ago, she who became my own dear Mother Jeanne–Françoise explained to me one day at Saint Paul’s Priory in Newport how she insisted that the word Verbum in her motto be written with the capital letter. By this, she sought to signify that, as a spouse of Jesus crucified, she wished to be be conformed to Him, made like unto the Word. She desired to receive in herself the ineradicable imprint of his holy Face, that is, of his Face fully turned to the Father, of his sorrowful Face, and of his glorious Face. Surely the mystery of the Face of Christ, the mystery of his Holy Face, dwells at the heart of the vocation of every spouse of Jesus crucified. This the face revealed to us in the Canticle of the Suffering Servant, a text that one might call “the Passion of Jesus Christ according to the prophet Isaias”.
There is no beauty in him, nor comeliness: and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of him: despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed. (Isaias 53:2–5)
Fiat mihi, she said, secundum Verbum tuum — May it be done unto me as was done to the Word. And Isaias continues, saying: “If he shall make expiation for sin, he shall see a long-lived progeny.” (Isaias 53:10). And there too, as a spouse of Jesus crucified, Mother Jeanne–Françoise was obliged to respond: “May it be done unto me as was done in thy Word, to thy Word, and for thy Word.” Expiation is nothing other than reparation, and what is reparation if not Love that repairs, Love that repairs the wounds of sin; Love that makes pure what was soiled; Love that gives beauty to what evil has deformed; Love that gives the fullness of life to souls that the world, and the flesh, and the Enemy are dragging toward death.
The configuration of Mother Jeanne–Françoise to Jesus crucified opened her to the mystery of a great supernatural fruitfulness. So often she prayed: “Lord, I surrender myself to the power of thy fruitful love.” Every mother receives life within herself to bring it into the world, and then, having brought life into the world, she dispenses her life day after day, hour after hour, with every beat of her heart, because the work of a mother goes on until death, and beyond death. Tante Jeannette herself left us a precious account of this life beyond death. The episode that I relate took place on January 6th, 1975. It was the day of death of her mother. Mother Jeanne–Françoise was, at the time, prioress in Newport in the United States. She writes:
I was in Newport and I went out into the garden to pray for a little while. I said to her, “Maman, you didn’t come to tell me when you died.” And then, in a flash, I saw her beautiful, and young with a youthfulness that we had never known her to have, and she said to me, “My Jeannette, if only you knew!” This “if only you knew” said everything that she had just lived and come to discover, beyond all telling. She also said to me, “Hold fast! And be faithful even to the end, and pass on the message.”
To all of us, assembled here today, Mother Jeanne–Françoise would say the same thing: “Hold fast! And be faithful even to the end, and pass on the message.” The heaven of Mother Jeanne–Françoise will not at all be rest. She has work to do on earth: in her family, in her Congregation, and, I must add, in me, the son whom she supported and loved for so many years. I owe her my priesthood, my perseverance in the monastic life, and so many other things concerning which discretion obliges me to be silent.
You must not be surprised that the Lord repeated to Tante Jeannette the words that he had said first in relation to his mother beside the Cross: “Woman, behold your son”; and then, “Behold your mother.” Jesus called her to spousal union and to motherhood. Jesus himself did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). She, as spouse and as mother, came not to be served, but to serve. Her sisters in religion can heartily attest to this. The life of Mother Jeanne–Françoise in the midst of her sisters was made up of innumerable little gestures of humility, of attentiveness, and of service. Jesus gave his life in ransom for the multitude, and she could do no differently, for the life given to the mother is given to be shared, to be dispensed, to be handed on by love.
Mother Jeanne–Françoise and I met more than forty years ago. When I saw her for the first time she was 51 years of age and I was 22. Today, she goes to her Lord with her 65 years of monastic life, of spousal life, and I, for my part, have just 65 years of life in all. In this I permit myself to see a sign of the providence of God. It is as if her life and mine — her life as spouse and mother, and my life as a priest — were woven together by a virginal hand and by the design of an immaculate Heart, that of Mary, the Mediatrix of All Graces.
Today, I offer the Holy Sacrifice for the last time in the presence of the body of Mother Jeanne–Françoise, in the hope of the resurrection. Her body today is assimilated to the Host, as on the day of her monastic profession. The Priest is the same one who received her offering 65 years ago; it is always Christ, who offers himself as a victim. With Tante Nanou, and Tante Zizon, with all the dear family of Tante Jeannette, with her mother prioress, Sister Bertille–Pacôme, and her prioress general, Sister Anne–Sophie, with her sisters in community, with all who are absent, and with all who have gone before us in death, let us unite ourselves now to the sacrifice of the Cross. Let us present ourselves before the altar in thanksgiving and in joy.
Having therefore a great high priest that hath passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God: let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest, who can not have compassion on our infirmities: but one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin. Let us go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace: that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid. (Hébrews 4:14–16).