Who is Blessed Marie-Eugene of the Child Jesus?
In 2016, Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity was canonized. It was truly a great grace for the Church and much was made of her being raised to the altars. Almost unnoticed, outside of Carmelite circles, was the beatification on November 19, 2016 of Pere Marie-Eugène of the Child Jesus, born Henri Grialou in Le Gua, a little town in the mining region of southwest France, in 1894.
He always wanted to be a priest. Drawn to the works of St. Thérèse of Lisieux in the seminary, from whom he learned of her little way of spiritual childhood (see Anthony Lilles’ and Dan Burke’s new book Living the Mystery of Merciful Love), his training was interrupted by World War I wherein he served and was decorated with the military cross as a Chevalier by the French Legion of Honor. He became a discalced Carmelite priest in 1922 and founded the Secular Institute of Notre Dame de Vie, establishing the first branch of the Institute in 1954 in the Philippines. He lectured and became a Vicar General and Provincial of the Carmelites in France. Devoted to the Holy Spirit and our Blessed Mother, he died after months of severe suffering, on March 27th, Easter Monday, 1967, the day on which he enjoyed celebrating the Easter joy of Mary, Mother of Life (Notre-Dame de Vie) the feast day he had previously established. His own feast day will be celebrated next month on February 4th!
As a Carmelite priest, he gave special emphasis to promoting Carmelite teaching and believed contemplation and holiness was a way of life open to every person. His two major works: I Want to See God and I am a Daughter of the Church (the sequel to I Want to See God) are filled with rich and detailed explications of Carmelite thought, a synthesis based on the teachings of Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila, from which Blessed Marie-Eugène learned of the grace to be found in silent prayer, and other Carmelite and Church luminaries. For those who are serious about their interior life, these books are a godsend, a distillation of the wisdom of great saints and a road map of progress in the interior life. As an example:
Volume I (I Want to See God) contains such nuggets as:
- The two virtues that make good spiritual directors: humility and charity (cf Chapter VIII on Spiritual Direction in the section on The First Stages).
- The three dispositions basic to asceticism, which correspond to three laws of every action of God in the soul: the gift of self, humility and silence (cf Chapter II on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the section on Mystical Life and Contemplation), followed by a chapter on each of these.
- The two types of true humility: reasonable humility and fervent humility and what characterizes them (cf Chapter IV on Humility in the section on Mystical Life and Contemplation).
- Various types of pride: pride in external goods, pride of will, pride of intellect, spiritual pride (cf Chapter IV on Humility in the section on Mystical Life and Contemplation).
- How activity is beneficial to the soul which does it in union with the will of God, and how it can become harmful if it is feverish (cf Chapter V on Silence in the section on Mystical Life and Contemplation).
And, in Volume II (I am a Daughter of the Church) there are whole chapters on:
- The passive and active dark nights of the senses.
- The dark night of the spirit.
- Spiritual betrothal and marriage.
- The transforming union.
- Contemplative dryness.
- Divine enrichments.
- Extraordinary favors and how to discern whether they are from God or not.
Blessed Pere Marie-Eugène of the Child Jesus was a master of the spiritual life and a renowned spiritual director in his time. His teachings live on today through the wisdom of his work and his secular institute. As someone who has read his work and benefited from it, I am thrilled he has been beatified. I heartily recommend him to you, if you have not yet had the pleasure of making his spiritual acquaintance. His guidance has helped me a lot.
Art: Photograph of Father Marie-Eugène of the Child Jesus, photographer unidentified, courtesy of Couvent des Carmes, Paris, used with permission.