Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Happy Feast Day of Saint Jean-François Régis
It's appropriate, given that we're currently in the heart of the Languedoc that today's patron saint is a local man whose ministry tied him to the arid impoverished hill country of southern France. At Mass today, our parish priest, himself a local man and proud of his connection to the region, was clearly delighted to elaborate on the life of this patron saint of priests, "less well known than Saint Jean Vianney". Below is my remembered precis of his sermon with some dates supplied by the French Jesuit site about Saint Jean-François Régis
Jean-François Régis was born near Narbonne in 1597 and studied with the Jesuits first at school in Béziers and later at a seminary Montpellier where he made his religious vows in 1618. He was ordained in 1630 in Toulouse.
At a time of religious tension and (often) violence, where many former Catholics had strayed to Huguenot and Calvinist sects, Jean-François Régis managed to win back a remarkable number of souls with his simple and sincere approach. He felt that God was calling him to go to the New World, but his superior sent him to the Ardèche rather than Canada, and there in the hill country he spent the rest of his life ministering to the poor of the region.
He became one of the "missionnaires de l'intérieur" who lead an itinerant life in the rugged hill country, travelling from village to village, bringing the Good News to tiny stone churches, baptising babies, and saving souls. Even though frequent confession was a common occurrence in those days, Jean-François Régis was remarkable in his ability to encourage the faithful to confess their sins, and would spend eight or nine hours at a time hearing confessions.
Sainte Jean-François Régis' death was hastened by his fidelity to the sacraments: he arrived at the village of Lalouvesc in the Northern Ardèche on 23rd December 1640 in bitter winter weather, burning with fever caused by a lung infection, to say the Christmas Masses and hear confessions. Over the course of three days he said seven Masses and heard confessions from dawn to dusk and beyond. After Mass on 26th December Saint Jean-François Régis couldn't reach the confessional, so great were the crowds waiting for the sacrament, so he sat beside the altar and heard confessions there until the evening. Despite his illness he ignored an open window nearby, and it is thought that the draught fro this window caused his collapse. He was taken to a warm place, where, despite the seriousness of his condition, the saint insisted on hearing another twenty or so confessions until he was physically unable to continue. He remained bedridden in pain and constant prayer until he died five days later. Soon after his death, the villagers spoke of the "saint père" who had died in their service.
There's a very detailed precis of his life at Catholic.org and a lovely retelling of his life (in French) at Jesuites.com.
Saint Jean-François Régis, Ora Pro Nobis! Pray for our priests!
I'd love to hear from anybody who has made the pilgrimage to Lalouvesc. Apparently the villagers were so worried about someone coming and removing the body of their beloved priest that they cut down an enormous chestnut tree and hollowed out the trunk to contain (and presumably hide) his body.