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The Faith-Vision of Père Jean Gailhac — Part I

by Clevie Youngblood, RSHMCategory: Updates

This article is Part I of a compilation by Clevie Youngblood, RSHM, which she describes as “a synthesis of two writings by Sister Mary Milligan, RSHM, scholar and theologian, professor and dean, RSHM provincial and general superior. Mary did all the work of reading the writings of Père Gailhac and organizing them into an eloquent expression of his spirit-charism. My brief description of Père Gailhac’s faith-vision is the result of her reflections and analysis.” Part II will appear in the next issue of Highlights.

“God created me for Himself; He wants me to live only for His love and His glory. From my youth He has filled me with His holy fire. My heart has never wished to live without His love. That is not all. I have always felt in me the duty and the need to make Him loved. Quite young, He called me to the priesthood. I agreed to be a priest only on condition that I would live only to love Him and make Him loved. From my childhood, God has placed in me a great love for souls. That is the source of the works that He has urged me to undertake, .…” 1

pencil portrait of Pere Gailhac in a walnut frame

Here in the writings of Père Jean Gailhac we find the foundation of his faith-vision. It is a two-fold vision reflecting Jesus’ teaching on the law: love God and love one’s neighbor. “Total commitment to God and total gift of oneself to others are one reality for our founder.”2

Gailhac’s commitment to God is not only loving God personally but devoting himself to glorifying God by making God loved through the work of saving of souls. Love of God can only be accomplished through God, who became human in order to lead all to God. Loving God requires knowing God and it is the Triune God that Gailhac knows.

For Gailhac, God as Father is one “eternally covenanted” with humans as creator and guide, the source of holiness. All good flows from the Father, whether it is an individual talent, a person who accompanies us, or success in an apostolate. “Let us give glory to God and let us think that if God does some good with such poor instruments, what good would He not do if we were saints!”3 All that God does is done with love because God is love. Love is God’s life. Every act of God demonstrates love for humans, whether it is blessing, encouragement, compassion, forgiveness, or consolation. God’s love is always faithful, never indifferent. It is a Father’s infinite love, embracing each person. It is manifested in the Son, because it is Jesus who fully lives the life of the Father, a life of love.4

God the Son, Jesus Christ, is central to Gailhac’s faith-vision. The Son was sent to reveal the Father and bring about the salvation of souls. Two titles Gailhac gives Jesus are Model and Savior. In His humanity, Jesus is the model for us. His words and actions reveal the Father. He attracts and enables us by his example. “I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn13:15). Gailhac’s challenge for us is to be true reflections of Jesus’ life, to become other Christs.5

Jesus is a model for humans in his relationship to the Father. It is a relationship that is one with the Father in thoughts, words, and deeds. At all times, Jesus does the Father’s will because He is one with the Father. “He was constantly concerned to do what the Father does (Jn 5:19), to give life as the Father does (Jn 5:21), to say what He had heard from the Father (Jn 8:26).”6 For Gailhac, Jesus is a model of obedience, who empties and humbles himself (Phil 2:7-8) in an expression of great love. His greatest act of humility was the Incarnation, being born in the image of humans, because Jesus shares the Father’s own love for humankind. Jesus was also a model in His relationships with others. He embodies God’s love for humans which motivates His self-emptying for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

pere gailhace surrounded by founding sisters around an altar

Here, Jesus is the model of zeal – a zeal to make God known and loved. Gailhac uses the image of the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep, works zealously and compassionately to bring them back to the fold, and rejoices in their salvation. With Jesus as model, Gailhac encourages these traits of obedience, humility, compassion, and zeal as ways to come to know God.7

Gailhac’s focus on Jesus as Savior is another significant aspect of his faith-vision. Jesus undertakes the work of salvation of humankind through His life, but it is His passion, death, and resurrection that accomplish it. Through the cross Jesus empties himself, sacrifices himself, expresses the greatest form of love by giving his life for us. By the cross, Jesus restores life, reconciling us to God. By the resurrection, Jesus invites us into this new life. Gailhac uses this imagery of death and life to show how we enter into new life: by stripping ourselves of faults, by dying to ourselves, so as to embrace and live God’s own life. Renunciation becomes the key to spiritual resurrection. Salvation is achieved by living a life in imitation of Christ.8

Within Gailhac’s Christocentric faith-vision, the Holy Spirit plays a significant role. The founder sees the Spirit as the two-fold love of the Father and the Son, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. It is this Love-Spirit who enables the continuation of Jesus’ life and mission by transforming humans into other Christs. Transformation occurs only when we are open to being led by the Spirit as Jesus was. Such docility to the Spirit requires openness to the workings of the Spirit in our hearts and souls. It requires sacrifice because we become rooted in love by “dying to oneself.” It is through the presence of the Holy Spirit within us that we are introduced into the love between the Father and the Son and are enabled to live in that love.9

To fully participate in the life of God we must be turned toward God (“Soyez a Dieu”). For Gailhac this means allowing oneself to belong to God, to be possessed by God (“etre a Dieu”). God is to be the motivation of all one’s actions and the criterion of all one’s choices. Being turned toward God requires a personal conversion, changing one’s orientation from oneself to God. It is a dynamic process demanding continual renunciation, a deep desiring for God.10 It cannot be just a desire. It must be enacted through one’s life. In a letter to the sisters, Gailhac writes: “My dear daughters, be turned toward God, love Him with all your heart, may He be all for you; be all for Him. With love, nothing is painful, nothing is costly…. The heart which loves uses everything in order to love more.”11 The one who models this for us is Jesus, whose life and being were fully turned toward God.

  1. 1 Ecrits du Père Jean Gailhac, Vol. 10,p. 3425, as cited in Milligan, That They May Have Life, p. 179
  2. 2 Milligan, Spirituality, p. 1
  3. 3 Ecrits, Vol. 10, p. 3371, That They May Have Life, p. 67
  4. 4 Milligan, That They May Have Life, pp. 66-73
  5. 5 Ibid., p. 85
  6. 6 Ibid., pp. 88-89
  7. 7 Ibid., pp. 90-91, 93-94
  8. 8 Ibid., pp. 96-98
  9. 9 Ibid., pp. 105, 110-111
  10. 10 Ibid., p. 115, 117-118
  11. 11 Ecrits, Vol. 10, p. 3301, That They May Have Life, p. 120

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