The French Revolution: A Time of Heartache and Love
By 1789 the so-called Enlightenment ideas (i.e. often anti-Christian, anti-traditional rationalist ideas) like those held by Rose’s father had spread throughout France, becoming more and more radical. Soon the “third estate,” or general population, decided that the time was right for them to break free from the bonds “imposed” by the clergy (the “first estate”) and the aristocracy (the “second estate”) (Kun). On July 14, 1789, a mob made up of the “third estate” stormed the Bastille, a Parisian prison and fortress; imprisoned the royal family and many members of the clergy and aristocracy; and set up a revolutionary government that soon proved to be extremely hostile to the Catholic Church (Jeanne Marie). The new government quickly passed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which essentially “overturned the Church in France,” setting up new diocesan boundaries, mandating that bishops and priests were to be elected by the people, including Protestants and Jews, and requiring clergy to take an oath renouncing the authority of the Pope and the universal Church (Jeanne Marie). Many clergy, however, refused to take the oath and had to flee into hiding in order to avoid execution. By 1792, the situation had grown much worse as the “Reign of Terror” took a firm hold on the country. Church property was confiscated, churches were closed, Mass was banned, and anyone not supporting the Revolution was in danger of being sent to the guillotine (Kun; Jeanne Marie). That year’s September Massacre took the lives of over four hundred priests and religious, one thousand Catholic aristocrats, and eight thousand citizens (Jeanne Marie). The government increased its attempts to eliminate everything Catholic, destroy the Church, and introduce a New World Order with a “new universal religion of atheistic humanism” (Jeanne Marie). It even went so far as to revise the calendar to count years from the beginning of the Revolution, institute a ten-day week without Sundays, and remove holy days. Many people seemed to be echoing Voltaire’s manic call for the destruction of the Catholic Church: “Let us crush the wretch! Crush the wretch! The Christian religion is an infamous religion. It must be destroyed by a hundred invisible hands” (Jeanne Marie). (7)
Rose must have been horrified to see the state of France and of her beloved Church during the years of the Revolution. The upheaval touched her personally in 1792 when the nuns of Ste. Marie were dispersed by order of the government (Horvat). The convent was turned into a prison, and the disappointed Rose returned to Grenoble but not to her family’s home. Instead she rented a small apartment in the town and, with several other devout women, organized the “Ladies of Mercy,” an informal organization dedicated to performing spiritual and corporal works of mercy like caring for the poor, sick, and imprisoned, teaching the Catholic faith to poor children, and sheltering priests (Jeanne Marie; Lynch; McNamara; Horvat; Kun). These women performed their work at great personal risk, especially after the Terror came with full force to Grenoble in 1794. Rose’s family worried about her safety, but even in the midst of the dangers and trials of that time, Rose replied, “Let me be. It is my happiness and glory to serve my Divine Savior in the person of those persecuted for His sake” (Horvat). (8)
7. In what ways is the modern Church under persecution?
8. In what ways can you serve the suffering poor around you? Would you have had the courage to act as Rose did? Why or why not?