“So what happened to Lacordaire? His conferences at Notre Dame were well received despite thinly veiled threats against his life by the King, and his fame steadily grew throughout France. After the revolution of 1848, without his campaigning, he was even elected to the French parliament. However, in his attempt to rise above political parties, and, in his words, “preach the great truths of the Gospel to all factions,” he was rather unsuccessful. He resigned two weeks after taking office. Furthermore, his efforts in the Dominican Order encountered numerous setbacks, both from within and without. Yet, by the time of his death the Catholic Church and the Dominican Order in France were flourishing again.
I think Lacordaire’s example here is of great value in two ways. First, no matter how bad we think things may be, Christ still comes to redeem us. Lacordaire was given the grace to help bring the Faith back to a country that had been massacring nuns in the streets. It can be tempting to view one’s own era as being unique, but just look to history. The Church has always been persecuted, (Ed. and Christians have always frustrated, annoyed, and betrayed other Christians and Jesus, just like Judas. ‘Put no trust in princes, [or princesses, for that matter.]’ cf Ps 146:3) but rather the faithful Christian is called to proclaim that the world has an authority greater than any human government (Ed. or human leaders, even Church leaders). And that authority became man 2,000 years ago in order that we might have true life and freedom in His saving power. (Kyrie Eleison)
Second, Lacordaire gives us an example of what the New Evangelization should look like. His talks are not heavily theological, but more inviting and apologetic. With regard to his conferences at Notre Dame he stated: “It seemed to me that we should not go to metaphysics, nor history, but set foot on the soil of the living reality and seek traces of God.” He re-presented a good that had been rejected. People could see all around them how efforts to organize society without God always end with dissatisfaction and craziness. Lacordaire was able to show them, on their own terms, how to find what they were truly after.
On a personal note, I first became interested in Lacordaire when I was in France several years ago. In the Louvre, in the wing containing many of the most famous pieces from the time of the Revolution, is a portrait of Lacordaire. He was placed at the end, at the far side of the hall. He is portrayed standing upright, arms folded, wearing his outlawed Dominican habit, and looking out confidently. It is almost as if he is placed to watch over the rest of the excesses of the revolutionary age. He came calling his people back to the truth of the Gospel and faith in Christ Jesus. It seems fitting to give him the last word:
‘Let us all stand together, whoever we may be, believers and unbelievers. Let us stand up, believers, with feelings of respect, admiration, faith, love, for a God who has revealed Himself to us with so much evidence, and Who has chosen us among men to be the depositaries of that splendid manifestation of His truth! And you who do not believe, stand up also, but with fear and trembling, as men who are but as nothing with their power and their reasoning, before facts which fill all ages, and which are in themselves so full of the power and majesty of God!’“(1)
Faith, Hope, Love,