Father Jules Chevalier, a man ahead of his times

Wednesday April 24, 2024

Alison McKenzie. I am a convert to Catholicism. I was entranced when I first met an MSC community whose life, more than their words, pointed to a God who loved and to what that love looked like when it is reflected in a fully lived human life. That community whose lives reflected a vision of God as understood by Fr Jules Chevalier changed my life.

For me, Jules Chevalier was a man with a vision well beyond the confines of his times.

He is a man I can identify with . He had his great encounter with love during Seminary lectures on devotion to the Sacred Heart and spent the rest of this life exploring what that encounter meant. Hans Kwakman has explored the life long journey of Chevalier to fully understand the implications of his encounter with the divine. Chevalier’s struggles to fully understand his experience permeate his writings. His journey throws a light on my own journey – to come to understand the encounter I had with a God who loves and to let that encounter transform my own life. I feel at home with Chevalier’s life journey. I can relate to him as a person and he is an ever-present beacon pointing back to the Sacred Heart. He is within my reach.

Jules chevalier was a man of deep prayer.

When I read the story of his life I see a person who was deeply influenced by the things that he experienced in his day-to-day life. His religious understanding did not take him to a place where he was separate from the people and from the things that were affecting the people of his time. He was deeply moved by the struggles of ordinary people. I often think there is great significance of him hearing the stories of the dismantling of Cardinal Richelieu’s palace when he was a young boy and watching the walls of the palace be repurposed as houses for the villagers and farmers of Richelieu. Perhaps that story offered a symbol for his own understanding of church – that it is not meant to be a grand place away from the people but a place that offered refuge like the stones of the palace. Maybe also the falling down of the barn wall in the first chapel in Issoudun that led to the people seeing what the first missionaries were doing and becoming involved symbolised his understanding of church. It is a way of being church that I relate to. Church begins where the people are and where the needs are. From there – the people follow the source of the love. I feel at home in a barn church with tumble down walls. I find refuge there.

Jules Chevalier was a man of deep prayer. Much of what he writes could sit alongside contemporary Christian authors who write on the metaphysical . He had a deep understanding of the mystery of God’s love in a human heart. His writings reveal a person who knew intimately and personally what it means to have two hearts beat as one. His image of the Heart of God and the Heart of humanity uniting in the Heart of Jesus is powerful and contemporary. These images give form to my own experience of the intimacy of God and I draw from them as I live my life.

So – for me Chevalier is a very human man. I am happy he is not a saint (perhaps I should not say that) I can relate to him and his life points easily to the way of Jesus and to a way I want to emulate.

He was a man close to the people for whom theology and religious practice were a means to an end – to lead people to a God who loves . That is what changed my life and it is what I want to offer to those around me.