Dear Friends and Benefactors,
Besides marking the second anniversary of the death of Archbishop Lefebvre, last month also included the tenth anniversary of the death of Father Ludovic-Marie Barrielle, probably the second most important figure in the founding of Ecône and of the Society of St. Pius X.
He died within the walls of Ecône seminary (surely a special reward for the seminary's faithful servant) on March 1,1983, in his 86th year, having been born in the South of France in August of 1897. What could such an old man from the end of the 19th Century have had to give to young seminarians of the latter part of the 20th Century? Answer: a very great deal, and thereby hangs a tale.
Look around you for a few moments, and think — is not our late 20th Century littered with hulks of youth no doubt well filled with homogenized milk and hygienic vaccines, but morally, intellectually and spiritually dying, or dead? Beneath the glossy surface, so well showered, so well prinked up, is there not an inner chaos of confusion and distress? Still, small souls, crying for attention and guidance, desperate for truth and discipline, yet habitually repelling anything that resembles either? Jarring contradiction, expressed in their grinding and jarring music, rock, which is for many of them the only passionate attachment in their lives.
Whence comes such dereliction of the youngsters? Certainly from the oldsters. The youngsters may not be without sin, but they are surely more sinned against than sinning. While materially cosseted as never before, they have been spiritually abandoned because for generations back there has been building up in their so-called civilization the aversion from things of the spirit and recourse to the consolations of matter. As each generation made by God for God comes of age in surroundings more and more excluding God, so the contradiction and abandonment have grown sharper and sharper in a process now piling up the young suicides and due to terminate in a frenzy of self-destruction, symptomized by Clintonitis.
Of course when each generation gave up on the idea of fighting the materialism and decided to join it instead, it was immediately praised for its "maturity" and for "leading a well-adjusted life" — the hippie had put on a dark suit and gone to Wall Street — but that was often the very same moment when the abandonment of the following generation became final. Looking around us today we would have to say the process is close to its end. One cannot materialize youth without destroying all future.
Such dark thoughts from our darkening scene are the back-drop for understanding how an old man like Fr. Barrielle could do so much for the youngsters of Ecône. Firstly, he never abandoned the old, old truths and discipline to which he remained passionately faithful; secondly, he gave himself heart and soul to passing these down to the young generation of seminarians, who loved him for it.
His own vocation had begun, he used to tell us, in his mother's arms, when at the age of one and a half as the priest came by in a procession of the Blessed Sacrament he uttered his first words — "Me pwiest!" Seminarian in the First World War, ordained priest in 1924, he joined the diocesan clergy in Marseilles where he rose to being the parish priest of a large city parish.
He loved the work and he was good at it, but he realized that he was missing something, something to get religion really into the bloodstream of his big city parishioners. During the Second World War, some of the men in his parish fascinated him with tales of the five-day Ignatian Retreat they had done with a Spanish priest, Fr. Vallet, the fame of whose Exercises was spreading. Fr. Barrielle went himself to do these with Fr. Vallet, and there he was "like hit over the head" with his second vocation — to abandon his beloved parish, to drop all and enter as a Novice into Fr. Vallet's new little Congregation for the purpose of giving the Spiritual Exercises.
In these Exercises of St. Ignatius, at the school of Fr. Vallet who had absorbed the true Ignatian spirit through — or, alas, despite? — being a former Jesuit, Fr. Barrielle discovered the something missing from his parish work, the literally heaven-sent instrument to pull modern men out of their distracting merry-go-round and to set them, by several days' serious prayer and penance, firmly on the road once more to saving their souls. Not that Fr. Barrielle's parish experience was useless; on the contrary, it all turned out to have been a marvellous preparation for the understanding and counselling and instructing of men within the grace-filled framework of the Retreat.
There followed many happy and fruitful years of preaching the Exercises in the post-war period, but then came Vatican Two (1962-1965). The modernists who took over the Church in the wake of the Council could not tolerate the old Faith being so strongly conveyed by the old-fashioned method of Ignatius, so Fr. Vallet's little congregation came under severe pressure to up-date, meaning water down, the Exercises. Since Fr. Barrielle was unwilling, he was relegated from the central Retreat House to a distant house in the North of France, and there he might have remained for the rest of his days, hugging to himself the Ignatian treasure that Fr. Vallet had rescued from the Jesuits, but which risked being cast aside again because nobody wanted it, had not at this point, obviously Providential, come Fr. Barrielle's third vocation.
Another veteran of God's wars, driven in the late 1960's into an amply deserved but nevertheless early retirement because he too would not abandon the old-time religion, had been called back into service by a group of youngsters seeking-bless them! — the old — time religion. For the love of God and of seminarians, Archbishop Lefebvre had responded to their call. In 1970 he had founded for them the Priestly Fraternity, or Society, of St. Pius X, and at about the same time he had opened a house for them in the now famous location of Ec6ne. But while he had some young priests coming forward to help him form the youngsters presenting themselves at his new Seminary, he was lacking an older man for their spiritual direction. The Archbishop thought of an old war-horse put out to grass in the north.. he blew on his trumpet. The old horse, now in his 74th year, pricked up his eyes — yes, it was the right trumpet again! — he snorted, he whinnied, he set off at a trot, soon the old legs were galloping to the aid of the Archbishop, and by the Archbishop's side he remained to the end of his days.
From 1971 to 1983 Fr. Barrielle spent at Ecône an astonishing eleven, nearly twelve years, more fruitful than ever, because he had been faithful to St. Ignatius, and now he was faithful to the Society. When first he arrived at Ecône, he had dreamt of reviving Fr. Mallet's little congregation to give the Exercises, but it had not worked out. However, when old retreatants invited him out of the Seminary to give them the Exercises during seminary vacations, why not take a seminarian along with him to act as Brother Assistant? And, goodness gracious, why not let Brother Assistant begin to learn to give the Exercises as well? And that is how the Society's seminarians wound into giving the powerful Ignatian Retreats which are now a vital part of their apostolate as priests all over the world.
But Fr. Barrielle was not only faithful to the Exercises, he was also faithful to the Society of St. Pius X. In the course of the 1970's, a number of older priests came to the Archbishop's aid at Ecône, out of sympathy for what he was trying to do, but few could take the heat and the pressure that came on the Archbishop as he was attacked by Rome on the one side, by the sedevacantists on the other, and so most of them left again. Not Fr. Barrielle. He was wholly convinced that it was God who had raised up Archbishop Lefebvre to defend the Faith, the Church, the Mass and the Priesthood, and this conviction he strove with might and main to impart to seminarians. Worthy of note is that the seminarians he directed are those who in general seem best to have kept their balance within the Society since then.
Fr. Barrielle was a great personality. Warm-hearted, direct, explosive, intuitive, with a great Faith and a great love of the Sacred Heart, of Our Lady and of St. Joseph, he poured himself out in his priesthood. He was both full of God and full of humanity. He had a great impact on the Seminary, where the gap he left has still not been filled ten years later, and he left his mark on the entire Society of St. Pius X. Any of you that have profited by the Exercises preached by Society priests are indebted to him. Physical infirmities might have slowed him down towards the end of his days, but his spirit was lively, humorous and ardent to the end. So full of life was he that it seemed to take several years after his death for one to realize that he was actually dead. God rest his soul, though I can hardly believe he was long in purgatory. He must now be enjoying a grand reward.
The moral of the story? Oldsters (and middlesters), if you know the old, old truths and discipline, you have something of priceless value to give to today's abandoned (not materially) youngsters, something which they desperately need. Even if you are 74 years old, think if there is not some way in which you can hand down that treasure. Easier said than done, I know, and obviously Providence made smooth the circumstances for Fr. Barrielle. But at least never betray the old truths, never denigrate them, nor dilute them, nor let them slip, but stand firm by them, and damn the torpedoes! Youngsters do not need oldsters to pretend to be teenagers, they do need them to point out by example the road to heaven and by word the road to hell.
"`Generation Gap'? Whassat, my boy, whassat?" old Fr. Barrielle would have sputtered. "Never such nonsense! Now are you saying your prayers, my boy? How good God is! Courage! Patience! What do you expect?" For those who knew and loved him, it warms the heart just to think of him. We shall not see his like again? We shall, if we turn from things material back to things spiritual. Children matter more than money, and it is never too late to tell and to teach adolescents to pray. Let God, Rock of Ages, be the passionate attachment of our lives and all these other things shall be added unto us.
The "Crisis of Faith" tapes advertised on the enclosed flyer are also available from the Seminary. If you fill out the enclosed SCSF card, you will receive this letter each month by first class instead of bulk mail and an extra envelope enclosed will facilitate your materially helping us to lock after the seminarians. Many thanks, always.
God bless you and keep you, especially those of you spiritually succouring the young.