During the French Revolution in 1789 Fr Anthony Receveur built two retreat houses for people to come and practice their religious faith and beliefs. These retreat houses were blocked by French soldiers. However, on a night of exceptional cold between 18th and 19th November 1789, that drove the soldiers indoors, Fr. Anthony, cross in hand, called the people: “Come, it is God’s hour”. The Feast Day of Fr Anthony Receveur is November 19th in celebration of that night.
The Christian Retreat is a Roman Catholic Congregation founded by Fr. Anthony Receveur. This article is taken from the Christian Retreat website www.christian-retreat.org
Fr. Anthony Receveur & The Sisters of the Christian Retreat
The Congregation of the Sisters of the Christian Retreat was founded in Eastern France by Father Anthony Receveur (1750-1804). Fr. Anthony’s life was spent in the shadow of the French Revolution. It was a time of huge social upheaval and transition much like the 21st century and with the dissolution of familiar structures people were thirsty for truth. He dedicated his life to bringing God’s living water to the people of his day. His vision was radical because he invited all people – not just priests and religious – to deepen their prayer life through making retreats, providing a rule of life that included daily prayer and meditation. With the help of families he built a retreat house in Fontenelles, France where he led large numbers of people in retreat which transformed their lives. In founding the congregation Fr Anthony was empowering each Christian to live a meaningful life. The name of the congregation expressed the aim of their founder: to bring people, who had drifted away from religion back to God through reflection, prayer and retreat.
Fr Anthony Receveur – A life in pictures by Sister Melanie
taken from the Christian Retreat website
These wonderful watercolour paintings were created by Sr Melanie Kingston to depict the life and times of Fr Anthony Receveur.
Born in France in 1750, his life alternated between light and shadow, joy and suffering. “What joy”, he wrote, “how my heart rejoices when crosses fall on me”. “When I can see no way out, it is then that help comes”
May these pictures inspire you to see in the apparent paradox of light and shade, joy and sorrow, God’s loving guidance in your life.
At 7 years old, Anthony woke up one night and saw in the darkness a terrifying vision of evil. But then a soft light penetrated the darkness and he heard a voice say: “Anthony, if you knew the gift of God”. He arose and spent the rest of the night in prayer.
Shaken by this vision, he determined to become a saint and like his patron Anthony of the Desert, sought the solitude of a nearby cave to pray.
As a student in Besançon he found city life attractive and forgot his vocation for a time. But on one occasion whilst on holiday at home, he returned from a morning’s hunting, pale and trembling and declared he would never hunt again.
|THE RULE OF LIFE:
Determined to lead a more serious life, Anthony discovered the Rule of St. Francis de Sales and through his reading he began to see how unconcerned he had been to live a truly Christian life.
In Besançon Anthony discovered the benefits of enclosed retreats. In candlelit rooms with posters about ‘Thoughts on Eternity’ displayed on the walls, the seed of an idea was being formed. Retreats were to become the cornerstone of his future work as a priest.
Anthony became a priest in 1775 and was appointed as curate of Fontenelles. As he approached the village, his gaze firmly on the crucifix, he said: “I am convinced that I must follow a different path from the ordinary to achieve anything in my ministry”.
The education of children, especially their religious formation, was very important to Fr. Anthony. Children were the key to parish renewal and he had the greatest love and tenderness for them.
Fr. Anthony pioneered retreats for ordinary people. These consisted of talks on the ‘Great Truths’, daily meditation and the Sacraments. But it was the eve of the French Revolution and opposition to religion was growing. The retreatants were often mocked and attacked during their great outdoor processions.
|THE RETREAT HOUSES:
Amidst opposition, but in an effort to deepen the work already begun, Fr. Anthony decided to build two large retreat houses which would become a permanent retreat for people drawn to the life of work, silence and solitude.
Many enthusiastic men and women were eager to live in the new retreat houses, but revolutionary soldiers guarded the doors. However, on a night of exceptional cold between 18th and 19th November 1789, that drove the soldiers indoors, Fr. Anthony, cross in hand, called the people: “Come, it is God’s hour”.
November 19th is celebrated each year by the Sisters of the Christian Retreat in remembrance of this night.
|THE CHRISTIAN RETREAT:
Fr Anthony’s work flourished. Hundreds of people flocked to Fontenelles for days of retreat, prayer and reflection. Children were educated, work was provided for local people and the Brothers and Sisters lived a life of prayer and meditation.
Fontenelles could not escape the ravages of the Revolution and on a “glorious and ever memorable day”, 23rd October 1792, troops surrounded the retreat houses. The community was bullied, tied up, threatened with death and forced to leave their beloved Retreat. They were banished from France.
|THE ROAD TO EXILE:
For the next ten years, the community wandered through Europe pushed to their physical and emotional limits. They always carried a cross before them, and their distinctive white habits made a lasting impression wherever they went.
|THE PILGRIMAGE OF FAITH:
Unable to stay long anywhere because of the advancing French army, the community carried their ‘Retreat’ with them. At one moment, unable to advance or return, Fr Anthony prayed and they renewed their total confidence in God.
|THE GRAIN WHICH DIES:
In 1803 Fr Anthony and the community were able to return to France, but Fr Anthony then died in 1804, worn out by his labours. His aim had been to encourage people to meditate on the Word of God and ‘thoughts on Eternity’ and so embrace a truly Christian Life. He died humbly confident in God. Today, his work continues in communities known as The Christian Retreat.
Prayer for Reflection
Lord, those words, ‘reflection’, ‘prayer’ and ‘retreat’, sound so formal and remote. What relevance do they have to our lives? We are too busy to have time to stop; and anyway silence is boring!
Lord, sometimes I need a friend; sometimes I need to pray. Sometimes, when I take my earphones out of my ears, I hear the birds sing and I know you are here and thank you. Then I know I am reflecting! Then I know I am praying.
Lord, help me not to be afraid of silence; to know you are close all the time, not just when things go wrong; and help me to make space in my day for you – for me – and for others.