Interestingly enough, Gérard Raymond does not really emerge in writings by or about him as a potential “saint of purity,” even though the virtue is often ascribed to him, but almost as an afterthought, as if it were something expected. The assumption seems to be that, because of his self-imposed mortifications, he would be naturally pure. There are a few scattered references in his journal to his struggles with purity, but this is never spelled out in any explicit terms. One can assume that the reference is to so-called impure thoughts, which he counteracts by such ascetic practices as lowering his eyes (“modesty of the eyes”), sleeping on his back or, strangely enough, never crossing his legs (perhaps because this might be seen as a particularly feminine gesture). In the classic religious mode of this time, he understands purity as a perennial struggle against his own sinful body, and as something which is considered essential to his calling as a future priest. With the agreement of his confessor, he will actually take a personal vow of chastity, renewable monthly, at the age of seventeen. The published journal, regrettably, does not tell us how successful he might have been at maintaining it.
In the dedicatory pages of his journal, Gérard Raymond is called pur by the priests, but this is one in a series of four Catholic adolescent qualities. In the journal’s forward, the virtue of purity is elaborated upon in the following words: “Pure, of an angelic purity, and entrusting the purity of his heart to the power of the Host, to the maternal protection of Mary, Queen of Apostles, and to the care of a director of conscience; (…)” Here, purity is understood as an ethereal, angelic quality, something watched over by Mary, the very symbol of a virginal life. The role of clerical authority in also safeguarding this virtue is emphasized in the person of the director of conscience. Rather unusually, Une âme d’élite does not dwell on Gérard’s purity, an omission which can perhaps be explained by the fact that some other desirable Christian virtues are highlighted, such as self-mortification, humility and charity. An indirect reference to it is found in a brief passage about Gérard’s plans for his summer vacation, which he always circumscribed by a variety of fairly intense spiritual practices: “And even his vacation days were subjected to a severe discipline. For him, piety does not take a break, far from it, during this most dangerous of times.” Summer vacation was often seen in Catholic schools as an especially risky time for the practice of Christian virtue, primarily because of the fact that children were often on their own, away from the daily supervision of nuns, teaching brothers or priests. To counteract this, many parishes would actually set up special in-house camps during the summer months.
It is, once again, the various testimonials received in response to the reading of biographical material about Gérard Raymond that are most interesting because of the ways in which they interpret or frame the virtues exhibited by the young seminarian. Using the traditional image of the lily as a symbol for purity, the authors—priests and nuns for the most part—write eloquently about the importance of this virtue in a young Christian soul. This is a sampling: from a priest of the Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament, writing from Chicago on 3 March1937: “I have read these colourful pages, where one of the beautiful souls of our century is revealed. A flower who is one of ours, a lily from your rich gardens, a lily on fire;” from Les Soeurs adoratrices du Précieux Sang, writing on 4 November 1937: “Beautiful lily whose white assemblage of petals enclosed the virtue of an angel, his odour was pleasing to the divine Gardener and soon enough He transported him to the heavenly gardens;” from a Franciscan priest, writing from Japan on 21 March 1937: “Virtue and youth, it has been said, are two of the most beautiful flowers of humanity. When virtue shines on the brow of a young man, it is the most enticing spectacle that the earth offers. (…) [he has] enough purity to keep chaste innocent souls and to help re-bloom faded lilies;” and finally, from Father Walsh of The Boy Savior Movement in New York City, writing on 30 May 1935: “It is examples like Gérard Raymond that we need today to give courage to our young people in the imitation of the purity and obedience of their model Jesus.”
Several themes cut across these selections. First, and most obviously, the image of the lily, coupled with colourful gardening references, is omnipresent. In these letters, the flower is also associated with such things as angels, heavenly perfumes and fire. In the Catholic iconography of saints, including that of Mary, the white lily is always used to indicate the purity of the body, and more specifically virginity. Second, purity and beauty are combined. A pure young man is called the most beautiful thing in the world. Youth and virtue are described as one of humanity’s loveliest flowers. Angelic references also underscore beauty. Third, this purity is conceived as exemplary and, even more importantly, as powerful. It can impart courage, and it can even make fading lilies bloom again. Gérard Raymond has so much purity that its excess can keep other, less holy, souls safe! He was so pure that Jesus himself decided to uproot him prematurely and transplant him to the heavenly garden. Purity acts here as a sort of talisman, safeguarding not only the chaste individual himself, but also all those who may invoke him. These are all ideas, motifs and images commonly found in Roman Catholic hagiographic texts. Saintly individuals are believed to exhibit special graces and powers. Their chasteness and other virtues make of them the elect, and they are considered especially strong intercessors and advocates in the economy of salvation. It was the undiminished hope and belief of the seminary priests that their pious and chaste student would eventually be seen as having joined this heavenly elite. Such an understanding of the power of Christian chastity served to underscore and reaffirm Catholic manliness. It was believed to make good Catholic men out of undisciplined Catholic boys. In a way, it was a mirror image of celibate clerical chastity. If the chaste priest was the Catholic man par excellence, then other Catholic men needed to be equally pure in their lives, even if they were not necessarily celibate.
Robert A. Orsi, historian of American Catholic culture, has argued that, prior to Vatican II, the bodies of Catholic children or young people were sites of “corporalization of the sacred,” means by which what was holy could be made really real, not only for the youngsters themselves, but more significantly for Catholic adults. He writes:
Children signal the vulnerability and contingency of a particular religious world and of religion itself, and in exchanges between adults and children about sacred matters the religious world is in play. […] Children’s bodies, rationalities, imaginations, and desires have all been privileged media for giving substance to religious meaning, for making the sacred present and material, not only for children but through them too, for adults in relation to them.
The ways in which the chaste body of Gérard Raymond was described and adulated by these Catholic adults, and the words and images that were used to enshrine it, speak far more significantly about their own notions of holiness or sanctity than they necessarily do about those of the young seminarian himself, though he had certainly internalized them. In this way, Gérard paradoxically embodied angelic manliness. His was a masculinity circumscribed by the chaste projections of celibate men and women, hence the apparently exceptional quality of his virtue. If a young man in the prime of his age could succeed in controlling his malleable body in such a heroic way, how much worthier and meaningful, therefore, might the sexual disciplines of Catholic adults, especially men, be?
Conclusion, or How to Die Like a Saint and Become One
Gérard Raymond’s last journal entry, dated 2 January 1932, reads in part: “Do with me, good Jesus, everything that you wish. Make me suffer, if that pleases you, [for] I am lazy in obtaining merit otherwise. Already, Jesus, I accept absolutely everything…I unite everything with your sufferings.” Une âme d’élite, in commenting on his death, describes the moment in the following words: “His white brow laid back on the pillows, with blood on his lips, he gave the impression of a young martyr of the first centuries of the Church, as an eyewitness stated. His calm and quiet death was the echo of his life.”
The sanctification of Gérard Raymond had already begun, and it happened in two ways: by the hand of the sick and dying seminarian himself, who took care, over several years, to describe in writing his exceptional spiritual journey; and by his clerical guardians, who framed his death in the language and imagery of the most authoritative of all claims to Christian sanctity, that of martyrdom. A direct filial line is drawn from twentieth century French Canada all the way back to the first centuries of the Christian era. This Roman Church of the New World can have its martyrs too. This young and beautiful (for that too is important) contemporary martyr embodies the classically romantic ideal of the earlier martyrs: proud, fearless, silent in suffering and, above all, willing to die like Jesus himself. The very words of the martyr proclaim it: “…I unite everything with your sufferings.” What greater proof need there be?
The saintly fate of Gérard Raymond has yet to be sealed in any official way, yet he continues to be a focus of devotion. No doubt he represents a certain type of French Canadian Catholicism once triumphant, but now passé. For a contemporary reader, his journal may seem a tad quaint, perhaps frightening and slightly suspect because of his persistent insistence on the daily rituals of self-abnegation. His values seem incredibly old-fashioned, if not downright strange. Yet he is not all that exotic or different from many an adolescent today struggling with their emerging sense of self. He was very much a child of his times. The Catholic Church, in its institutional and cultural strength, gave him the context; he quite naturally grafted his identity and his personality onto it. The question of his “official” sanctity may or may not one day be resolved, but his true importance lies elsewhere.
The making of young Catholic saints always serves a Church-driven agenda. In the case of Gérard Raymond, even though his time may have come and gone, we can see the ways in which the clerical authorities of the Québec seminary, as well as others in their networks, framed and constructed his life so that he came to represent the very best of what young Catholic men should be about. Theirs was a pedagogical strategy. They were forming Catholic faithful, but equally, if not more significantly, they were molding future men: men of privilege no doubt, but also men who stood alone in a fundamentally hostile world. Men who were humble, loving, strong, controlled, courageous, proud, pure and principled. Men like their very own angelic student, Gérard Raymond, the once and future saint.
By Donald L. Boisvert, Department of Religion
Concordia University, Montréal
PRAYER FOR THE BEATIFICATION OF GERARD RAYMOND
Lord Jesus who has given many graces to Your faithful servant Gerard Raymond, it is with confidence that we have recourse to his intercession. Make that in consideration of his merits, we obtain the favor (…) we ask You and we all submit to the will of your Father. Then we will have the joy to bear witness to his credit with You in Heaven and thus contribute to his glorification on earth. Amen.
Paul Nicole V.G.
Québec, 16 août 1982
Cause of Beatification of Gérard Raymond
Séminaire de Québec
1, rue des Remparts
Case Postale 460
Québec (Québec) G1R 5L7
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