Napoleon and the Eucharist

Sep 03, 2015 / Written by: P. Sanders

True greatness, rather than razzle and dazzle, strives to conquer hearts.

Two thousand years ago, our God was born in a stable and laid in a manger. And for two thousand years, He hides Himself under the appearance of bread and wine so He can be near us. This is the awesome mystery of the Eucharist before which kings and multitudes have gladly bowed.

If you enter Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris today, and make your way to the altar, awestruck by the building’s gothic grandeur, you come upon a little red light flickering in the half gloom. The crimson lamp denotes Our Lord’s Eucharistic Presence –The Lord is in.

Napoleon exiled on the Island of St. Helena

And you can kneel or sit there and talk to Him, heart to heart.

A couple of centuries ago, on this same altar, a man of small stature but mighty ambition snatched a golden crown from a Pope’s hands and crowned himself emperor of the French. His name was Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon went on to win many wars, enjoyed roaring triumphs, wore gold and ermine, and made Europe tremble.

Yet when asked which had been the happiest day of his life, he answered:

"The day of my First Holy Communion".

Though he turned away from the Faith of his childhood, he never forgot how it felt to receive God Himself, into his then innocent heart.

Many years later, near the end of his life, Napoleon was exiled to an island with all earthly glory stripped away.

Let us hope that the fond remembrance of his First Holy Communion served him well at his last hour.

Today in Notre Dame Cathedral, whose walls witnessed the apex of Napoleon’s earthly splendor, the little red flame flickers still.