FREEDOM IN SIMPLICITY

Since 1821 the Oblates had been present in Marseille with such a flourishing ministry that they were in the process of enlarging their community premises. Eugene wanted the novitiate to be transferred to a part of this house. His plans give us an idea of the simple lifestyle that he always wished for the Oblates.

I think you are likely to be busy finishing the house so that we can have the novitiate there if we definitely choose to transfer it to Marseilles; but I cannot overdo it in reminding you to keep to simplicity and strict necessity I have here under my regard fine examples. Should it be so necessary that the novices have mattresses on their beds? Alas! should we not refrain from having them ourselves? Rather than mattresses, I would complete our stock with a supply of good but coarse linen for bed sheets, towels, serviettes and dusters (we should go without table cloths as at Aix) a small set of kitchen utensils, books and the chapel.

Looking to the future, Eugene saw the necessity of having an investment of sufficient funds to look after the Oblates who were not brining any income to the community – and thus give them the necessary freedom for ministry.

After that, let us begin to restore what the Society has furnished for several years because it is urgent that we assure ourselves of having on our side some sort of annual fund for the needs of the members of the Society, if only to provide them with food and clothing, for I see the time is coming when Digne and Gap will no longer contribute anything and then what shall we do? Do not overlook that in all the plans that you might form.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 11 February 1826, EO VII n 223

 

“Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. If you have them, you have to take care of them! There is great freedom in simplicity of living. It is those who have enough but not too much who are the happiest.”    Peace Pilgrim

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NOVITIATE: THE LIGHTING OF A FIRE

Before the candidates to Oblate life made their commitment, they had to do an intense year of prayer and reflection, called the novitiate. The behavior of Nicolas Riccardi and some others had led Eugene to question how well the novitiate was being run. Writing to the Oblate responsible for the novices, Eugene reflected on the novitiate.

[Our novices] still do not have the spirit of our Society, they must be formed in obedience, self-abnegation, love of poverty and in quite a number of other virtues unknown in the seminaries where they have lived until now. The hope of the Society depends on the good use of time in the novitiate, and I will not back down from that. I will not hesitate to sacrifice everything for this prime need of the Society;

In the Aix house there were also some school-going young men who were probationers

so much the worse for these scholars on probation; I am sorry that their progress will be slowed down but let them go elsewhere for instruction if they want to advance more quickly. We will take them back when they have learned what they need to enter novitiate. I conclude by recommending that you refrain from doing what you say tires you out even if the scholars have to suffer; and you must not count for a long time either on Riccardi or on Reynier whom I will not allow to leave novitiate until they are really trained in the religious spirit.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 2 February 1826, EO VII n 222

Today our Rule of Life continues to stress the importance of the novitiate:

“The novitiate is the candidate’s time of initiation into Oblate religious life and leads to his public commitment in the Congregation… Under the guidance of the Novice Master, the novice comes to grasp the meaning of religious consecration. He can thus discern the Lord’s call and, in prayer, make himself ready to respond.”   CC&RR, Constitution 55

 

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”   William Butler Yeats

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PERMANENCE, PERSEVERANCE AND PERSISTENCE

Having written to try to help Nicolas Riccardi back to some clarity regarding his Oblate vocation, Eugene wrote to Tempier to tell him about it. He complains about people who have so many conflicting ideals and are unable to make clear decisions. Using the image of the multi-colored clothes of the people of one of the cities of Italy, he reflects on the lack of perseverance in religious vocations in general.

I have written a long letter to [Riccardi]; I am sending it to you because I want you to have it copied before giving it to him. I think it as well that one should know in future what I think of these harlequins, who have as much of the motley in their soul as these fine citizens of Bergamo have in their costumes.
Do not be surprised at so many defections. There were countless such in the time of the blessed Alphonse in his Congregation and after his death, it had gone so far that quite a number of candidates entered the Society to be ordained without a patrimony and said farewell to the company as soon as they were priests. They were obliged to take the precaution of having them sign a document whereby they were obliged, if they left the Society before ten years, to defray the expenses they had incurred. Amongst the Lazarists, one fine day, eight students, that is to say, amongst those who had made their vows and completed their courses of philosophy and theology, decided amongst themselves to go and become Dominicans. The event perhaps had less of an effect on them, because they were more numerous, but this misfortune nonetheless happened to them as to us. Who could count the secularizations and even the apostasies in the religious Orders? Poor human race, how few are the real men you have!

Letter to Henri Tempier, 18 February 1826, EO VII n 226

 

“Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things, distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.”   Thomas Carlyle

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CEASE TO OBSTRUCT GOD’S PLANS FOR YOU

The confused Riccardi had left the Oblate novitiate and then come to his senses. Eugene decided to give him another chance and to encourage the obvious good that he saw in this young man.

After yielding to a scarcely credible impulse and making up your own mind about it, then coming a little to your senses again and realizing your fault, overpowered somewhat as you are by the obvious truth, you make the admissions I have recalled to you above and add still another: “you foresee that in the world you will be out of your element” and, besides laying before me motives that you think have some weight, you beg me to decide what you should do while promising to submit yourself entirely to anything I will judge helpful to your salvation, remarking that only my reply, whatever it may be, can get you out of the predicament in which you find yourself….
But as I cannot entirely divest myself of the feelings with which God inspired me in your regard when I took over your direction, and as it is painful for me to rule for an exclusion which would have such grim results for you, I will decide nothing from here and will refrain from making up my mind until I am on the spot. In the meantime, live under the obedience of M. Tempier and follow exactly whatever he prescribes for you.

Eugene wrote this letter on 17 February from Rome, the very day of the approbation of the Oblate Congregation by the Pope – a day of joy and of acknowledgement of the validity of the Oblate ideal. For the founder, a time of joy and also of disappointment.

For my part, I will pray God for you that, through the intercession of all the saints of whom I am reminded here, those especially who grasped better than you the words of life contained in the evangelical counsels, followed them with great generosity and inculcated them in countless others, you may return to your better self, cease to obstruct God’s plans for you and give proofs of your repentance and perseverance in doing what is right.
May I be able on my return to ensure your true happiness without compromising the honour and tranquillity of the Society to which God has just given, this very evening, the greatest proof of protection that we can hope for on earth. I did not need your letter  to dampen my rightful joy with a bitter sorrow that you certainly ought to have spared me. Adieu.

Letter to Nicolas Riccardi, 17 February 1826, EO VII n 225

 

“Resist your fear; fear will never lead to you a positive end. Go for your faith and what you believe.”   T. D. Jakes

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HAD YOU OFFERED YOURSELF TO GOD WITH MORE GENEROSITY AND LESS HESITATION

Since his conversion, Eugene had always lived the ideal of doing everything for God. All who joined him were expected to follow the same ideal – hence the name “Oblate” and the act of oblation, giving all for God. When Riccardi had lost sight of this ideal, he had become self-centered and unfocussed.

It is not my fault if your heart shut out the good emotions that grace no doubt would have aroused therein had you offered yourself to God with more generosity and less hesitation, had you not glanced back so much as you calculated the advantages that the world could offer you and listened to the voice of flesh and blood. Men of this stamp have never done any good in the Church, I do not see any raised to the honors of the altar and I doubt that there are any in heaven.

Letter to Nicolas Riccardi, 17 February 1826, EO VII n 225

 

“Too much self-centered attitude, you see, brings, you see, isolation. Result: loneliness, fear, anger. The extreme self-centered attitude is the source of suffering.”      Dalai Lama

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COMMUNITY: GIVE BACK AS MUCH AS YOU CAN IN RETURN

Continuing our reflection on Eugene’s attempts to bring the young Nicolas Riccardi to his senses, we see how he tried to inspire him to see the importance of a mutally-supportive community in his life.

You rap out one after the other four lines which form a sequence in your letter: “I understand the loss that I suffer by leaving the community, I would be in despair if, and I know this only too well, I was obliged to leave it forever, I feel that I am made to live in community”. Say rather that you have a need, an extreme need, to live in community. That is why you are right in what you understand, but you do not understand enough the sorrow you cause by leaving the community. But if it is beyond doubt that you need to live in community,

Community is not about fulfilling personal needs, it is a two-way street of give and take, of mutual support:

and if it is true you would have reason to despair were you obliged to leave it forever, it is not less true that the community needs from those who form it that they do not give her the distasteful spectacle of an acute disorder, of an insulting disregard, of an unedifying irregularity, or a scandalous desertion, all of which trouble her tranquility, her peace, her happiness, and even compromise her existence.
Nothing can excuse your conduct, it is execrable in every way. You have let the Society down; your defection has not only been a scandal, you have hurt her substantially by the bad impression your fault must have made on the feeble souls who are not ready for such blows; and in quite another manner, you have let God down by trifling with what is sacred amongst men since in scorn of your engagements you have taken counsel only with your exalted imagination. You have obeyed only your own impulse or rather let us say, the demon who alone could inspire you with a resolve so contrary to your true interests as well as your sacred duties towards God.

Letter to Nicolas Riccardi, 17 February 1826, EO VII n 225

 

“Surround yourself with people who provide you with support and love and remember to give back as much as you can in return.”      Karen Kain

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ENCOURAGE EVERYONE IN THEIR STRUGGLE TO LIVE UP TO THEIR IDEALS

In the case of the doubts around the suitability of Riccardi for Oblate life, Eugene had given him the benefit of the doubt. But, as superior of the Oblates, Eugene had taken a risk – convinced that the benefits of community would have made up for the young man’s failings.

Perhaps, if I had acted in my twofold capacity, I would have kept in mind the risk which the Society incurred through the lacks in your character but, being sure of the good that would result for you from entering the Society in which and with the help of which you would put to good advantage the talents that the good God had given you, while otherwise they would be almost useless, and also convinced you would find therein a powerful remedy against your perplexities and doubts, I do not say your scruples in the wake of the stubborn, multiple and voluntary faults that you had the boldness to commit, I did not hesitate for I believed you had a conscience, feelings, a heart.

To convince him, Eugene repeats the ideals which the community strives to be:

I did not doubt you would be enamoured right from the start with all the delight to be found in a family devoted to God and to the Church, making great strides in the ways of perfection, of which some of the members were preparing themselves by the practice of the most excellent virtues to become worthy ministers of the mercy of God to the people, while the others, by assiduous work and efforts of zeal that would be admirable in the greatest saints, reproduce the marvels operated by the preaching of the first disciples of the Gospel.

Letter to Nicolas Riccardi, 17 February 1826, EO VII n 225

 

“Our duty is to encourage everyone in his struggle to live up to his own highest idea, and strive at the same time to make the ideal as near as possible to the Truth.”     Swami Vivekananda

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COMMUNITY SUPPORT IN THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS

The 23 year-old Nicolas Riccardi, a deacon, had entered the Oblate novitiate seven months before, and was already showing signs of being problematic. While Eugene was in Rome, Riccardi had walked out of the community. Eugene saw good in him, and scolded him to bring him back to his senses. Because of his personal shortcomings he needed the support of the Oblate community to help him to minister effectively:

Is it sarcastically, my dear Riccardi, that you still call me father and mock me when you say you will submit yourself entirely to what I judge best for your salvation? Had you forgotten what I had judged best for your salvation when you broke away from us and did you forget the motives which had resolved me to receive you in the Society? You said it when you repeated these words: “I feel that I am very little suited to the ministry”, that is to say when you would be on your own and deprived of the help that would have been given you by the Society which had received you with as much charity as you have shown scorn for it.
However, I ought to tell you that when, upon directing you for some time and coming to know your character well, I had to decide on your vocation according to the desires that you expressed to me, I put aside my position as superior and decided in your interests, considering myself in this circumstance as responsible for seeking and assuring your happiness to the extent that I could.

Letter to Nicolas Riccardi, 17 February 1826, EO VII n 225

 

“’Tis not enough to help the feeble up, but to support them after.”   William Shakespeare

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NOTHING HAPPENS EXCEPT WHAT GOD PERMITS

While Eugene rejoiced in the example and achievements of the majority of his Oblate brothers, there were also those who were not constant and did not enter fully into the spirit of their vocation. While Eugene had been literally moving heaven and earth in Rome to achieve the approbation of the Oblates and ensure the future of the congregation, he received news that the Oblate novice Nicolas Riccardi had abandoned the community at Aix.

Your letter of the 6th has arrived… but certainly, if what I am giving you is good news, what you give me in return is detestable. What good is it if heaven and earth compete with each other to help us here when hell takes away what we have at home? So it goes! This is just like the beginnings of the Redemptorists but they would recuperate on the one hand what they lost with the other. No matter, nothing happens except what God permits, let us not lose courage …

Letter to Henri Tempier, 16 February 1826, EO VII n 224

Aware that a vocation to religious life and priesthood came from God, he looks to God to give him courage in the face of lack of perseverance on the part of some.

 

“Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus.”   Mother Teresa

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BUILDING RELATIONS TO CREATE A SOURCE OF GROWTH

Beginning in 1812, I had introduced to this seminary… the zealous association which I had known in the seminary in Paris.

Diary of 20 August 1838, E.O. XIX

 Pielorz’s research into Eugene’s activities in the Association at the seminary concludes:

These details, perhaps more than all the others, reveal to us the ardent spirit of the zealous seminarian. If, among the 90 seminarians, he was deemed worthy of being chosen as a member of an elite group and of soon becoming its secretary, if he succeeded in giving new life to this ailing organization, it was due to the fact that his practices of mortification, detachment, self-denial and especially his love for Christ, the Savior, had had their effect. From the former Count [ed. A title that the adolescent Eugene had invented for himself when he was mixing with titled people in Palermo.], they produced a model seminarian and a zealous director.

PIELORZ, The Spiritual Life, p. 308-309

The Association was a concrete response to a need of the Church, and it gave Eugene a formation in a dynamic and a method that successfully formed an elite corps to be an instrument of change of a larger group. What he learnt here was fundamentally important for his life as it gave him the basis of the method he would use again in Aix for his work in the seminary, among the youth and in the founding of the Oblates.

Were it a question of going out to preach more or less well the word of God, mingled with much alloy of self, of going far and wide for the purpose, if you wish, of winning souls for God without taking much trouble to be men of interior life, truly apostolic men, I think it would not be difficult to replace you.
But can you believe I want merchandise of that sort?
We must be truly saints ourselves. In saying that, we include all that can possibly be said.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 13 December 1815 E.O. VI n 7

 

“By building relations we create a source of love and personal pride and belonging that makes living in a chaotic world easier.”   Susan Lieberman

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