A NECESSARY SYSTEM OF PURIFICATION

Evangelization of the people necessitated good priests to accompany them in their conversion and spiritual growth. Eugene was committed to this ideal both as an Oblate and as Vicar General of Bishop Fortuné in Marseille.

We are pursuing our system of purification, two or three more expulsions at the most and all our whole countryside will be in good hands; also the Jubilee has done wonders everywhere; the accounts which our parish priests are giving us are splendid everybody is going to confession …

Letter, 24 March 1827, in REY (I, 426)

Fr Woestman gives the background to this clergy reform: “For a real understanding of de Mazenod’s intention, the religious situation of France at that moment must be kept in mind. All religious communities of men and women in the France had been suppressed during the Revolution (1789-1799), their houses and churches were destroyed or used for secular purposes, the secular clergy was persecuted – murdered, imprisoned, driven into exile and hiding – and all seminaries were closed for many years. The effects of this continued to be felt long after the end of overt persecution. Thus the number of active priests between 1809 and 1815 dropped from 31,870 to 25,874. W. Woestman, “Priests” in Dictionary of Oblate Values (http://www.omiworld.org/dictionary.asp?v=9&vol=1&let=P&ID=1072)

 

 

“To reform a world, to reform a nation, no wise man will undertake; and all but foolish men know, that the only solid, though a far slower reformation, is what each begins and perfects on himself.”   Thomas Carlyle

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ALLOW SICKNESS TO BE A SOURCE OF HOLINESS

One of Eugene’s constant concerns for his men was their health. They were so zealous as missionaries that they often sacrificed good sense when it came to looking after their physical wellbeing. He reminds the community superiors of their responsibility in this regard.

If this is so, how have you dared to let him undertake a mission? You could not do so in conscience… If Father Albini was unwell, why not wait for the help that I would have sent? In important matters, one must not follow one’s own inclination.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Honorat. 23 August 1827, EO VII n 275

Look after yourself and take great care of everyone for illnesses make for loss of regularity.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 15 July 1827

“Regularity” does not refer to being on time, but to living one’s life according to the spirit of the Oblate Rule (“regula”). Writing to Marius Suzanne, Eugene refers to his own life as an example of having to ber careful. The accident referred to was a fall that had wounded his legs.

I was wrong, my dear Suzanne, I admit, not to have gone into some detail about the accident which happened to my legs.  Fr. Guigues will explain it to you, I have almost forgotten it. Since then other events have preoccupied my mind; the fear of seeing our brother Reynier perish from an inflammation, anxieties and exasperation, I do not know if I ought not to add fatigue, all that together have made me forgetful of my own suffering, of which besides I am always less conscious than that of others.

Letter to Marius Suzanne, 18 July 1827, EO VII n 273

Suffering and illness, however must be used as a positive force to lead each one to holiness – to bring them closer to the God who suffered for each one.

On this subject, I will not hide from you that I have read with joy the journal you have sent me. By being faithful to it, you will soon repair the almost inevitable gaps that a long convalescence occasions to the detriment of our souls. One must be keenly on one’s guard to sanctify oneself in these infirmities. One would think otherwise, but experience proves it.

Letter to Marius Suzanne, 18 July 1827, EO VII n 273

 

“Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love.”     Saint Teresa of Avila

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FOR THE SAKE OF PEACE

The Archbishop of Aix was also not cooperating in letting his men join the Oblates. Eugene pleads his case.

Would you be good enough, Your Grace, to console this afflicted soul who is earnestly manifesting the desire to join our Society. I think I can tell you that by undergoing a thorough examination in a good novitiate, this man who is very weak, but not bad, will probably become capable of doing good work in your diocese or, if he were too discredited there, we would employ him elsewhere. We will do all we can to correct the shortcomings attributed to him and make him fit for good work that bears no trace of his imperfections.

Letter to Archbishop de Bausset of Aix, 13 August 1827, EO XIII n.62

In a footnote to this letter, Yvon Beaudoin explains that the person referred to ”is a priest. Probably it is Jacques Symphorien Reynier, a priest from the diocese of Aix who started novitiate on August 11, under Father Guibert’s direction. He made his oblation on November 1, 1828, but was later expelled from the Congregation.”

Sharing his frustration with Fr. Honorat, Eugene also explained how he had worked to prevent the priests involved from making rash judgments and retaliating foolishly against the Archbishop of Aix. His reticence to release his priests was quite understandable – but it was the example and ministry of the Oblates that attracted them and made them wish to join.

…Neither the authority of the Prelate, nor the wise arguments of the superior have convinced our priests whom I have been obliged to catechize in order to prevent them from acting impetuously. That makes four priests refused to us in a diocese that we have drenched with our sweat for eleven years and where they overwhelm us with work. We have had on our side right and reason, the counsels and apostolic constitutions but to no avail. We have to undergo the law of the strongest for the sake of peace and other considerations besides.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Honorat. 23 August 1827, EO VII n 275

 

“Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.”   Joyce Meyer

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THE WISH THAT THE LORD MAY INSPIRE IN BOTH OF YOU WHATEVER WILL CONTRIBUTE MOST TO HIS GLORY

Convinced that the priest in question had a genuine vocation to Oblate missionary life, Eugene advises him to be patient and not be put off by opposition. God’s will would triumph in the long run.

In your particular case, I tell you that it is impossible not to recognize your vocation to the religious state; that the constant attraction you have for the missions indicates the choice that you ought to make, that I would consequently be very disposed to admit you to our novitiate, that the Bishop of Digne who still employs our Society in his diocese should not refuse you permission to join us; we are forced, however, in spite of all the rights you would have to follow your vocation and all our privileges to make it easier for you to do so, to wait until it pleases His Lordship to grant you permission to carry out your plans.

Unity with the chief Pastor was essential for Eugene, who prays that all the parties concerned would find their agreement and peace in serving the glory of God and the most abandoned souls. Interestingly, the bishop in question, Miollis is identified as the bishop immortalized in literature in “Les Miserables.” He and Eugene knew each other from Aix, and it was he who had invited his Provencal compatriot to take over the shrine of Notre Dame du Laus.

Your Prelate is undeniably a holy bishop; he should thus know the Rules of the Church. He should not then think he can oppose your vocation, but he is allowed to test you; he can then make it difficult, turn a deaf ear, with the idea that your position is only wishful thinking, only the result of a passing fancy. Be insistent with him, point out the main reasons for your vocation to a more perfect state; entreat, beg, try again, do not be deterred by evasive answers. He will not resist persevering requests which will prove to him the reality of your vocation.
I have now only to express the wish that the Lord may inspire in both of you whatever will contribute most to his glory and the accomplishment of his merciful plans for the most abandoned souls to whose service our Society is especially devoted.

Letter to a priest of the diocese of Digne, 22 July 1827, EO XIII n 61

 

“One of the main tasks of theology is to find words that do not divide but unite, that do not create conflict but unity, that do not hurt but heal.”   Henri Nouwen

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ANXIOUS TO MAINTAIN THE GOODWILL OF OUR BISHOPS FOR THE GREATER GOOD OF THEIR FLOCKS

The Roman approbation of the Oblates meant that we were free to accept any candidates regardless of the opposition of the bishops. Yet, Eugene found it important to act in unity with the local bishop and to respect his wishes. Writing to a priest from the diocese of Digne who wanted to join the Oblates, he made this sensitivity clear.

Since our Society has been approved by the Church, it enjoys the same privileges as the Company of Jesus, but it uses them sparingly for the same reasons. Anxious to maintain the complete goodwill of our Bishops for the greater good of their flocks, we accept only those men whom they are willing to give up.
It is not up to me to decide whether they can oppose the vocation of those whom the Lord deigns to call to the religious state: the Popes have given their decisions about that. As for ourselves, we submit with exasperation to any refusal, even the most unforeseen: since they employ us continually for the salvation and sanctification of souls in their dioceses, it would seem to be right that they furnish us with the means of doing good work.

Letter to a priest of the diocese of Digne, 22 July 1827.,EO XIII n 61

Instead of standing on his rights and making a scene, Eugene acted on the principle of unity with the chief pastor of the diocese. Our aim was, and continues to be, that of service to the local church by assisting her ministers in our outreach to those whom the local church structures do not manage to reach. What counts in the long run is not our feelings and pride but the good of those whom we serve.

 

“In essentials, unity; in differences, liberty; in all things, charity.”   Philipp Melanchthon

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A BISHOP’S REQUEST THAT DOES NOT CORRESPOND WITH OUR CHARISM

Marius Suzanne, convalescing from his serious illness, had been approached by the Bishop of Aix to become his secretary. Eugene felt strongly that this was not in keeping with the spirit of the Oblates, and so he wrote to Fr Courtès, the superior of Aix, where Fr Suzanne was recuperating

… A palace and being cared for by an illustrious Bishop are too much for a poor religious who will need after his convalescence to promptly resume the observance of regular life, if he does not wish to run the risk of losing his spiritual life. One would be greatly to be pitied if one could become cured only this way.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 15 July 1827, EO VII n 272

To Marius Suzanne himself, Eugene pointed out his opposition, and also how the Bishop did not appreciate the full worth of the vocation of the missionaries in his diocese.

They propose that I send you to St. Antonin in the hope that in this honorable post, where you will only have to take the morning and evening prayers, say Mass and keep company with the Bishop, you will be able to regain all your strength …. So much in earnest is this proposal that seemingly it will bring on disagreement when they take it up again with me …. These offers are not propter Jesum tantum. You will think you are dreaming when you read this but nevertheless it is so. Is it possible that they know so little about the worth of our profession. I am surprised more than ever. Let us not forget this at least ourselves and let the holiness of our life prevail to the extent of sparing us the humiliation of certain favors.

Letter to Marius Suzanne, 18 July 1827, EO VII n 273

Today, I see this as an invitation to be discerning about the requests we receive for ministry: how do some of the demands on our time and energy fit into an Oblate focus?

 

“My choices, including those related to the day-to-day aspects of life, like the use of a modest car, are related to a spiritual discernment that responds to a need that arises from looking at things, at people and from reading the signs of the times. Discernment in the Lord guides me in my way of governing.”    Pope Francis

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BISHOPS AND THE OBLATE CHARISM: CONFLICT OR COMMUNION?

Eugene founded the Oblates to serve in the Church and to be of service to the mission of the Church, with the charismatic vision particular to us. Our vocation becomes tangible around the person of the bishop, in communion with whom we serve the local church. Writing to the Bishop of Nimes, where the Oblates had a community, Eugene assured him of this desire for missionary communion.

Your Lordship knows that our Society willingly works under your orders. When it is more numerous it will do even more, at least in as much as you will command it, for the ambition of each of us is, as long as we are in your diocese, to remain devoted to you and give your paternal heart every consolation it has a right to expect from priests who know your concern and the extent of their duty.

Letter to Bishop P.B. de Chaffoy of Nimes, EO XIII n. 60

This, however, was not a blind servitude – but a service rendered within the parameters of our particular charismatic focus. Whenever Eugene came across bishops who were asking the Oblates to do services which did not fit in with our specific vocation, he would remove the Oblates from that diocese or work.

Coincidentally, as I reflect on this letter, two of our Oblates have been named bishops within a few days of each other. Instinctively my reaction at each announcement was one of dismay because the Oblate Congregation was “losing” a good and talented man at the service of our own missionary needs. Yet that is not the case because we have been founded to be at the service of the most abandoned within the needs of the Church, and our missionary spirit continues to be at its service. Eugene himself gave the example when he was appointed bishop to respond to urgent and essential needs in the life of the Church in Marseille. With his Oblate heart and vision he became an agent of transformation – with a special solicitude for the most abandoned in his diocese.

 

“Be attentive that the candidates to be bishops are pastors who are close to the people, fathers and brothers; that they are gentle, patient, and merciful.”   Pope Francis

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PROPERTY IS THE SUREST GUARANTEE OF STABILITY

While ensuring the zeal of the Oblate missionaries towards the most abandoned, Eugene also had to deal with the local bishops to safeguard the status and situation of the Oblates in the dioceses where they ministered. Yvon Beaudoin explains the situation in Nimes where there was a conflict of interests: “Bishop Chaffoy wanted the Oblate house, to which the people of Nimes had contributed through collections, to belong to the diocese. In 1825 the Oblates took up residence in a house near the seminary. In 1826, they acquired a new house which included a dwelling and some out-buildings” (Footnote to EO XIII n. 60)

I find it repugnant to consent to arrangements that would compromise the existence of our little Society in your diocese where you have nevertheless considered its establishment to be worthwhile, as a consequence of your good will toward it and in the hope that it will benefit your flock. Property is the surest guarantee of stability; tenants are exposed to too many risks; they never acclimatize for they always see themselves as strangers; they are tempted to change place at the least unpleasantness, the least discontent. Such a precarious state is essentially detrimental to the good: it is only half-heartedly undertaken when one doesn’t see any future ahead. It seems that everyone agrees on that, for no society consents to establish a community unless it is assured that at least the living quarters where they are to reside will be their property.

Letter to Bishop P.B. de Chaffoy of Nimes, EO XIII n. 60

We will come across examples of this situation regularly during the lifetime of Eugene. This type of conflict has existed throughout our 200 years of existence – and continues even today in some parts of the world.

 

“Property is intended to serve life, and no matter how much we surround it with rights and respect, it has no personal being. It is part of the earth man walks on. It is not man.”   Martin Luther King, Jr.

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THOSE WHO EXTEND A WARM AND TENDER HAND

We catch a passing glimpse into the affectivity of the busy Eugene in the midst of his many preoccupations: his need to express his attachment and joy at being able to share more deeply with some of his Oblate sons. This lifelong aspect of Eugene’s character was mirrored in his devotion to Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, with whom Jesus spent time in the Gospel.

I will explain myself subsequently viva voce, when I will have the pleasure of seeing you at Aix. You know with what abandon I love to converse with those of my children who, like yourself, deserve all my confidence and of whose attachment, either for me or for the Society, I am aware ….
I embrace you with all my heart and enjoin you to get well quickly. Adieu.

Letter to Marius Suzanne, 9 May 1827. EO VII n 270

 

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”    Henri Nouwen

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WHAT HAS ALWAYS EXHAUSTED US MOST ON MISSIONS IS LACK OF SLEEP

While delighting in the conquests of the team of Oblates succeeding with he jubilee mission at Roquevaire, Eugene kept his feet on the ground and worried about the missionaries burning themselves out by sacrificing sleep in favor of work. He had learnt this personally through his earlier exaggerations, and so became sensitive to wanting the Oblates to avoid the same traps.

It seems to me, my dear Fr. Guibert, that you have been received with open arms by our Fathers at Roquevaire. Their need was extreme. Also, so that you may not be overburdened, I am sending you a curate of Notre Dame du Mont who will help you with confessions. I see that you need more than elsewhere to take care of yourself. Work sweeps you off your feet. It is wholly necessary therefore that you take all possible precautions to devote to sleep the time that our poor bodies need… 
You are obliged to begin the morning exercise at a very early hour; that is good, since it is necessary. But then let it be the rule that two missionaries take turns to rest until six o’clock. Bro. Hermitte can go to bed a little sooner; someone other than he can sound the bell at ten o’clock; do not keep him up for that. By going to bed early, he will rise always for the morning service, so as to be able to do the morning prayer and the prayers of the Mass; two other missionaries will get up, one to do the instruction, the other to say the holy Mass; the two others will rest. By this means, you will not be tired at all; put confidence in my experience; what has always exhausted us most on missions is lack of sleep; also, I do not hesitate to prescribe to you the aforementioned procedure which you will be permitted to put aside on the eve of the communions.

Letter to Hippolyte Guibert, 20 March 1827, EO VII n 267

 

“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”    Thomas Dekker

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