OUR BICENTENARY: REJOICE WITH ME AND CONGRATULATE YOURSELVES, FOR IT HAS PLEASED THE LORD TO GRANT US GREAT FAVORS

The full impact and importance of the foundation we are celebrating can only be appreciated if we look at the bigger picture. Eugene was convinced that the 6 men coming together in the foundation room were doing so in response to a call from God. But, how sure of this was he?

Exactly 10 years later, Eugene was in Rome seeking the Church’s recognition that the foundation event of 25 January was indeed the will of God. With the papal approbation, the Oblate charism was recognized as having its inspiration in the Holy Spirit:

Rejoice with me and congratulate yourselves, my beloved, for it has pleased the Lord to grant us great favors;
Our Holy Father the Pope, Leo XII, gloriously reigning from the chair of St. Peter, has sanctioned with his apostolic approbation, on March 21 of this current year, our Institute, our Constitutions and our Rules.
See then our little flock, to whom the Father of the family has kindly wished to open wide the field of the holy Church, given a place in the hierarchic order, associated with the venerable Congregations which have spread throughout the Church so many great benefits and enlightened the entire world with so bright a light;
see her, right from her birth, enriched with the same privileges of those illustrious Societies, in the footsteps of which, with all her strength and all her means, she will certainly strive to walk steadily forward.

Letter to all the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, 1826, EO VII n.232

Papal approbation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, ten years after our foundation

Fr. Fernand Jetté OMI, successor of St. Eugene from 1974 -1986, shows the necessity for a “divine guarantee” regarding our foundation:

It is essential for a religious family to be recognized by the Church, for it is the Church who “constitutes” us, as the Founder put it; it is the Church who gives us our “mission”, who sends us as an apostolic corps to evangelize the world…

For a religious family the issues at stake are substantial; it invites men to leave everything, to give up establishing themselves in this world in order to commit themselves in a radical way and within a group to the following of Christ. In such a project, each one stakes his own life. Who will guarantee the Gospel authenticity of the way that is proposed?

…Before one can offer people a particular way of evangelical life, it is necessary that there be signs from God, discernment and the Church’s official confirmation…. It is the Church therefore that “constitutes” us what we are. She vouches to the faithful for the Gospel authenticity of the life-project we offer them.

F. Jetté, THE OFFICIAL APPROBATION OF OUR NEW CONSTITUTIONS, Letter – Rome 27/06/1982  http://www.omiworld.org/superior-general-writings.asp?v=W&sID=4

Edm mission

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TODAY: TWO HUNDRED YEARS OF PROCLAIMING THE GREATNESS OF THE SAVIOR

house

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior”

Edm mission

The Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is God’s name.
God’s mercy is from age to age:

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    Please note: there will be a pause in these reflections until February 8.

In the meantime, I draw your attention to Fr. Fabio Ciardi’s reflections on our international website: http://www.omiworld.org/en/content/news/3506/a-year-with-st-eugene-and-his-oblates/

See also: http://www.omilacombe.ca/2016/02/04/200-years-through-the-eyes-of-our-crucified-saviour/

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OUR BICENTENARY: 25 JANUARY 1816 – RECALLING OUR FOUNDING STORY

The all-important first day of community life for the Missionaries was obviously a story often repeated in all its details. In his Memoires, Father Tempier, described it as: “This memorable day that I will never forget for as long as I live.”

Here Eugene is writing to the novices and scholastics who were in Billens, Switzerland, to escape the dangers of the anti-religious persecution by the government of Louis Philippe. He narrates the story of the beginning of their religious family, and draws a conclusion linked with the vow of poverty and the call to simplicity.

 Tomorrow I celebrate the anniversary of the day, sixteen years ago, I left my mother’s house to go and set up house at the Mission. Father Tempier had taken possession of it some days before. Our lodging had none of the splendour of the mansion at Billens, and whatever deprivations you may be subject to, ours were greater still. My camp-bed was placed in the small passageway which leads to the library: it was then a large room used as a bedroom for Father Tempier and for one other whose name we no longer mention amongst us. It was also our community room. One lamp was all our lighting and, when it was time for bed, it was placed in the doorway to give light to all three of us.

The foundation room today

 The table that adorned our refectory was one plank laid alongside another, on top of two old barrels. We have never enjoyed the blessing of such poverty since the time we took the vow. Without question, it was a foreshadowing of the state of perfection that we now live so imperfectly. I highlight this wholly voluntary deprivation deliberately (it would have been easy to put a stop to it and to have everything that was needed brought from my mother’s house) so as to draw the lesson that God in his goodness was directing us even then, and really without us having yet given it a thought, towards the evangelical counsels which we were to profess later on. It is through experiencing them that we learnt their value.
 I assure you we lost none of our merriment; on the contrary, as this new way of life was in quite striking contrast with that we had just left, we often found ourselves having a hearty laugh over it. I owed this tribute to the memory of our first day of common life. How happy I would be to live it now with you!

 Letter to Jean-Baptiste Mille and the novices and scholastics,
24 January 1831, O.W. VIII n.383

FR. Louis Lougen, successor of St Eugene, at prayer in the foundation room with his council

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OUR BICENTENARY: 25 JANUARY 1816 – THE FIRST DAY OF COMMUNITY LIFE

25 January 1816 marked the first day of community life for the Missionaries, with the arrival of the first three members. Eugene had bought some of the Carmelite Convent, with an arrangement that the seller, Madame Gontier, could continue using the greater part of the building for her boarding school for girls. In his Memoires, Eugene tells us that she had

 … left us narrowly confined to the rooms she had conceded to us. To reach the top-floor apartment, which now serves as a library, we had to use the small staircase leading from the outside of the house; we had great difficulty squeezing into these quarters. Thus, two of our group slept in the room that has now become the library, while I myself slept in the narrow passageway leading to it.

AIX FOUNDATION

As we had very little furniture in those first days, we set a lamp on the threshold of the connecting door and it served the three of us at bedtime.
The refectory, supposedly temporary, remained poorly furnished for a long time. Our improvised table was merely a plank placed over two barrels which served as legs. The fireplace, where we did our cooking, smoked so badly that it blotted the daylight out of the fox-hole where we ate with great relish the meager portions set before us. This suited the dispositions God had put into our hearts far more than the leisurely meals my mother would have been glad to serve us at her home. We had lost none of our gaiety; on the contrary, since this way of life was such a striking contrast to the one we had just given up, it often provided us with many a hearty laugh.

 Memoires, cited by Rambert, La vie de Monseigneur Charles-Joseph-Eugène de Mazenod, Tome I, p. 177

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OUR BICENTENARY: THE HUMAN FACE OF OUR “FOUNDING FATHERS”

Not all approached by Eugene to join him on 25 January 2016 had the same sentiments as Henri Tempier. In this letter to his friend, Forbin Janson, Eugene gives vent to his feelings in a frank, and rather humorous, description of the reactions of some of his future companions.

Despite all this, they did get together and begin, and we are here today because in spite of their human frailties, they did manage to put the founding dream into reality. God certainly does work miracles despite the imperfect vessels we are!

The house was bought a long time ago; the church leased and partly repaired. All is ready on the material side but my men dither, the few that they are.
He on whom I was counting the most is letting himself be deterred by the cackling of the pious hens of his parish. He is convinced there is much good he can do his backyard. He hesitates to leave and I am dismayed by his indecision.
Another who excels constantly in proclaiming the Word of God to the people is only partially attached to our mission, being persuaded that he does enough good by himself on his travels to and fro.
A third, who is too incensed and vexed with the slowness of the others, threatens to take off by himself if they do not promptly make up their minds.
A fourth, who is an angel, and who seems destined to be the joy of a community, cannot obtain permission to leave his vicariate, although he protests that he cannot bear to stay and wants to work only in the mission field, etc.
I myself, overwhelmed with worries and cares, wage war listlessly, supported in the midst of this bother only by the supernatural outlook which inspires me, but which does not prevent me feeling the whole weight of my situation and all the more woefully in that I am helped neither by my taste or inclination which indeed are quite contrary to the kind of life which I am leading. All this God sends my way for my embarking on such a difficult venture.
How can I put up with a priest who pledges himself with words of absolute devotion and then comes to retract them for the reason that his mother, who has lived separately from him for ten years, cannot live without him – he would regard it as homicide were he not to give her the consolation of eating with her – and more twaddle of this sort?
The one who should have rendered us the greatest service went back on his word; he remains in his parish wherein he stirred up such a commotion with his ridiculous farewells and got the people so worked up that they opposed his departure.

Letter to Forbin Janson, 19 December 1815, O.W. VI n. 8

Tempier - house

The Carmelite convent                                Henri Tempier 

Eventually, the first five responded! Our “founding fathers” are:

Eugene de Mazenod who was 33 years old, and was the one whose vision sparked the new missionary adventure.

The first three of his companions had been seminarians in Aix at the time when Eugene was a part-time spiritual director and confessor there from 1812 onwards:

Auguste Icard was 25-years old, ordained two years before for the Diocese of Aix, and had been assistant priest in the parish of Lambesc, near Aix.

Henri Tempier was 27, and had been a priest for two years, working as assistant priest in Arles.

Sébastien Deblieu was 27, and had had three years of priestly ministry, working as assistant in the parish of St. Jean outside the Walls in Aix, and then for a year as parish priest of Peynier. He came to live in the Carmelite convent a few days after the others.

Emmanuel Maunier was 46, and was a widower who was ordained a priest for 18 years and worked in Marseille. Although he was a founding member and signed the 25 January document, he was only able to move into the community in March.

Pierre Mie was 47, and had been a priest for 18 years, working in various parish situations and also preaching retreats and missions. It appears that he was a part of the Missionaries in their life and activities from the beginning but only definitively went to live in Aix much later.

The older priests, Maunier and Mie, had both experienced being persecuted as priests during the Revolution and, at danger to themselves, had ministered clandestinely to people. Their experiences would have made them very open to Eugene’s understanding of the damage caused to the Church by the Revolution – especially as expressed in the Preface.

house

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OUR BICENTENARY: THE WILL AND THE COURAGE TO WALK IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE APOSTLES

If, as I hope, you wish to be one of us, you will not find yourself in unfamiliar territory; you will have four companions.
If presently we are not more numerous, it means we wish to choose men who have the will and the courage to walk in the footsteps of the apostles. It is important to lay solid foundations.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 9 October 1815 O.W. VI n 4

In bringing the missionary group into existence, Eugene used the model of Jesus and the apostles.

The missionary vocation was to be apostolic. From the first Rule of Life that he wrote, he expressed it this way:

What did Our Lord Jesus Christ do?
He chose a certain number of apostles and disciples whom He formed in piety and filled with His spirit;
and after having trained them in his school and the practice of all virtues, He sent them forth to conquer the world which they soon brought under the rule of his holy laws.

1818 Rule

Like Henri Tempier, the members of the Mazenodian family must follow the model of the apostles, and have the courage to do so whatever the consequences.

Apostles

The apostolic model: BE with Jesus in order to DO

Henri Tempier’s reply to Eugene’s invitation was a source of great joy for Eugene. It shows the apostolic  “one heart and one soul” that marked his relationship with Eugene:

“May the good God be blessed for having inspired you to prepare for the poor, for the inhabitants of our countryside, those who have the most need of instruction in our religion, a house of missionaries who will go and announce to them the truths of salvation.

I share your views completely, my dear brother… What you want most in those you choose as your collaborators is priests who will not get into a rut of routine and daily hum-drum, and, as Father Charles’ predecessor used to say, plod along day after day without accomplishing anything; you want priests who will be ready to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles and work for the salvation of souls with no other reward here on earth but hardship and fatigue. I think that God’s grace has given me this desire. If not, then I wish with all my heart that I will have it, and working with you will make it all the easier to attain. You can, therefore, count entirely on me.”

27 October, 1815 Cf. REY I, p. 183

Eugene described his apostolic ideal in the original version of our Preface:

What more sublime purpose than that of their Institute?
Their founder is Jesus Christ, the very Son of God;
their first fathers are the Apostles.
They are called to be the Savior’s co-workers, the co-redeemers of mankind;

and even though, because of their present small number and the more urgent needs of the people around them, they have to limit the scope of their zeal, for the time being to the poor of our countryside and others,
their ambition should, in its holy aspirations, embrace the vast expanse of the whole earth.
The Church, that glorious inheritance purchased by Cjhrist the Savior at the cost of his own blood, has in our days been cruelly ravaged…

Nota Bene (1818 Rule)

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OUR BICENTENARY: THE INVITATION TO COME AND “BE” IN ORDER TO “DO”

From the very beginning, Eugene insisted that whatever missionary work was done, its success depended on the quality of life of those doing it. It was the example of the lifestyle of the missionary that was to speak louder than any words. This is why for Eugene, community and a commonly accepted Rule of Life was a non-negotiable element of our vocation.

In our 200 year history, many lay persons have joined the Oblates in living a vocation to be missionaries, expressed in many ways according to their state of life.

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The Mazenodian Family at prayer in the Oblate Chapel in  Aix en Provence

Each of the members of the Mazenodian family has a vocation to BE (to have an exemplary quality of life) – in order to DO (to evangelize people and help them to find a Christ-focused meaning in their lives).

Eugene highlighted the core ideal to Tempier:

… an establishment which will steadily furnish our countryside with fervent missionaries.
These will ceaselessly engage in destroying the empire of the demon, at the same time as providing the example of a life worthy of the Church in the community which they will form.
Indeed, we will live together in one house, that which I have bought, under a Rule we shall adopt with common accord

To form “one heart and one soul” is a concept dear to the heart of the Founder. As the size of the Congregation grew, so did he become increasingly insistent on this unity. For Eugene, his missionary family was the most beautiful family in the whole world and he wanted it to be the most united. The one heart and one soul was formed by an equilibrium in lifestyle and Eugene’s constant call was for a greater balance – BE in order to DO:


Happiness awaits us in this holy Society which will have but one heart and soul. One part of the year will be devoted to the conversion of souls, the other to seclusion, study and our individual sanctification.
I say no more for the moment; it suffices to give some intimation of the spiritual delights we will taste together…
… All depends on how we begin. We need perfect unanimity of sentiments, the same goodwill, the same disinterestedness, the same devotedness – that sums it up.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 9 October 1815, EO VI n 4

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NOVENA IN PREPARATION FOR OUR BICENTENARY

As part of our preparations for the USA Oblate province bicentenary celebrations I have prepared a novena for reflection and prayer.

Each day has  a lot of material that the user can choose from. As it was prepared for our US Oblates, you may need to make some adaptations to the text to fit your context.

I hope you find it helpful:

http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/?page_id=2983

DeMazenod_200th_banner English

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OUR BICENTENARY: RECALLING THAT WE ARE NECESSARY FOR THE WORK WHICH THE LORD INSPIRED EUGENE TO UNDERTAKE

God inspired Eugene to begin a missionary congregation, and God invites others to play a role necessary for the success of its mission. The invitation to Henri Tempier continues across the years to all who feel called to participate in Eugene’s charism and spirituality. It is not the question of a passing fancy to do good, but of being convinced of being needed by the most abandoned to make a difference in their lives.

Well, my dear man, what I say to you, without going fully into details, is that you are necessary for the work which the Lord has inspired us to undertake.
Since the Head of the Church is persuaded that, given the wretched state in which France finds herself, only missions can bring people back to the faith which they have practically abandoned, good men of the Church from different dioceses are joining together in response to the views of our supreme Pastor.
We likewise feel that it is utterly necessary to employ the same remedy in our regions and, full of confidence in the goodness of Providence, have laid down the foundations of an establishment which will steadily furnish our countryside with fervent missionaries.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 9 October 1815 EO VI n 4

In our lifetime, the different Popes have identified various places and circumstances where the “situation is wretched.” Today, Pope Francis unmistakably continues this tradition. Virtually every day as I listen to Pope Francis inviting us to awareness and response, I hear the echo of Eugene’s voice. Both men are focused on the Cross and the Savior’s predilection for the most abandoned. That is the reason why Eugene “laid down the foundations of an establishment which will steadily furnish our countryside with fervent missionaries.” They both invite us to celebrate the anniversary of our foundation with a renewed commitment to the Cross and the Savior’s predilection for the most abandoned.

Our Rule of Life echoes the invitation:

“The call of Jesus Christ, heard within the Church through people’s need for salvation, draws us together.” CC&RR, Constitution 1

“Wherever we work, our mission is especially to those people whose condition cries out for salvation and for the hope which only Jesus Christ can fully bring. These are the poor with their many faces; we give them our preference.” CC&RR, Constitution 5

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OUR BICENTENARY: AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS LISTEN TO WHAT GOD IS ASKING OF YOU

Eugene’s letter to the 27 year-old diocesan priest, Henri Tempier, is an essential foundation document for us. It contains the seeds of what is essential in our vocation.

The letter shows the fundamental starting point of the vocation of any member of the Mazenodian family: it has to flow from an experience of the love of God on the Cross. “Read this letter at the foot of your crucifix” is not a pious thought – but it is a necessary attitude: Eugene experienced God’s love for him and understood his vocation at the foot of the Crucifix. Anyone who feels called to journey with Eugene needs to have as a starting point and as a point of focus the fact of God’s love expressed on the Cross.

In his desire to live “all for God” Tempier must listen to where the voice of God is calling him to move for the glory of God and for the salvation of the abandoned people of Provence.

My dear friend, read this letter at the foot of your crucifix
with the desire to listen only to God
regarding what the good of his glory
and the salvation of souls
demand from a priest like yourself.

Henri Tempier is invited to look at the religious situation of the poorer people in Provence through the eyes of the Crucified Savior. It is an invitation to feel from the depth of his heart their experience of not having a sense of direction in their lives because God is absent.

At the foot of the Cross, symbol of the Savior who sacrificed all for others, he is invited to make a sacrifice of his own comfort so that others may have life.

This is the meaning of oblation: to look at the most abandoned with the eyes and heart of the Savior, and to respond by imitating the Savior’s self-giving so that they may have the fullness of life.

Dismiss the attraction of possessions, the love of comfort and convenience;
allow yourself to be fully penetrated by the situation of the people who live in the countryside, by the state of religion among them, by the apostasy that daily spreads wider with dreadfully ravaging effects.
Look at the feebleness of the means employed to date to oppose this flood of evil; ask your heart what it would like to do to remedy these disasters and then reply to my letter.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 9 October 1815 EO VI n 4

This invitation has continued to be repeated and echo throughout our 200-year history. Many have responded, and their missionary generosity has made a difference to the lives of countless people around the world. As we celebrate, we give thanks and we respond with the desire to let Eugene’s call continue to echo and to make a difference.

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