PRAYER AS AN ACT OF LOVE FOR OTHERS

Until the time that the Oblates began to receive new members in the foreign missions in the late 1840’s, Eugene had a personal relationship with each of his missionary sons. In his correspondence we constantly see how he loved and watched over them with a father’s heart. When one of them contracted a life-threatening illness, Eugene would drop his activities to spend time as much time as possible at his bedside and keep vigil. In the case of some of the young ones who he had known and guided since their adolescence, he had a deeper bond extending over many years. Marius Suzanne was one of these who was very special to him. Unable to be with him at the beginning of his serious illness, Eugene wrote to Hippolyte Courtès:

I write to comfort my heart, being unable to be at the place and beside the bed of our sick one so as to take care of him. I think only of him and it is with more painful feelings than when I see him.
I pray and have prayers said but I would need above all to ask for and obtain resignation. It costs me nothing when it is for my own sake but for you and whatever concerns you it is another matter.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 16 February 1827, EO VII n 262

Struggling to resign himself and accept the situation, he invites others to pray with him.

 

“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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MILESTONES ARE STARTING POINTS FOR THE NEXT LEAP FORWARD

Exactly a year had passed since the approbation of our religious family and Rule by the Church in 1826. Eugene writes to the community in Aix to remind them of the day and of the need to give thanks. Celebrating milestones is not only about being grateful for the past – but through reliving the grace of the event in prayer, to be prepared to respond to God’s ongoing invitation to leap forward.

Do not forget that tomorrow is the anniversary of the approbation and ratification of our Institute. We will sing high Mass in our interior chapel before the Blessed Sacrament exposed and we will sing the Te Deum before Benediction. You can be sure that in giving thanks for the gifts granted we will not neglect to petition for the present and the future.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 16 February 1827, EO VII n 262

 

“A great accomplishment shouldn’t be the end of the road, just the starting point for the next leap forward.”   Harvey Mackay

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CENTER OF MISSION: EACH ONE FULFILS HIS TASK FOR THE GLORY OF GOD

Six years after the establishment of the Oblate community in Marseille in 1821, the community at the Calvaire was a growing mission center. From this center of religious missionary life, the Oblates did pastoral work throughout the city, and went into the countryside to preach parish missions. The novices had moved from Aix the year before to be part of the wider community, and in January 1827, five scholastics, preparing for priestly ordination, had come to Marseille as well. It is about these students that Eugene writes

… I assure you they are working, but they do so willingly and with much success.

At this stage there were twelve priests, five scholastics and eleven novices in the house. Seeing how each Oblate fulfilled his specific role in the community, Eugene exclaims:

 It is thus that the whole Society fulfils her task for the greater glory of God.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Honorat, 24 January 1827, EO VII n 260

This ideal of Eugene is the inspiration behind the current initiative of the USA Oblates in establishing various mission centers here:

“A Mission Center is defined as “an apostolic community of approximately 4 – 8 Oblates responsible for a particular institution (parish, Shrine, retreat center, etc.) which also, through community discernment and consensus, goes beyond the institution by serving in a variety of other ministries (for example: campus, prison, youth, homeless, immigrant groups, itinerant mission preaching, education, community organizing, JPIC, vocation , collaboration and networking with other organizations, chaplaincies, etc.).” This idea will continue to evolve and the importance of authentic community life in the actual living out of this concept cannot be emphasized enough.” (Renewing the Province Mission – USA OMI)

 

 

“Let us all remember this: one cannot proclaim the Gospel of Jesus without the tangible witness of one’s life.”   Pope Francis

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ACCOMMODATING ALL THIS FINE AFFECTION FOR RELATIVES WOULD OBLIGE ONE TO EMPTY A HOUSE IN ONE WEEK OR TO DISRUPT A MISSION OR SEVERAL MISSIONS

The request of Fr. Honorat to visit his aunt, became the occasion for Eugene to explain why he did not permit Oblates to visit their relatives indiscriminately.

You are strong enough, my dear Honorat, to bear a refusal. That is why I do not spare you this negative response that I am making to your request to go to Carpentras to see your aunt who is a religious sister there. I do not think her superiors will permit her to come and visit you. So leave her in peace in her cloister and go on your way with a greater spirit of detachment from relatives.
On the grounds of similar principles, I have just refused to let Fr. Martin go and see his sister at Gap. All the clergy of the diocese have intervened in this affair but there are always consequences to be considered in a Society, so I have refused Fr. Martin’s relatives just as I have refused those of Fr. Telmon, of Fr. Jeancard, and of Fr. Sumien. Accommodating all this fine affection for relatives would oblige one to empty a house in one week or to disrupt a mission or several missions.
I find it very costly to maintain regularity at such a price but duty must come before all. Adieu, very dear Father, I embrace you as well as dear Fr. Albini.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Honorat, 24 January 1827, EO VII n 260

In this letter the relatives cited were not the parents of Oblates – in the case of the fathers and mothers of Oblates, Eugene did show concern and allowed their sons to visit them if there was a serious need. It is important to bear in mind that the practice in religious life until not too long ago was that of a break with visiting their families. The more recent custom of annual vacations to visit with families was totally unimaginable at this time for religious sisters, brothers and priests. When the Oblates (and all other religious) started to go to the foreign missions after 1841, each one was fully aware that he was leaving France and his family forever and would never return.

Having said all this, we will see that Eugene’s relationship with his own family remained very close in later years.

 

“Religion kept some of my relatives alive, because it was all they had. If they hadn’t had some hope of heaven, some companionship in Jesus, they probably would have committed suicide, their lives were so hellish.”   Octavia Butler

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A PREACHER WHO CONNECTED WITH THE POOR

During the jubilee preaching in Marseille, Rey describes a revealing incident:

“An unexpected event provides a basis for comparison between the preaching of the missionary of the poor and a more elevated level of eloquence. Father Enfantin reappeared in Marseille and offered his preaching services to the Founder. The Founder asked him to replace him in the pulpit of the Calvaire, keeping for himself only the morning exercise which he wanted to continue in the Provencal language. Father Enfantin was to preach at 11 am and in the evening at the usual hour. A few days were sufficient to bring about a significant change in the audience which was decreasing … The style of Father Enfantin was totally different of the missionary. His words were spoken with an impeccable purity of diction, but with a content that was perhaps too substantial and too concise so as to pass over their understanding. He did not grasp the attention of his listeners, nor did he manage to interest them, especially those of the middle class of society. He did not survive the challenge and whether he really became ill, or whether he realized that the enthusiasm of the audience was evaporating, he surfaced his infirmities and interrupted his preaching.
Father de Mazenod took up the preaching again and continued his appealing gatherings until the time fixed for the closing of the Jubilee at Christmas. He experienced all the fatigues of the apostolate without his health, which was still quite weak, being affected. The number of conversions exceeded all expectations.”

REY

 

“Anytime that you can reach somebody on an emotional level, you’re really connecting.”   Casey Kasem

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DOING WHAT HE LOVED BEST

The year 1826 ended with Eugene and the Oblates participating in the special jubilee year renewal missions throughout the city of Marseille. We find him in full swing doing what he enjoyed most: preaching a mission and bringing people to conversion and renewal. The biographer, Rey, describes:

“Once the missionaries had returned to Marseille from Digne, the preaching of the Jubilee mission throughout the diocese began. A general procession inaugurated it on December 3, first Sunday of Advent, in which the Oblates of Mary, in accordance with instructions of their rule, did not participate. The same evening the Founder celebrated the opening exercises in the Calvary Chapel, which was too small to accommodate the crowd that had assembled to participate.
Despite his overwhelming preoccupations in the the administration of the diocese and the Congregation, he preached twice a day. In the mornings he explained the “Our Father” in the Provençal language. In the evenings he preached in French on the principal articles of Christian doctrine on dogma and the sacraments. He did this with touching simplicity and constantly maintained the interest of the congregation. They admired his capacity to simplify the loftiest doctrine to the needs of his listeners, so that it would be milk for children and the weak while at the same time being bread for the strong.
The success was extraordinary; in the morning the crowd inundated the church to hear the Word of God and then kneel in the confessional where the missionaries spent most of the day. Father de Mazenod never refused the good will of those who wanted to be reconciled to God.”

REY, Volume 1

 

 

“When you discover your mission, you will feel its demand. It will fill you with enthusiasm and a burning desire to get to work on it.”     W. Clement Stone

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NEVER COMPROMISE ON FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES

Shortly after the Oblate mission in Digne, Eugene writes about a confrontation with the Bishop of Gap, the neighboring diocese in which our sanctuary of Laus was situated. Clearly Eugene, whose life changed at the foot of the Cross when he had personally experienced God’s mercy, would never compromise on leading others to the same experience of mercy, even if this would cause a break with the local authorities.

His Lordship at Gap ungraciously refuses to give us a recruit ….
He has sent me five moral propositions to which he demands a categorical reply, while telling me his responsibility is compromised. I have written him a letter which could well bring on a break in relationships.

Letter Hippolyte Courtes, 31 January 1827, EO VII n. 261

In a footnote to this letter Father Beaudoin gives us the background. “Bishop Arbaud had written to the Founder on January 22 to complain especially about Fr. Touche. Fr. de Mazenod replied that the Oblates followed the moral teaching of the Blessed Alphonse de Liguori. In September, he wrote once more to the Prelate, this time not to defend himself but to attack: ‘In my presence and when speaking to me, you are full of goodness and, when you write to me, one would say your inkwell is sour’…”

 

“Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.”    Victor Hugo

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IN CRITICAL CIRCUMSTANCES PEOPLE ARE WON OVER THROUGH THE QUALITY OF OUR LIVES

The missionaries were preaching in Digne. It was in an area known for its Jansenist rigidity and for being critical of the Oblates whose preaching focused more on God’s mercy for sinners than on legalism and hellfire. Conscious that their ministry was being done in delicate circumstances, Eugene encourages them with words of advice.

At the seminary of Digne, be considerate to the superior ….

The moral theology being taught at the seminary was not that preached by the Oblates, and so Eugene reminds them to be courteous to the seminary rector at all times, despite their differences. Then he stresses that it is by the quality of their lives that they achieved good results. When their critics became aware that the Oblates were not troublemakers who wanted to defy them, but men sincerely striving for sanctity, much would be achieved through their ministry:

Above all be saintly for one achieves more by actions than by words.

Finally, they needed to keep a watchful eye on one another’s speech and behavior to guard against any misinterpretations.

Do not refrain, I conjure you, from charitable fraternal correction.

Letter to Fathers Mie, Jeancard and Guibert, 21 November 1826, EO VII n. 259

We will see in the future how the fundamental difference in approach to sinners between the Oblates and the diocesan authorities in this area was to become an increasing source of tension, leading to the eventual expulsion of the Oblates from Notre Dame du Laus a decade later.

 

“The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.”   Ben Okri

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TRANSPARENCY WITH MONEY

The Oblate missionaries seemingly wanted to take a collection for the poor. While being in favour of the principle, Eugene sounds a note of caution regarding clarity and transparency. The people who are giving money must be absolutely clear that the beneficiaries are the poor and not the Oblates themselves.

We do not know the background to this advice and whether there had been an incident in this regard concerning the Oblates. It does, however, touch on a very human need to have transparency and checks and balances when we are handling money and property that is not our own. The intentions of the giver must be scrupulously adhered to, and transparency and accountability are essential.

What shall I tell you about the collection? The matter is quite delicate in my opinion. I have never liked collections, it is rare that they do not entail some inconveniences. One has to go to so much trouble, one loses so much time, and while it can happen that they are not as abundant as the people suppose, they are tempted to think and sometimes say that we are collecting for our convent. I do not tell you however not to take up collections for the poor, if you judge that they are of great utility, but in that case take firm precautions to avoid even the shadow of suspicion that evil minds can cast amongst the people.

Letter to Fathers Mie, Jeancard and Guibert, 21 November 1826, EO VII n. 259

In 2004 we had an example of this when the tsunami ravaged parts of Asia where the Oblates are present. Many NGO groups and others came forward to collect funds to help the survivors, among them the Oblate administration in Rome. It was interesting to note the generosity with which the people contributed to the Oblate fundraising, giving as their reason that they were sure that the donation would reach the most needy and that the full amount given would reach them because the Oblates would not remove administrative fees and were trustworthy.

 

“I’ve come to learn there is a virtuous cycle to transparency and a very vicious cycle of obfuscation.”   Jeff Weiner

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FOCUS ON WHAT IS LIFE-GIVING

Hippolyte Guibert had been an Oblate priest for a year, and Jeancard for 3 years and were both in their mid-twenties. Eugene followed the missionary adventures of these young men with pride and interest. As they enjoyed successes and also fumbled along in their difficulties he reminds them that all that is important is that they never lose sight of the Oblate life-giving ideal: “seek only God and the souls which his Son Jesus Christ has redeemed with his blood.”

As I get pulled into countless different directions in the activities of each day, Eugene invites me to identify what my real focus should be in every activity, and to do my best to maintain that life-giving desire at all times.

Believe me, my dear friends, that I am just as impatient to write you as you can be to receive my news; those you have given me in your two letters give me the greatest hope; the contradictions that Fr. Jeancard tells me about have no more disquieted me than they have shaken his courage which has become virile and truly worthy of an Oblate of Mary who counts on the protection of this powerful Mother and on the help of God which she never fails to obtain for those who put their confidence in her. The beginning of success that Fr. Guibert takes pleasure in writing me about has consoled me as well as him, but has not surprised me. You had to expect all the precautions that have been taken, however strange they may be.
What does it matter, after all, you will not do any less good provided that you never lose from sight the true spirit of the Society and that you seek only God and the souls which his Son Jesus Christ has redeemed with his blood.

Letter to Fathers Mie, Jeancard and Guibert, 21 November 1826, EO VII n. 259

 

“The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire not things we fear.”   Brian Tracy

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