MISUNDERSTANDINGS AND MISTAKES

Eugene’s affectivity led him to be impulsive at times. When he realized that his words or gestures had hurt someone, he would be upset himself and he would immediately make amends.

Yvon Beaudoin explains one of these incidents:

“It is evident from the letters of 1826, that Fr. Suzanne fell ill in June 1826. Although not recovered, he remained superior of the community at Calvaire. In January, 1827, it seems (REY, I, 421) that the Founder, displeased with the lack of regularity of the community, humiliated Suzanne by removing him from his post right in the middle of a Chapter of Faults. He was probably then sent to Aix where he would have stayed before accompanying Fr. Tempier to Nimes from the 8th to the 14th of February… It was on returning from Nimes, February 14, that Suzanne began to vomit blood, during a brief stop at Aix. He was forced to remain there. Fr. Tempier returned immediately to Marseilles to warn Fr. de Mazenod who came “immediately” (REY, I, 423) to see the sick man. After the Chapter of Faults of January, a certain malaise existed between the father and the beloved son. This would explain the end of the paragraph in which the Founder seems to wish to excuse himself for having sent Fr. Suzanne to Nimes. He explains why he had not written at the beginning of the month (Fr. Courtès or others gave him news each day) and why he had not come, as was his custom, to visit the community, the first Friday of the month. He no doubt had not had the time nor had he deemed it opportune to give an explanation on this latter point during his lightning visit of the 14th, immediately after the haemorrhage of Fr. Suzanne.” (Footnote to EO VII n 263)

Writing to Marius Suzanne, during his convalescence, Eugene shows his relief tosee  him recovering :

I was not worried about your health, of which news was given me almost every day, and as my thoughts were at rest on this score, I put off to the next day my letter, which was not easier for me than the evening before. If I did not go to see you on the first Friday of the month as I had planned, it was because I perceived it would upset my uncle a little too much; it is a sacrifice that I had to add to many others of the same kind …

Letter to Marius Suzanne, February-March 1827, EO VII n 263

 

“There is no such thing as emotional incompatibility. There are only misunderstandings and mistakes which can easily be set right if we have the will to do so.”     Dada Vaswani

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THE ONE WHOM YOU LOVE IS SICK

The highly affective Eugene’s pain and concern over the illness of Marius Suzanne is obvious in this passage. The deep friendship between Lazarus and Jesus was an inspiration to Eugene and a model for his own loving relationship with Jesus. It becomes the theme of his prayer for the seriously ill young Oblate.

The health of our dear Suzanne seems so precious a thing to me that we must raise a holy tumult with our Lord. At Mass yesterday and today, I have pushed my pleas almost to the point of profanation, if indeed a Master so good can find it amiss that I let myself go in my trust and uttered boldly: “ecce quem amas infirmatur” [ed. John 11, 3: “Lord, he whom you love is ill”]. I said it more than thirty times during Communion. Magdalene was not more close to him when she asked him, together with her sister, for the cure of Lazarus.
As for us [who] cannot count on resurrection, we ought to insist that he be restored. I think I am raving. Adieu. I embrace you and my poor Suzanne. I pine away. Adieu.

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

 

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”   John 11:5

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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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