AN ONGOING SMEAR-CAMPAIGN

In the ongoing smear-campaign against Eugene an article of Martin-Lazare had been published on July 10 in the anti-religious Sémaphore newspaper. It claimed that Cardinal Pacca, who was the Pope’s Secretary of State, had written to the Bishop of Icosia to reprimand him for how terrible his administration of the diocese of Marseilles had been.

Eugene writes to Henri Tempier, who was Vicar General of the diocese:

However absurd the article you have forwarded to me may be, I wouldn’t have thought it wise to leave it unanswered. You had the evidence that the writer was a police connection, since you had in truth received a letter addressed to me from Cardinal Pacca and only the police could have given him this information.

The author of the article had been informed of a letter arriving from the Cardinal and used the opportunity to invent a malicious story about its contents. Eugene proposed:

But by letting it be known that the content of the letter was full of kindness, as are all His Eminence’s letters, you would be laying a charge of flagrant calumny against the article’s worthless author, and so that everyone might have the opportunity of learning the truth, after having read it to the Gazette, you would deposit the original at the secretariat in the Bishop’s Palace with instructions to show it to all who want to see it.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 13&14 July 1835, EO VIII n 522

Eugene’s life and actions had always been a witness to the words of Jesus: “The truth will set you free” – John 8:31.

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IT SEEMS THAT THE SPIRIT OF HELL DOESN’T CONSENT TO GIVE ME RELIEF

As a result of the government’s pressure, Eugene had resigned all his responsibilities in Marseilles and had left the city to live in the Oblate community of l’Osier.

… My wish would be to be forgotten by the world as I have for my part forgotten it. But it seems that the spirit of hell doesn’t consent to give me relief. Absent though I am, it is pursuing me with its calumnies and continues to persecute me with all the fury of its sworn hatred

Beaudoin explains this: “A group of ill-disposed priests at odds with their Bishop, amongst them Jonjon, Bicheron and Martin-Lazare, were contributing articles to the revolutionary press against Bishop Fortuné and especially against the Bishop of Icosia. They alleged that the Pope had forbidden the latter to exercise any episcopal function in the diocese.”

It could really go to my head. The culprits it seems are in great dread of me, completely inoffensive though I am. But no, it isn’t pride I feel, but a real embarrassment at not having carried out my duty in full, putting up for too long with men who are so ungrateful today, through my misplaced trust in their false promises to turn over a new leaf.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 13&14 July 1835, EO VIII n 522

Reading this experience of Eugene, one cannot help but recall situations that we have experienced where we have been negatively judged for having done the correct thing.

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BAD PRIESTS THINK TO WEAR MY COURAGE DOWN AFTER TAKING ADVANTAGE OF MY GOODWILL

Eugene shares the suffering he is experiencing publicly from a handful of the priests of the Marseilles diocese.

My dear Child, far from hoping for some rest, each day I see fresh difficulties come up that put my patience and dedication to tests. I make bold to say, that are more than flesh and blood can bear. Bad priests think to wear my courage down after taking advantage of my goodwill. They would succeed in their objective if I didn’t constantly tell myself that men, with perhaps one slight exception, aren’t worth the trouble one takes to help them.

Letter to Casimir Aubert, 23 May 1835, EO VIII n 515

One of these diocesan priests, in particular, a Father Martin had been problematic. Three years earlier he had published some vicious anonymous attacks on Bishop Eugene in the Semaphore newspaper. It soon became clear who the author really was, and in a moment of repentance he wrote to Eugene to apologize. Here is Eugene’s reply to him, which is worth reflecting on.

My first impulse after reading your (letter) was to hasten to your home to reassure and console you and to give you a more heartfelt and more sincere embrace of peace than that which, alas! I received from you such a short time ago. I decided to write to you instead, fearing that my appearance at your home might subject you to suspicion.
You have done a serious wrong, my dear friend; I do not want you to look upon it lightly . . . But I told myself to pay heed only to your repentance because I am confident that it will gain you favor in God’s eyes and with that I shall be satisfied; undoubtedly our holy bishop will be also…
Only when you have expressly permitted me to reveal your name to him, shall I do so. I have also observed this same caution with my colleagues. Personally, I would like to have even the memory of such a serious wrong blotted out, and to keep the name of the guilty party from ever being known.
However, in the inevitable commotion caused by the scandal of this unfortunate article, several people have suggested your name. So as not to add to your remorse I, perhaps, should not tell you that each time this supposition was made, I, who was personally vilified, strongly protested that this supposition was too insulting and too outrageous a charge against a man to whom I have so often given the name friend and sometimes even son. I mention it not to reproach you but only to show you how favorably my heart is disposed toward you; for I repeat, you will never receive any reproaches from me.
May the Good God forgive you! That would satisfy me a thousand times more than any reparation you might wish to make to me. All that I ask is that you choose a good spiritual director, a deeply holy man who will enable you to appreciate the gravity of the wrong you have committed and who will give you wise advice regarding atonement for it. God be with you, my friend. I am sorry that, due to several unforeseen delays, my letter did not reach you as soon as I would have wished. I embrace you. Yes! I mean that with all my heart, and as proof that my charity is sincere, I shall offer the Holy Sacrifice for you tomorrow.

Letter to Father Martin, 27 September 1832, quoted in Leflon II p 530 – 531

Sadly, Martin’s repentance was short-lived and before long he continued to multiply his public attacks.

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IT WOULD BE THE DEATH OF ME AND I WOULD BE A MARTYR TO IT

In the coming entries we focus again on the long-standing difficulties that Eugene had been living through, not only with the government but also with some clergy in the diocese. We have noted that in Marseilles, as the Vicar General of Bishop Fortuné, he had had to be the disciplinarian to rectify many situations which were not correct on the part of some priests. Some were very vociferous in their condemnations of Bishops Fortuné and Eugene, and used the anti-religious newspaper the “Sémaphore” as the vehicle to make their grievances and calumnies public.

Eugene confides to Father Courtès:

Goodbye, my dear son, you see that I’m always the same. Abuses shock me, afflict me wherever I come across them, but that doesn’t result in their abolition and when that holy man M. Duclaux said one day before the whole seminary that God had raised me up to put the Church’s drooping discipline on its feet again, he might have added that in the little world I move in it would be the death of me and I would be a martyr to it. Goodbye.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès. 4 June 1835, EO VIII n 517

(NB Please note that the word “abuse’ as used by Eugene in the 19th century referred to priests who were not living up to the rules and regulations of their priestly commitment or the rules and practices of the Diocese of Marseilles. Eugene’s use of this word does NOT have the tragic connotations that it has in today’s usage)

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IT IS MY HOPE THAT HE WILL BEHAVE IN SUCH A WAY AS TO ATTRACT YOUR FRIENDSHIP AND THAT OF THE OTHER FATHERS OF THE HOUSE

Sending the newly-ordained priest Calixte Kotterer, who seemed to have a reputation for being difficult, Eugene gives the community superior an indication of his strengths and weakness.

What strikes me is the spirit of fraternal warmth and friendship that Eugene desired for every community and his desire to bring out best in each member.

Dear Father Guigues. This letter will be brought to you by our Father Kotterer who is going to put himself under obedience to you. I assure you he didn’t have to make a big effort to submit himself to that destination, so much was it to his taste. He is leaving in an excellent spirit. I have every reason to believe that it is genuine. Father Kotterer is full of esteem and affection for you, he esteems his confreres highly and it is my hope that he will behave in such a way as to attract your friendship and that of the other Fathers of the house.
I persist in the view that he is the man best suited to your house. I’m relying on you to look after him well. While he has some negative traits, he does respond to kindness. He is of good heart, and open to reason. In my opinion he has matured.

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 9 June 1835, EO VIII n 518

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AN INVITATION TO RECOGNIZE GOD’S DIRECTION THROUGH EVENTS

Eugene had hoped to reinforce the small community at the newly-established sanctuary of l’Osier with two more Oblates, but events had forced him to alter this

Along with Kotterer I had earmarked Bernard for you, the wonder-worker of Switzerland, but an over-riding necessity forced me to change my mind. I’m sorry to say.

Eugene invites the community to try to see God’s hand in events – even if difficult to understand

Let us learn more and more to quiet our desires and let our will follow where Providence indicates through the events that it permits or originates.

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 27 May 1835, EO VIII n 516

A reminder to us to see events the Mazenodian way: through the eyes of our crucified Savior.

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LET’S HAVE NO MORE DEBATE ABOUT THE GOOD BROTHERS

Initially the Missionaries had been founded as a society of priests to evangelize though preaching and sacraments. Two years later, when we became religious with vows, the element of religious life became an essential component of our vocation. This opened the door to men who wanted Oblate religious life without being priests. It was a problem for some of the priests whose focus was on clerical ministry which the brothers were unable to do. So why have them? Other Oblate priests were tempted to regard the brothers as domestic servants.

At one time didn’t you mention a candidate for the brothers? I passed on the news to the novitiate. I have sent Brother Ferrand to Corsica. That leaves us only Brother Roux. They are a rare breed but vital, and when they come to us it is important to give them a good formation.

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 3 May 1835, EO VIII n 514

So far I have only been able to send to Ajaccio Guibert, Telmon and Brother Ferrand, without whom Guibert tells me he wouldn’t have been able to open his seminary, so useful is he to them. Let’s have no more debate about the good brothers after that! So I’m going to admit Brother Roux to his final oblation. It’s up to the rest of you to come up with some more.

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 27 May 1835, EO VIII n 516

I refer you to “Our Founding Vision Today: All are Brothers, some are Priests” http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/?p=3155

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THEIR LETTERS ALWAYS GIVE ME THE GREATEST JOY

At this stage the communities were generally composed of young Oblates. Eugene as the Founder was always conscious that the foundation of the Missionaries had come from God with a specific mission and spirit (charism). It was his responsibility to ensure that each Oblate and community be faithful to this charism, and he thus expected a monthly letter from each community in which the superior recounted the life and activities of the community  – and an annual letter from each Oblate sharing his individual life and experiences.

I’m not prepared to absolve you of the obligation of sending me reports on personnel and events at least once monthly. In that respect your letters leave a lot to be desired. I’m completely in the dark about the situation of the members of your community and even your own. Please tell Fathers Dassy and Vincens that their letters always give me the greatest joy…

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 27 May 1835, EO VIII n 516

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REFLECT, REST, STAY CONNECTED

A week later, Eugene wrote again to the young community superior to repeat and underline the same guiding themes:

Don’t be unfaithful to the theological conferences prescribed by the Rule. I have no intention of giving anyone in any house a dispensation. Be firm about this in your community.
Make some summer arrangements for your district. A man can’t work the whole year through without taking a break from ministry.
Goodbye. dear Father Guigues. You don’t write often enough. With my affectionate greetings and blessing.

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 9 June 1835, EO VIII n 518

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THIS RELENTLESS APPLICATION TO WORKS OF THE EXTERIOR MINISTRY IS ABSOLUTELY AGAINST THE RULES

In our hectic multimedia and multi-tasking lifestyle, we need to hear the call of Eugene to an equilibrium activity and spirituality.

It disturbs me to see you overloading yourself with engagements; I don’t at all approve of that way of doing things, it has the two-fold disadvantage of leaving your men worn out and of keeping them overlong outside the house. This relentless application to works of the exterior ministry is absolutely against the Rules.

Eugene reminds the young superior of the need for equilibrium between missionary zeal and religious life, between “doing and “being”

Let us put aside every consideration of too human origin… beware of driving yourself as if it were a challenge. In God’s name, go back to the bosom of the community to renew yourselves in the spirit of your vocation, otherwise it is all up with our missionaries, they will soon be no more than sounding cymbals.

The community leader had two important tools at his disposal to achieve this. The first was the Oblate Rule which was an objective norm that all were committed to. The second was the weekly “theological conference” which was usually a reading in community of a religious  book aimed at the spiritual growth of the community..

The responsibility falls on you, it is my duty to alert you to it. Hold fast to the observance of the Rules, amongst other things, be faithful to the theological conference, remember that this is obligatory.

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 27 May 1835, EO VIII n 516

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