NEGOTIATING THE LABYRINTH OF A MOST BUSY LIFE

Shaken by the deaths of two Oblates in quick succession, Eugene wrote to the overly-enthusiastic and impetuous Honorat with advice on how to look after himself, pace his work and plan his work more carefully.

Changing the circumstances to our own situations, let us allow Eugene to remind us to take the same precautions in our daily lives.

I have nothing urgent to tell you, if it be only to reproach you for the excess of work which you have taken upon yourself. You do not think of it until the moment of departure but you must also think about your stay and calculate all that has preceded and which must follow. As to that, you have failed in foresight, which is also quite a virtue.
Now rest yourself, take care during the retreat to observe the Rule and prepare subject matter. It is necessary that you write and the others also. Let each provide himself first with enough for a retreat. That is to say, prepare the subjects that one deals with ordinarily in these kinds of exercises; as for you, see to it that you do not exceed the hour. You have great need at this time to rest your voice; so, do not consent to preach. Do not fear to give this reason and be adamant in refusing. Do not ask me for men for Nimes.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Honorat, 15 August 1828, EO VII n 310

 

“He, who every morning plans the transactions of the day, and follows that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through a labyrinth of the most busy life.”   Victor Hugo

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I DO NOT KNOW WHICH SENTIMENT PREDOMINATES BUT I AM NOW AFFLICTED, NOW CONSOLED, SAD AND SERENE

Two Oblates had died within four days of each other: Philippe Dumolard and of Victor Arnoux. Eugene gives us a glimpse of his personal reactions – a reflection of our own when faced with the death of loved ones.

So now our dear Dumolard, who had given us so much hope, who had shown an affection for the Society that one would scarcely find in several of our older members, has been taken from us. Our blessed Father Arnoux, model of all the virtues, heroic in observance of the Rules, as spiritual as he was holy, has gone to take possession of Heaven at the age of twenty-four years and five months, leaving us as desolate over his loss as we are edified by his coming amongst us. I do not know which sentiment predominates but I am now afflicted, now consoled, sad and serene. To be separated from one’s own costs more than one thinks, but to have the certitude that they are in Heaven, and that they have arrived there by the path which we march, oh! what a sweet thought!

Letter to Hippolyte Guibert, 29 July 1828, EO VII n 308

 

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”   Washington Irving

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OUR FIDELITY IN PRACTICING CONSTANTLY THIS RULE WHICH HAS HELPED THEM TO ARRIVE WHERE THEY ARE

Looking at the lives of the four Oblates who had already reached the end of their earthly journey, Eugene asks himself what the secret of their happiness was.

I presume that our community above must be placed quite close to our Patron; I see them at the side of Mary Immaculate and, consequently, close to our Lord Jesus Christ, whom they have followed on earth and whom they contemplate with delight; we will receive our part of this fullness if we render ourselves worthy of them by our fidelity in practicing constantly this Rule which has helped them to arrive where they are.

It was by imbibing the Oblate Rule of Life and making it their way of living the Gospel that they achieved their goal of becoming one with Jesus the Savior.

Their holy death is, in my opinion are a great sanctioning of our Rules; they have received thereby a new seal of divine approbation. The gate of Heaven is at the end of the path along which we walk. Just to reflect on all that gives us enough to be ecstatic about. Speak thereof to your community; make it the subject of your conversations with Fr. Suzanne who ought to be in Aix today; may efficacious and lasting resolutions result therefrom.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 22 July 1828, EO VII n 307

 Through their holy lives and deaths, these Oblates showed God’s approval of our Rule as a sure way to the fullness of life.

 

“It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.”   Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

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THEY ARE CLOSE TO OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, WHOM THEY HAVE FOLLOWED ON EARTH AND WHOM THEY CONTEMPLATE WITH DELIGHT

Reflecting on the four Oblates who already make up our community in the fullness of the Kingdom, Eugene imagines their situation:

I presume that our community above must be placed quite close to our Patron; I see them at the side of Mary Immaculate and, consequently, close to our Lord Jesus Christ, whom they have followed on earth and whom they contemplate with delight; we will receive our part of this fullness if we render ourselves worthy of them…

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 22 July 1828, EO VII n 307

 

“The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground.”   Gilbert K. Chesterton

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THEY ARE STILL OUR BROTHERS, AND WE ARE THEIRS

Now we have four in Heaven; this is already a nice community.

Eugene speaks of the first four Oblates to have died: Fathers J. A. Jourdan (+April, 1823). J. J. Marcou (+August 20, 1826), Brother P.P. Dumolard (+July 9, 1828) and Father V. A. Arnoux (+July 13, 1828).

The earthly community which was so close to Eugene’s heart, was not destroyed by the death of its members, but extended in an eternal way.

They are the first stones, the foundation stones of the building which must be constructed in the celestial Jerusalem; they are before God with the sign, the kind of character proper to our Society, the common vows of all her members, the practice of the same virtues. We are attached to them by the bonds of a particular charity, they are still our brothers, and we are theirs; they dwell in our mother house, our headquarters; their prayers, the love which they keep for us, will draw us one day to them so as to dwell with them in the place of our rest.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 22 July 1828, EO VII n 307

What beautiful words about communion with our loved ones!

 

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”   Marcus Tullius Cicero

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I REGARD IT AS A PRINCIPAL DUTY TO ASSIST ALL THOSE OF OUR BROTHERS WHO ARE IN DANGER OF DEATH

Fr. Victor-Antoine Arnoux, born at Gap on January 22, 1804 died in Aix on July 13th. Fr. Courtès had written to Eugene on this day: “Aix, Sunday, July 13th, half past eleven in the evening. Our angel has just rendered his last breath, after a sweet and peaceful agony, like that of the saints.”

Eugene, delayed a week in responding to Courtès, as he explained:

You are perhaps surprised, my dear Father Courtès, not to have yet received a letter from me since you have learned of the distressing and likewise the consoling news of the passing of our blessed Fr. Arnoux. The principal reason for this delay has been the fear of aggravating the sorrow of your position by reproaches which it was impossible for me not to make to you in this circumstance. I have preferred to remain silent but, certainly, I have keenly felt the privation that you have imposed on me by your negligence in informing me of the state of our holy patient.
Do you not know that I regard it as a principal duty to assist all those of our brothers who are in danger of death and within reach of me? Are we then so far from Aix, that in a few hours I could not have reached the side of the sick man? Supposing that you only saw the danger to be imminent on Sunday morning, I could still have arrived at Aix by evening. I will regret the whole of my life that one of my brothers died so close to me without my being able to be with him as he passed away from us.

As the father of the Oblate family, Eugene wished to personally accompany his sons on their deathbed if possible. Having expressed his strong feelings on how Courtès had handled matter, he now expressed his deepest sentiments on the death of Arnoux. he had been very fond of athis young man, and his grief at his passing is evident – perhaps it was this that made him irritated with Courtès.

I have no need to tell you with what deep interest we have read the details that you give us of his last moments and of his burial; I have drenched your letters with my tears each time I have reread them. I have asked those who have lived with him the longest to gather the various details of his life; for your part, write what you know of him so that an ample description will be made for the edification of those who come after us… Will you have had time to have his portrait done? I had made known to you my wish in this regard ….

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 22 July 1828, EO VII n 307

 

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.”   Henri Nouwen

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THE DISPOSITION OF JESUS CHRIST PERSISTENTLY MANIFESTED

One of our priests just died at Aix in the odor of sanctity. The manifestations of public devotion were so immediate and universal that we had to give up his soutane to save the vestments and even some parts of his body that the crowd’s affection would not have spared.

Letter to Bishop Philibert de Bruillard of Grenoble, 21 July 1828, EO VII n 30

Eugene is referring to Victor Arnoux, of whom Yvon Beaudoin and Hippolyte Courtes speak:

At Aix, where he arrived along with the novices at the end of 1822, Victor carried out the duties of sacristan and, along with his confreres, went every day to follow courses in theology at the major seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod on September 3, 1826. He exercised his priestly ministry for less than two years. Father Courtès wrote: “We are, no doubt, sorry that the chronic state of ill health and the sufferings of our saint and the too brief duration of his life did not allow him to carry out all the works of mercy and charity his priestly heart devised. But, he, at least, did everything he was able to do and beyond. And his zeal did not remain without fruit. Testimony is unanimous concerning the effectiveness of Father Arnoux work. They entrusted to him the direction of the novices and he made them fervent. He was sent to evangelize the rural population and sinners were brought to conversion at the sound of his voice. If he gave a talk in an educational institution, the youth listened to him attentively, with respect, with edification, convinced as they were that they were listening to and seeing a saint in action. At the college in Aix, where it was his special duty to hear the confessions of the children who had not yet received their First Holy Communion, he won the respect of the students and of the teachers. And the college principal, Mr. Marius Tupin, communicated to the superior of the mission his most genuine satisfaction with the choice of a co-worker who was an angel in piety and gentleness. In the hospitals, no sick person was able to resist the charm of his words…”

His illness (tuberculosis) drained his strength more and more. He was sent to Fuveau for a period of time because the air was healthier at Fuveau. He returned to Aix to die on July 13, 1828 with his mother at his bedside, accompanied by the entire community to recite the rosary for him.”

Yvon Beaudoin, “Arnoux, Victor Antoine” in the Oblate Historical Dictionary, http://www.omiworld.org/dictionary.asp?v=5&vol=1&let=A&ID=554

 

 

“Character in a saint means the disposition of Jesus Christ persistently manifested.”   Oswald Chambers

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SOLIDARITY AND STABILITY PROVIDED BY A CARING PRESENCE

Father Victor-Antoine Arnoux, 24 years old, was dying in Aix after less than two years after his priestly ordination.

Here we are then menaced by another misfortune; we will lose this angelic Fr. Arnoux. Why have you consented to their sending him to Fuveau? What do you hope from this change? … I do not like our sick, especially when they are ripe for heaven, to leave our houses at the risk of dying without being assisted by their brothers. If you are in time, get this decision changed; it is not to my liking; or rather it is not fitting.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 24 June 1828, EO VII n 304

Eugene’s model of community was that of Jesus and the apostles. The spirit within that community had to be that of a family, caring for each other at all times, especially in sickness and death. At these times he wanted the one who was suffering to be surrounded by the solidarity, love and care of his brothers, and of the spiritual support they gave.

May we always realize how important it is to provide support and solidarity to those around us who are in need of our presence.

 

“There is no stability without solidarity and no solidarity without stability.”   Jose Manuel Barroso

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WITH COMPASSION YOU CAN DIE FOR OTHER PEOPLE

An epidemic of smallpox had just broken out in Marseille, brought by a ship arriving from the Middle East. Eugene was at Laus at the time of writing.

I would wish to be at Marseilles to arrange everything with the Bishop and yourself, I would like to be there also to watch out for the dangers that you indicate to me…. My plan would be to leave Saturday from Grenoble and Monday from Gap, for I ardently desire to join you in circumstances so painful from every point of view.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 24 June 1828, EO VII n 304

Victims of epidemics were considered by Eugene a being among the most abandoned and deserving of the care of the Oblates. As an intention for his first Mass he had prayed for:

Final perseverance, and even martyrdom or at least death while tending victims of the plague, or any other kind of death for God’s glory or the salvation of souls.

One of the intention for which he offered his first Mass, E.O. XIV n.100

We recall how he had nearly lost his life in serving the Austrian prisoners in 1814. This was oblation: being prepared to give all, even life itself for the salvation of others. Thirty five years later he recalled :

I have all my life desired to die a victim of charity. You know that this crown was withheld from me right from the first days of my ministry. The Lord had his designs since He wanted to trust me to give a new family to His Church; but for me it would have been a greater value to have died of the blessed typhus which I had contracted while serving prisoners.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 12 September 1849, E.O. X n.1018

 The response of the Oblates shows that they had understood this aspect of oblation.

Fr. Mie and Fr. Touche have asked me immediately to call them to Marseilles if the plague is there. Fr. Dupuy would wish like them, to devote himself in the service of the stricken; these offers are made by these good Fathers in the most edifying and most serious manner.
Fr. Touche has begun by proposing to God the sacrifice of his life while offering the Holy Sacrifice this morning.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 24 June 1828, EO VII n 304

 

“With compassion you can die for other people, like the mother who can die for her child. You have the courage to say it because you are not afraid of losing anything, because you know that understanding and love is the foundation of happiness. But if you have fear of losing your status, your position, you will not have the courage to do it.”   Thich Nhat Hanh

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HOW CAN I EXPRESS THE SORROW THAT I FEEL AT THE SIGHT OF SUCH GREAT DISORDERS?

I no longer feel anything from my fall, so let there be no more mention of it.

While proceeding from Gap to Notre Dame du Laus. the carriage provided by the Bishop of Gap overturned as it approached the village of Rambaud and Eugene struck his head violently and received a cut over the temple. He offered his pain and discomfort to God in atonement for the anti-religious actions of the government. The first of the government’s “June decrees” made ecclesiastical secondary schools subject to the rule of the University and the certificate of studies. It explicitly forbade the Jesuits to teach.

Please God I might exhaust upon myself all the bolts of divine anger with which France is menaced. The decree which, by expelling the Jesuits, deprives all Christian families of the kingdom of the sole means that remains to them to have their children raised in the principles of our holy religion and to preserve their morals from the frightful contagion that the University colleges propagate, is a public crime which has as many accomplices as it has people to approve it.

To make matters worse, the Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs in the government was a bishop:

The scandal of seeing a Bishop countersign this decree and provoke it by a revolting report, is also a misdeed which it will not be easy either to expiate.
How can I express the sorrow that I feel at the sight of such great disorders? You understand, you who share so well my sentiments. It is not enough to groan, one must make resound in the entire world the voice of the strongest protests…

He feels powerless

… I find myself like a lion who feels all his vigor, his strength and his courage, but who gnaws impotently on his chain and bit, whitening them with his froth.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 24 June 1828, EO VII n 304

Pope Francis continually echoes the same sentiments today in the face of increasing human suffering. Inviting us into the attitude of the compassion of Jesus, he constantly asks us as Eugene does: “How can I express the sorrow that I feel at the sight of such great disorders?”

 

“The culture of well-being, that makes us think of ourselves, that makes us insensitive to the cries of others, that makes us live in soap bubbles, that are beautiful but are nothing, are illusions of futility, of the transient, that brings indifference to others, that brings even the globalization of indifference. In this world of globalization we have fallen into a globalization of indifference. We are accustomed to the suffering of others, it doesn’t concern us, it’s none of our business.” Pope Francis

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