I HAVE THE HAPPINESS OF RECEIVING COMMUNION EVERY DAY, WHICH CONSOLES ME IN MY LONG AND SORROWFUL INFIRMITY

A reflection on where to look for strength and consolation in time of sickness and difficulty.

“The convalescence required calm, tranquility and rest. The Founder could not enjoy it either at Aix or at Marseilles. The orders of the doctors and of Father Tempier obliged him to retire to Grans, to the house of his uncle, M. Joannis, the converted Jansenist. Father Jeancard kept company with the venerable patient, whose weakness was extreme. For several weeks he could not celebrate Mass. Father Jeancard served him as chaplain, celebrated Mass in his presence, and gave him Holy Communion.”

Rey 1 p 473

Must I speak to you of my health? I improve slowly and while it remains impossible on account of my weakness to offer the Holy Sacrifice, I have the happiness of receiving communion every day, which consoles me in my long and sorrowful infirmity.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 16 July 1829, EO VI n 333

Here, and in many writings, Eugene refers to the anchor and source of strength of his daily life: the Eucharist.

The highpoint of his day was his time of becoming physically and spiritually united with his Savior at daily Mass and in intimate communion in his evening quiet prayer (oraison). This continues to be reflected in our Rule of Life today:

The Eucharist, source and summit of the Church’s life, is at the heart of our life and action. We will live such lives as to be able worthily to celebrate it every day…. In gratitude for this great Eucharistic gift, we will seek the Lord often in his sacramental presence.”   CC&RR Constitution 33

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A TOUGH SHOCK THAT BROUGHT ME TO DEATH’S DOOR

However, the Founder believing that he had reached the end of his life, had taken all the measures dictated by the circumstances of the moment. He had made his will, recalled the prescriptions of the Rule concerning the election of his successor, spoke with Fr. Tempier about the novitiate, the scholasticate and the juniorists. He anticipated nothing more than the moment of death, with the calm and serenity of a predestined soul.

But the hour of Providence had not yet struck. On the 16th of June, the attacks of suffocation did not recur and the fever began to diminish. A few days later the time of convalescence began without the Founder having to weep over the death of any of the many victims who had offered their lives to obtain his cure. God was satisfied with their goodwill and with the admirable submission of his devout servant.”

Rey 1 p. 471

 Six weeks later he referred to the newspaper reports that had mistakenly announced his death:

Although the newspapers have me dead, I still have enough life left in me…
Shall I mention my health? it has suffered a tough shock from two consecutive and very severe illnesses that brought me to death’s door. God in his goodness yielded to the innumerable prayers both private and public that were said for me and left me on earth. Pray, my respected and very dear friend, that it may result in my sanctification.

Letter to M. Antoine Garnier, superior general of St. Sulpice, 26 July 1829, EO XV n. 160

This was the second of Eugene’s touching-death experiences. The first had been in 1814 when he had caught typhus from the Austrian prisoners. When one emerges from a brush with death, everything seems different and is seen with new eyes. In 1814 his recuperation focused him on seeing the defeat of Napoleon and the restoration of the monarchy as an invitation to a religious response: the possibility of founding the Missionaries. Now, 15 years later, he was being invited to focus with new eyes on another political situation: the anti-religious sentiment in the country that would lead to the 1830 Revolution and a time of deep suffering for Eugene.

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DEATH: MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF OTHERS

Rey continues to narrate the reaction of Eugene in the face of death. His serenity and total self-giving inspired all those around him to renew their own “yes” to God in oblation.

“He wished to receive the Extreme Unction before the Holy Viaticum, saying that this practice was more in conformity with the spirit of the Church.

And when the Host was presented to him, “Leave me,” he said, in a voice interrupted by sobs, “let me contemplate my Master, my Savior … Yes, you are my God, I love you. It is a kind of profanation that you have been brought into this miserable dwelling place.” “How were you not put off to come and visit me?”

After the communion he made his profession of faith, renewed his vows by reading the formula of commitments.

When he had finished, Father Tempier having placed the ciborium on the side table, approached the bed, and on his knees renewed his vows at the hands of the venerable sick man, kissing them afterwards with love; He was imitated by the Fathers and Lay Brothers who had attended the ceremony.”

Rey I p. 471

An invitation to reflect on those who have inspired us with their serene faith in the fce of serious illness or death. How wonderful if we were able to learn from and imitate every act of oblation that we encounter in life.

 

What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.— Nelson Mandela

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THE FOUNDING VISION TODAY: THE KUSENBERGER CHAIR OF OBLATE STUDIES

 

This week I will be in Rome for an exciting event which will take place on Saturday 21 January at our General House. Deacon Robert and Mrs. Ruth Kusenberger, both Honorary Oblates, have generously endowed a Chair of Oblate Studies, at the service of the whole Mazenodian Family around the world, and to be based at Oblate School of Theology.

It is a practical and ongoing step to conclude our bicentenary celebrations and to lead us into the third century of our Oblate missionary existence. The Chair is the first of its kind and is dedicated to the study and dissemination of the history, charism, spirituality and mission of the Missionary Oblates through teaching and research, academic and enrichment programs, an annual Kusenberger lecture, and cooperation with the other Institutes of higher learning –  at the service of the Oblate General Administration and all connected with the charism of Saint Eugene de Mazenod throughout the world.

More details to follow…

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DEATH AS OBLATION

Eugene’s surrender to God as an invitation to renew our own self-giving.

“But, on the 12th of June, the situation became dangerous again. He began to suffocate and, as the patient could die at each attack: the doctor asked that the last sacraments be administered.

Father Honorat, who had been in Aix for three weeks, notified Father Tempier, who responded to his summons…and arrived the following day, June 14th. In his capacity as admonitor, Father Tempier explained the situation to him and the need for extreme unction.

The Founder received this communication with the submission of a soul entirely abandoned to the will of God. He made a general confession, and arranged the hour and order of the ceremony, which was fixed for Saturday morning.

It was followed by the reception of the last sacraments at the hands Father Tempier, appointed Vicar General of the Society from this moment. The sentiments of the liveliest faith and sublime peace manifested by the Founder filled all those who assisted with admiration.”        REY 1 p. 470

 

“The great use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.”    William James

 

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BEGGING A CURE AT ALL COSTS

An invitation to reflect on witnessing the sufferings of those close to us.

The Oblates in the four communities were not impassive onlookers. Like Eugene they had suffered the pain and death of Marius Suzanne, the suffering and near-death of Hippolyte Courtès, and now they helplessly looked on as Eugene himself began to struggle between life and death.

The biographer Rey takes up the story:

“Those of the House of Aix, witnessing the progress of the illness, never ceased to address to God the most ardent prayers for the healing of their beloved Father.

In Marseilles, when the seriousness of the Superior General’s health was known, their pain was no less lively. At this serious news, some wept in a heart-rending manner, others went to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Several, like three of them had done for Father Suzanne, offered their lives in the place of their beloved Founder. All offered wishes of the most filial piety. They asked permission to expose the Blessed Sacrament in the interior chapel for eight days, to implore the divine mercy so necessary to the tiny Society.

They did not confine themselves only to this; they vowed to go as a community to Notre Dame de la Garde, walking barefoot from the bottom of the hill, and they fulfilled the vow on that same day. They resolved to fast every Wednesday for a whole year. Other penances and exercises of piety were also practiced, each according to the movement of his fervor.

…Nonetheless, it was believed for a few days that these ardent supplications had been granted, and that the imminent danger had passed. They rejoiced and applauded the Founder, who, in the opinion of the doctors, regarded himself as freed from his violent illness.”

Rey I p. 469

As we will see, it was to be a temporary respite for Eugene’s health, and more serious illness was to follow. Looking at the reactions of the young Oblates touches a chord for us. How often, when faced with the sufferings of someone we love, have we offered so much to God in exchange for a favor or grace for that person? There is something beautiful and powerful in these acts of oblation for others.

 

“The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.”    Mahatma Gandhi

 

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PLEASE WAKE ME UP BECAUSE I WANT TO KNOW THAT I AM DYING

How serene am I at the prospect of death?

Eugene’s biographer, Rey, narrates the course of his illness:

The sons of Father de Mazenod, with Father Tempier above all, were far from optimistic; their filial attachment, on the contrary, began to be alarmed.

His illness became worse and worse, and he had to remain in bed. A very high fever broke out a few days later, and the doctors no longer concealed the seriousness of the symptoms. The patient understood the danger of his situation; he was less concerned with the sickness of the body than with the welfare of his soul and of the Society of which he was the Father. One night, when the intensity of the fever had become more violent, he refused to close his eyes for a single moment, wishing, he said, to employ more usefully the few moments that remained for him to live.

Rey I p. 469

Thirty two years later, on the night before he died, the 79 year-old Eugene instructed those around him: “If I fall asleep or if my condition worsens, please wake me up because I want to know that I am dying.”

A few hours before his death he said again: “Oh how I want to see myself dying, so that I can fully accept the will of God.” (Rey II  p. 857)

These were the sentiments of a person who had spent his life giving everything to his Savior, and who calmly rejoiced at being eternally united with the One he had always loved.

What a lesson to us to prepare our own lives for a serene encounter with our Savior in death.

“While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.”    Leonardo da Vinci

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I WOULD BE MORE INCLINED TO BELIEVE THAT ASSES TALK

Henri Tempier, in Marseille, was worried about Eugene’s illness and insisted doctors be consulted. Eugene obeyed and humorously commented:

… Let us come to my own situation, since I must refer to it. Yesterday was not entirely good; I took flight when I saw the doctors arrive but did not escape, however, their charitable pursuit…

Still looking on the bright side, he reported that someone had obviously irritated him in conversation on which he gave his opinion:

… The day has been quite good for me, apart from a somewhat too animated conversation which agitated me and made me resolve to let the world go by on its own, if I can, even if they declare to me that bulls fly, although I would be more inclined to believe that asses talk.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 16 May 1829, EO VII n 331

Optimism aside, this was the last letter he was to write for several months as his illness took over.

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OUR STATE OF MIND HAS AN EXTRAORDINARY INFLUENCE ON OUR PHYSICAL CONDITION

Six months of emotional drain, grief and countless hours of keeping watch at the bedside of the seriously ill and dying eventually took its toll on the health of Eugene. He became seriously ill himself in Aix and was to be incapacitated for the next six months. After describing the suffering of Hippolyte Courtès, he continues to tell Tempier about his own physical condition.

The pain I have in my heart has been strong and persistent yesterday and today; it has now been clearly proved to me that one’s state of mind has an extraordinary influence on our physical condition. I am going to see if, in the event it is impossible to cure the soul of its wounds, I can, by means of remedies, neutralize the reaction that my body is undergoing.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 11 May 1829, EO VII n 329

Four days later he reported to Tempier:

This evening, at the same time as the preceding one, I felt pain in the heart, but while it hurt, it was not nearly as strong as during the evening before, and lasted not so long. Hence I was able, while having some trouble in breathing, not only to sit up in bed, but to get up…  My actual state is that of a man whose interior organs do not have enough room to dilate and perform their functions while I am constricted in the chest, in the heart, in the stomach, in the head, everywhere. It is something quite bizarre but does not disquiet me at all.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 15 May 1829, EO VII n 330

Six months of being battered emotionally, with little regard for his physical well-being, now caused havoc to his health. He had no choice but to listen to his body.

Today, in our age of instant global communication, our well-being is under constant attack by so many negative forces. How much time and energy do we focus on caring for our bodies so as to maintain a healthy state of mind?

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.” I Corinthians, 6:19-20

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PAUSE FOR CHRISTMAS

I wish you a Blessed Christmas with this scene from our international nativity scene in the mission church in Aix en Provence, where Eugene used to celebrate, preach and pray.

We will begin these reflections again on Monday 9 January

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