200 YEARS AGO: THE CHART OF OUR VOCATIONAL JOURNEY

What more sublime purpose than that of their Institute!
Their founder is Jesus Christ, the very Son of God;
their first fathers are the Apostles.
They are called to be the Saviour’s co-workers, the co-redeemers of mankind

1818 Rule, Part One, Chapter One. The ends of the Institute,
§3. Nota Bene. Missions, 78 (1951) p. 15

The Rule of 1818 was Eugene’s response to the question, “How must one live in order to become this ideal?”

So far in our exploration of this Rule of Life of 1818, we have seen the first chapter, which defined the Missionaries and their principal goals. In first place, evangelizing the most abandoned with their many faces. Then to fill the spiritual void left by the destruction of the religious orders, and to help the clergy to be faithful stewards of God for the most abandoned. It was in the section on the reform of the clergy that Eugene wrote his well-known Nota Bene – the original version of the Preface.

The Rule continues by expanding these points by giving practical details. The second chapter is dedicated to the preaching of parish missions.

The third chapter is entitled, “other ministries.” We have seen the first two parts of this: the ministry of preaching and the ministry of confession. Tomorrow we will continue with the third ministry: the youth.

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200 YEARS AGO: HUG AS YOU HAVE BEEN HUGGED

Eugene’s own conversion experience had been the awareness of God’s boundless love and mercy:

Blessed, a thousand times blessed, that he, this good Father, notwithstanding my unworthiness, lavished on me all the richness of his mercy

Retreat Journal, December 1814, EO XV n.130

He describes how he experienced the closeness of God’s love once he had acknowledged his sinfulness:

you forgot all my acts of ingratitude to help me as powerfully as if I had been always faithful to you; my tender father, who carried this rebel on your shoulders, warmed him against your heart, washed his wounds, etc.

Notes made during the retreat in preparation for priestly ordination
1-21 December , EO XIV n. 95

He is describing the experience of being “hugged” by God

Now, the Missionary – the “co-operator of the Savior” – has to treat the sinner in exactly the same manner as he has been treated:

For the rest, let the missionaries always be ready to welcome sinners with inexhaustible charity. Let them encourage the penitents by their pleasant manner, and by showing a compassionate heart.
In a word, let them treat them as they themselves would wish to be treated if they were in the same unfortunate condition.

1818 Rule Part 1, Chapter 3, §2 Regarding Confession

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200 YEARS AGO: FROM WORD TO ACTION

The next section of the Rule of 1818 moves to the logical conclusion of preaching: helping the listener to come to a personal encounter with God as Savior. Preaching should make people aware of their need for conversion, best expressed in the sacrament of reconciliation:

Concerning confessions he will keep in mind what St. Ignatius, St. Philip Neri, and many others perceived, namely, that the work begun in the pulpit has to be completed in the tribunal of penance. If grace has touched a soul by the strength of the Word of God, ordinarily it is in the tribunal of penance that grace molds and justifies it. Preaching, indeed, has no other end than to lead sinners to the pool of salvation.

When God’s grace touches a person with the desire for conversion, the Missionaries need to be available to celebrate the sacrament with them.

We will, therefore, never refuse the request of those who seek to go to confession, whether during the time of missions, or outside of it.
Where we have our residences, three days a week will be especially dedicated to the hearing of confessions.

1818 Rule Part 1, Chapter 3, §2 Regarding Confession

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200 YEARS AGO: PREACHING –  SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL FOR GOD

It goes without saying that it is never permitted to receive even the least recompense for preaching, or the administration of the sacraments, or any other ministry.

1818 Rule Part 1, Chapter 3, §1 Preaching

The Missionary co-operator of the Savior must imitate the example of the apostles:

“Give as freely as you have received! Don’t take any money in your money belts– no gold, silver, or even copper coins. Don’t carry a traveler’s bag with a change of clothes and sandals or even a walking stick. Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve to be fed.”

Matthew 10:8-10

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THE WRITINGS OF ST EUGENE IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER

Thanks to the work of many contributors, we now have the published writings of St Eugene in chronological order in English at http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/?page_id=2362 

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200 YEARS AGO: PREACHING – WE ARE FILLED WITH WHAT WE TEACH BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO INSTRUCT OTHERS

The central aim of preaching for Eugene was to instruct and to give a message that would lead people into a deeper relationship with God and one another:

Experience proves that it is possible to attain this desirable end, the only end indeed that we may lawfully set before us in this dangerous ministry, which so many vain and proud priests have exercised to their own misfortune and without obtaining the salvation of others.

It may be surprising to read of preaching as a “dangerous ministry”. When one considers the huge numbers flocking to the missions and all the emotion around the many conversions, the danger would have been for the Missionaries to take personal credit for it themselves and to forget that they were preaching as instruments of the Savior and His grace.

We shall not attain it, however, unless we renounce our own personal glory, and repress in the depth of our hearts the vain praises of men; in a word, unless like the Apostle we preach Jesus Christ and him crucified “not with pretentious speech, but in the demonstration of the Spirit,” that is to say, unless we make it evident that we are penetrated with what we teach, and that we have begun to practice, before attempting to instruct others.

1818 Rule Part 1, Chapter 3, §1 Preaching

 

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THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION – THE OBLATE MADONNA

We go back to 1822. In the midst of all his concerns for the survival of his newly-founded Missionary family, Eugene celebrated the feast of the Assumption. It was a day which was to leave a permanent impression on the history of our Mazenodian family. Achille Rey, who knew Eugene well, wrote in his biography:

August 15 1822 witnessed a feast in the Church of the mission of Aix. Fr. de Mazenod blessed, in the presence of a large gathering of his youth congregants and of other pious faithful, a statue of the Most Holy Virgin, under the title of the Immaculate Conception. It is to this same statue that he came for long and frequent prayers: it has become one of the most precious souvenirs of the origins of the family. (Rey I, p. 280)

Eugene’s letters of 1822 have shown the many concerns and difficulties he was experiencing. Not least among these was his worry about the survival and future of his small group of Missionaries. It was in this spirit that he blessed the new statue in the chapel, which became the opportunity for a powerful life-giving insight. He immediately wrote to Henri Tempier, who was in Laus.

I believe I owe to her also a special experience that I felt today; I will not go so far as to say more than ever, but certainly more than usual.

Eugene was usually very reticent about describing his deep spiritual experiences. His “more than usual” experience was connected with the life of the Missionaries of Provence, who were experiencing external difficulties and whose future existence was in the balance.

I cannot describe it too well because it covered several things, but all related to a single object, our dear Society.

He then described the confirmation that he received that the foundation of the Missionaries had come from God and that God assured him of a solid future for this group.

It seemed to me that what I saw, what I could put my finger on, was 
that within it lies hidden the seed of very great virtues,
and that it can achieve infinite good;
I found it worthy,
everything pleased me about it,
I appreciated its rules, its statutes;
its ministry seemed awe-inspiring to me, as it is indeed.
As I looked at the Society I found in it a sure, even infallible, means of salvation.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 15 August 1822, EO VI n 86

This was the grace that the Oblate Madonna had obtained for Eugene: a God-given assurance that he was on the right track and that he needed to persevere despite all the external storms raging around him that seemed to threaten the existence of the Missionaries.

Two hundred years later we continue to reap the harvest of this boost of confidence which our Oblate Madonna “smiled” on us.

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200 YEARS AGO: PREACHING – THE TEST OF A SUCCESSFUL SERMON

We should see to it that, when our sermons are over, they, instead of presuming to bestow foolish admiration on what they have not understood,
will rather return to their homes instructed and well disposed,
instructed, and able to repeat in their families what they have learned from our lips.

1818 Rule Part 1, Chapter 3, §1 Preaching

When we sit down to prepare a sermon, we need to ask ourselves, “What message do I want the people to remember clearly as they walk out of the church and go back to their daily occupations?” Then, everything in the sermon is prepared in the light of that goal with only one desire: to instruct and to give an unforgettable message that will nourish the lives of the listeners throughout the week.

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200 YEARS AGO: PREACHING – CHEW THE BREAD OF THE WORD

The Missionaries, who spent a large part of their ministry in preaching the Gospel, needed to be clear about their priorities:

we must seek only to instruct the people,
to be attentive to the needs of the majority of the audience,
and we must not be content to break the bread of the Word of God for them,
but also, as it were, to chew it for them.

1818 Rule Part 1, Chapter 3, §1 Preaching

These four directives contain the heart of preaching for the Missionary. He had to be close to the people, so as to be aware of their needs. Only then could he respond by giving them the instruction that they needed.

Their aim was to feed their listeners with the Word of God – but not only in theory. Like a mother-bird feeding her chicks by having chewed the food first, they were to have chewed the Word themselves so as to nourish others. The Missionaries “chewed” the Word of God in their daily times of prayer and Gospel meditation and in trying their best to live it through the practice of the virtues, the lived values of the Kingdom. Then would the Missionary be able to say, like Saint Paul: “I hand on to you what I have received…”

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200 YEARS AGO: PREACHING – NOISY GONGS AND CLANGING CYMBALS

As an outstanding preacher himself, Eugene had no patience with the flowery preachers who had style and played with words but had no solid content. His diary entries spare them no criticism, and in his Rule he wanted to ensure that his Missionaries never fell into this trap.

It should be understood that it is in direct opposition to the spirit of our Rule to aim at elegance of style in preaching, rather than solidity of doctrine.
Too many preachers want to be admired for the magnificence of their eloquence and the brilliance of their studied language; we must follow another way;

1818 Rule Part 1, Chapter 3, §1 Preaching

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