CELEBRATING THE INVITATION TO COME AND “BE” IN ORDER TO “DO”

From the very beginning, Eugene insisted that whatever missionary work was done, its success depended on the quality of life of those doing it. It was the example of the lifestyle of the missionary that was to speak louder than any words. This is why for Eugene, community and a commonly accepted Rule of Life was a non-negotiable element of our vocation.

In our 206 year history, many lay persons have joined the Oblates in living a vocation to be missionaries, expressed in many ways according to their state of life.

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The Mazenodian Family at prayer in the Oblate Chapel in  Aix en Provence

Each of the members of the Mazenodian family has a vocation to BE (to have an exemplary quality of life) – in order to DO (to evangelize people and help them to find a Christ-focused meaning in their lives).

Eugene highlighted the core ideal to Tempier:

… an establishment which will steadily furnish our countryside with fervent missionaries.

These will ceaselessly engage in destroying the empire of the demon, at the same time as providing the example of a life worthy of the Church in the community which they will form.

Indeed, we will live together in one house, that which I have bought, under a Rule we shall adopt with common accord

To form “one heart and one soul” is a concept dear to the heart of the Founder. As the size of the Congregation grew, so did he become increasingly insistent on this unity. For Eugene, his missionary family was the most beautiful family in the whole world and he wanted it to be the most united. The one heart and one soul was formed by an equilibrium in lifestyle and Eugene’s constant call was for a greater balance – BE in order to DO:


Happiness awaits us in this holy Society which will have but one heart and soul. One part of the year will be devoted to the conversion of souls, the other to seclusion, study and our individual sanctification.

I say no more for the moment; it suffices to give some intimation of the spiritual delights we will taste together…

… All depends on how we begin. We need perfect unanimity of sentiments, the same goodwill, the same disinterestedness, the same devotedness – that sums it up.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 9 October 1815, EO VI n 4

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CELEBRATING OUR VOCATION TO LISTEN TO WHAT GOD IS ASKING AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS

Eugene’s letter to the 27 year-old diocesan priest, Henri Tempier, is an essential foundation document for us. It contains the seeds of what is essential in our vocation.

The letter shows the fundamental starting point of the vocation of any member of the Mazenodian family: it has to flow from an experience of the love of God on the Cross. “Read this letter at the foot of your crucifix” is not a pious thought – but it is a necessary attitude: Eugene experienced God’s love for him and understood his vocation at the foot of the Crucifix. Anyone who feels called to journey with Eugene needs to have as a starting point and as a point of focus the fact of God’s love expressed on the Cross.

In his desire to live “all for God” Tempier must listen to where the voice of God is calling him to move for the glory of God and for the salvation of the abandoned people of Provence.

My dear friend, read this letter at the foot of your crucifix
with the desire to listen only to God
regarding what the good of his glory
and the salvation of souls
demand from a priest like yourself.

Henri Tempier is invited to look at the religious situation of the poorer people in Provence through the eyes of the Crucified Savior. It is an invitation to feel from the depth of his heart their experience of not having a sense of direction in their lives because God is absent.

At the foot of the Cross, symbol of the Savior who sacrificed all for others, he is invited to make a sacrifice of his own comfort so that others may have life.

This is the meaning of oblation: to look at the most abandoned with the eyes and heart of the Savior, and to respond by imitating the Savior’s self-giving so that they may have the fullness of life.

Dismiss the attraction of possessions, the love of comfort and convenience;

allow yourself to be fully penetrated by the situation of the people who live in the countryside, by the state of religion among them, by the apostasy that daily spreads wider with dreadfully ravaging effects.

Look at the feebleness of the means employed to date to oppose this flood of evil; ask your heart what it would like to do to remedy these disasters and then reply to my letter.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 9 October 1815 EO VI n 4

This invitation has continued to be repeated and echo throughout our 206-year history. Many have responded as religious, priests and laity, and their missionary generosity has made a difference to the lives of countless people around the world. As we celebrate, we give thanks and we respond with the desire to let Eugene’s call continue to echo and to make a difference.

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CELEBRATING A DREAM THAT BECAME A SOURCE OF LIFE TO MANY

We prepare to celebrate the 206th anniversary of our foundation. The time had come for Eugene to begin to invite others to join him in his missionary dream. As members of the Mazenodian family, lay and religious, we are invited to see in these vocational texts something about our own calling to live out our baptism according to the spirit of Eugene.

In this letter Eugene invites Hilaire Aubert, director of the seminary in Limoges, to join him and gives the main reasons for the existence of the new group: the tragic religious situation of the poor and the scarcity of missionaries to help them through preaching and through their efforts to destroy the power of evil. The situation today still calls out with the same invitation.

The good we intend to do must remedy the greatest evils that face us. Those who deal with them dwindle; there is nothing more urgent.

… Oh, dear friend, if you would be one of us! We would begin in your part of the country where religion is practically extinct as in so many other places. I almost dare to say that you would be necessary.

Continuing to reflect on Eugene’s letter of invitation to Hilaire Aubert, we come across a central concept of Eugene’s thought and action: that of forming a group that would be a life-giving cell in the world. He uses the word noyau, which refers to a group that is a source of life to others, like a nucleus in a group of cells, or the seed in a fruit, or the core of something that has life. When he started his youth congregation in Aix, it was for them to be yeast in the society of Aix. Similarly, the Missionaries were meant to be the same: an select group of persons who would be a source of life for others.

In order to be a life-giving force in France, the Missionaries would have to have a quality of life that would be a life-giving to others. They needed to aim at becoming saints by living the commandment of love, according to a Rule and with a transparent lifestyle like the apostles. In order to be a life-giving force in the world of today, we as members of the Mazenodian family, lay and religious, are called to a particular quality of life so as to be a nucleus in society.

Ah! if we could form a nucleus, there would soon cluster round it the most zealous elements in the diocese.

Think a while about that before the good God. You know that we must have, in order to do any good in our regions, people of the country who know the language.

Oh! do not doubt that we will become saints in our Congregation, free but united by bonds of the most tender charity, by exact submission to the Rule we would adopt, etc. We would live poorly, apostolically, etc.

Letter to Hilaire Aubert, 1815, EO VI n 3

(Note: After being presented with this founding vision, Hilaire Aubert discerned not to join the Missionaries of Provence)

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PREPARING TO CELEBRATE 206 YEARS OF EXISTENCE AS A MAZENODIAN FAMILY

In 2016 I published a series of reflections in preparation for our bicentenary on 25 January. Six years later, I think it useful to revisit a few of them to prepare us to live this event in a deeper way.

“Just as the child is father to the man, so the impressions of one’s youth remain the most vivid in manhood” (Gustav Stresemann). As I reflect on how God prepared Eugene to bring a missionary group into existence, I recognize a patchwork of events and impressions in his life that remained vivid and gave a specific color and quality to the Mazenodian Family that was born on 25 January 1816.

EM childEugene was born into a noble family and did not lack anything: loving parents, a large house filled with servants, a good primary school, and all the material possessions he needed. The French Revolution took all that away and he experienced exile away from his country of birth, moments of insecurity and fear and even poverty when they had to rely on the charity of others. These impressions were later to make him aware of and sensitive to others who were suffering as immigrants, or in poverty or in fear – the very people he founded the Oblates to serve.

 

EM fatherEugene’s father was a judge who wrote and spoke well. From him, Eugene inherited the ability to be an outstanding and persuasive preacher. He learnt to treat everyone with justice and to relate easily with all classes of society. He learnt to understand and respect the law, and was able to use these skills to draw up several Rules of Life for the youth congregation and for the Missionaries.

EM motherHis mother came from a very wealthy middle class family. From her he learnt business and financial skills that would serve the organization of the Oblates and the Diocese of Marseille with efficiency – not to forget the considerable financial aid that she gave to the mission of the Oblates in providing the money necessary for various projects.

He had had good teachers and mentors – especially Don Bartolo Zinelli in Venice. From them he learnt the importance of spiritual guidance in human and faith development. As a priest, missionary and bishop, he spent his life ministering as a guide to people who were in need – and founded a missionary group to dedicate itself to evangelization and faith development among the most abandoned.

His warm, sensitive heart led him to a sensitivity to the needs of others and a search for the most loving response possible. He had a passionate, fiery character and was a born leader. When he did explode in anger, he would go out of his way to make amends when he realized that he had hurt others. (http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/?p=27 – begins some revealing reflections which he wrote on his personality)

God used all these characteristics, weak and strong, to mold his instrument into a missionary priest and religious and founder of the Missionary Oblates and the larger Mazenodian Family. God was preparing this “jar of clay” to receive a treasure:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”   2 Corinthians 4:7

As we journey with Eugene towards January 25, let’s pause to reflect on how God has molded us into jars of clay containing a treasure. When we have done this at a personal level, let’s think of how the large Mazenodian Family has been a huge container for the Savior’s love and mercy for 206 years.

The child is indeed the “father of the man” – all that God has done in our lives, in good times and in bad, has molded our Mazenodian Family in generosity – to be fruitful and bring the love of the Savior to birth in situations of abandonment.

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AN INVITATION TO A COURSE TO DEEPEN YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF ST EUGENE DE MAZENOD

For more information: course-offerings-january-may-2022

To register: registrar@ost.edu

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CHARISMS OF CONSECRATED LIFE: GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT FOR THE COMMON GOOD

FOR DETAILS SEE: https://ost.edu/event/consecrated-life-as-a-charism-in-the-church/2022-01-24/

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WITH MARY IMMACULATE DURING OUR PAUSE

As these reflections will pause until mid-January, I wish each of you  a fruitful Advent and all the blessings of Christmas.

We ask Mary Immaculate to accompany us during this period:

Mary Immaculate is patroness of our Congregation. Open to the Spirit, she consecrated herself totally as lowly handmaid to the person and work of the Savior.

She received Christ in order to share him with all the world, whose hope he is. In her, we recognize the model of the Church’s faith and of our own.

We shall always look on her as our mother.
In the joys and sorrows of our missionary life, we feel close to her who is the Mother of Mercy.
Wherever our ministry takes us, we will strive to instil genuine devotion to the Immaculate Virgin who prefigures God’s final victory over all evil. (OMI Rule of Life,  CC&RR Constitution 10)

During our pause I invite you to consult the 2623 reflections on this website which have been published over the past 11 years (hard to believe that it has been this long!) and to use the website’s “search” engine to look up themes – http://www.eugenedemazenod.net

I also encourage you to consult the OMIWORLD website for some daily reflections: https://www.omiworld.org/daily-inspirations/ 

You may wish to read the actual writings of St Eugene online. You can find these in chronological order at http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/?page_id=2362

I wish you a Blessed Christmas and every blessing during 2022.

Frank Santucci OMI

Kusenberger Chair of Oblate Studies,

Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio, Texas.

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THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION – THE OBLATE MADONNA

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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MY BEST AND OLD FRIEND, I EMBRACE YOU WITH ALL MY HEART, IN WHICH IS CONCENTRATED THE LITTLE STRENGTH THAT REMAINS IN ME

Eugene continues the narrative of the last moments of the life of his friend, Charles de Forbin Janson.

I wanted to go to Aygalades to see the bishop; someone came to disturb me. And behold today it has been too late. At the time of departure for going to the side of the good bishop, Abbé Sibour arrived to tell me that he just had an infirmity which had frightened him and that he had believed himself duty-bound to inform me about it. I left immediately, but, in the interval, the bishop had rendered his soul to God. I found him dead. 

… It must be said that the poor bishop took very well what I said to him the day before yesterday and that he truly made the resolution to put order into his affairs, he even very warmly showed me his affection, when I was leaving him, in taking my hand and pressing it over his heart, which comes back to the expression which he used the day before while dictating to Abbé Janse these words which he addressed to me: “My best and old friend, I embrace you with all my heart, in which is concentrated the little strength that remains in me. Your old friend, Charles, bishop of Nancy.”(This was very likely his last signature, which I will keep in memory of our old friendship, which indeed goes back forty years.)

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 11 July 1844, EO XXI

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I UNDERSTOOD HOW USEFUL WAS THE MINISTRY OF FRIENDSHIP AND OF CHARITY WHICH I WAS FULFILLING WITH HIM

Eugene’s friendship with Charles de Forbin Janson dated back to their days in the seminary together. They had formed a deep friendship and shared much together during their early years of priesthood. Together they responded to the request of the Pope to rebuild the ruined post-revolution Church in France by the preaching of parish missions. Eugene initially was going to join his friend but then discerned that God was calling him to concentrate on the poor of Provence, by preaching in their language. (See http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/?p=829)

The letters shared between them give many details of Eugene’s early ministry and the foundation of the Missionaries of Provence. Charles had always been an unpractical dreamer – even when he was appointed Bishop of the diocese of Nancy – and this continued right to his last days as Eugene’s diary entry shows:

The bishop of Nancy came to rest in my home after having consulted Doctor Cauvière. The good prelate is kept in a lamentable sense of security by this doctor who, after having physically examined him, assured him that he did not have any lesion in his chest. I was saddened to see my friend under this assurance. While waiting to speak frankly to him what I think about his condition, I tell him that physicians make a duty of lying.

I was astonished that the doctor had vouched for his chest while I see him habitually spitting blood. He answered me that this did not disturb him, that this was nothing and that, if his rheumatism in his insides passed, he would soon be out of the situation. Never a similar illusion! While telling me this, he was out of breath, was not able to breathe and he had no good place at all on his armchair. I had to help him up when he wanted to withdraw and to hold him under the shoulders as far as the carriage. He is a man beyond hope except for a miracle.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 28 June 1844, EO XXI

A week later:

I went to make a small visit of friendship with the bishop of Nancy. He is continuously becoming worse, but, deceived by everything that surrounds him…  he has no suspicions that he is so close to his end. I therefore took advantage of the opportunity when I was alone with him to frankly tell him the truth. At the astonishment which he displayed to me, I understood how useful was the ministry of friendship and of charity which I was fulfilling with him,

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 9 July 1844, EO XXI

For further details see: https://www.omiworld.org/lemma/forbin-janson-charles-de/

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