As these reflections will pause until 13 January, I wish each of you a Happy Feastday for December 8, 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 2188 reflections on this website which have been published over the past 9 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 2020.

Frank Santucci OMI

Kusenberger Chair of Oblate Studies,

Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio, Texas.

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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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Eugene would have liked to have dedicated the rest of his life to serving only the Oblates, but this was not God’s plan for him. 

How often I have counted the blessings I would enjoy eventually in the solitude of one of our houses, should the Lord have called my uncle to himself before my own death! …And now here today all this future happiness vanishes. I must submit to this yoke that I have done everything to avoid. The will of God is manifested in a way that cannot be mistaken. And I find myself in a position of not being able to refuse. No one would want to pay heed to the purely personal considerations I would like to be heard.

He now lists five reasons why it is important that he obey God’s will as shown in his nomination as Bishop of Marseilles:

    • The conservation of the Diocese of Marseilles assured after so many and such violent attacks to eliminate it from the list of dioceses.
    • The involvement of my venerable uncle, bound by a solid initiative  jeopardised inspired in his beautiful soul by considerations of heroic perfection, and confident of my obedience which he has every right to require of me.
    • The interests of all the diocesan foundations, a large number of which have only just been launched, and responsibility for which falls on us.
    • The good of our Congregation to which it is so important to have a Bishop of the Church of France as protector and anchor.
    • Finally the unanimous wish of all who are entitled to my trust. 
It took nothing less than all these powerful reasons to bring about my consent that I have given as if by necessity, with resignation, without hiding from myself the enormity of the responsibility, but also with the will, genuinely sincere I think, to fulfil it as well as I possibly can.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 9 April 1837, EO XVIII

We can learn from this example of discernment. When faced with a decision it is very helpful process to be able to write down all the reasons for and against.

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Eugene had been happy to be of service to the diocese and to his uncle in an auxiliary role. He had looked forward to retiring from Marseilles to devote himself more fully to the Oblate Congregation once his 87-year-old uncle retired or died.

There’s no doubt about it, my dear friend, it was to get you to pray for me more zealously that our Father Courtès gave you the news of an event that makes me feel so sad. My lovely Icosia was not weighing on me at all. With the episcopal character I could perform genuine services, even bear a portion of my good neighbours’ burden, but I was exempt from every responsibility, I was free and I could count on the rest to which I feel so strong an attraction, when the time came that I hoped was still far distant but which would eventually occur, unless I were the first to die.

Unburdening himself to his medical doctor and friend, Eugene reflected on the nature of the responsibility that was now given to him for the rest of his life:

Now here I am, doomed to die in harness and this terrible responsibility that I have always so feared, here it is ready to shatter me; for I am far from putting a diocese on a par with a prefecture. The role, rather the burden of the pastor is frightening in the eyes of faith.
And the first pastor, in virtue of his institution, is pastor by divine law for the whole of his diocese! How can one deceive oneself that nothing is suffering through his fault in so vast a field, how can one make a promise always to do what one can to acquit oneself of so immense a duty?
For myself, I am bewildered when I reflect on it and have to summon up my inexhaustible trust in God’s goodness, in the help of the prayers of the just who still bother themselves about me, in the protection of the saints who have found themselves in the same crisis as myself, to win a little respite.

It was a responsibility that Eugene would fulfil with total dedication and much success for the following 25 years.

Thank you, dear friend, for all that your good heart inspired you to say so kindly to me on this topic; I would like to merit your praises, but, apart from my goodwill, there is precious little else.

Letter to Doctor M. d’Astros, 16 April 1837, EO XV n 183

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People began to congratulate Eugene on his appointment as Bishop of Marseilles. To his Oblate brothers, Eugene confided his true sentiments.

My dear Courtès, it is a consolation for me, in my disappointment to see you pleased and satisfied at the trick my Uncle has just played on me. My plan was quite different, it was more to my taste, to my inclination, I like to believe that it offered less advantages to the Congregation.
We must not think of it any more. God seems to have given the verdict, my duty will be to do my best in the new position where his Providence is placing me.
I have always feared pastoral responsibility. It weighs very heavily on me. As long as work was only a burden, I carried it willingly; in the future, it will not be so. I shall narrate to you how all this happened, when we meet next.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 16 April 1837, EO IX n 612

To his medical doctor, to whom he was very close, he wrote: 

One day I will tell you just how my good and venerable uncle played this trick on me. He has never been so gleeful as since he pulled this off, he laughs, sings, he is almost tempted to boast about it, I am the only one put out in this whole affair in which someone has been dealing under the table!

Letter to Doctor M. d’Astros, 16 April 1837, EO XV n 183

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 “In the prolonged silent prayer we make each day, we let ourselves be molded by the Lord, and find in him the inspiration of our conduct” (OMI Rule of Life Constitution, 33).

The practice of Oraison was an important part of St. Eugene’s daily prayer during which he entered into communion with the members of his missionary family. While they were all in France it was easy for them to gather in prayer at approximately the same time. When Oblate missionaries started to be sent to different continents it was no longer possible to pray at the same time, yet each day there was a time when they stopped and prayed in union with one another – even though not at the same time.

This is a practice that Eugene wanted the members of his religious family to maintain. This is why you are invited to take part in this practice of Oraison on Sunday, December 15, 2019, as we remember the feast of the six Oblate Martyrs of Laos and the Oblate lay catechist on December 16th.

Excerpt from Oblate Prayer Book pg. 159. 

During the Indochina War, between the years 1954-1970, seventeen followers of Christ in Laos suffered martyrdom for the sake of His name. Among them were six Oblates of Mary Immaculate who offered their lives in sacrifice so that the Gospel could be heard: Fr. Mario Borzaga OMI, Fr. Louis Leroy OMI, Fr. Michel Coquelet OMI, Fr. Vincent L’Hénoret OMI, Fr. Jean Wauthier OMI, Fr. Joseph Boissel OMI, and one of their catechists, Paul Thoj Xyooj. The Church in Laos recognizes these blessed as their founding fathers.

John 12: 24-26 

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.

Blessed Louis Leroy OMI 

On April 18, 1961 Fr. Louis Leroy was praying in his poor church. A detachment of guerrilla soldiers came to get him. According to the villagers, he knew this was his final departure: he asked permission to put on his cassock, put his cross on and with his breviary under his arm said goodbye. Without a hat and barefooted he followed the soldiers. In the forest, a few shots and it was over…. His childhood dream of witnessing to Christ, even in martyrdom, was granted.
He had written to the Superior General of the Oblates: “Before I knew the Oblates the missions in Asia attracted me, and I wanted to leave my work as a farmer for these missions…. The difficulties the Laos mission has had and perhaps will have again have only increased my desire for this country…. I would be very happy to receive my obedience for Laos if you feel it is good to send me there….”

Blessed Mario Borzaga OMI:

“In my prayer, I do not ask Jesus for joy or strength; I ask only to love him more and more—to love him as the saints and martyrs loved him.”

St. Eugene de Mazenod :

How happy they are to be able to sacrifice themselves for their brothers whom they are sanctifying, saving, placing in glory, at the price of their lives, like our Divine Master who died for the salvation of people! How admirable they are! But also, how fortunate, these dear martyrs of love! What a beautiful page in the history of our Congregation! (Letter to Bruno Guigues, 1 August 1835, EO VIII n 529) 

For further reading we recommend the following article on the OMIWORLD website: https://www.omiworld.org/our-charism/our-saints/oblate-causes/the-6-blessed-oblate-martyrs-of-laos/short-biographical-notes/ 

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Visit from my uncle in my room in an extraordinary state of jubilation bearing in his hand the royal ordinance that names me Bishop of Marseilles consequent upon the resignation that this venerable old man has tendered of his Diocese.

This was the worst news that Eugene could receive. Five years earlier, to save the Diocese of Marseilles from being eliminated by the government, he had agreed to be ordained titular bishop of Icosia without the responsibility of a diocese. (See the article “Icosia” in the Oblate Historical Dictionary https://www.omiworld.org/lemma/icosia-bishop-of/ and chapter 5 of the book by Hubenig and Motte, Living in the Spirit’s Fire https://www.omiworld.org/wp-content/uploads/Living-in-the-Spirits-Fire.pdf) 

My own anxiety must have been in striking contrast with the sentiments my uncle was expressing.
This appointment was his doing, he had succeeded in getting all he wanted, he was happy to see his Diocese safe and confided to a man he judged fitted to continue his episcopate.
But I who have always dreaded the responsibility of a diocese, and who was happily content with my independent position in the Church, I who up to now had been able to plead the necessity of staying by my uncle’s side to avoid the dreaded responsibility of the title of first pastor… I was dumbfounded to see myself as it were caught in the trap…

Eugene’s uncle, Bishop Fortuné, had resigned from his diocese on condition that the Vatican and the King appoint Eugene as his successor. Eugene knew nothing about this “trap” and was dumbfounded and had no choice but to accept it as a manifestation of the will of God. 

The will of God is manifested in a way that cannot be mistaken. And I find myself in a position of not being able to refuse

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 9 April 1837, EO XVIII

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From our hymnals, certain ridiculous and out-of-place expressions of love must also be removed; verses that are significant and inspiring of piety are what is needed.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 6 April 1837, EO IX n 611

He repeats this sentiment in his private journal:

I do not approve of a lot of singing without refrains, less still adorations, which are an insipid and wearying form of song at a moment when one would rather pray fervently without being distracted by singing, unless it is singing oneself some couplets of the very moving sort that inspire piety.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 7 April 1837, EO XVIII

Yvon Beaudoin adds in a note: “We retain a copy of the Recueil de cantiques published in Grenoble in 1837, 152 pages. Among the prayers, placed at the beginning of the volume, is found, on pages XXI-XXIV, a “Hymn during Mass”, composed of 20 verses, one for the moment of the Introit, another at the Confiteor, at the reading of the Epistle, etc. When speaking of ‘adorations’ Bishop de Mazenod is perhaps referring to this hymn.”

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During the preaching of parish missions the Oblates aimed at maximum involvement by the people. Singing was one of them, but with certain conditions:

In the missions. I recommend you use hymns with a refrain, which the congregation can repeat. I insist that there be refrains which the whole congregation can sing, nothing more.
I don’t find anything more wearisome than listening to some isolated voices which annoy you by their unison without anyone being able to hear one word of what they utter. It is the very opposite of devotion. In this case, music, far from sending the souls to God, turns them away from him. Instead of praying at such a precious moment, people languish. People prefer to pray fervently without being distracted by the singing.
And so I would like to suppress, in our missions, any adoration, any hymn, in which the refrain could not be repeated by the entire congregation. Hence I insist on hymns with a refrain because during the mission all must sing.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 6 April 1837, EO IX n 611

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Zeal for the salvation of souls was a missionary quality which the Oblates had. Yet this same zeal could lead some of then to exaggerated efforts. In his journal Eugene expressed his concern to one of them:

Letter to Father Mille. I reprove him for having undertaken the two missions of Prébois and St. Nicholas, exhausted as he is from preceding missions. I insist on the necessity of his disciplining himself.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 7 April 1837, EO XVIII

To Father Mille, he wrote strongly:

I cannot help reproaching you for wanting to give at any cost this mission at Prébois which I had asked you to give up because of the fatigue of the previous missions where I knew that you had spat blood, This amounts to tempting God and killing oneself without any merit; for the Lord does not reward good that is done outside of obedience, less still the good we attempt to do against the norms of obedience. I include among these latter the reasonable care of one’s health.
What is the use of wearing oneself out in this manner? This is always bad; but in our situation, I consider it a crime. So be prudent, for God’s sake! and for once learn to sacrifice your ideas in favour of a father’s disapproval.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 6 April 1837, EO IX n 611

Words that still apply today and that not all of us heed!

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