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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200 YEARS AGO: PREACHING THROUGH WITNESS

In our exploration of the 1818 Rule , we have seen how Eugene set out the goals of the Missionaries: preach the Gospel to the most abandoned, make up for the loss of the Orders and to correct the ravages caused by corrupt priests. Then 15 pages follow on the preaching of parish missions.

The following section of the Rule is entitled “Other exercises – Preaching.” He situates what he is about to say on the topic of preaching within the context of the ends of the Congregation that he has dealt with before:

Since the end of the Institute is not only to give missions, but also to replace, insofar as our weak means permit, the religious orders and to repair the evils that have crept in among the clergy

He then comes to the heart of everything – the message that he constantly hammers home as being the only possible secret of the success of preaching:

all should be persuaded that it is easier to achieve this end by example than by words. Hence, we must convince ourselves that it is indispensable that we should practice all the virtues, and not be unacquainted with any of them.

Said in other words, Eugene is saying: who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.

…Since there is nothing more reliable than the preaching of the word of God and the wise administration of the sacrament of penance, all will take pains to fit themselves for the worthy discharge of these important works.

1818 Rule Part 1, Chapter 3, §1 Preaching

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200 YEARS AGO: NOTA BENE –  OBLATION AS A NEW HEART, A NEW SPIRIT, A NEW MISSION

Having enthused about the lofty ideals of the Missionaries and having drawn up the plan of action to achieve them, Eugene now returns to reality. The Nota Bene was written in response to the havoc being caused in the Church by priests who were not living up to the ideals of their vocation, who were blocking the way to God for others through their bad example. So he returns to that painfully negative theme.

We have to penetrate even more deeply – to the very heart of the sanctuary, to sweep away so much refuse collected at its entryway, its interior to the very steps of the altar where the Sacred Victim is sacrificed,

The ministry of those who have remained faithful, despite persecution, danger of death and derision and indifference, is compared with a fire struggling to stay lit. The Missionaries must help these priests at all costs:

to rekindle the sacred fire of pure love which is nurtured only by a small number of holy ministers who carefully guard the final sparks which will soon become extinguished with their passing, if we do not hasten to step forward to gather round them

By the quality of their lives and their generous oblation, the Missionaries can make a difference – they can be agents of renewal, conversion and new hope. They do this through their ministry of preaching parish missions and in their various permanent missions from their community – but most of all by the quality of their generous oblation. It is a question of “BE” in order to “DO”:

and there, acting in concert with them, to offer to the living God in reparation for so many crimes, the most thorough and total homage and devotion, the sacrifice of one’s entire being to the glory of the Savior and to the service of his Church.

1818 Rule, Part One, Chapter One, §3. Nota Bene

The vocabulary may have changed, the painful situations may have taken other forms, but today that challenge to generosity still resounds in the Mazenodian Family

 

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200 YEARS AGO: NOTA BENE – HUMAN, CHRISTIAN, SAINT

How to make this ideal a reality in the lives of the people the Missionaries were serving? Their methodology had three steps:

to make men reasonable
then Christians
and finally to help them become saints.

1818 Rule, Part One, Chapter One, §3. Nota Bene.
Missions, 78 (1951) p. 16

Firstly, it was necessary to come into contact with the human reality of each one.

“The Word became human and made his home among us” (John 1:14).

The people described in the Nota Bene were “wallowing in ignorance” about God and their faith. Through their preaching and teaching the Missionaries aimed at helping them to reflect and make decisions about their lives in a rational way. Over the course of 200 years Eugene and the Oblates have interpreted this call in a wider sense as referring to all the aspects connected with the human welfare of the person. The history of the actions of the Mazenodian Family continue to bear witness to this in five continents.

Secondly, to help people to become more deeply Christian by “teaching them who Jesus Christ is” and inviting them to enter into a life-giving relationship with God.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Finally, the call to help people to become heroic in their response to God.

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13-14).

To become saints – to be so fully imbued with the values of the Kingdom of God so as to share its fullness in the Resurrection. Saint Eugene, Blessed Joseph Gerard, Blessed Joseph Cebula, and the Blessed Martyrs of Spain have been officially recognized as being saints.

Eugene was convinced that everyone who lived the Rule fully was assured of a share in the fullness of the Kingdom. These were three steps necessary to achieve this: human, Christian and then saints.

Today these three steps continue to be present in our approach to evangelization:

We will always be close to the people with whom we work, taking into account their values and aspirations…

…we strive to bring all people – especially the poor – to full consciousness of their dignity as human beings and as sons and daughters of God.

CC&RR, Constitution 8

 

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