MY HEART IS HEAVY

… It is unbelievable how the morale influences my unhappy person physically. My heart is heavy, it beats with difficulty and too fast.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 24 December 1830, EO VII n 375

The anti-religious climate was taking its toll on Eugene. He was concerned for the Oblates: the chaplaincy of the College of Aix had been taken from the Oblates, their mission house of Nimes closed, and Fr. Capmas had fallen gravely ill. Then, Bishop Fortuné had fallen sick as a result of the tensions in the diocese, and the future was uncertain. Eugene was also stuck in Nice waiting for a reply from the King of Sardinia to his request to send missionaries to his Kingdom.

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WE CANNOT HIDE FROM THE FACT THAT THE PERSECUTION IS BEGINNING

Having left Switzerland, Eugene was now in Nice with his uncle, Bishop Fortuné. He was able to appraise the tension and dangers to the Church from the new government.

The civil authorities tried on every possible occasion to create difficulties for the diocese of Marseilles. Fr. Tempier, who was keeping things going as Vicar General had written to the newspaper about the dispute following an incident provoked by young people during a service in the church of St Theodore.

I would have wished that some expressions be removed from your letters and especially that you had not thought of printing your claim in a newspaper… I think that in the circumstances one must be strong but measured in one’s terms.

In Paris, the Minister of Worship, had published a letter ordering that there be no gatherings in churches except on Sundays and on four religious holidays retained by the Concordat of 1801. Eugene advised Henri Tempier to respond:

It is this tone that is moderate, but firm, that I advise you to take in the reply that you will make to the inconceivable and truly ridiculous letter of Monsieur Merilhou. I think one must keep the heaviest words for the last extremity. I admit nevertheless that there is reason to lose patience…. A little word on freedom could be inserted appropriately. We cannot hide from the fact that the persecution is beginning. Write to us immediately after Christmas; I fear some scandal on that holy night and they will not ask for better than to make you responsible for it.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 24 December 1830, EO VII n 375

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THE APOSTLES WERE FOREIGNERS IN THE COUNTRIES TO WHICH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ASSIGNED THEM TO PREACH THE GOSPEL

One of the difficulties of establishing missions by French religious and priests was that the people of the Kingdom were suspicious of foreigners who would bring in “revolutionary” ideas.

Would someone want to oppose us as foreigners? The members of a Congregation recognized by the Church, whose Superior is named by the Pope, are Catholic before all else.
Their lives are dedicated according to the spirit of their vocation to the service of souls without preference for persons or nations, their ministry is entirely spiritual, they belong to the country that adopts them, and live there under the protecting mantle of the law as faithful subjects, solely occupied with the purpose of their heavenly mission which strives to accomplish every duty, whether to God or to the Prince, his representative among men.

Eugene strengthens his argument by reminding them that the apostles were foreigners, as were all foreign missionaries around the world.

The Apostles were foreigners in the countries to which Our Lord Jesus Christ assigned them to preach the gospel. Religious who laid the first foundations of their Orders in various parts of Christianity were also foreigners and were not rejected because of that.
No one more than I will praise the wise measures that result in keeping a State from the contagion of evil doctrines and the influence of perverse men who trouble society elsewhere and shake its foundations; but would it be reasonable to suppose that one equally fears what is good, proven, what could only be useful and advantageous?

Letter to Fr. A Grassi SJ, 11 December 1830, EO XIII, n 76.

It was, in fact this suspicion, that won the day and the Oblates were not invited to the Kingdom.

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THE MANY FACES OF THE POOR

An impressive description of the Oblate outreach to the most abandoned:

Thus, at Aix, for example, besides the church that belongs to their house, where the members of the Congregation are attached offer divine service and every evening after prayer give an informal instruction to the people, they are assigned to give religious instruction to prisoners, hearing their confessions, something unheard of before, and when one of them is condemned to death, they accompany him to the scaffold.
Besides that, they do the religious services at the hospital for incurables, for foundlings, for charity and at the college.
At Marseilles, besides the service at the church and in prisons as at Aix, they instruct the people from Genoa in Italian and they direct the Major Seminary which is recognized as one of the best in France. At Nimes, besides the church services and the difficult missions in the Cévennes, which are sprinkled with Protestants, the Bishop has wished to assign to them the camp of 1400 condemned prisoners, a degraded group, who have some notion of morals and religion only from the time that they were confided to the charity of the members of our Congregation who, in this den of thieves, have worked true miracles of conversion.
Everywhere else the most difficult works of the holy ministry are entrusted to these religious, and if I am to believe the reports that the bishops testify to, they acquit themselves in a way that fully satisfies the solicitude of these vigilant first Pastors.

Letter to Fr. A Grassi SJ, 11 December 1830, EO XIII, n 76.

Our 2016 General Chapter certainly showed that this spirit of searching for the new faces of the poor continues today

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THE GOOD THAT THE OBLATES HAVE DONE IN EVERY WORK OF MERCY ENTRUSTED TO THEM

Wishing to establish the Oblates in the dioceses of Sardinia, Eugene recalls the fruits of their ministry in the dioceses of France:

These effects have occurred in the dioceses of Aix, Marseilles, Nimes, Fréjus, Digne, Gap, Grenoble and even that of Nice. If the facts spoke less clearly and were not supported by the witness of the entire populations of all those areas, I could give undeniable proofs of the same.
All the bishops of those different dioceses have personally attested to the usefulness of this Congregation and to all the good it has already done in their respective dioceses where it has been at work for fifteen years with a success due to God alone, for the sanctification of souls, by giving holy missions, taking care of poor prisoners, charitable hospices, seminaries, every work of mercy, in a word, that the bishops entrust to them.

Letter to Fr. A Grassi SJ, 11 December 1830, EO XIII, n 76.

 

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I WOULD NEED TO WRITE VOLUMES WERE I TO REPORT THE MARVELS THAT GOD HAS WORKED THROUGH THEIR MINISTRY

In the hope of being able to establish the Oblates in the Kingdom of Sardinia, Eugene continued to present their mission and spirit:

I am thus disposed, Reverend Father, if His Majesty so wishes, to place at his disposition all the members of our Congregation that he deems useful for his service and that of his people in Sardinia, as well as in any other portion of his states, whether to assist in their conversion by the conducting of holy missions, or by regular instruction and hearing confessions in the residences that His Majesty will designate as our living quarters, or finally by working diligently under the guidance of Our Lords the Bishops in the formation of clerics in seminaries [of those dioceses] which have one.
Already several years of experience in several regions is a sure sign for me of the blessings that the Lord will shower on the zealous efforts of these evangelical laborers. I would need to write volumes were I to report the marvels that God has worked through their ministry, especially since the Sovereign Pontiff has solemnly approved their Institute and placed this family among the Congregations recognized by God’s Church.

Letter to Fr. A Grassi SJ, 11 December 1830, EO XIII, n 76.

How many more volumes can be written about the past 200 years – and about the marvels being worked at this moment by the members of the Mazenodian Family. Let us pause to think of some, and to give thanks

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WE WISH TO STRIVE ONLY FOR GOD’S GLORY AND THE SALVATION OF SOULS REDEEMED BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST

In an attempt to establish the Oblates in the Kingdom of Sardinia (which comprised Nice, Savoy and Sardinia), Eugene wrote to Fr. Anthony Grassi, Jesuit Provincial and confessor to the King and Queen of Savoy. He was hoping that Fr Grassi would use his influence with the King regarding some possible Oblate establishments in his Kingdom. I will quote parts of this letter because it gives a good idea of the development of the Oblates in the 14 years since our foundation in 1816.

Right after I had arrived at Nice after a long and very difficult journey, I considered before God in the best disposition possible I could muster the interesting topic of our long conversation at Turin. I don’t think I am mistaken in seeing therein the way that Divine Providence seems to be indicating to us, that is, in the States of His Majesty to use a Congregation which is by duty devoted to the salvation of the most abandoned souls as well as to the special education of clerics.
I did not overlook the difficulties which one may encounter in carrying out a project whose consequences ought to be so beneficial to the Church and the State. Since, however, we wish to strive only for God’s glory and the salvation of souls redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, my trust is such that I fear nothing, not even the dangers which threaten those who dedicate their lives to the reform of morals and discipline in the territory where you propose that we exercise our holy ministry.

Letter to Fr. A Grassi SJ, 11 December 1830, EO XIII, n 76.

The “salvation of the most abandoned souls” and striving “only for God’s glory and the salvation of souls redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ” has continued to be our spirit and mission for two centuries. How consciously do they figure in my daily activities?

The “special education of clerics” was an urgent need in Eugene’s time – to ensure that the people had well-formed pastors. As the local church developed in the areas where we ministered, so too did the local bishops take on this responsibility. We are still involved in this area in some places, but it is no longer listed as one of our main ministries.

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UNCERTAINTY ABOUT THE FUTURE BECAUSE OF THE JULY REVOLUTION

While Eugene had been in Switzerland, it had been decided that his elderly uncle, Bishop Fortuné, troubled by the anti-religious sentiment in Marseilles, should leave France and take refuge in Nice. Eugene went to meet him there, after a frightening journey over the mountains in which their carriage had been stuck in the snow.

At last, at nine o’clock in the evening, we arrived at Nice and were taken to our respectable and beloved uncle; and after a good supper, of which we had an extreme need, we went to rest, thankful to God that no one took ill, not even my mother, who was wonderful at an age as advanced as hers.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 2 December 1830, EO VII n 372

Another challenge: the Archbishop of Aix had just died, and Eugene voiced his concerns as to the standpoint his successor would take regarding the Oblates. In case the Oblates would have to leave France, Eugene had made approaches to religious authorities outside to see about the possibility of establishing the Oblates there.

I had great sorrow in not being able to preside myself the office for the Archbishop, for I sincerely mourn this good Prelate. I share your fears regarding the choice of his successor and for several reasons; that is why I will not forget to prepare a shelter for those who will likely be asked to depart. I have proceeded with this matter since my departure from Fribourg and I am not without hope of succeeding, if our prayers obtain God’s protection; there are great difficulties to overcome, but what obstacles can thwart the prayers of souls who only wish to please God?

Letter to Henri Tempier, 4 December 1830, EO VII n 374

Troubled times indeed!

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ORAISON: THAT IS WHERE I MEET YOU

In these lines we touch the heart of Eugene’s prayer for those he loved: “I concern myself about you before God.” It was in the presence of God, in prayer, that Eugene communed with those who were absent.

My dear children, here I am already two days’ journey from you, each day separates me further from my cherished family; you are all present to me, just as you are, and most willingly I concern myself about you before God!

It was before the tabernacle every evening, that Eugene met the Oblates who were far away. He used the intimate word “rendezvous” for this: a friend, gathering with the Friend, and with all friends in this divine friendship.

That is where I give you rendezvous. Speak often of me to our common Father who is, with his divine Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, at the center of our hearts; love him, ever let us love each other more in him.

Letter to Jean-Baptiste Mille and the scholastics, 17 November 1830, EO VII n 371

 

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A TENDER AFFECTION FOR CHILDREN SO WORTHY OF ALL MY LOVE

Eugene had hoped to spend his last hours in Billens with the scholastics, but Bishop Forbin Janson had unexpectedly arrived to visit, and Eugene had had to spend time with him instead.

God alone, my dear children, can know what a sacrifice has been imposed on me by the touching and insistent friendship of the excellent Bishop of Nancy. I had promised myself several hours to enjoy your sweet company, my heart felt the need to be expansive, to express to each of you the sentiments of this tender affection with which it is filled for children so worthy of all my love. It was necessary to suppress, to stifle somewhat this outpouring of a soul which powerfully felt the need to communicate itself, and on leaving you I had to bear away my sorrow, my regret, without any of the consolations that I hoped from your last embraces and the moments I had saved in order to devote them to you entirely.

He then launches into one of his many expressions of fatherly pride and love for his Oblate sons.

This sacrifice has been so painful that I have dared to offer it to the good God in expiation of what perhaps is excessive in the affection that I have for you, if however one can love too much the children who have never given me the least reason for displeasure, who advance with fervor in the way that God has traced for them and who give such fine hope to the Church and our Congregation which they serve already so well by their regularity and their good example.

Whatever his human affection, his love for the Oblates was always linked with their spiritual welfare. The closer they were to God and in practicing the means to be good religious and missionaries,

Dear children, may God keep you always in the dispositions in which I see you! May you ever grow in wisdom and virtue since the store thereof is inexhaustible. You know that the attachment of your father is proportioned to the efforts that you make to approach more closely the perfection for which we all ought to strive.

Letter to Jean-Baptiste Mille and the scholastics, 17 November 1830, EO VII n 371

 

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