THE WISH THAT THE LORD MAY INSPIRE IN BOTH OF YOU WHATEVER WILL CONTRIBUTE MOST TO HIS GLORY

Convinced that the priest in question had a genuine vocation to Oblate missionary life, Eugene advises him to be patient and not be put off by opposition. God’s will would triumph in the long run.

In your particular case, I tell you that it is impossible not to recognize your vocation to the religious state; that the constant attraction you have for the missions indicates the choice that you ought to make, that I would consequently be very disposed to admit you to our novitiate, that the Bishop of Digne who still employs our Society in his diocese should not refuse you permission to join us; we are forced, however, in spite of all the rights you would have to follow your vocation and all our privileges to make it easier for you to do so, to wait until it pleases His Lordship to grant you permission to carry out your plans.

Unity with the chief Pastor was essential for Eugene, who prays that all the parties concerned would find their agreement and peace in serving the glory of God and the most abandoned souls. Interestingly, the bishop in question, Miollis is identified as the bishop immortalized in literature in “Les Miserables.” He and Eugene knew each other from Aix, and it was he who had invited his Provencal compatriot to take over the shrine of Notre Dame du Laus.

Your Prelate is undeniably a holy bishop; he should thus know the Rules of the Church. He should not then think he can oppose your vocation, but he is allowed to test you; he can then make it difficult, turn a deaf ear, with the idea that your position is only wishful thinking, only the result of a passing fancy. Be insistent with him, point out the main reasons for your vocation to a more perfect state; entreat, beg, try again, do not be deterred by evasive answers. He will not resist persevering requests which will prove to him the reality of your vocation.
I have now only to express the wish that the Lord may inspire in both of you whatever will contribute most to his glory and the accomplishment of his merciful plans for the most abandoned souls to whose service our Society is especially devoted.

Letter to a priest of the diocese of Digne, 22 July 1827, EO XIII n 61

 

“One of the main tasks of theology is to find words that do not divide but unite, that do not create conflict but unity, that do not hurt but heal.”   Henri Nouwen

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ANXIOUS TO MAINTAIN THE GOODWILL OF OUR BISHOPS FOR THE GREATER GOOD OF THEIR FLOCKS

The Roman approbation of the Oblates meant that we were free to accept any candidates regardless of the opposition of the bishops. Yet, Eugene found it important to act in unity with the local bishop and to respect his wishes. Writing to a priest from the diocese of Digne who wanted to join the Oblates, he made this sensitivity clear.

Since our Society has been approved by the Church, it enjoys the same privileges as the Company of Jesus, but it uses them sparingly for the same reasons. Anxious to maintain the complete goodwill of our Bishops for the greater good of their flocks, we accept only those men whom they are willing to give up.
It is not up to me to decide whether they can oppose the vocation of those whom the Lord deigns to call to the religious state: the Popes have given their decisions about that. As for ourselves, we submit with exasperation to any refusal, even the most unforeseen: since they employ us continually for the salvation and sanctification of souls in their dioceses, it would seem to be right that they furnish us with the means of doing good work.

Letter to a priest of the diocese of Digne, 22 July 1827.,EO XIII n 61

Instead of standing on his rights and making a scene, Eugene acted on the principle of unity with the chief pastor of the diocese. Our aim was, and continues to be, that of service to the local church by assisting her ministers in our outreach to those whom the local church structures do not manage to reach. What counts in the long run is not our feelings and pride but the good of those whom we serve.

 

“In essentials, unity; in differences, liberty; in all things, charity.”   Philipp Melanchthon

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A BISHOP’S REQUEST THAT DOES NOT CORRESPOND WITH OUR CHARISM

Marius Suzanne, convalescing from his serious illness, had been approached by the Bishop of Aix to become his secretary. Eugene felt strongly that this was not in keeping with the spirit of the Oblates, and so he wrote to Fr Courtès, the superior of Aix, where Fr Suzanne was recuperating

… A palace and being cared for by an illustrious Bishop are too much for a poor religious who will need after his convalescence to promptly resume the observance of regular life, if he does not wish to run the risk of losing his spiritual life. One would be greatly to be pitied if one could become cured only this way.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 15 July 1827, EO VII n 272

To Marius Suzanne himself, Eugene pointed out his opposition, and also how the Bishop did not appreciate the full worth of the vocation of the missionaries in his diocese.

They propose that I send you to St. Antonin in the hope that in this honorable post, where you will only have to take the morning and evening prayers, say Mass and keep company with the Bishop, you will be able to regain all your strength …. So much in earnest is this proposal that seemingly it will bring on disagreement when they take it up again with me …. These offers are not propter Jesum tantum. You will think you are dreaming when you read this but nevertheless it is so. Is it possible that they know so little about the worth of our profession. I am surprised more than ever. Let us not forget this at least ourselves and let the holiness of our life prevail to the extent of sparing us the humiliation of certain favors.

Letter to Marius Suzanne, 18 July 1827, EO VII n 273

Today, I see this as an invitation to be discerning about the requests we receive for ministry: how do some of the demands on our time and energy fit into an Oblate focus?

 

“My choices, including those related to the day-to-day aspects of life, like the use of a modest car, are related to a spiritual discernment that responds to a need that arises from looking at things, at people and from reading the signs of the times. Discernment in the Lord guides me in my way of governing.”    Pope Francis

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BISHOPS AND THE OBLATE CHARISM: CONFLICT OR COMMUNION?

Eugene founded the Oblates to serve in the Church and to be of service to the mission of the Church, with the charismatic vision particular to us. Our vocation becomes tangible around the person of the bishop, in communion with whom we serve the local church. Writing to the Bishop of Nimes, where the Oblates had a community, Eugene assured him of this desire for missionary communion.

Your Lordship knows that our Society willingly works under your orders. When it is more numerous it will do even more, at least in as much as you will command it, for the ambition of each of us is, as long as we are in your diocese, to remain devoted to you and give your paternal heart every consolation it has a right to expect from priests who know your concern and the extent of their duty.

Letter to Bishop P.B. de Chaffoy of Nimes, EO XIII n. 60

This, however, was not a blind servitude – but a service rendered within the parameters of our particular charismatic focus. Whenever Eugene came across bishops who were asking the Oblates to do services which did not fit in with our specific vocation, he would remove the Oblates from that diocese or work.

Coincidentally, as I reflect on this letter, two of our Oblates have been named bishops within a few days of each other. Instinctively my reaction at each announcement was one of dismay because the Oblate Congregation was “losing” a good and talented man at the service of our own missionary needs. Yet that is not the case because we have been founded to be at the service of the most abandoned within the needs of the Church, and our missionary spirit continues to be at its service. Eugene himself gave the example when he was appointed bishop to respond to urgent and essential needs in the life of the Church in Marseille. With his Oblate heart and vision he became an agent of transformation – with a special solicitude for the most abandoned in his diocese.

 

“Be attentive that the candidates to be bishops are pastors who are close to the people, fathers and brothers; that they are gentle, patient, and merciful.”   Pope Francis

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PROPERTY IS THE SUREST GUARANTEE OF STABILITY

While ensuring the zeal of the Oblate missionaries towards the most abandoned, Eugene also had to deal with the local bishops to safeguard the status and situation of the Oblates in the dioceses where they ministered. Yvon Beaudoin explains the situation in Nimes where there was a conflict of interests: “Bishop Chaffoy wanted the Oblate house, to which the people of Nimes had contributed through collections, to belong to the diocese. In 1825 the Oblates took up residence in a house near the seminary. In 1826, they acquired a new house which included a dwelling and some out-buildings” (Footnote to EO XIII n. 60)

I find it repugnant to consent to arrangements that would compromise the existence of our little Society in your diocese where you have nevertheless considered its establishment to be worthwhile, as a consequence of your good will toward it and in the hope that it will benefit your flock. Property is the surest guarantee of stability; tenants are exposed to too many risks; they never acclimatize for they always see themselves as strangers; they are tempted to change place at the least unpleasantness, the least discontent. Such a precarious state is essentially detrimental to the good: it is only half-heartedly undertaken when one doesn’t see any future ahead. It seems that everyone agrees on that, for no society consents to establish a community unless it is assured that at least the living quarters where they are to reside will be their property.

Letter to Bishop P.B. de Chaffoy of Nimes, EO XIII n. 60

We will come across examples of this situation regularly during the lifetime of Eugene. This type of conflict has existed throughout our 200 years of existence – and continues even today in some parts of the world.

 

“Property is intended to serve life, and no matter how much we surround it with rights and respect, it has no personal being. It is part of the earth man walks on. It is not man.”   Martin Luther King, Jr.

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THOSE WHO EXTEND A WARM AND TENDER HAND

We catch a passing glimpse into the affectivity of the busy Eugene in the midst of his many preoccupations: his need to express his attachment and joy at being able to share more deeply with some of his Oblate sons. This lifelong aspect of Eugene’s character was mirrored in his devotion to Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, with whom Jesus spent time in the Gospel.

I will explain myself subsequently viva voce, when I will have the pleasure of seeing you at Aix. You know with what abandon I love to converse with those of my children who, like yourself, deserve all my confidence and of whose attachment, either for me or for the Society, I am aware ….
I embrace you with all my heart and enjoin you to get well quickly. Adieu.

Letter to Marius Suzanne, 9 May 1827. EO VII n 270

 

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”    Henri Nouwen

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WHAT HAS ALWAYS EXHAUSTED US MOST ON MISSIONS IS LACK OF SLEEP

While delighting in the conquests of the team of Oblates succeeding with he jubilee mission at Roquevaire, Eugene kept his feet on the ground and worried about the missionaries burning themselves out by sacrificing sleep in favor of work. He had learnt this personally through his earlier exaggerations, and so became sensitive to wanting the Oblates to avoid the same traps.

It seems to me, my dear Fr. Guibert, that you have been received with open arms by our Fathers at Roquevaire. Their need was extreme. Also, so that you may not be overburdened, I am sending you a curate of Notre Dame du Mont who will help you with confessions. I see that you need more than elsewhere to take care of yourself. Work sweeps you off your feet. It is wholly necessary therefore that you take all possible precautions to devote to sleep the time that our poor bodies need… 
You are obliged to begin the morning exercise at a very early hour; that is good, since it is necessary. But then let it be the rule that two missionaries take turns to rest until six o’clock. Bro. Hermitte can go to bed a little sooner; someone other than he can sound the bell at ten o’clock; do not keep him up for that. By going to bed early, he will rise always for the morning service, so as to be able to do the morning prayer and the prayers of the Mass; two other missionaries will get up, one to do the instruction, the other to say the holy Mass; the two others will rest. By this means, you will not be tired at all; put confidence in my experience; what has always exhausted us most on missions is lack of sleep; also, I do not hesitate to prescribe to you the aforementioned procedure which you will be permitted to put aside on the eve of the communions.

Letter to Hippolyte Guibert, 20 March 1827, EO VII n 267

 

“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”    Thomas Dekker

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INSPIRE BY EXAMPLE

Eugene delights in the letters he receives from the Oblates evangelizing at Roquevaire, who share their missionary joys with him.

I have no need to tell you how much I bless the Lord for all he is doing through your ministry; we are all in transports of joy, as if this were new to us. I have read our Fathers’ letter to the community, after the explanation of the Rule; it has the all the content needed to encourage our good novices to work in the acquisition of the virtues which ought to be the foundation of the building of Oblate life; I well believe that it made their mouths water.
The mission continues also in our church; it would take ten confessors permanently and we are only three halves.

Letter to Hippolyte Guibert, 20 March 1827, EO VII n 267

 

Eugene always shared the letters of the missionaries with the community, and especially with the young men in Oblate formation. Hearing about the missionary adventures of their older Oblate brothers made the younger ones impatient to go out and begin being missionaries themselves. We touch something here of the excitement of the Acts of the Apostles and the early years of the apostolic times. In the future when the Oblate missionaries were to go to North America, Africa and Asia, their letters would become a steady source of incentive for new members of the Oblate congregation to wish to do likewise. Today, as we reflect on 200 years of Oblate missionary life, the lives, generosity and achievements of thousands of members of the Mazenodian family invite us to an enthusiastic response.

 

“Don’t just tell your kids to be active and to get outside and play. Lead by example.”   Summer Sanders

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ALL ARE COMING FORWARD LIKE LAMBS AFTER HAVING SWORN TO MAKE A MOCKERY OF ALL THE EFFORTS OF OUR FATHERS

Reminding ourselves that the persecution of the Church by the French Revolution had only ended some 11 years before, we can understand the importance of the parish mission ministry of the Oblates in a world that was far from being religious. A group of Oblates was evangelizing in the town of Roquevaire and winning over the harshest critics

I have been obliged to send Fr. Guibert to Roquevaire and I have just commissioned a curate of the city to help them with confessions. The parish priest is continually in tears at what he sees happening under his eyes; the extremists, the radicals, the libertines, all are coming forward like lambs after having sworn to make a mockery of all the efforts of our Fathers…

Letter to Marius Suzanne, 20 March 1827, EO VII n 268

The secret of the success of the Oblates was not the brilliance of their preaching or intellectual persuasion (the majority were rather mediocre in this regard), but the example given by the quality of their lives as persons totally committed to God and their closeness to the people they were ministering to. It was their “being” in order to “do” that transformed their critics into lambs.

 

“We win by tenderness. We conquer by forgiveness.”   Frederick William Robertson

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WHO, BEING LOVED, IS POOR?

“Seeing the world through the eyes of Christ the Savior” Eugene and the Oblates had a special sensitivity and outreach for those who were not being adequately ministered to by the structures of the church. In some cases it was because of language in a church whose preaching and ceremonies were in Latin and French. The uneducated, and therefore usually poor, people who spoke only Provencal were on the fringes of ministry. In the seaport of Marseille, the numerous fishermen and their wives fitted into this category, as did the many Italian dockworkers. The love of the Oblates constantly responded to their needs at the Calvaire shrine in the city, and especially during the jubilee mission:

I have now spent two days almost entirely in the church which is full all the time. If there were ten of us to confess we would still be busy.
On Sunday, March 11th, we gave Benediction three times: in the morning after the instruction in Provençal, at half past ten for the departure of our missionaries of Roquevaire and again in the evening, at which time there were not enough seats.
There are lots of people every day and especially there are throngs of poor fishermen at the confessionals. Our ministry is thriving; all goes well ….

Letter to Marius Suzanne, 20 March 1827, EO VII n 268

 

“Who, being loved, is poor?”     Oscar Wilde

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