WE LIVE IN AN AGE WHEN IT IS ABSOLUTELY VITAL TO BE ABLE TO CONFRONT EVIL DOCTRINES WITH MORE THAN ONLY GOOD EXAMPLE

It seems to me that the parish of Billens keeps you very busy, but also what a lot of good you are doing there!
All I ask is that studies do not suffer because of it. We live in an age when it is absolutely vital to be able to confront evil doctrines with more than only good example.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 15 April 1831, EO VIII n 389

Father Mille, superior of the student house, needed to make sure that the studies of the future missionaries made them competent to identify and stand up to what was false and evil.

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FREELY YOU RECEIVED, FREELY GIVE

Jean Baptiste Mille was 22 years old when he was made superior of the young Oblates in formation in the scholasticate of Billens. Eugene had had no choice but to appoint him because of the crisis in France that had caused them to move to Switzerland. Because of his youth and inexperience, Eugene kept in regular contact with him to guide him.

He had just recently been ordained a priest, and was bursting to express his pastoral zeal in preaching and celebrating the sacraments whenever he could in the surrounding parishes. The problem was that he also had the responsibility of caring for the students and needed to be at home more.

I see that you are being rather generous to the town of Romont. But you must learn to pace yourself, not too much, not too little.

On the question of receiving stipends for his preaching:

… I understand you have always refused any payment for sermons you have been able to preach to them. That is how it should always be when you have the happiness of proclaiming the Word of God to them.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 15 April 1831, EO VIII n 389

“Freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8)

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LONG SERMONS ARE HARD FOR BOTH LISTENER AND PREACHER

I do not agree with Good Friday sermons that last two and a half hours. You went on for a good hour too long. Make no mistake, whatever flatterers may say, long discourses like that are hard for both listener and preacher.
Three quarters of an hour for an ordinary sermon, one hour and a half for a Good Friday sermon: that is the norm, do not trespass outside it.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 15 April 1831, EO VIII n 389

Obviously listeners in church had more endurance in those days!

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NO PRIEST OF JESUS CHRIST WILL EVER BE AN IDLE ONLOOKER WHILE MANKIND’S SAVIOUR ENDURES ANEW HIS PASSION

In Marseilles the authorities had wanted the removal of the public crucifixes as part of the anti-religious harassment in France. They were met with opposition in what was regarded as a present-day continuation of the humiliation and passion of Jesus.

For our part here, we have done our duty and rallied to the defence of the sacred wood of the Cross. They did not only want to take it away from us but to make us tear it down with our own hands. Twice his lordship the mayor sent us a member of the town council to persuade us to do that infamous thing on the pretext that it was the only way to save the town from a massacre.
You can imagine how we replied and with what indignation we repulsed that infamous suggestion and so frustrated their wicked plan. But I would not be so bold as to say that they will not have their way in the end, if anti-religious acts continue to get protection.
The fact remains that no priest of Jesus Christ will ever make himself an accomplice in such grave crimes nor be an idle onlooker while mankind’s Saviour endures anew his passion.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 19 March 1831, EO VIII n 387

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GATHER CLOSELY AROUND THIS GOOD SAVIOUR WHO HAS MADE HIS HOME AMONGST YOU

Writing to the formation community in Switzerland, Eugene urges them to remember and constantly focus on the presence of the Savior among them – especially bearing in mind the profanations that were taking place in France against religious symbols and even the Eucharistic hosts.

… In heaven’s name, gather closely around this good Saviour who has made his home amongst you, redouble your love and your reverence for his divine person, press your lips again and again to the altar where he lies. Prostrate yourselves before him and pay him all the honour that is his due.
Give him tangible proof of your desire to make reparation for all the outrages he is receiving in France. It is not only images of him that are being profaned: his very body has in these days been trodden underfoot and devoured by wicked men in the church of St. Louis in Paris.
A shudder goes through me as I tell it. This is where the illusion of freedom has brought us.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 19 March 1831, EO VIII n 387

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I WOULD HAVE BEGGED GOD TO LET ME DROWN IN A LUKEWARM BATH AS A PUNISHMENT FOR SUCH COWARDICE.

The community meeting had been successful, except for one member.

Only Father Martin, who has no more courage than he has common sense, finds it difficult to reconcile the work that he has been given and the regularity that I demand.
The world will not be won with apostles of this kind.
If I had been like that at 25 years of age, I think I would have begged God to let me drown in a lukewarm bath as a punishment for such cowardice.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 6 March 1831, EO VIII n 386

The zealous Eugene, who burned passionately with his love for the Savior and wanted his Oblates to share this among themselves and among the most abandoned, could not understand anyone’s lack of passion and zeal

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A METHOD FOR HANDLING DIVISION IN A COMMUNITY

The Oblate community in Marseilles seemed to have lost its sense of direction and the impression that Eugene gives is that everyone was too frightened to face the issues.

I have spent two days at Calvaire in spite of receiving overly-nervous advice that would have discouraged me from this course. Perhaps I would have paid more attention to it if I had not felt duty-bound in conscience to attend to everyone’s welfare.

Taking into consideration the factors that had disturbed the community’s well-being, Eugene, as the congregational major superior was conscious of his duty to intervene for the good of all.

Both the force of circumstances on the one hand and sickness, death and other factors on the other had conspired to disturb our fidelity.

Before holding the community meeting, he had met with each member privately to give him a fair hearing.

Before crossing the threshold, I heard each one in private.

Then he brought what he had heard to prayer:

In the presence of the Blessed Sacrament I pondered on the persons and matters concerned.

Only then did he call the community together – fully conscious that he was not acting by his own authority, but according to the authority of the Rule of Life, to which each Oblate had made a public commitment.

Then, with the Rule in my hand, I proceeded to re-establish the good order without which I would have had no title to enter the house.
It must be said, to everyone’s credit, that the matter needed only a half-hour conference in the course of which I put everything in its rightful place and from that moment everything has gone perfectly.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 6 March 1831, EO VIII n 386

The method had worked: concern for the welfare of the community, gather the facts, reflect on them in prayer, and then using the light of the Rule and its authority, help the community to make its decisions.

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I AM YOUR FATHER AND HOW MUCH A FATHER!

You know them, I am your father and how much a father! So, I cannot be satisfied to be treated simply as a superior.

From the day that Eugene had founded the Oblates, he had had a sense of spiritual paternity. As he expresses this to the scholastics, with whom he had spent a very special few weeks in Billens, we see the spiritual aspect of this paternal love. It is not directed towards persons, but to God and the service of the Church.

If you could place an ear to the keyhole when I am talking about you, or read what I write about you, you would understand what you mean to me, but you do know it and it is in the presence of God that you repay me my love.
Your virtues, your devotion to God’s glory and to the service of the Church will be my glory and my consolation in the midst of the assembly of the saints.
As I wait for that, it brings a secret joy to my heart and I bless you and ask you for yet more prayers and for you to keep me ever in mind.
Goodbye again my dear children

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille and the students in Billens, 24 January 1831, EO VIII n 383

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HOW HAPPY I WOULD BE TO LIVE IT NOW WITH YOU!

Eugene continues to reminisce about the first day of community life of the Oblates, as he writes to the young scholastics.

The table that adorned our refectory was one plank laid alongside another, on top of two old barrels. We have never enjoyed the blessing of such poverty since the time we took the vow.

At that stage they did not make vows as religious. The vows came in a couple of years later as they aimed at living in a “state of perfection”

Without question, it was a foreshadowing of the state of perfection that we now live so imperfectly.
I highlight this wholly voluntary deprivation deliberately (it would have been easy to put a stop to it and to have everything that was needed brought from my mother’s house) so as to draw the lesson that God in his goodness was directing us even then, and really without us having yet given it a thought, towards the evangelical counsels which we were to profess later on.
It is through experiencing them that we learnt their value.

Eugene recalls the joy of that happening, and wishes he could relive it with the future Oblates.

I assure you we lost none of our merriment; on the contrary, as this new way of life was in quite striking contrast with that we had just left, we often found ourselves having a hearty laugh over it. I owed this tribute to the memory of our first day of common life. How happy I would be to live it now with you!

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 24 January 1831, EO VIII n 383

“How happy I would be to live it now with you!” he continues to say to each of us today: live in the enthusiasm of the first beginnings of your vocation around the charism and spirituality he has left us

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TOMORROW I CELEBRATE THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE DAY, SIXTEEN YEARS AGO, I LEFT MY MOTHER’S HOUSE TO GO AND SET UP HOUSE AT THE MISSION

In the midst of religious persecution and all the disappointments and losses that Eugene had experienced for two years, he recalls one of the most important events of our Oblate life. It was the day when the Oblate adventure began – in the midst of great simplicity and poverty – and with much joy because they had discovered God’s way for them!

Tomorrow I celebrate the anniversary of the day, sixteen years ago, I left my mother’s house to go and set up house at the Mission. Father Tempier had taken possession of it some days before. Our lodging had none of the splendour of the mansion at Billens, and whatever deprivations you may be subject to, ours were greater still. My camp-bed was placed in the small passageway which leads to the library: it was then a large room used as a bedroom for Father Tempier and for one other whose name we no longer mention amongst us. It was also our community room. One lamp was all our lighting and, when it was time for bed, it was placed in the doorway to give light to all three of us.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 24 January 1831, EO VIII n 383

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