As we reflect on this period of conflict that Eugene was living, let us remember the personal suffering he was undergoing. Persecuted by the government, removed as Vicar General to his Uncle Bishop Fortuné in Marseilles, and not experiencing any support from the Pope who was in an awkward situation trying to bring maintain political expediency with the government for the sake of the welfare of the Church in France. In the center of all this was the suffering of a person.

The French government had engineered a situation where they were attempting to pressurize the Pope to take action against Eugene, whom they wanted sent away from France. Eugene ‘s message to the Pope was:

But this does not go so far as agreeing to leave France… It is also to do oneself too much violence to condemn oneself, for the satisfaction of a government, to a perpetual exile.

If Eugene did not leave France then the authorities pressurized the Pope to remove him from Marseilles. Eugene’s response:

Likewise I am not decided to go and stay outside Marseilles… really it would be incomprehensible why I would go to live in another town; it would give rise to the worst impression: I would have the appearance of having been sent away as a penance by the Pope, while in reality I would be being persecuted by the government, which would seem not to have anything to do with it, and which would exploit the Sovereign Pontiff to punish me for not being to its liking.

The heart of the matter was:

The truth is I am by no means hostile to the government; I am doing nothing against it, although it might well be true that it does not fill me with enthusiasm. It is because I stay clear of politics and am unassailable on that point that the intervention of the Sovereign Pontiff is sought. I hope that this odious tactic will not succeed and that I will remain at my post.

Letter to Baron D Papassian in Rome, 14 May 1834, EO XV n 173

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Eugene remained in Rome for four months. Yvon Beaudoin continues the narrative of the conflict between the French authorities and Bishop de Mazenod:

“A short time after his return to Marseilles, in December 1833, the Bishop of Icosia decides to defend himself before the courts. The matter is going ahead rapidly when, at the beginning of January 1834, Cardinal Bernetti is instrumental in having an unofficial letter written from Rome in which he invites the Bishop not to go ahead with the court case and to live as far as possible in retirement, in accordance with the express wish of the Government. “The line of conduct called for here,” says the Roman correspondent, “is quite unconnected with the personal opinion held of you. You are esteemed as a bishop who has every quality that is needed to make the Church loved in time of peace and feared when there is war, in both cases conferring honour on the Church, even to the point of martyrdom; but you are not considered to be sufficiently flexible and easy to deal with when it is a question neither of peace nor of war.”

Yvon Beaudoin EO 8 pages XXV-XXVI

In consequence Bishop de Mazenod renounced his legal action and responded to Rome:

Since the Sovereign Pontiff is pained by the idea of this process in the courts, I renounce obtaining justice by this means. You are at liberty to say what I have decided in this respect, and that I place everything in the hands of the Holy Father.

Letter to Baron D Papassian in Rome, 14 May 1834, EO XV n 173

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We have been following the progress of the conflict between the government and Eugene. We saw how he had been summoned to Rome in the middle of 1833 and perhaps you are finding some of the events confusing. Thus, Yvon Beaudoin takes up the story and recounts the main happenings starting with Eugene’s arrival in Rome.

“The Roman authorities gradually disclose to him the truth of the situation: the French Government wants no more of him in France. Behind the seemingly serene atmosphere that has prevailed at Marseilles for the space of a year, both Prefect and Mayor and civil and military authorities have been watching the Prelate’s every move, twisting his words, denouncing him to Paris and accusing him of engaging in politics, of perhaps even having been involved in the assassination of the chief of police of Marseilles. In their reports, the French Ambassador at Rome and the Internuncio at Paris had put pressure on Gregory XVI to recall the Bishop of Icosia to Rome or to despatch him to Africa.

It will take Bishop de Mazenod four months to prove his innocence and get the Pope’s permission to return to France at the beginning of December 1833, against the wishes of the Ambassador.

“Comparing one prison with another, ”

writes the Bishop to Father Tempier on September 8, 1833 (EO 461),

“I would as soon try the one threatened by our fine ministers…. They are costing me my time, my money and my health. May God forgive them! It has put me in an ugly mood.”

He continues working alongside his uncle, even though officially he is no longer recognized as vicar-general of Marseilles.

In fact, the Minister of Worship had written to Bishop Fortuné on September 13, 1833:

“Bishop de Mazenod, having neither solicited nor received the authorization of the Government to accept the conferring of a bishopric in partibus, is legally disabled, in virtue of articles 32 and 33 of Law 18 of Germinal 18, Year X, from exercising any ecclesiastical function in the kingdom or of continuing to fulfil those of vicar-general, which ought to have ceased from the moment of his installation as Bishop of Icosia. 1 have therefore had to order the Prefect of Bouches-du-Rhône to withhold the release of any mandate in his favour.”

The assertions of the Minister posed the problem in all its gravity. It was no longer simply a personal matter between the Bishop of Icosia and the Government, but a question of principle wherein the independence of the Church itself was not being recognized.”

Yvon Beaudoin EO 8 pages XXV-XXVI

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Frustrated in Rome with the slow progress in resolving the situation with the French government, Eugene chides Father Tempier for having waited six weeks before responding to an unjust condemnatory letter sent to the diocese of Marseilles by the antagonistic Minister of Worship of France.

It is inconceivable that you should have handled it as you have. You have dragged your feet in the matter and I am faced with an inexplicable lack of energy. One would think you were struck dumb or blind.
… the Bishop of Marseilles cannot forgo issuing a condemnation of the Minister of Worship’s outrageous letter. If you were at a loss to know how to reply to that letter, you ought to have turned to somebody who has some mettle, you ought to have written to Paris, have gone there if need be, rather than let seven weeks go by without replying to such a letter as the Minister’s. The blow struck at his episcopal jurisdiction demanded a protest…  That the first day should find you dumbfounded at the effrontery of the blow delivered I can understand, but that with reflection you were not moved to any action, surpasses my capacity to understand.

Having vented his frustration, he strikes a conciliatory tone by looking at the situation through the eyes of his faith on God’s providence and refocusing in prayer:

Moreover, all my observations are made without bitterness. I have made them because I owe you the truth; but above all I must acknowledge God’s will to which I submit myself heart and soul. I do not love you any the less for what is more mistake than neglect of my affairs, you wouldn’t he capable of that. You were lacking in discernment, but rest assured that my distress will lessen the moment I put myself in God’s presence.
I send my affectionate greetings to all and assure you of my accustomed esteem and friendship.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 5 November 1833, EO VIII n 473

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In the midst of the difficulties caused by the Icosia crisis and the absolute uncertainty as to what the French government would allow him to do – or even if they would allow him back into France – Eugene remained focused on discerning God’s Wisdom that would never let him down.

My dear friend. I am trying to ground myself ever more securely in the principles I unfolded in my last letter, namely, that one must discern within the course of events and even within the course set by man’s deliberate choice a higher course set by Providence which governs all by its wisdom.: “(Wisdom) reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well” (ed. Wis. 8.1) and that creatures who place their trust in God and call upon him in their need do not go unremembered before him, “… we know that you acknowledge us as yours.” (ed. Wis. 15.2). I need this when I am tempted to be vexed at not having followed a particular inspiration that I believed to be better than its opposite which in fact I settled on, whether out of deference for the opinion of others or for any other reason, especially when drawbacks result that are difficult to remedy.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 28 October 1833, EO VIII n 470

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Having been falsely accused of being an activist in the political party opposed to the French government, Eugene clarifies and emphasizes his position.

…The code of conduct I hold, and that I instil in others, is that the clergy must stay outside political parties so as not to compromise their ministry.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 24 October 1833, EO VIII n 469

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Faced with uncertainty about his future when the French government would take action against him, Eugene places his trust in God for the future.

… There is no need of regrets when one has done one’s best. God makes use even of human mistakes to achieve his purpose. I do not know what he expects of me; all I know is that he governs with his wisdom those whose sole purpose is to work for his glory. I am attracted by the thought of peace and quiet. I have good reason to be weary of human injustice. And so I act accordingly, in view of my soul’s good, even though I should obtain it for a time only. If God has decided differently, he will direct events and bend the will of his creatures in such a way as to achieve his ends.
For my own part, I will gladly retire to the seminary at Marseilles, where I can be of some use to the young ecclesiastics who must be formed in the knowledge and practice of the virtues of their state; I will keep up my ministry to the sick, with its consolations, and I will live in obscurity, as is my deepest wish.
…We who call upon the Lord must find our consolation above all in the thought that we are guided all unseen by his Providence. Today’s breviary shows us that trials are a good sign and encourage us to trust in God’s good pleasure in us.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 24 October 1833, EO VIII n 469

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In the midst of being persecuted by the political authorities, Eugene remains optimistic because of his faith in God. He reflects to his friend and confidant, Fr Tempier:

So you have the advantage of enjoying the pleasure of surprise when, contrary to your expectation, things go better than you thought they would. It makes up for the distress felt by one who has gloomy moods like that. People who see the world through rose-coloured spectacles escape that distress but by the same token they have a less-lively sense of the well-being they take for granted; on the other hand if a person like that suffers a let-down, although he would not escape scot-free, he is not floored by the falling of the blow in question, from which my conclusion would definitely be that a tendency to optimism rather than to gloom best assures peace and tranquillity of soul.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 17 October 1833, EO VIII n 468

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Yvon Beaudoin gives us the background to Eugene’s letter: “The Founder had seen the Pope again on October 2, and was to leave Rome on the 11th. He received however the letter dated September 28 in which Father Tempier sent him a letter from M. Barthe, Minister of Worship, in which he declared the Bishop of Icosia to be incapacitated from exercising any ecclesiastical function in the Kingdom and to be no longer vicar general of Marseilles. Father Tempier consequently put it to his superior that he should stay on in Rome so as not to expose himself to expulsion from France by the police.”

I won’t pretend that I wasn’t upset at the last point you make, more because it delays my return to my family than from sorrow that obstacles have been placed to the exercise of my ministry. If it didn’t damage the principles of the Catholic faith or the Church’s discipline. I would on the contrary be delighted by this turn of events, it is the nicest thing that could happen to me and it would get me the peace and quiet I have been longing for for so long, but infinitely more since I’ve seen how impotent one is to accomplish good works even by self-sacrifice…
I have received the fullness of the priesthood, and this is for myself and for the whole Church the best witness possible that I have served it well; it only remains for me now to make use for my own personal sanctification of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that I have received so abundantly and from which I have not yet derived as much profit as I would like.
It would have been a reasonable expectation on people’s part to think that I am still young enough to be able to do something for them. As God disposes differently, and allows wicked men their way. I will turn it to my profit, at least this is my hope in reliance on his mercy; whether in France or in Rome, it will be open to me to choose a place of retirement.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 8 October 1833, EO VIII n 465

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In the midst of all the serious political intrigue around him, Eugene never forgets where his source of strength comes from:

.. It was necessary in effect to take pause after my Wednesday morning session. I lie low, I need to think, to have light, I ask God to grant me enlightenment, my need all the greater in that people’s plans seemingly pit themselves against the inspirations of the Holy Spirit…

Letter to Henri Tempier, 31 August 1833, EO VIII n 459

A useful reminder today to pause in the midst of difficulties and to allow God ot enlighten us.

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