HAS NOT THE BISHOP ALLOWED HIMSELF TO BE USED BY A GOVERNMENT THAT IS HOSTILE TO THE CHURCH?

The second after-effect of the 1830 Revolution was seen in the request that Father Courtès become the Vicar General of the newly-appointed Bishop Rey to the Diocese of Dijon. This new bishop had openly supported the King despite the latter’s public hostility to the Church.

… The proposal made to you by Bishop Rey would arouse my gratitude, if his only purpose were to show you his esteem. I am a little less impressed in the view of the position he is in and the advantages he would hope to derive from your services.
You are right to conclude that his proposal is unacceptable. First because of your health …. I see no less difficulty on the moral side. Bishop Rey has been installed by the Sovereign Pontiff, but is there anyone who does not know that this installation was extracted by force? Has not Bishop Rey allowed himself to be used by a government that is hostile to the Church? To receive his patronage would be in everyone’s eyes a frank admission of complicity. The very idea fills me with horror….

To Hippolyte Courtès, 11 March 1832, EO VIII n 417

The question of collaboration with unjust rulers has been present for centuries – not just in action, but sometimes silence in the face of injustice can be collaboration.

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A REVOLTING TREACHERY

The after-effects of the July 1830 Revolution in France continued to be felt in 1832. Writing to Father Courtès, Eugene touches on one.

The very evening of the day of the consistory, a messenger came and announced the taking of Ancona by the French. The details which have come to us are horrifying; you have to go back to the time of the barbarians to find like examples of cowardly betrayal or rather of so revolting a treachery.

To Hippolyte Courtès, 11 March 1832, EO VIII n 417

Yvon Beaudoin explains: “After 1830 there were revolutionary upheavals in the whole of Europe: Belgium, Poland, Germany, Switzerland and the Papal States. With a view to helping the Pope, Austrian troops had just occupied the Romagna at the beginning of 1832. As a counter-weight to this intervention Louis-Philippe ordered the occupation of Ancona, against the wishes of the Sovereign Pontiff.”

France had always been regarded as the “Eldest Daughter of the Church” and Eugene found this betrayal of the Pope by the French King an act of treachery.

Today, what is my reaction when I encounter hostility to the Church and to the values of the Kingdom of God?

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OUR ACTIONS AND SERVICES HAVE VALUE ONLY TO THE EXTENT THAT WE DO WHAT THE MASTER ASKS OF US

It is only when we see our desires in the light of the Word and will of God, that we will have peace and bear fruit.

Unfortunately, only too often, and I shudder as I say it, we find great sinners amongst the preachers, confessors and all those ministers who are slaves to their whims. The saints are found amongst the obedient, modestly accepting their missions in a quite different way. In God’s name, ponder on these reflections.
Whoever we are, we are unprofitable servants in Our Father’s house. Our actions and the services we render have value only to the extent that we do what the Master asks of us.
It will go hard with anyone who turns up his nose at the least important tasks because he believes himself suitable for more lofty ones. His reckoning will be swift. Not only that, before long he will find himself with a new master: Lucifer for Jesus Christ. Believe me. I speak from experience. I could cite more examples than I can count on the fingers of my hand.

To Jean Baptiste Mille, 30 May 1832, EO VIII n 423

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THERE IS NO SERVING THE GOOD GOD WITHOUT RENUNCIATION

There is no activity that is too lowly in our service of the Kingdom of God – no matter how gifted or intellectual or important we may consider ourselves.

A superior cannot be tied down by any conditions. He might need someone to answer the door or to sweep up and that person must then be convinced that he is more agreeable to God answering the door and sweeping up than he would be if on his own account he were to preach or hear confessions. St. Anthony of Padua spent many years in the kitchen without thinking of complaining.
There is no serving the good God without renunciation.

To Jean Baptiste Mille, 30 May 1832, EO VIII n 423

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NOTHING COULD BE MORE LEGITIMATE THAN TO MAKE ONE’S DESIRES KNOWN, HOWEVER …

The 24 year-old Jean Antoine Bernard was completing his Oblate formation in Billens and had been ordained to the priesthood 5 months earlier. It seems as if he had been asked to do a particular ministry and had expressed his reservations to his local superior in its regard. The local superior, Fr Mille, was young and inexperienced himself and it appears that he did not know how to handle someone who did not give “blind obedience.” Eugene responded:

I don’t find Father Bernard’s observations out of place if they go no further than you indicate in your letter. Nothing could be more legitimate than to make one’s desires known, but there is also the aspect that it is proper to put one’s confidence in the wisdom and insight that the good God gives to superiors.
It would be a grave disorder to cherish so exclusive a love for one kind of ministry that one could not be placed elsewhere, even for a short period, without getting upset about it.

To Jean Baptiste Mille, 30 May 1832, EO VIII n 423

Eugene brings up the question of discernment of the will of God in ministry: the importance of the interplay between one’s personal desires and the over-all vision of the situation which the one responsible for the community has. Discernment does not mean blind obedience – it means listening together to all possibilities in the light of the Word of God.

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YOU MUST MAKE WAR ON THAT SNEERING MANNER THAT DOES NOT SUIT MEN LIKE OURSELVES

One of the major ways used by Eugene to maintain the Oblate missionary spirit among them was through regular correspondence with the community superiors. In this way he guided the overall direction of the communities, encouraged and also corrected. Here we have one example written to Fr. Courtès, superior of the Aix community in which he refers to problems caused by pride in a community.

… If experience had not taught me that even the holiest and most fervent of communities are not exempt from some kinds of affliction, it would have amazed me that one could come across conflicts even of a merely fleeting character amongst ourselves originating in pride. Unfortunately, it is our nature’s sad lot that pride is very difficult to defeat completely. In this regard you will do well to stress the duty of mutual respect we owe each other and you must make war on that sneering manner that does not suit men like ourselves…

Eugene then gives news of the other communities of the Congregation:

… The Calvaire community is excellent, the progress of the Fathers could not be bettered, Billens goes from strength to strength and N.-D. du Laus as well is exemplary in its regularity. This latter house has become quite important. Father Guibert is equal to the task which, thanks to a certain Bishop (ed. The Bishop of Gap with his Jansenist leanings), is a very difficult one.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 12 June 1832, EO VIII n 424

 

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THE WISH FOR A MISSION IN AFRICA

On 4 July 1830, France had conquered Algeria. As soon as Eugene heard this, he saw an opportunity for mission to the most abandoned and immediately offered to send Obate Missionaries there.

As soon as Algers had fallen to the arms of good King Charles X, I set to work in an attempt to provide the Catholics in the colony with the assistance of our religion. Ever nourishing the hope of one day seeing many infidels open their eyes to the light of the Faith, I wrote to my uncle, the bishop of Marseille and asked him to write both to the Prime Minister at that time and to the Cardinal Chaplainfor aid and protection to that effect. The project was very warmly received and we were informed that this very important subject would be immediately broached and our Congregation given the protection and aid as requested.

The Government had liked the idea, and just as Eugene was about to write to the Pope for permission, the July Revolution had broken out – and that was the end of the project.

I was about to write to the Supreme Pontiff, our dear and ever magnanimous protector,when all of a sudden the disastrous revolution befell us.We waited to see what was going to happen and whether or not France would keep its conquest.

Two years later the great need continued – Eugene thus renewed his request to be able to send Oblates.

The news we later received from those territories revealed the insufficiency, considering the number of Catholics flocking to those regions, of the assistance that the few priests who are unaccustomed to the sacred ministry can give them. That was when I felt a renewed desire to step forward and offer anew the services of our Congregation, not to the Government which no longer harbours the same zeal for the faith, but to Rome, which by right and disposition, entertains the “sollicitudo omnium Ecclesiarum” (ed. “The concern of all the churches”)
In any case, should your Eminence wish to increase the size of the Mission, I again offer our tiny Congregation

Letter to Cardinal Pedicini, Prefect of the Sacred Cogregation of Propaganda Fide, 10 April 1832, EO V n 1

Yvon Beaudoin concludes in a footnote: “Cardinal Pedicini took this letter very seriously since he wrote to the Nuncio in Paris on the matter. The latter answered, on June 29, 1832, that the Government would not accept the Oblates because the Congregation was not officially recognized, and because Fr. de Mazenod and his missionaries were not held in favour.”

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FORMATORS: YOU WILL HAVE A DOUBLE PORTION IN ALL THEIR WORKS AND IT WILL AMPLY REPAY YOU FOR THE SACRIFICE YOU ARE MAKING FOR THEM

Eugene was fully aware that the youthful, 25 year-old, Fr Mille found the burden of being a formator so heavy – as do most Oblate missionaries who are in houses of formation.

Once and for all impress this upon yourself. I have not sent you to Switzerland to exercise the exterior ministry but to direct, instruct and look after the community that is entrusted to you; this has been repeated and explained too often for there to be the least shadow of doubt about the course that you must follow in your situation. Apply yourself unreservedly to giving edification by your regularity to those at whose perfection it is your duty to labour.

Then he gave beautiful words of encouragement to Mille:

They will repay what you have done for them when, come to the end of their studies, they begin to work in our Father’s vineyard; it is then you will harvest what you are now sowing. You will have a double portion in all their works and it will amply repay you for the sacrifice you are making for them. God will reward you precisely for what you omit, or better, for what you do not do, in virtue of holy obedience. He alone can assign a value to your actions ….

Letter to Jean-Baptiste Mille, 21 April 1832, EO VIII n 420

I have quoted these words over and over again to all Oblates involved in the formation of our new members: you are a missionary through the mission of those you have accompanied in their formation journey. When they are in the missionary field, “you will have a double portion in all their works and it will amply repay you for the sacrifice you are making for them.”

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CARING FOR THE FUTURE OBLATES LIKE THE APPLE OF YOUR EYE

Poor Father Mille! He had become an Oblate to be a missionary – yet within weeks of his priestly ordination, circumstance had made it inevitable that he be appointed superior of the seminary in Switzerland. At the age of 25 his missionary heart could not resist the temptation to do ministry outside of the scholasticate, much to Eugene’s displeasure because he was neglecting the seminarians.

While I am on the subject, I will say a word in passing about your zealous works during the Forty Hours. Do you want to know the conclusion that I have come to from your account? It is that you are as good a missionary as you are a poor superior.
… Does conscience require one to forsake one’s special task to embrace another, however better it be in appearance?

Eugene had explicitly forbidden him to get over-involved outside of the scholasticate, but Father Mille’s missionary ears had “selective hearing.”

What can one say of your facility in interpreting your superior’s intentions in a sense exactly contrary to his precise words and to his perfectly well-known intention – and he certainlyhas an intention! No my dear friend, that is not the way to go about things. It is a poor concept of obedience to be always doing the opposite of what is prescribed.
You cut a dash, you earn men’s praises, you may even do some good, but you fail to do your duty – and what profit can one expect in such circumstances from even the most brilliant of deeds? It really hurts me to make these observations to you, but they are the fruit of meditation in the Lord’s presence…As a simple missionary everything you did would have been admirable provided it were done under obedience.
But as superior charged with the care of the special ones of our family and with the duty of caring for it like the apple of your eye, you have not done well.

Letter to Jean-Baptiste Mille, 21 April 1832, EO VIII n 420

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THE PRIESTS MUST CARRY OUT THE CHARITABLE DUTIES REQUIRED OF THEIR HOLY MINISTRY, EVEN IF THEY RISK CATCHING CHOLERA

An outbreak of cholera was always an event that filled everyone with horror. Eugene heard that it had spread as far as Switzerland, and he was worried about the danger to the young Oblates in formation there. He wrote to their superior, Father Mille:

… The first thing I want to speak to you about is the “cholera-morbus” that the papers tell us has penetrated Switzerland; it makes me very worried to know that you are so close to a danger-zone and so far away from me. We are under the same threat as yourselves, and it is beyond my understanding how it has not yet got within our walls, seeing the total absence of precautions that simple prudence would demand.
God is giving me the grace not to be afraid of it, but I am afraid for you, as you have demonstrated that your wisdom is not always equal to your zeal. A great responsibility rests on your shoulders and you must not forget that the least imprudence that compromises the community in your charge would be imputed to you.

Eugene’s recommendation was that the scholastics be kept safely out of the way, but that the priests be prepared to risk catching the disease in order to minister to the sick and dying.

In the event of its coming, those who are not priests must be put in a place of safety and the priests themselves must carry out the charitable duties required of their holy ministry, taking suitable precautions.

Letter to Jean-Baptiste Mille, 21 April 1832, EO VIII n 420

Eugene himself had risked his life in 1814 to do the same for the Austrian prisoners of war and he expected his Oblates to be prepared to do the same – that is the meaning of “oblation”.

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