THE FIELD SEEMS SO VAST AND FERTILE TO ME, THOUGH COVERED WITH THORNS

Once a decision had been reached, Eugene wrote to the Bishop of Ajaccio to communicate this.

I do not at all retract the promise that I made to support you with all my strength in the great mission that you must fulfil in the diocese that Divine Providence has just entrusted to your care. I have thanked the Lord countless times for having given those people a Chief Pastor like you, for I know how widespread evil is and I also know all that can be expected from your piety, zeal and the care which urges you to respond to your unfortunate flock, so long-abandoned.
The field seems so vast and fertile to me, though covered with thorns, that, if I were still only a simple priest, I would not yield to anyone the honor of going myself to you and helping you to clear it; but what I am not able to do myself, others will do for me.

Letter to Bishop Casanelli d’Istria, 19 September 1834, EO XIII n 83

It was the call of the most abandoned, which continues to motivate the Mazenodian family today:

The call of Jesus Christ, heard within the Church through people’s need for salvation, draws us together as Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Christ thus invites us to follow him and to share in his mission through word and work.

OMI Constitutions and Rules, C 1

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I FEEL A NEED TO HELP OUT MY OWN JUDGMENT WITH THEIR IDEAS AND HELPFUL ADVICE

Eugene never took major decisions for the Congregation without a process of consultation. In regard to the invitation to send Oblates to Corsica, he shares the process with Father Guibert , who was one of his most trusted councilors.

My dear friend, today isn’t the first time I’ve bewailed the necessity of being separated from the men Providence has given me as councillors in the administration of the family.
I wouldn’t want to arrive at any decisions without hearing all of them; I feel a need to help out my own judgment with their ideas and helpful advice, inspired as they are with zeal for the family’s prosperity and the Church’s good in the exercise of the ministry that it embraces.
At this particular moment, more than ever, I would have liked to dialogue with you especially, before taking a decision which must have very great consequences, but it does not admit of the least delay. I am obliged to reply immediately, and once again I am afraid of not having enough time for the letter to arrive which must decide me, not on a mere changing of personnel, but on a real upheaval in our houses…
How can I put down on paper, in effect, the content of six days’ continuous dialogue with the sole assistant to whom I have access? I have weighed everything, pondered on it all; I have put all the objections to myself. I have considered all the disadvantages, and the inescapable conclusion is that we must be prepared for any sacrifice at all if we are not going to reproach ourselves for closing the door that Providence is opening to us.

Letter to Hippolyte Guibert, 18 October 1834, EO VIII n 493

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A VAST HORIZON OPENS UP BEFORE US

By the middle of 1834 there were around 26 Oblates and 10 scholasticates in 5 communities: Aix en Provence, Marseilles, Laus, L’Osier in France and Billens in Switzerland.

At this time, the newly-appointed Bishop of Ajaccio, Corsica, Casanelli d’Istria, visited friends in Aix en Provence and met Eugene. In explaining the abandonment of the Church in Corsica: “poor parishes, numerous clergy but in general without formation, ignorant faithful, strife between families and clans,” he asked for help from the Oblates. Here were people who were indeed abandoned and who needed a relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior.

Eugene described the situation to Fr. Guibert, who had encouraged him for years to start a new mission outside of mainland of France

A vast horizon opens up before us; we are perhaps called to the work of regenerating the clergy and the entire people of Corsica.
The Bishop is calling us to direct the seminary, and he is ready to confide to us the missions in his diocese; we must take it or leave it. The latter choice would be unworthy, little though we may be able to do; it would be disheartening if we should find ourselves unable to respond to the pressing invitation which offers us everything we are hoping for. The truth is we are able to accept the offer we have longed for, and which we won’t ever have again if we turn it down now.
But fulfilling this task is going to cost us very heavy sacrifices.

Letter to Hippolyte Guibert, 18 October 1834, EO VIII n 493

That same spirit motivates us today:

To seek out new ways for the Word of God to reach their hearts often calls for daring; to present Gospel demands in all clarity should never intimidate us. Awareness of our own shortcomings humbles us, yet God’s power makes us confident as we strive to bring all people – especially the poor – to full consciousness of their dignity as human beings and as sons and daughters of God.

OMI Constitutions and Rules, C 8

 

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SEMINARIES: WE WILL DEVOTE OURSELVES GENEROUSLY HEART AND SOUL TO SUCH A NOBLE AND IMPORTANT MINISTRY

The first request of the Bishop of Ajaccio was that the Oblates establish a major seminary for the education and formation of priests in Corsica.

Because of the quality men that you need, it will cost me a lot to tear them away from the various ministries that they are carrying out with incredible blessings and success; but I am determined to make every sacrifice to establish solidly the immense good that you have in view and which will be done, with God’s help, through the cooperation of the men of God whom according to your command I am going to place at your disposal to set up your Major Seminary.

Letter to Bishop Casanelli d’Istria, 19 September 1834, EO XIII n 83

The Founder’s biographer, Rey, gives the background to his immediate positive response to the Bishop’s request.

“But the missions, the first, and properly speaking, only end of the Oblate Congregation necessarily evoked another end, that of the sanctification of the clergy”.

“In fact, to prepare the people for the missions and even to make the missions possible, to support the work of the missionaries, to assure their success, to gather, maintain and carry on its fruits, it was necessary to have worthy priests, and holy priests at the head of their parishes…

In addition, we would say that the sanctification of the clergy, next to the missions, and with the missions, is the main end of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The holy Founder formally declared this to them: ‘Assuredly, the most excellent end of our Congregation next to the holy missions is the direction of major seminaries. For the missionaries would expend the sweat of their labors in vain in their attempts to snatch sinners from spiritual death if they did not have in the parishes priests imbued with the Spirit of God, faithfully following the example of the Divine Shepherd and pasturing with vigilant and constant care the sheep which had been brought back to the fold. That is why, to the extent that we are able, we will devote ourselves generously heart and soul to such a noble and important ministry’”.

See: https://www.omiworld.org/lemma/ends-of-the-congregation/

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THE CARE WHICH URGES YOU TO RESPOND TO YOUR UNFORTUNATE FLOCK, SO LONG-ABANDONED

By the middle of 1834 there were around 26 Oblates and 10 scholasticates in 5 communities: Aix en Provence, Marseilles, Laus, L’Osier in France and Billens in Switzerland.

At this time, the newly-appointed Bishop of Ajaccio, Corsica, Casanelli d’Istria, visited friends in Aix en Provence and met Eugene. In explaining the abandonment of the Church in Corsica: “poor parishes, numerous clergy but in general without formation, ignorant faithful, strife between families and clans,” he asked for help from the Oblates. Here were people who were indeed abandoned and who needed a relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior – and Eugene responded to the need.

I do not at all retract the promise that I made to support you with all my strength in the great mission that you must fulfil in the diocese that Divine Providence has just entrusted to your care.

Letter to Bishop Casanelli d’Istria, 19 September 1834, EO XIII n 83

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SO THAT HE MAY BECOME A GOOD PRIEST OF THE KIND THE CHURCH NEEDS

My dear Son, my intention is to ordain Brother Kotterer at the first ordination in Lent… I am sending him to Aix, my intention being that he enter the novitiate and spend the whole time there in profound retreat under the special direction of the master of novices. Please place this dear ordination candidate in his care as I have placed him in yours so that he may become a good priest of the kind the Church needs.
Affectionate greetings and my blessing to all.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 1 March 1835, EO VIII n 507

The future priest is entrusted to the director of novices, Father Casimir Aubert, for his retreat.

Please take special care of Brother Kotterer. Take advantage of his retreat to instil in him the great principles of religious life: detachment especially, death to self, cheerful obedience, total dedication to the Church and to the (Oblate) family, support of his brothers, etc.

Letter to Casimir Aubert, 10 March 1835, EO VIII n 508

 The vision that Calixte Kotterer had been formed into, and which he is to be reminded of during his retreat is found in Eugene’s  document we today know as the “Preface”:

“What did Our Lord Jesus Christ do? He chose a certain number of apostles and disciples whom He formed in piety and filled with His spirit; and after having trained them in his school and the practice of all virtues, He sent them forth to conquer the world which they soon brought under the rule of his holy laws.
What must we, in turn, do to succeed in winning back for Jesus Christ so many souls who have cast off his yoke? We must work seriously to become saints, walk courageously in the footsteps of so many apostles who have left us such fine examples of virtue in the exercise of a ministry to which, like them, we are called; renounce ourselves totally, maintain in view exclusively the glory of God, the building of the Church, the salvation of souls; renew ourselves constantly in the spirit of our vocation; live in a habitual state of self-denial and in an unremitting determination to achieve perfection, working unstintingly to become humble, gentle, obedient, lovers of poverty, repentant, mortified, detached from the world and our families, brimming with zeal, ready to sacrifice our goods, our talents, our rest, our persons and our lives for the love of Jesus Christ, the service of the Church and the sanctification of our neighbour. Then, filled with confidence in God, we must enter the lists and fight unto death for the greater glory of God.”

from the Nota bene (1818 Rule)

 See also: http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/?p=66

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THE PRACTICE OF THE DUTIES THAT YOU ONCE VOWED FREELY AND FOR EVER TO THE LORD

Eugene continues his letter to Father Rossi, in which he tries to be a mirror to his conscience to wake him up to the responsibilities to which he has publicly committed himself.

While waiting for more ample information, which you will give me by letter, I authorize you to stay where you are. But understand clearly that my authorization is based on the extreme need of your father and mother which I presume cannot be remedied without the help that your work furnishes them…

Eugene gives him checkpoints to use to evaluate his lifestyle and religious life.

 This means that you must write from time to time with a report on how you are getting on and for spiritual direction. You must give an account of what you are doing, whether you have employment that is decent and entails no risk for your soul, what you earn, what you give to your parents, what are the observances from which you judge your present and temporary situation entitles you to ask for a dispensation.
In other words write like someone who is deeply committed to his duties of state and in such a way as to make it evident that it really is by virtue of a kind of overriding power against your will, that you are obliged to make use of a permission that takes you outside the way of life that is yours providentially, and the practice of the duties that you once vowed freely and for ever to the Lord.
Goodbye, my dear Father Rossi. I hope that you will recognize in everything I’ve said the solicitude of a father who loves you.

Letter to Father Joseph Rossi, 12 February 1835, EO VIII n 505

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ONE DOESN’T PLAY WITH OBLIGATIONS THAT YOU HAVE CONTRACTED WITH FREEDOM

Father Joseph Rossi had been authorized to live outside of the Oblate community for a while in order to be of assistance to his parents. He was meant to maintain contact with his superior and his religious community during this time, but had seemingly not been faithful to this. Three years earlier, Eugene indicated that the young Oblate had not given much example of virtue:

Rossi will never be presentable especially as a witness to exterior regularity, as all his virtues are interior ones.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 18 June 1832, EO VIII n 425

Eugene always regarded the vows made by the Oblates as sacred and that by not living up to these commitments, one’s salvation was in danger. He thus warned Rossi: 

My dear Father Rossi, it gave me great pleasure to get your letter. To be frank, I was experiencing some anxiety at your continued failure to give any sign of life once you moved outside community. The verbal authorization given during my absence seems to me to have been a giving way to persistence and to lack a sound basis. I don’t see any trace of the relationships that ought always to subsist in cases like this between superiors and men who are canonically authorized to live on a temporary basis at a distance from here.
Your soul is compromised by such conduct and its state is a source of grief to me. God is not mocked [Gal. 6,7: Deus non irridetu]
One doesn’t play with obligations that you have contracted with freedom. What is at stake is nothing less than your salvation.
It is my earnest wish to put to rights the defective aspects of your case. For this, good faith is needed on your part, and straightforwardness, in a word that you speak in good conscience and in the face of eternity; on my part you will find every understanding consistent with duty. 

Letter to Father Joseph Rossi, 12 February 1835, EO VIII n 505

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PAUSE

There will be a pause in these reflections until June 17.

A reminder that all the 2045 entries on the writings of Saint Eugene are available for you to consult on the site http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/.

In addition, should you wish to research a word or concept you can do so by using the search engine on the homepage of the site.

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IF ONE IS GOING TO GET INVOLVED AT ALL, IT MUST BE IN AN EFFECTIVE WAY

When the requests for a mission season came in, they were put together and Eugene and the Oblates evaluated them and made decisions on how to proceed.

What emerges clearly from this letter is that the method of the Oblate missionaries was not one of superficial preaching, but of an in-depth approach of taking over a village for several weeks ion order to achieve lasting results. (See http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/?p=367 for further details)

My dear Courtès. I did manage to get our men together to plan the assignments for the various missions that we have been asked to do. The outcome of our meeting was that we shouldn’t hesitate to give preference to missions over retreats. Also that the Peynier[1] mission must be determined, since the Pastor requests it, but that it isn’t opportune to offer the retreat at Fontvieille in as much as such an exercise given by only two missionaries over a fortnight would have only shallow results in a population of some two thousand five hundred. If one is going to get involved at all, it must be in an effective way, and the thing is impossible as conceived by the pastor of Fontvieille. If the old fellow has given you an answer in the meantime, you can tell him without hesitation that you approached me on the matter and I refused to release missionaries for a simple retreat. To achieve anything in such a tough area at least three missionaries are needed on a four-week mission. He can take it or leave it.
The Auriol mission was wonderful, our men worked like Trojans but are ready to get back to work.
Goodbye, my very dear friend.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 3 February 1835, EO VIII n 504

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