In order to be fully at the service of God and of others, Eugene was convinced of the need of self-discipline. This was one of his ongoing concerns throughout his life. In accordance with the Church’s traditions, he expressed this through fasting during Lent and on a regular basis throughout the year (particularly on Fridays). Similarly, he often speaks about mortifying his body – in other words, doing physical penances to ensure that it was he who controlled his body and not vice versa. We find this theme recurring in all his retreat notes. In the 1818 retreat that we are examining at present we find:
I felt the need of leading a still more mortified life and I ardently desired to do it.
As we have seen above, however, those around him thought that he took the matter to extremes and they tried to moderate his zeal. One of these was Henri Tempier who was Eugene’s spiritual director. While Eugene could brush off his mother and his uncle Fortuné’s fussing, he was unable to do so in the case of Father Tempier because of the vow of mutual obedience that they had made on Holy Thursday 1816.
One thing alone distressed me and that is the fear that it will meet with opposition and my Director will take advantage of the vow of obedience I have made to him to put obstacles to what seems to me evidently God’s will. I cast about seriously for the means to escape the too pressing attentions that charity suggests to some who are overly-afraid I will fall ill once again. I was indignant to have such a fuss made over me while I know full well that I am good for nothing, and that the little good I have done, I have done because God in his goodness was pushing me by the shoulders.
We have many examples of Henri Tempier’s insisting on this vow of obedience – almost always in connection with Eugene’s health and welfare.
Only, since I remark that my health is better since Holy Week, that my chest is not hurting any longer, etc., I will plead with my Director to let me follow the attraction that pulls me strongly to lead a penitential life. I believe it would be to go against the spirit of God to try to resist this any longer, on the pretext that my health needs attention.
Retreat notes, May 1818, O.W. XV, n. 145
“Modern Man is the victim of the very instruments he values most. Every gain in power, every mastery of natural forces, every scientific addition to knowledge, has proved potentially dangerous, because it has not been accompanied by equal gains in self-understanding and self-discipline.” Lewis Mumford (A 20th century sociologist)