Not all smelt of roses in the Aix mission of 1820. From time to time, in past entries, we have come across entries on the stormy relationship between Eugene and some of the priests of the city. His fiery reactions to their animosity did not always help to calm the situation. In this account we see the “dignity” of the Canons of the Cathedral being ruffled and the petty reactions that ensued.
Why do I reproduce the accounts of these incidents here? On one hand, because they give us an insight into the situation Eugene lived and help us to understand him better. On the other hand, the Canons of the Cathedral Chapter were good priests but we see how they were blinded by petty events that ruffled their ecclesiastical dignity. Perhaps it is an invitation to us to try to keep the “dignity” our ego from blinding us to all the good things happening around us.
Eugene’s preaching was drawing the crowds to the Cathedral, and there was not enough room for everyone. A good part of the center of the church was taken up by the stalls for the Canons, which were separated from the rest by a wooden partition. These senior priests, mostly members of the aristocracy, took so much reserved space just for themselves, while the people did not have enough space. These priests had never liked Eugene because he did not live up to his noble origins and his way of life and ministry to the most abandoned was a criticism of their own lifestyle. Uncle Fortuné takes up the story to report to Eugene’s father:
The Bishop who shows him every kindness, even gave him permission to do something that has never been done before and it will surely bring Eugene to grips with the venerable canons, who are forever insisting that their rights be respected. In order to make more comfortable seating space available to the men for whom there were no empty pews and who had been provided with chairs, the Bishop, without consulting the Chapter, gave Eugene permission to remove the partitions, doors and grills which separate the choir from the middle aisle. As soon as he received the Archbishop’s consent, he lost no time setting about the task for fear that someone might change the prelate’s mind. He sent for a large number of helpers and they worked so diligently that everything was removed in the space of two hours. You would have roared laughing if you had seen your son, Father Deblieu and the other missionaries knocking down the partitions and carrying away the debris on their shoulders.
True to Fortune’s prediction, the canons were indignant that their choir was being invaded by simple laymen, but were even more indignant that they had not been consulted regarding the removal of the grills which safeguarded their recollection in prayer. Unfortunately, they took reprisals which were petty at first, but which soon became odious…
For the solemn renewal of the baptismal promises, an inspiring ceremony at which the Founder spoke so beautifully and touchingly that tears filled every eye, the sacristy canon had supplied plain, everyday vestments. Father Tempier went immediately to register a complaint with the Archbishop who at that moment was at the church of the Madeleine, whereupon the prelate sent orders that the sacristan was to furnish the best vestments without delay. The following day, Fathers Rey and Florens were purposely rude to Father Deblieu who then treated them correspondingly. And so, as you can see, the same old tactics are being used against our missionaries.
On that particular occasion, everything was limited to the petty incident regarding the vestments, followed by a private squabble between Deblieu and the two ringleaders of the chapter, Rey and Florens who, since l’affaire Jauffret, had been equally fanatic in their hostility toward Father de Mazenod.
Leflon 2, p. 124-125
“Salt seasons, purifies, preserves. But somebody ought to remind us that salt also irritates. Real living Christianity rubs this world the wrong way.” Vance Havner