Leflon concludes the narrative of the 1820 mission in Aix. Two things strike me in particular in this account. Firstly, Eugene was unable to preach from a written text, and here we see an example of how well he functioned when he spoke from his heart and in openness to God. Secondly, the Cathedral Canons had been the ones who had caused so many difficulties, yet Eugene highlights and praises their good qualities.
To conciliate the faithful and repair the insult Father de Mazenod had received, Bishop de Bausset prescribed another procession to Calvaire [the place where the mission Cross had been erected] for the following Sunday and declared that when the procession returned to the cathedral, Father de Mazenod would preach the closing sermon which had been scheduled for the preceding Sunday. The bishop was fully confident of the latter’s ability to master the situation and felt confident that he would straighten everything out and erase from the minds and hearts of the faithful the deplorable impression made by the incidents of April 30.
By publicly disapproving the Canons’ conduct, the prelate’s action put Father de Mazenod in the right, but, it also put him to a very delicate test since all his words, even his pauses, would be open to misinterpretation. Consequently, in order not to expose himself to any of the hazards connected with an improvised sermon, he decided, contrary to his usual method, to write out the sermon in its entirety, memorize it, and deliver it word for word. He even took the added precaution of submitting his text to some clerical and lay friends, all of whom found it above reproach.
On May 7, therefore, after the procession over which the Archbishop presided, the Founder ascended the pulpit in the cathedral where an immense crowd had gathered. Suddenly, his memory failed him completely and he could remember neither the ideas he had developed nor the words he had chosen with such great care. Someone else might have been thrown into panic by that complete and disastrous blank that sometimes plagues even the most experienced orators. The Founder, however, very much the master of himself, remained calm, and knelt down to invoke the Holy Spirit; he then arose, and ignoring everything he had written beforehand, improvised a sermon which brought all his talents into play. So much so, that those who heard him that day agreed that never had he spoken so well. By means of that sermon which he himself called his “last will and testament of charity,” he was able to discuss everything that had happened the week before, but with a tact, fairness and sincerity which made light of all the unpleasantness and brought about a rapprochement of minds. He concluded his sermon by complimenting the archbishop and his Chapter and giving fulsome praise to the Canons who, with the exception of two, were understandably absent. Suzanne, who was an eyewitness, reports:
Raising his voice, he declared: “It may very well be that we owe the consoling success of our Apostolic labors and your blessed conversion to them (the Canons) since their esteemed body has been delegated by the Church to offer due tribute to the Lord by continual prayer.” He then cited some outstanding examples of the members of the Chapter, “most of whom have grown old in the august service of the priestly ministry and several of whom had even died for the Faith under the Revolutionary axe.” The sermon had a profound effect upon everyone there, particularly the archbishop. The tears of joy and admiration which rolled down his cheeks expressed far better than words the tender and unutterable sentiments which were flooding his sensitive heart at that moment. As a consequence, he decided to forgo giving his pastoral blessing to the congregation and begged Father de Mazenod to bless the people in his stead, affectionately telling him that “they will always be your good people.” Then, the chief shepherd of the diocese reverently bowed his head to receive the blessing of a saintly missionary whose zeal he holds in high esteem and whose virtues he has always admired. The Te Deum was then sung.104
Thus, thanks to the skillful manner in which the Founder remedied the situation, the Aix mission, which had been threatened for a brief time by a discord “as unjust as it was ill-timed,” ended “on a note of Christ-like peace.”
Leflon 2, p. 126 – 127
“It is the duty of every Christian to be Christ to his neighbor.” Martin Luther