After our prolonged break for Easter, we resume our journey through the writings of Saint Eugene. The year is 1824. Nearly a year after being appointed Vicar General of Marseille diocese, he managed to get away for a few days to go to Aix to do his annual retreat. As we reflect on his retreat notes, I invite you to use these reflections as an opportunity to reflect on and pray about your own busy schedule.
The retreat was a moment for Eugene to stop and catch his breath and re-focus on the direction that his life was taking in the midst of a totally new and busy lifestyle.
God be praised, blessed, and thanked. I have finally managed to extract myself from the yoke that weighs me down, to break the chains that oppress me – and which I must nevertheless kiss (ed. a reference to Saint Paul’s attitude to the chains that kept him a prisoner for Jesus); I am allowed to get away for eight days to our dear Aix house and busy myself solely with the matter of my salvation. Please God I may profit from this pleasant time of rest that divine Providence gives me to enter into myself, explore the depths of my heart, and to identify in my soul all the damage and ruin that the distraction produced by business matters that multiply and ceaselessly demand attention, has produced within it.
Being a “people-person”, Eugene wanted to spend his time preaching the Gospel and accompanying people to lead their lives in relationship with God. The bulk of his work in the diocese, however, was administration in an office. It was a diocese that was being restored after the French Revolution, consequently he, Henri Tempier and the Bishop were occupied with setting up efficient structures for evangelization and ensuring the cooperation of the diocesan priests in this task.
In this retreat Eugene realizes more forcefully how his personal salvation will not come through withdrawing from activity, but through giving himself more fully to the work of the salvation of others. He writes in his journal:
Great God, created only to possess you, having no other real task than to achieve our salvation, why must so many various objects come at every moment and every day to distract us from the application we should bring to it. How often have I not been tempted to abandon everything and busy myself only with my soul. But no: I am told I must save it by continuing to busy myself with others.
Retreat notes, May 1824, EO XV n. 156
“Whatosever you do to the least one of these in my name, you do it to me.” Matthew 25