At the end of October each year the Oblate community in Aix would have their annual retreat, and this year Eugene had come from Marseille to join the community for it. He wrote to Henri Tempier in Marseille:

If it is not absolutely necessary that I be in Marseille on the day of All Saints, I will spend the Feast here. You understand it would be difficult for me to reach Marseille in time for the liturgical celebration that I perhaps would miss in spite of hurrying all I can; so prevail on my dear uncle to grant me this permission. It is all the more necessary because, having stayed very fully on retreat, I have not been able to see anyone and yet everybody knows I am here and, as they scarcely have any idea of what it means to be on a strict retreat, certain persons would be tempted to be upset if I had spent eight days at Aix without seeing them. God knows I could willingly do without this.

He then contrasts the genuine pleasure of being with his Oblate family as opposed to the duty of having to go through the niceties and correctness of polite society that his position required him to interact with.

The delight that is mine when I am with our Oblates is worth more than anything else
and then the reflections that one makes on a successful retreat makes so many things and many people distasteful that one has to persuade oneself to be approachable to them, and comply with the expectations of politeness and what they call manners.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 29 October 1824, EO VI n 156


“Politeness is only one half good manners and the other half good lying.” Mary Wilson Little

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    It works, thank you so much for this Frank – so seamless and easy to load. Sometimes it is the very little things that can lift us up in small joy.

    I very much like the reflection this morning. Eugene, honest, human; “God knows I could willingly do without this.” Retreats, times of such depth, of being exactly where our very souls long to be; being embraced, seeking, listening, being. And then at the end of it all being sent out, once again and responding to life in that sending. After that most kinds of polite “socializing” can seem to be difficult. I know myself when I see a visitor return say to the parish for Mass one Sunday, how I want to immediately go to him or her to say hello, find out how they are, to connect and some of them are leaders, natural leaders so they do have many who would wish to connect with them. Does this mean that I will stop from approaching them, probably not – I like them too much. Hopefully not being seen in the same light as those Eugene is speaking of.

    At the same time I think also of the times when I have been approached by someone, perhaps at work, or while out shopping, perhaps even at church and I have been in a hurry, busy, tired, hurting and how little of myself I gave to them. I do not compare myself to Eugene for I am not of the same caliber shall we say, as him. But perhaps in the little ways of life that it happens. I am thinking of a person I saw after Mass yesterday, I dare to call him a friend, who often seeks me out, not in a needy way but I am not always sure why for we are of different generations, life experiences etc. Yesterday though in the midst of my own struggles and doubts I did not seem quite capable of more than a quick hello and how are you before “making my escape”. Not sure I had it in me, but I do believe he deserved better than that.

    Even as I write this my mind returns to this conversation and Eugene – having been on his retreat, which I am sure he surely needed and deserved, as well as time to be with his family, his “sons”. He needed that “base and connectedness” in a very real way before being able to the “political and polite” thing. I am thinking of how for the past week I was “on” in a way, being a part of; listening; sharing; serving in the small ways that I could and I suppose that in a way was like a retreat because in the midst of all of it I was surely having to look at myself, listen and allow myself to be embraced. And yesterday finding I needed time to be alone for awhile.

    Amazing that being in the midst of what we most desire, we discover just how much more we want.

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