The Oblates at the time of Eugene (and still today) were missionaries who wanted to spend all their time and energy evangelizing. None of them wanted to be in administration or formators of novices or scholastics. Father Guibert was a case in point. He did an excellent task of being novice master, but the sedentary life made him ill. When he was sent to recuperate by being involved in parish missions, his health returned. This pattern happened more than once.
Providence gave us in Fr. Guibert a master of novices who seemed to me quite apt to fill this very important post. He applied himself to the task with all his heart at the outset but his health, which had never been good, began to fluctuate. It became necessary to give him a change of air and free him entirely from this employment. However it is the most important task there is in the Society; without a novitiate, the Society is done for.
So, Eugene appointed Fr Honorat to be novice master. Just recently we saw some of the letters Eugene wrote to him to try to calm his missionary zeal. Now he was being asked to give up the missionary work that he loved and was so good at, for an essential ministry within the Oblates.
… So at this time the heart of our novitiate must be very sound and for this we need a master of novices. This master of novices is you,2 my dear Fr. Honorat, who combine an unshakeable loyalty to the Society with a love of order and regularity. I have thought this matter through. I would have wished to find someone else in order to leave you at Nimes where you are doing well but there is no one else in the Society and no one will take it amiss that I put this task above everything else, given that it is a question of training the members who are to save it from dying out.
Begin the day you receive my letter to converse with Fr. Guibert on this matter; ask him to communicate to you the result of the study that he had to do at the time in order to discharge his task well, discuss it at length with him and deeply. Read some books which are related to this new occupation.
Eugene invites Honorat to recognize the value of the self-sacrifice that is being asked of him for the good of the future of the Oblates.
I hope, my dear Father Honorat, that you have reflected yourself on the excellence of religious virtues so that you now find yourself totally detached as to whatever obedience may call for. The Lord usually blesses such a disposition by the most unexpected successes…
The good God will provide for the rest, for I do not hide from myself that the missions will suffer, but never mind – all must be sacrificed for the novitiate, because all the good that the Society will be able to do in future depends therefrom, and we ought to recognize that if this one or that one had made a good novitiate, they would be far less imperfect than they are..
Letter to Jean Baptiste Honorat, 4 May 1828, EO VII n 299
“In Christ we see a maturity of love that flowers in self-sacrifice and forgiveness; a maturity of power that never swerves from the ideal of service; a maturity of goodness that overcomes every temptation, and, of course, we see the ultimate victory of life over death itself.” Vincent Nichols