Throughout his life, Eugene’s retreat notes and diaries are filled with programs and timetables for a disciplined spiritual routine. He produced spiritual programs for himself as a priest, missionary and bishop. He produced programs for the youth congregation and for the Missionary Oblates. It was a habit of spiritual routine that he acquired from Don Bartolo Zinelli in Venice.
It was in the school of this holy priest that I learnt to despise worldly vanities, to taste the things of God: far removed from all dissipation, from every contact with young people of my age, I did not even give a thought to what constitutes the object of their desires. I went to confession every Saturday, to communion every Sunday. The reading of good books and prayer were the only distractions I allowed from the careful pursuit of my studies. I heard and served Mass every day, and every day too I recited the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I had derived from my pious reading a certain attraction for mortification, and child as I still was, I made it a rule to fast every Friday, and in Lent on three days in the week; my parents did not notice. I often placed planks under my blankets, and on Saturdays, so as to be more sure of waking early so as to spend more time in church, I slept quite simply on the ground on a simple blanket. My health came to no harm at all from it, and I persevered with this regime for as long as I lived in Venice.
Looking back on this period of his life, he recognized the beginning of his vocation to the priesthood and religious life.
If I have related these facts, it is only to highlight the graces I was blessed with from my earliest childhood, and how deeply I must humble myself for not having derived greater benefit from them. It is from then that I date my vocation to the clerical state, and perhaps to a more perfect state, and certainly if we had stayed only one year more in Venice, I would have followed my saintly director and his brother, now a priest, into the religious Congregation they chose, and in which they both died in the exercise of an heroic zeal.
Diary of the Exile in Italy, EO XVI
It was a desire that vanished when he left Venice, and that the sight of the Cross one Good Friday, nearly a decade later, would re-awaken in him. Similarly, the routine taught to him by Don Bartolo, would be at the basis of his spiritual timetable in later life. “Regularity” is a word we constantly come across in Eugene’s Oblate writings.
“Routines are normal, natural, healthy things. Most of us take a shower and brush our teeth every day. That is a good routine. Spiritual disciplines are routines. That is a good thing. But once routines become routine you need to change your routine.” Mark Batterson