When some of the disciples pointed out to Jesus that the crowd that he was teaching was hungry, he replied: “Feed them yourselves” (Matthew 14:16 From the richness within you, you need to feed others. This is the starting point for spirituality too. We need to begin by becoming aware of the presence and action of God within ourselves.
In our exploration of the spirituality of Eugene de Mazenod we have recently spent time looking at his lost and confused years during which time he had become spiritually lukewarm. This Eugene that we have been looking at is the same Eugene who had received a solid religious instruction in his formal schooling and formation at the hands of Don Bartolo Zinelli. He had put this aside for a number of years, but the foundation was still present in the core of his being. As he began to come to his senses, his conversion process entailed rediscovering the riches within himself. “I had searched for happiness outside of God…”
We see this re-awakening in 1805 after a visit to Paris with his aunt. On the long journey back in a public carriage he met a young military doctor, Emmanuel de Claubry, who was on his way to rejoin his regiment in Italy. Thus began a friendship that was to last 50 years. On arrival in Italy Emmanuel wrote to Eugene to describe the suffering he was enduring at the hands of his fellow soldiers because of his faith and religious principles. It became a catalyst for Eugene to recall all that he had learnt in his religious formation – especially in the hands of Don Bartolo.
Your letter of October 13, my dear and good friend, filled my heart with bitterness. I had a lively sense of all the snubs you endured during that wretched meal and I would like to tell you that the matter will end there, but these first trials that every newcomer whoever he may be is made to undergo, will be followed by others to which those who do not profess faith in Jesus Christ would not be submitted. It is when they have found out that you are a Christian that they will shower you with sarcasms, insults and scorn, it is then that the children of darkness will bend all their efforts to pervert the child of light and it is then too, my dear friend, that you will need to call upon all the strength you received with the seal of regeneration and through the imposition of hands.
But as anything that I might say to reaffirm your faith and awaken your hope will have little effect as coming from my mouth, I have gathered together below some words of consolation that I have been careful to draw from the pure wellspring, in the book of life, that admirable code where all needs are foreseen, and remedies laid by. So it is by no means Eugene, it is Jesus Christ, it is Peter, Paul, John, etc., who send you this wholesome food which when received with that spirit of faith of which you are capable will certainly not be without effect.
Letter Emmanuel Gaultier de Claubry, EO XIV n 13
Eugene’s contemporary biographer, Rey, only copied this extract and left out the 3 pages of Holy Scripture transcribed by Eugene. He comments: “We do not know of a more complete and striking collection of texts adapted to fortify Christian courage” (Rey I p. 70). Don Bartolo had done his job well many years earlier!
As we explore Mazenodian spirituality, I see an invitation for each of us to become aware of the spiritual riches already within ourselves as individuals and as a Mazenodian group as the starting point of expressing a spirituality.
One of Eugene’s guiding texts entrusted to us as missionaries in the Preface is the responsibility to begin the transformation process within ourselves:
“Take great care about what you do and what you teach,” was Paul’s charge to Timothy, “Always do this, and thus you will save both yourself and those who listen to you” (1 Tim 4: 16).
“Ordinary riches can be stolen; real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.” Oscar Wilde