The letter written to the Diocesan authorities on 25 January 1816 is a foundational document for us who live according to the spirit and charism of Saint Eugene. In the days that follow I will explore various aspects of this important text. It begins with an affirmation of the starting point of a missionary vocation:
The undersigned priests:
-deeply moved by the deplorable situation of the small towns and villages of Provence that have almost completely lost the faith;
Request to the Capitular Vicars of Aix, 25 January 1816, O.W. XIII n.2
The 25 year-old Eugene discovered his vocation when he was deeply moved by the state of the suffering of the Church (i.e. of its members) after the Revolution. He declared that he could not “sit back with arms folded, sighing softly to himself about all these evils, but not raising a finger to awaken even in the least degree men’s hardened hearts.” (Letter to his mother, 4 April 1809, O.W. XIV, n. 50.)
In his ministry as a young priest he was deeply moved by the irreligious situation of the poorer classes of Aix, the youth, the prisoners and the inhabitants of the small abandoned villages around Aix – and he responded generously.
One of the principal formation ideals he had for his Youth Congregation was: “They will have a compassionate charity for the misery of the poor and they will count themselves happy to be able to relieve, in their needs, these suffering members of J.C.” (Abridgement of the rule of life of the congregants of the Christian Youth Association, O.W. XV, n 135) “Compassionate charity” is a very weak translation of the original French: “les entrailles de la miséricorde” – literally a “gut-feeling” of mercy for others – being deeply moved by the suffering of others.
Eugene’s impressive ministry as Superior General of a Missionary Congregation sent out all over the world to seek out the abandoned and as Bishop of Marseille in his response to the suffering of the most abandoned in his diocese – all this has as its basis the fact that he “was deeply moved” whenever he came across people who were in need.
Throughout the history of the Missionary Oblates, this has remained the foundational principle of our vocation: as the opening paragraph of our Constitutions and Rules attests:
The call of Jesus Christ, heard within the Church through people’s need for salvation, draws us together as Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. (Constitution 1)
It is the quality of being “deeply moved” by the call of the needs of the poor that is at the foundation of everything for the members of the Mazenodian family.