Continuing to reflect on Eugene’s resolutions as he entered retreat, we encounter another very practical motivation for doing a good retreat: the possibility of death. He gives the impression that he considered 50 to be a ripe old age – perhaps in 1831 it was! But more seriously, cholera had broken out in some of the ports of the Mediterranean, and it was a matter of time before it reached the port of Marseilles.

9. Among other motivations for going to the heart of the matter, I will consider my age (I have entered my fiftieth year) and the scourge of God that is threatening us. It is good to think about my half-century, for it is forgotten when one’s health is good, and about the cholera morbus for it seems too far away when talking about it. However, one does not cease to grow old because one feels like a thirty-year-old, and if cholera comes all of a sudden one has to become dedicated without delay and confront all its dangers. And to do that one must be ready to appear before God.
10. So in this retreat one must envisage death a little more close-up than usually. When one feels young and in good health, one sees before one a long series of years, and no sign of bodily dissolution. One has to call in aid the imagination to dream up an illness without having any of the symptoms, and which since it has nothing of the real world about it arouses none of the conviction for fearing death it is supposed ought to follow on it. But when one is persuaded that one is getting old, that one might have died on two occasions in a month, then when one tells oneself that cholera could arrive any day by land or sea, and once it has come, it could dispatch you in a few hours, the argument is more cogent, and the conclusion easier.
11. So the thought of death can therefore be employed this time more successfully than usual.

Retreat resolutions, October 1831, EO XV n 162

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    I think someone once told me that there was no use in trying to run away from death, because eventually it would catch up with me. I try not to run from or towards death. It will come when it does.

    Eugene was being very practical, admitting that it could happen in an instant. He wanted to be prepared – physically and spiritually. His life was fully integrated and so it would never be just one or the other, but both. His entire life was in a way preparation. His oblation, his daily yes and his being true to who God called him to be and his retreats were an invitation for him to enter more deeply that call, his response. He didn’t ‘run towards death’ but neither did he run from it. He prepared himself for it’s possible arrival with this retreat and then in that way he would be able to continue to live his daily life as he was called, as a priest, as founder and Superior General of the Oblates, as an Oblate and Vicar General to his uncle in Marseilles. His daily ways of being.

    What does that look like for me? My weekend and even last week has been a prayerful preparation for what is to come this week – steady in the midst of my daily life. This morning I start the 2nd half of my course in Oblate Studies and also a new course. I went to bed early last night so as to be prepared, asking God to give me whatever I need for the days ahead. This morning I awoke both excited and a little fearful. Fearful of the ‘what-ifs’ – that I would not have the knowledge or enough ‘smarts’ to be able to handle the new course but then remembered feeling like this when I first started this wonderful adventure. In truth I found myself thriving with all of the learning and integrating it into my life. So I walk through the fear. And the excitement – well I can hardly wait to get started – learning and deepening, so that it becomes a part of me. This is a part of my ‘preparation’ in a sense.

    When death does come to me as the next step in my journey I hope that I will not run from it, but rather enter into it. But for now I live – fully alive. Fear, joy, gratitude.

  2. Peghanafin says:

    I can concur with St Eugene. I am just 81years old and in poor health. I thank God every morning for another day. I keep writing about life’s vagaries and promote another way of living. A happier and more caring and sharing life, that I know brings great joy. By May of this year I hope that I will have published my 4th book in the past 4 years. I have faced my mortality a few times last year, I didn’t like it. Every time I baffled the doctors and went home again to carry on. Hopefully I will see the launch of my book. I ask St Eugene to walk this final journey with me and keep me one of his Oblate family.

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