The house in Billens, Switzerland, had been opened as a formation house for the scholastics when it appeared that the Revolution of 1830 was about to begin a persecution of the Church. Three years later the students returned to France, and the house in Billens was a house of itinerant Oblate preachers. The community became somewhat unfocused and discontented, unleashing Eugene’s anger:

I have to confess that the pen fell from my hand each time I made the effort to write you. What’s there to say to men who after so many years of religious life don’t have the first idea of their chief and essential obligations, and some of whom go so far as to threaten to leave if their obedience is not changed, in other words, if instead of being told what they have to do, they are not asked to place their orders, so that their tastes can be complied with … .
You want me to write and I have no blessing to impart, only anathemas. You are all at fault, without a single exception.

What would have hurt Eugene deeply was the fact that some who had made perpetual oblation and given their lives to God and to the Congregation, were now threatening to leave the Oblates if they did not get their own way. He made some personnel changes and harmony was restored.

I begin by recalling Father M. He will leave immediately on receipt of this letter…. I will let you know the destination of the others in due course… It is my wish that this letter be read aloud in the community so that each individual will be made aware of my displeasure, and no one will escape the reproaches that I feel obliged to make in all conscience.

Letter to the Fathers in Billens, 23 June 1833, EO VIII n 447

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    I look at the Cross – it has been viewed by some as dark, ugly, messy, cruel, etc. Those people do not want to look and see a cross in their church and that saddens me. They are missing seeing the whole cross with the resurrection – the both/and. Like some of those men at Billens, they have turned inward seeing only their wants and needs to ‘feel good’ and not the greater picture.

    In AA we speak about “easier, softer ways” and “looking for excuses”, and we see it happening within ourselves or with others and there is an immense sadness within us because it tears at the very fabric of our sobriety like a physical pain especially when one of us returns to drinking or drugs. We know that could be each one of us.

    I have looked at the vows – especially obedience. It takes immense trust in God, it takes immense trust in grace – it takes immense courage and strength to surrender to God and most especially to another(s). And I look at the Rule – something else that I struggled with. I look at the care the Church has taken to safeguard and ensure that both the vows and the Rules of Life come from God.

    When I first began my journey of walking with the Oblates I looked at the vows, particularly the vow of obedience and at the Rule of Life as being things that took away life – but then my focus started to change. I look now at how they are agents of love and life and freedom for life. Of late I have been hearing the word “oblation” over and over again – being spoken of not as an agent of death and darkness, but rather a gift of light and love. I am a lay person – not bound by these in the normal way of a religious person, but within my heart – well that’s a another story…

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