SO NOT FOR ME THE MUCH-DESIRED PALM OF THE MARTYRDOM OF CHARITY

For Eugene, oblation meant being prepared to give one’s life for Jesus -especially at the service of others. He had prayed for this oblational martyrdom from the time of his priestly ordination.

I will give you my news in brief. Cholera has not killed us all off. I confronted it as is my duty, if not without peril, at least without damage to my health. Every day I had to visit a number of the sick in the hospitals and private houses. God was always my help, and so not for me the much-desired palm of the martyrdom of charity.

Letter to Bishop Frezza in Rome, 27 April 1835, EO XV n 177

Eugene may not have achieved the martyrdom of charity, but attacks directed at him certainly caused a martyrdom in a different sense. Eugene had been banned from any public ministry in Marseilles as bishop, but because of the urgency of the situation, the Prefect realized that he was needed and turned a blind eye. At the end of the epidemic, however, the situation both with the civic authorities and with some rebellious priests broke out again. Eugene, who had had his French citizenship removed was worried about drawing to much attention to his presence in Marseilles and consequently being expelled from France. He decided to withdraw from Marseilles and go to live in Oblate communities outside of Provence. Leflon explains:

“In June, the latter had submitted his resignation as vicar-general and had left Marseilles to administer ordinations and confirmation in the dioceses of Aix and Avignon. During his absence, some priests who were justly disciplined, attacked him in the press before the state council; one of them was Jonjon, who published in the anti-clerical Semaphore an outrageous article entitled Justice of the Bishopric of Marseilles. Another was the pastor of Aygalades; deprived of his pastoral powers because he had become unbearable to his parishioners and had brought the newspapers, his parish, and the officials of Aix, into the quarrel and had appealed to the king and the Pope. Finally, the prefect of Vaucluse became alarmed by the activity displayed in his department by a prelate “who has made himself notorious in the South because of his fanatic principles and his ultramontane scheming.” The Semaphore, which championed these two rebels, even went so far as to forge a letter from His Eminence, Cardinal Pacca, to the Bishop of Icosia, “complaining of his bad administration of the diocese . . . and strongly reproaching him for the shameful way he treats priests.” The newspaper even added that, in view of the “continued complaints about him reaching Rome from both the priests and the government,” the Cardinal admonished him to leave Marseilles and even the kingdom. That explains why the Bishop of Icosia was missing from the Corpus Christi processions and “has not been able to parade around Marseilles.”

Leflon 2 p 491-492.

Despite all this, Eugene was able to proclaim constantly, “God was always my help!”

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One Response to SO NOT FOR ME THE MUCH-DESIRED PALM OF THE MARTYRDOM OF CHARITY

  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    There are those who would say that a person is not a ‘real’ martyr unless they lose their life. I think of the many ways that we ‘die’ within ourselves for others, for God.
    The ‘martyrdom of charity’ – not just some empty pious words uttered by Eugene for he stood to lose much by disobeying the government of the time. He stood up to a false ‘power’ and helped those who needed the help – then he left Marseilles. And he wrote of his fidelity to Bishop Frezza in Rome to let him know exactly why he had disobeyed the ‘laws’ of that time.

    His faithfulness was to God – as was God’s faithfulness to him.

    I think of the men and women around the world who stand up for the justice and lives of others – helping those who need help sometimes at the cost of their own lives, their jobs or their reputations. Standing up to wrongs no matter who creates or enacts those wrongs. We don’t hear about most of them because their names are not prominent in the news.

    This morning is an opportunity to look at myself in the light of “Jonjon… the pastor of Aygalades , the prelate of Vaucluse and the writers of the “Semaphore”. How have my words or behaviour been a betrayal of another, of others; causing them to die a little because of their love of God in others?

    And I ask myself how I have died in little ways over the course of my life because I was betrayed by another or others and still made the decision to act out of love.

    There is within each of us the gift to desire to be martyrs of love, of justice, of goodness… For many of us it is Eugene – St. Eugene and other members of his family who inspire us to be able to say: “God is always my help”.

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