I am not happy with my position. Need I say it?

Exiled from Marseilles diocese, having been deprived of his French citizenship, constantly maligned in the anti-religious newspapers and political circles, and now far away from the people he loved who were being threatened by the cholera epidemic, to say that he was not happy with his position is rather an understatement!

The few lines that follow in this letter are a powerful insight into the person of Eugene. At this moment of difficulty he confides in Henri Tempier, from whom he is geographically separated. “Separated from you, I am missing something that is essential to my existence. I am only half-alive.”

Let us recall that Henri Tempier had been the first companion of Eugene at the foundation of the Missionaries in 1816. He was the one who had immediately understood God’s plan in the charism given to Eugene, and together they worked at bringing the Oblates to the same understanding. On Holy Thursday 1816 they had made a vow of obedience to God and to one another to discern and do the will of God. They were each other’s spiritual directors and confessors. They were indeed “two souls united” in God, in the Oblate vocation and mission, and in the administration of the Diocese of Marseilles.

Personality-wise, they were very different. Eugene was the impulsive charismatic visionary with a heart as large as the world. Henri was quiet, reserved, practical, and always deferential to Eugene’s position as Superior General. These two opposites needed each other, and Eugene could never have achieved what he did without the constant support and advice of Henri.

Although you are often quite moody, and one can’t ever share with you the pleasure of throwing reserve to the winds, of those uninhibited exchanges that are true joy for two souls as united as we are, and although without it being really your fault, I know, but due to your personality, you are always deferring to me, even so I am unable to live without you.
When I’m – I won’t say separated from you, this often happens we are under the same roof – far from you, I am missing something that is essential to my existence. I am only half-alive and very sad.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 1 August 1835, EO VIII n 530

This rare insight into Eugene’s heart makes us understand why he was always inspired by the relationship between Jesus and his friend Lazarus, and held Jesus and his beloved disciples as the model for Oblate life.

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    I look sit with Frank and Eugene’s words, savouring them – allowing them to seep within me, looking at how I wear them in my own life. It is a little like having the early morning light rise within me, finding its way into the hidden recesses of my being. As I sit here and try to experience and describe what is within me I find myself thinking of that word – “obedience”. Something within me breaks free as tears fill my eyes; love – it is huge and all-surrounding – it is a love that inspires, urges and demands that we offer our obedience to another – to others. This is what gives life to our ‘oblation’ to God, to our Church and to each other.

    It is not just between ourselves and God but rather how we come to God; with each other. Any shackles of control and abusive power drop away from ‘obedience’ – allowing a freedom that only obedience will give birth to.

    I look again at the relationship between Jesus and Lazarus – for I have not ever looked at it in light of how it has been presented to us this morning. I look at Eugene and Henri and the depth of their friendship and love for each other and I begin to recognize new depths. And I look at my own relationships with some; there is immense love and depth and even though it might seem greater with a few there is never a lessening with any other. And I am reminded of the immensity of living in the light of God’s love.

    I recognise the intersecting love that surrounds my own life this morning and still tears run freely for they are not tears of bitterness or wanting, but rather they are filled with awe and joy and gratitude for all that I am given.

    Like Eugene, I/we will know the sorrow of feeling only half-alive and sad – but right now a new day begins and it holds before us the gifts of new challenges and joys.

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