Two hundred years ago, when there was no electricity, radio nor television, it was the theaters and opera houses that provided public entertainment. In reality, the moral values portrayed by the majority of these performances were usually not in keeping with Gospel values, with marital infidelity and immorality topping the list. For this reason, the bishops of France never went to theatrical performances.
In this journal entry Eugene speaks of meeting the world-renowned composer and musician, Niccolo Paganini, and of refusing an invitation to the theater where he was to perform.
So as not to offend the good Billon, parish priest of St. Victor, I went to assist pontifically at the High Mass in his church. They performed the Cherubini Mass; the artists were determined to perform at their best, having as witness and judge of their ability the famous Paganini. This famous man had given two concerts in the city which had won him the praises he is accustomed to receive everywhere he makes heard his really magical violin. He did not fail to come and invite me in person. I was really happy to see so extraordinary a master, but I was obliged to disappoint him with a refusal motivated not simply by my state of health, but also by the just severity of our French practice which is opposed to a bishop appearing even for an innocuous concert in a theatre considered by us all too justly as the temple of the devil.
Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 5 February 1837, EO XVIII
We may be tempted to judge Eugene as being narrow-minded by today’s standards, but perhaps this text invites us to reflect on our own attitude and reaction to the Gospel values that the mass media constantly bombards us with today.