Eugene’s constant insistence to his Oblates was:

Instruct, instruct, ignorance is the plague of our times.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 19 January 1839, EO IX n. 683

Studies of the missions in France during the period of the Restoration emphasize the religious ignorance of the French after a quarter century of atrocious persecutions, incessant wars, and constant upheavals. One part of the population had forgotten nearly everything about their faith, while another part had never learnt much about it. This was the crass ignorance Eugene referred to in the Preface:

The people are caught up in crass ignorance of all that pertains to their salvation. The consequence of their ignorance has been a weakening of the faith and a corruption of morals with all the license which that inevitably entails. Thus, it is supremely important, it is urgently imperative, that we lead the multitude of lost sheep back to the fold, that we teach these degenerate Christians who Jesus Christ is….

1826 Rule, Preface

For this reason the missionaries packed their missions fully with catechesis, familiar instructions, retreats for particular groups and took every possible opportunity to instruct.

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    What’s in a word? Two years after this was written and still I struggle with two words, crass and degenerate. I find myself questioning Eugene and his understanding of the people he loved. I also recognize in my reaction my own wounds and limitations, my struggle with some things heard long ago – that maybe I need to let go of.

    I recognize that I need to look a little more closely and honestly at myself. Am I not guilty of that same ‘arrogance’ (for that is what I find myself judging Eugene’s choice of words as)? How many times have I spoken down from the lofty heights of my knowledge and experience (you know big fish in a very little pond)? Not with ill-meaning but never-the-less with a spoken or unspoken ‘arrogance’. I know I have done it, whether to make myself feel smarter or even ‘as good as’, spoken without the love that I am in fact professing. Body language, attitude and intonation of words, sharpness of voice, impatience. I cannot just wipe it away, saying this is one of my weaknesses, or, at least I don’t do it as much as I used to. There is sorrow because I know that I still do it, whether I am tired, or hurting myself, or feel a need to be ‘better than’.

    I am not accusing Eugene of my sins. Perhaps the words were more commonly used 200 years ago. I simply state my reaction (for it is not a response) to two of the words used here today, two years ago. Another day where I am sure this was not the intention behind the writing, but it seems to be where I have come to and through. The piece begins with “Instruct, instruct, ignorance is the plague of our times.” With this instruction, I become more aware, of who I am. It allows me to look up and out with clearer eyes, to ask for mercy and to receive it moving on. To not be too self-righteous, to not judge. All of the ordinary everyday things that make up a part of my journey. I find myself grateful for yet another opportunity to live out and share the glorious love I’ve been given (there is no “chance” about this). I thank You.

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