LACK OF CONFIDENCE IN THE GRACE OF JESUS CHRIST WHOSE INSTRUMENTS YOU HAVE BEEN OVER SO MANY YEARS
Father Magnan had been sent to participate in a mission and was expecting the more experienced Father Courtès to be with him. When the latter fell ill and could not come, the young Oblate panicked.
My dear Father Magnan, this faint-heartedness that has possessed all of you is truly strange; this childish fear of what people might say, this cry of distress that all of you uttered when you saw the formidable town of Brignoles which stunned you, that which demoralized you so that people could see straight through you, and all of that dismay because Father Courtès was not there. In truth, if another sentiment had not taken hold of me at that time, I would have laughed at this panic.
Eugene stresses that he is being sent as the instrument through whom the Savior will act and that Jesus has never abandoned his missionaries.
Come on! When you are sent in the name of the Lord, once and for all leave aside all these human considerations, the effect of poorly hidden pride and lack of confidence in the grace of Jesus Christ whose instruments you have however been over so many years. You deserve that this divine grace be withdrawn from your ministry, it is then that you could be fearful of people’s judgment. But as long as it is with you, you will convert them, with sermons that are simple, not affected and inspired only by the spirit of the Lord who does not work through the well-rounded phrases and the fine language of orators…
It goes without saying that Father Vincens will take over the direction of the mission. I suggest that you readopt attitudes befitting the dignity of your great ministry. You were not sent to Brignoles to court the applause either of the Pastor or the priests, or of the town’s upper class. You have been sent to convert souls by virtue of the grace of Jesus Christ which has never been lacking, unless you relied more on your own efforts than on his power…
Eugene reminds him of
the Word of God which works miracles of conversion through your ministry, despite the judgment of men.
Letter to Father Jean Magnan, 8 March 1844, EO X n 836
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Last night before going to bed I noticed that the moon was a ‘new moon’, bright and round in the night sky. This morning as I looked out at the night sky the moon was there, but light seemed only to hit the tiniest crescent of it with the rest of it being in shadow. And each time I turned to face the window the moon grew more visible, on its way to becoming once again totally bright and full. A partial eclipse of the moon. We see it in all it’s brightness and then we don’t and must wait as the light slowly returns.
The sky filled with clouds but now as the winds blow the moon can be seen in her fullness until new clouds pass by and obscure her from view.
This morning’s letter from Eugene seems to ask us if we truly believe that God has called and chosen each of us to be his instruments.
The pandemic which we have all experienced in the past 20 months has filled some of us with fear and dread at having to change our rhythms and step out, seemingly alone in our endeavor to respond to God. We fear we might have lost some of our established support and frameworks in how we carry out our daily lives and these fears may try to overwhelm us with the lie that we are all alone and not ‘up to snuff’ in being able to carry on ourselves.
Just as the moon did not magically disappear and then reappear, neither has God abandoned us. God will and does fill us with all that we need. Those who have inspired us will continue to do so even if it might not be immediately apparent. And while we might not be able to achieve seeming perfection, we remember and hold on to the belief that God has called us to be, exactly where we are. We have learned from others and then step out to quietly share that with others and become ourselves instruments of God’s love.
There is a little bit of Father Magnan in each of us and Eugene continues to remind us of our call and our oblation as a response to that call.
I return this morning to sit with Eugene and Father Magnan. I reflect for a few moments on all of the good that Father Magnan did in his lifetime, on all of the gifts that he brought with him to the congregation. I sit with Eugene thinking of the many times in his life that he struggled, especially in the 1830s. It was his family, his congregation that helped him to move forward and be able to embrace a new facet of his life, that of being a bishop.
And Fr. Magnan, his ongoing struggles and weaknesses remind me of my own life; a life filled with addictions, goodness and wrong, and transformation. It was a royal and messy mix of imperfections and struggles, as well as rightness and goodness.
This past week Richard Rohr wrote about addictions in our lives: “After a few years in recovery, we will know that our deep and insatiable desiring was for God all along. We went on a bit of a detour, looked for love in all the wrong places, and now have found what we really wanted anyway. God is willing to wait for that.”
I think of the detours that Eugene himself experienced, and the detours I took, some small and others great. Like Fr. Magnan I found it difficult at times to follow the lines on the road and the directions along side of it. There is a sadness that he had to suffer as he did, but there is also joy that he finally found peace in the embrace of the Beloved.
Strange that until this moment I had not thought it possible to experience love and caring for another who lived more than a hundred years before my life began and who may be remembered more for the wrongs that he committed than for all the good.