200 YEARS AGO: DISCOVERING MARY IN OUR MISSION

After visiting Notre Dame du Laus, Eugene wrote this description of the place and of the evangelization that the Missionaries would undertake from there:

We have formed an establishment at Notre Dame du Laus thus bringing ourselves into direct relations with the dioceses of Gap, Digne, Embrun and Sisteron.
We have become the guardians of one of the most celebrated shrines of the Blessed Virgin where the good God is pleased to manifest the power that he has granted to this dear Mother of the Mission.

Letter to Pierre Mie, October 1818, EO VI n.31

At this moment the Missionaries did not have a specifically Marian identity, but working at Laus this started to be expressed as they came to understand that Marian shrines did form a part of their missionary outreach.

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200 YEARS AGO: PREPARATIONS

After Eugene had been at St Laurent, and written the Rule, he and his companions traveled back to Aix via the shrine at Laus that they were about to take over. The description of the journey by Eugene’s uncle Fortuné gives us an idea of the circumstances.

Leflon, using the letters of Fortuné de Mazenod, takes up the story of the return to Aix from Laus:

Finally, on September 24, a visit was made to Laus. The return journey began the following day, and its slowness greatly contrasted with the quick dispatch of the previous trip. Out of a spirit of poverty, fifty-five of the seventy-five miles between Laus and Aix were made on foot over impossible roads. Consequently, it was not until September 30 that the three voyagers reached Aix.

The Founder evidently had more endurance than Moreau and Tempier who arrived exhausted, since, instead of taking time out to rest, he immediately plunged into work. “I haven’t been able to talk privately with him, even for a few moments,” wrote Fortune to President de Mazenod. “From the moment he arrived, his time was monopolized by all the usual petty matters until it was time to retire.” The next day was taken up continuously with hearing the confessions of the novices and members of the Sodality.

Leflon II, p. 165-166

Undoubtedly a good part of the conversation would have been on how to present the newly-written Rule on introducing religious life and vows to the rest of the Missionaries. It is interesting that at the General Chapter a few weeks later, we shall see that these three were the only ones initially in favor of the change of status.

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200 YEARS AGO: A SMALL STEP FOR EUGENE, A GIANT LEAP FOR THE MISSIONARIES

Completing the writing of the Rule, Eugene left St Laurent for Digne, where Brother Moreau was ordained to the priesthood. In the meantime Henri Tempier had come to Digne to join Eugene and the Bishop to negotiate the transfer of the shrine of Notre Dame du Laus to the Missionaries. Eugene, Tempier and Moreau then went to the Shrine and were able to announce:

We have formed an establishment at Notre Dame du Laus thus bringing ourselves into direct relations with the dioceses of Gap, Digne, Embrun and Sisteron.

Letter to Pierre Mie, October 1818, O.W. VI n.31

This first step of expanding out of Aix signaled a major shift for the Missionaries and was the opening of a door to the “giant leap” that was to bring Eugene’s missionary family to more than 60 countries.

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200 YEARS AGO: A NEVER-ENDING SERMON

Rey recounts an anecdote concerning Eugene’s enthusiastic preaching and the not-so-enthusiastic response of the local pastor of St Laurent during the time that he was writing the Rule.

During the three Sundays that he passed at St. Laurent, Father de Mazenod took the responsibility to preach the sermon in Provençal at the parish church and to explain the Creed. On the last Sunday he wanted to complete the set of instructions and so he prolonged his sermon beyond the usual time. It was the day in which the Mass was sung. However the pastor, usually an excellent man of great virtue, became impatient at this length for which he did not understand the reason.

He lifted up his cassock and looked at his watch and began to mutter loudly against this talk that was never-ending. Eventually he could contain himself no longer and he cried out to the preacher:

“But, sir, finish, or else we will still be here at midday”

“Just one more moment, monsieur the pastor”, he responded.”

But after a while this moment became too long for the pastor. He suddenly got up from his chair and went to the center of the altar and with a resounding voice intoned: “Credo in unum Deum.”

The preacher was forced to leave the pulpit immediately unable to say a further word, but with a smile on his face.

Rey I, footnote on p. 230

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200 YEARS AGO: THE RULE – ENRICHED BY THE EXPERIENCE OF OTHERS

When Eugene had written to Henri Tempier to invite him to join the Missionaries, he had said:

We will live together in one house, that which I have bought, under a Rule we shall adopt with common accord and for which we will draw the elements from the statutes of St. Ignatius, of St. Charles for his Oblates, of St. Philip Neri, of St. Vincent de Paul and of the Blessed Liguori. Happiness awaits us in this holy Society which will have but one heart and soul.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 9 October 1815, O.W. VI n. 4.

The Rule which Eugene put together in September 1818 at St Laurent drew from the source of the Rules of other religious Congregations, especially that of St. Alphonsus Liguori who preached missions from the perspective of Christ the Redeemer, also of Saints Ignatius, Charles Borromeo, Philip Neri, Vincent de Paul, as well as the Sulpicians.

All these figures were admired by Eugene for their zeal either in mission preaching, or devotion to the poor, or ministry to youth, or foreign missions, or pastoral care etc. Eugene built on solid rock here as well because he made use of Rules that had been approved by the Church, and which contained the lived experience of other and older Congregations.

The sections which Eugene adapted and made his own clearly expressed his own spirit in a tried and tested manner, and thus together with the Missionaries of Provence whose Rule it was, we need to see these Rules as their own reality which expressed the spirit with which God led them to respond to God’s call.

The Rule was the Gospel reflected for the Mazenodian family in the light of our charism.

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200 YEARS AGO:  THE CONSTITUTIONS AND RULES SET OUT A PRIVILEGED MEANS FOR EACH OBLATE TO FOLLOW IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF JESUS CHRIST.

Throughout the Rule Eugene aimed at communicating that which imbued him to act and the attitude that was particular to this group of missionaries. By means of the Rule as a guide and instrument of formation he aimed at communicating the spirit that was to imbue their life and ministry.

Today, Constitution 163 invites the members of the Mazenodian family to continue being inspired by Eugene’s spirit as enshrined in the Constitutions and Rules:

The Constitutions and Rules set out a privileged means for each Oblate to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. They are inspired by the charism lived by the Founder and his first companions; also, they have received the approval of the Church. Thus, they allow each Oblate to evaluate the quality of his response to his vocation and to become a saint.
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200 YEARS AGO:  READ AND MEDITATE UPON YOUR HOLY RULE

For my part, my very dear Sons, I will be content to sum up my advice in this single recommendation: read and meditate upon your Holy Rule.

Circular Letter 1, 2 August 1853, EO XII

It is clear that the bulk of the work had been done in the preceding years. It became the occasion to put into words the spirit according to which he had lived during the events of the preceding years.

In compiling the Rule of the Missionaries of Provence in 1818, Eugene walked on solid ground.
Firstly he drew on his own experience of the sound formation he had received at St. Sulpice and on how he had lived this in practice in his life and ministry for nearly seven years since his ordination.

His ideals and rules for the Youth Congregation had been tried and tested and he brought this experience with him.

To this was added the experience of nearly three years of existence of the Missionaries of Provence and their practice of community living and ministry of proclamation of the Word of God through missions in Provence and ministry in Aix.

It was all this which Eugene brought with him and expressed in the Rule.

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200 YEARS AGO: THE RULE: PUTTING A LIVED EXPERIENCE INTO WORDS

Eugene spent 13 days at St Laurent, compiling a Rule of 55 hand-written pages. His early biographer, Jeancard, described him poetically as being like Moses “going up to Mount Sinai to receive the Commandments of God.”

This was not quite the case – although the process of writing was certainly done in a spirit of prayer and discernment of the will of God. This is why he was able to say with conviction to the Oblates near the end of his life:

For my part, my very dear Sons, I will be content to sum up my advice in this single recommendation: read and meditate upon your Holy Rule. In the Rule you will find the secret of your perfection; it contains all that is necessary to lead you to God.

Circular Letter 1, 2 August 1853, EO XII

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TWO HUNDRED YEARS AGO: A SPIRIT OF UNITY AMONG THE MISSIONARIES

Having received the approval of all the Missionaries to take responsibility for ND du Laus as a center of mission and the go-ahead to write a Rule of Life for them, Eugene set out from Aix to go to the family home at St Laurent du Verdon with the scholastic brothers Marius Suzanne and Noel Moreau. They travelled by public horse-drawn coach. He described the journey to his uncle Fortuné.

It shows the spirit of unity between the Missionaries.

Our trip, very dear uncle, was very agreeable, very happy and not at all tiring…
Our Fathers at Aix are always present in our thoughts and in our solitude we make our religious exercises in union with theirs.

Letter to Fortuné de Mazenod, 4 September 1818, EO XIII n 17

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200 YEARS AGO: TIGHTENING THE BONDS SO AS TO HAVE UNITY OF THOUGHT AND ACTION

In the process of discernment, Eugene placed the situation of establishing a second community and its implications before all the Missionaries. His Memoires recall:

I felt that I should summon to an extraordinary council, all those who then comprised my little band, even the younger members who were not yet in major orders. I wanted to convince them that if we were to answer the call to another diocese to establish a new foundation,
we should have to broaden the Rule we were following,
draw up more extensive Constitutions,
tighten our bonds
and establish a system of hierarchy;
in other words, coordinate everything in such a way that we should have but one mind and one code of action.
They all felt as I did and urged me to devote my time earnestly and immediately to the task of drafting the Constitutions and Rules that we should have to adopt.

Bishop de Mazenod, “Memoires.” Cited by Rambert, I, p. 282

At this stage all the attention was focused on taking on the ministry of the Marian Shrine of Notre Dame du Laus. As we shall see later, the question of the passage to religious life would become a “hot potato” for some of the Missionaries who were diocesan priests.

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