LOOKING BACK AND BUILDING ON GRACE

Before such an important moment in his life, Eugene spent 8 days in silent recollection and prayer.

My first thought as I begin these days of retreat to prepare myself for the episcopate, to which I am called by the will of our Holy Father Pope Gregory XVI, goes back to the happy time of my preparation for the priesthood. That is already a long time ago; a large part of my life has gone by in that long interval between December 1811 and October 1832, but I still remember vividly both the graces it pleased the Lord to give me and my dispositions at the time, and the resolutions God inspired in me.

He recalls the powerful graces he had received when he prepared himself for his priestly ordination. That had been for a month and after many years of seminary preparation.

I set aside a month to prepare myself to receive the imposition of hands and the great priestly character, I will have only eight days to dispose myself to receive the fullness of the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
That long retreat was preceded by several years of seminary life solely employed in the study of theology and the acquisition of the clerical virtues in the exact practice of a regular life. These eight days come after the highly active exercise of the apostolic ministry, the constant work of a twofold administration carrying with it a frightening load of responsibility.
Strictly speaking a year’s recollection would not suffice and I have only a week. May God give me the grace to make good use of it!

Retreat journal before being consecrated bishop, 7-14 October 1832, EO XV n 166

An important lesson from a busy man to us in our busy-ness: no matter how full of activity we are, we need always to bear in mind the spiritual graces that have accumulated in our ordinary lives and constitute the foundation for building our relationships today and tomorrow. Pope Francis tells us: “Holiness doesn’t mean doing extraordinary things, but doing ordinary things with love and faith.” With Mary, and Eugene, we can remember “The Lord has done great things for me!” This is what Eugene’s retreat was about: remembering and building…

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THE “DIGNITY” OF A BISHOP

From now on we will regularly be coming across Eugene speaking of the “dignity” of the episcopacy. It is important always to remember what he meant by this. Fr Alexandre Taché explains: “When he actually became a bishop, Eugene became more fully aware of the responsibilities that were to be his. In exchanges with his intimate friends, he constantly spoke of the greatness and dignity of the episcopacy. Called by the Vicar of Jesus Christ to share the responsibility entrusted to the Apostles, the bishop receives the Holy Spirit to become a pastor who teaches, sanctifies and guides his people. From this flows his greatness and formidable responsibility. This would be the sentiment that would profoundly and continuously enliven Bishop de Mazenod’s spirit his whole life through.” (Dictionary of Oblate Values https://www.omiworld.org/lemma/bishops/)

...and, now that I am elected and am so close to being invested with the plenitude of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, this profound feeling of veneration, this lofty idea that faith has established in my soul for this great dignity, would crush me and deprive me of all courage, all strength to carry on, if the Lord did not fill me with the sweetest hope and bring me to envisage this new coming of the Holy Spirit in myself as a time of renewal and mercy.
It seems to me that this divine Spirit whom I have so grieved since it was communicated to me by the imposition of hands, at the time of my priesthood, is going to put everything right in my soul, establish his dwelling with such power that it will be impossible henceforth to escape from his inspirations.

To Father Martin de Loirlieu, chaplain at the Church of St. Louis-des-Français, Rome, 4 October 1832, EO XV 165

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ACCEPTING TO BE A BISHOP FOR THE GOOD OF THE OBLATES

I have always viewed the episcopate with a different eye to most;

To Father Martin de Loirlieu, chaplain at the Church of St. Louis-des-Français, Rome, 4 October 1832, EO XV 165

Eugene had never wanted to be a bishop – and had refused to take on some situations which could have led him to being a bishop. His ideal was to be fully dedicated to his vocation of being a Missionary Oblate. It was only to protect and ensure the future of this small group that he accepted becoming Vicar General of his uncle in Marseilles – and then eventually to accept becoming a bishop himself in order to save the diocese of Marseilles by guaranteeing its future and that of the Oblates.

Writing to the Oblates he assured them that

… you will readily understand that this high dignity, this great character that has been bestowed upon me, does not relax a single one of the bonds that bind me to our Congregation, since, rather, the overriding reason for the submission of my will has been the consciousness of the good that would flow from it for the Congregation when the moment comes (and may God leave us undisturbed for many a long year yet!) when we shall have the misfortune to lose the protector whom the Lord has preserved for us amongst the ranks of the chief pastors, in the person of my venerable uncle, the Bishop of Marseilles.
Confined as we are, and still little known, it is my opinion, and those other Oblates whom I was bound to consult thought the same, that it would be very advantageous if we could when need arose indicate that the representative of this small and unknown family, but newly-born, and which has had to begin its growth in the midst of thorns, is a bishop, and a bishop chosen, elected by the Supreme Head of the Church, consecrated under his eyes and at his command, in the capital of the Christian world, by a Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and Regular Clergy, who represented him in this sublime function.

To the Fathers and Brothers at Billens, 24 October 1832, EO VIII n 439

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A LONG TIME AGO YOU RECEIVED THE FIRST ABSOLUTION I EVER GAVE IN MY PRIESTLY MINISTRY

Writing to a priest friend who was stationed in Rome, Eugene expressed his sorrow at discovering that he would be absent for his episcopal consecration. He then recalled a very special sacramental bond that Eugene had never forgotten.

If you knew the depth of my feelings of friendship towards you, you would conceive some idea of the disappointment I am experiencing at not seeing you, and above all in my present circumstances. It is not yet known in Rome, but the Pope has just named me Bishop of Icosia and apostolic visitor of Tripoli and Tunis. I shall be consecrated, unless some unforeseen obstacle arises, on Sunday the 14th of this month.
My thought was that my first blessing would fall on you, as a long time ago you received the first absolution I ever gave in my priestly ministry. My best wishes will reach you wherever you are; but, my dear friend, do not forget me in your prayers, and, on the day of my consecration, say Holy Mass for me; you will readily understand my need.

Eugene then expressed his sadness that none of the people he was close to would be present to share this important moment of his life with him.

I am all alone here, and I assure you that poor human nature will be well and truly crucified; but I am not counting in vain on God in his goodness making up for all the heart will suffer by way of privations with the most abundant spiritual graces.

To Father Martin de Loirlieu, chaplain at the Church of St. Louis-des-Français, Rome, 4 October 1832, EO XV 165

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THE FUTURE TITULAR BISHOP OF ICOSIA ASKS WHERE ICOSIA IS

Since Eugene’s episcopal appointment was not to be as a bishop in charge of a diocese, he was given a titular diocese (that no longer existed) – Icosia. He explains to Father Tempier.

If you have an interest in Icosia, put this in your notebook; it is in Africa, as I told you; your friend’s mission is for Tripoli, with Tunis added on. The sensitivity of the French Government is no doubt the reason for not including Algiers.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 1 October 1832, EO VIII n 435

If you knew what Icosia is, your heart would beat a little faster. Its origins go back to the time of the fables; it is claimed that it was built by Hercules’ twelve companions who settled there at the time of the famous expedition to horizons “nec plus ultra”, in other words to Gibraltar. Its Greek name means: twenty. What is more certain is that it was the episcopal city in the heyday of the African Church and that Laurentius, its bishop, took part in the Council of Carthage held in 419, as legate of Mauretania Caesariensis, its province: “Laurentius Icositanus, Legatus Mauritaniae Caesariensis”, which serves to fix pretty well its location, and – pay careful attention, Father Hardouin claims that it is today’s Algiers. For my own part too I do not question it any more than he, and you will doubtless follow my opinion. I shall not fail to point it out to the Holy Father, on the day I go to receive his blessing.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 10 October 1832, EO VIII n 436

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JOIN FATHER RON ROLHEISER  LIVE AS HE SPEAKS ON “OBLATE CHARISM TODAY”

On Friday June 1 at 2pm, South African time, (7 am  US Central Daylight Time)  Father Ron Rolheiser will deliver the first Kusenberger Chair of Oblate Studies lecture at St. Joseph’s Theological Institute, Cedara, South Africa:

“The Oblate Charism Today: Its Essence, Modesty, Vitality, Struggles, and Urgency.”

You are invited to watch the program and to listen to him live at https://zoom.us/j/661961425 

“The KUSENBERGER CHAIR OF OBLATE STUDIES (at Oblate School of Theology) was established in January 2017 to conclude the celebration of the 200 years of existence of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. 
The Chair is the first of its kind and is dedicated to the study and dissemination of the history, charism, spirituality and mission of the Missionary Oblates through teaching and research, academic and enrichment programs, an annual Kusenberger lecture, and cooperation with the other Institutes of higher learning at the service of the Oblate General Administration and all connected with the charism of Saint Eugene de Mazenod throughout the world.”
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SPIRITUAL CONSOLATION AND TRUE INTERIOR JOY IN SOLITUDE

Finally, the episcopal appointment was made by the Pope.

The day before yesterday in the evening the Pope made the nomination; yesterday the minute was placed before him and he signed it; this morning the two briefs were transcribed on parchment.

 Eugene spent much time in prayer. Writing in the third person to avoid the suspicions of the government, he wrote:

… However, I must tell you that patience and resignation have won the day and that our friend has found spiritual consolation and true interior joy in his solitude. He revels in the silence and peace that surround him. He fills in his time as piously as he can; he hardly ever goes out except when he must, finding everything he needs at home for the nourishment of his piety. He gladly makes use especially, quite frequently and for long periods of time, of a little gallery that opens out onto the altar of the Blessed Sacrament and, in fact, if God’s will were not that he should be otherwise engaged, he would abandon himself wholeheartedly to spending the days of his pilgrimage here below in this way.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 1 October 1832, EO VIII n 435

Eugene was facing a major change in his life and he prepared himself and coped with what was about to happen with spiritual consolation and true interior joy in his solitude in confident prayer. A good lesson for us all.

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I HAVE ONLY THIS GOOD MASTER TO CONFIDE IN

Eugene had been summoned to Rome to be ordained bishop and had arrived on 15 August. Now six weeks later, he was still waiting for the official appointment to be finalized by the Pope. He was frustrated by his inactivity in Rome, while there was so much work that he should be doing in France.

… Believe me, my obedience and resignation are undergoing a stiff test. How many times I have been tempted to go away; I could almost persuade myself that it is the right thing to do. But my respect for the person concerned, deference to the will of Him to whom we must all submit, the merit inherent in this sacrifice and the opportunity it affords of offering God each day the homage of one’s own will, soon prevail over these impulses which take their origin in the lower part of the soul as it rebels ….

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 27 September 1832, EO VIII n 433

Then he revealed how he coped each day. His room was close to the house chapel, and to the Blessed Sacrament where he was able to spend time in prayer.

You know I greatly appreciate the pleasure of dwelling under the same roof as Our Lord. I can find consolation with him for the tedious aspects of my position; as they get worse each day, I am always in need of fresh consolation and, in truth, I have only this good master to confide in. I find it hard to explain a delay at once so prolonged and so futile

Letter to M. Cailhol, 27 September 1832, EO XV n164

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BLESSED JOSEPH GÉRARD OMI, THE “APOSTLE OF LESOTHO,” MEMORIAL: MAY 29

Blessed Joseph Gérard was born near Nancy, France, in the village of Bouxières-aux-Chénes on March l2, 1831. He spent his childhood on the family farm but, with the help of the parish priest, was able to commence studies for the priesthood.

While in the local seminary of Nancy for two years, he was impressed by accounts of missionary work, and, in 1851, he joined the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He was ordained a deacon by the founder, Saint Eugene de Mazenod, who assigned Joseph Gérard, at the age of 22, to the mission of Natal in South Africa.

In May, 1853, Deacon Joseph Gérard set off for his mission field, never to see France again. On February l9, 1854, he was ordained priest in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, and started his ministry to the Zulu People. Despite all his good efforts, his ministry among the Zulus did not seem to bear immediate fruit, and, with a sense of great disappointment, he moved, in 1862, to the kingdom of Lesotho to bring the Gospel to the Basotho People. Fr. Gérard worked and prayed for more than two years before he won his first Basotho catechumen. Even after that, progress was slow. However, more and more people in these early years heard the message of Christ, and came to the church. Within five years of his coming there the first mission station was established at Roma. Today it is the site of many novitiates and of seminaries, a University founded by the Oblates, high schools, numerous religious houses, and a hospital – all the legacy of this remarkable man of God.

Throughout his years in Lesotho Fr. Gérard’s concern and care for the sick and the old was remarkable. Despite the distance, despite the weather, despite the inconvenience, he would set out, on foot or on horseback, carrying the Blessed Sacrament, to minister to those afflicted. His deep devotion to Mary was absorbed by his first converts, and since his day the nation has been dedicated to Mary Immaculate.

The last years of Fr. Gérard´s life were spent back at his first mission, Roma. Up to a month before his death he was on horseback, out on the mountain tracks caring for those in need. On May 29, 1914, Joseph Gérard died. He was 83.

In one of his retreat notes, Blessed Joseph Gérard gave the key to his constancy when he wrote about the people he served: “We must love them, love them in spite of everything, love them always”. He lived out his belief in the joy of spreading God’s Word, despite the hardships and opposition he encountered.

https://www.omiworld.org/our-charism/our-saints/oblate-causes/blessed-joseph-gerard-1831-1914/biography/

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THE POPE AGREES WITH THE PLAN TO MAKE EUGENE DE MAZENOD A BISHOP

As we have seen, Bishop Fortuné’s tactic to save the pastoral life of the Marseille diocese – when the government’s threat to suppress the diocese would go into effect – was to have his nephew Eugene made a bishop so as to assure that confirmations and ordinations would continue. (Refer to the entry above http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/?p=3701and also to the “Oblate Historical Dictionaryhttps://www.omiworld.org/lemma/icosia-bishop-of/ for the background.)

Bishop Fortuné had sent Fr Tempier to Rome to arrange this with the Pope. The Pope agreed to the plan and summoned Eugene to Rome where he would be ordained as a bishop.

Eugene named Father Courtès to be Vicar General of the Oblates during his absence, and left for Rome, arriving in mid-August. In this letter he informs him of the latest developments (referring to himself in the third person so as to avoid the government censors)

My very dear friend, you ought to have received details of my news from Marseilles. I asked for that in all my letters. I delayed writing until I was ensconced in this capital and brought up to date concerning “certain matters” which touch the people you know.
Even before seeing the Holy Father. I was informed of his intentions: they correspond to what I told you. It is what he thinks, what he wants, he confirmed it personally in the audience he gave me yesterday that lasted nearly three-quarters of an hour…
The Holy Father spoke first and disclosed his intentions to me about the person in whom you take such interest, in the kindest way. He told me plainly that he was busy finding the best means to achieve the end proposed. He added some flattering words to what he had to say in which one can lawfully take some pleasure as coming from the mouth of the Head of the Church and when the recipient has the spirit of faith and sees Jesus Christ in his Vicar. You see that I did not have to open my mouth, although I understood that patience is going to be called for in the matter as in everything that goes on here.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 29 August 1832, EO VIII n 428

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