200 YEARS AGO: NOTA BENE – A HOSPITAL FOR SINNERS

The Rule was written in 1818 as an attempt to review the experiences that the Missionaries had lived for nearly three years and to draw out basic principles for the future. The Nota Bene continues Eugene’s description of the post-revolution Church of France and forms the point of focus for their lived experience.

How vast the field that lies before them! How worthy an undertaking!
The people are wallowing in crass ignorance of all that pertains to their salvation.
The consequence of this ignorance has been a weakening, if not a total obliteration of the faith and the corruption of morals.

The response of the Missionaries was to teach people their dignity as members of the Body of Christ, the Church – each member of which Jesus had shed his blood for:

It is therefore urgent to bring back the multitude of those sheep who have strayed from the fold,

How to do this?

To preach and instruct people and invite them into relationship with Jesus the Savior. This was the aim of every sermon and missionary activity. This was the vocation of the Missionary:

to teach these degenerate Christians who Jesus Christ is,

The purpose of the hours and hours spent in the sacrament of confession during each parish mission, and in the permanent mission in Aix, are also reflected here:

to snatch them from the slavery of the demon
and to show them the way to heaven,
to extend the Savior’s empire, to destroy the reign of hell, to prevent millions of mortal sins,
to hold virtues in honor and to see to it that they are practiced in all their varied forms…

1818 Rule, Part One, Chapter One, §3. Nota Bene. Missions, 78 (1951) p. 16

In the writing of the Rule the Missionaries read and interpreted what they were already doing and set out the basic principles for the spirit of their future actions. Today we continue to be guided by this spirit:

We will spare no effort to awaken or to reawaken the faith in the people to whom we are sent, and we will help them to discover “who Christ is”. Our mission puts us on constant call to respond to the most urgent needs of the Church through various forms of witness and ministry, but especially through proclaiming the Word of God which finds its fulfilment in the celebration of the sacraments and in service to others.

CC&RR, Constitution 7

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200 YEARS AGO: NOTA BENE – THE GOLDEN THREAD OF OBLATION

The golden thread of Eugene’s life was to be “all for God” and it is this same concept that is expressed by living for the “glory of God.” It is summed up in the word OBLATION It is the high point of “imitating the virtues” of Jesus Christ, because the glory of God was the major desire of Jesus as Eugene used to point out:

The entire life of the Savior was totally dedicated to the glory of his Father…
Since I have not imitated my model in his innocence, will I be denied the opportunity to imitate him in his devotion to the glory of his Father and the salvation of men?

Spiritual conference, 19 March 1809, EO XIV n.48

The reason for our oblation expressed in community, spirituality and mission, is found in the “litmus-test” that Eugene repeatedly used for discernment and decision making until his death: “Is it for the glory of God, for the good of His Body, the Church, and for the salvation of others?”

“Our ideal is an absolute and enthusiastic commitment, a total availability to God and to souls for God, drawn from contemplation and in interior union with God”  Leo Deschâtelets OMI, former Superior General

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200 YEARS AGO: NOTA BENE – THE LITMUS TEST OF OBLATION

Why have a demanding program of personal and spiritual growth? The answer is provided in a threefold goal, which occurs hundreds of times in Eugene’s writings because he insists that it must be kept in mind constantly: “the glory of God, the building of the Church, the salvation of souls.”

What must we, in turn, do to succeed in winning back for Jesus Christ so many souls who have cast off his yoke? We must…
maintain in view exclusively the glory of God, the building of the Church, the salvation of souls

Then he gave the list of virtues necessary in order to achieve this (see the previous entry), after which he hammers again:

be ready to sacrifice our goods, our talents, our rest, our persons and our lives for the love of Jesus Christ, the service of the Church and the sanctification of our neighbor.

1818 Rule, Part One, Chapter One, §3. Nota Bene. Missions, 78 (1951) p. 16

He started the list with the triad, and he repeats it again at the end to stress its importance. It is like the cover of a book that contains the means to oblation in every one of its pages: “for the love of Jesus Christ, the service of the Church and the sanctification of our neighbor.” We find this expression repeatedly in all Eugene’s writings either with three goals: “the glory of God, the good of the Church and the salvation of souls” or as a pair: “for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.”

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200 YEARS AGO: NOTA BENE – THEN FILLED WITH CONFIDENCE IN GOD

One of Eugene’s early biographers, Alfred Yenveux, describes this passage as being dressed “from head to foot in this solid armor of virtue” – in the impenetrable metal coat of armor worn by soldiers. Eugene concludes with a call to oblation, using the military vocabulary of St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, with which he was very familiar:

Then, filled with confidence in God, we must enter the lists and fight unto death for the greater glory of God.

1818 Rule, Part One, Chapter One, §3. Nota Bene.
Missions, 78 (1951) p. 16

The vocabulary of this list of virtues was in keeping with the current teaching he had received at the seminary. Perhaps if he were writing today, I believe that Eugene’s vocabulary would have been closer to the following list of virtues, because this is the spirit of the above list:

“Being poor in spirit… gentle… mourning… hungering and thirsting for justice… being merciful… pure in heart… peacemakers… persecuted in the cause of uprightness…” Matthew 5:3-12

 

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200 YEARS AGO: NOTA BENE – DRESSING HIS MISSIONARIES FROM HEAD TO TOE

“It is only after having dressed his missionaries from head to foot in this solid armor of virtue that Bishop de Mazenod allows himself to say to them: then, full of confidence ….”

YENVEUX, A. Les saintes Règles de la Congrégation des Missionnaires Oblats de Marie Immaculée d’après les écrits, les leçons et l’esprit de Mgr. C.J.E. de Mazenod,
Paris, 1903, vol. 1, p. 17

To answer the question as to what the Missionary must do in order to become an apostolic man – a co-operator of the Savior, Eugene spells out the “virtues and examples of our Savior Jesus Christ” that they must “strive to imitate:”

We must work seriously to become saints, walk courageously in the footsteps of so many apostles who have left us such fine examples of virtue in the exercise of a ministry to which, like them, we are called;
renounce ourselves totally,
maintain in view exclusively the glory of God, the building of the Church, the salvation of souls;
renew ourselves constantly in the spirit of our vocation;
live in a habitual state of self-denial and
in an unremitting determination to achieve perfection,
working unstintingly to become humble,
gentle,
obedient,
lovers of poverty,
repentant,
mortified,
detached from the world and our families,
brimming with zeal,
ready to sacrifice our goods, our talents, our rest, our persons and our lives for the love of Jesus Christ, the service of the Church and the sanctification of our neighbor.

1818 Rule, Part One, Chapter One, §3. Nota Bene.
Missions, 78 (1951) p. 16

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200 YEARS AGO: NOTA BENE – THE SCHOOL OF JESUS

In his Rule, Eugene shares his enthusiastic vision that embraces the whole world. The way to “become” this ideal is to do what Jesus did:

In a word, put into practice the same means our Savior employed when he wanted to convert the world; you will achieve the same results.

Looking at what Jesus did, Eugene began “first of all to form a group” modeled on the group that Jesus formed with the apostles. Jesus had given the apostles an ideal, centered on the Kingdom of God that they were unable to grasp fully, and a world-wide commission that was beyond their capacity of understanding. For this they needed to be continually formed by the Holy Spirit in the “school of Jesus.”

What did Our Lord Jesus Christ do? He chose a certain number of apostles and disciples whom He formed in piety and filled with His spirit; and after having trained them in his school and the practice of all virtues, He sent them forth to conquer the world which they soon brought under the rule of his holy laws.

The Missionaries are co-operators of the Savior in sharing His Kingdom vision, and need to be constantly open to the challenges of a changing society in order to do this effectively.

What must we, in turn, do to succeed in winning back for Jesus Christ so many souls who have cast off his yoke?

Eugene had defined the Missionaries as a group “who live together and who strive to imitate the virtues and examples of our Savior Jesus Christ.” Rephrasing this in the light of the apostolic model he says:

We must work seriously to become saints, walk courageously in the footsteps of so many apostles who have left us such fine examples of virtue in the exercise of a ministry to which, like them, we are called…

1818 Rule, Part One, Chapter One. The ends of the Institute, §3. Nota Bene.
Missions, 78 (1951) p. 16

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200 YEARS AGO: NOTA BENE – SEE TO IT THAT YOU HAVE SOLIDLY VIRTUOUS PRIESTS

See to it that you have zealous, altruistic and solidly virtuous priests and soon you will bring back to the fold the people who have wandered away from their duties.

1818 Rule, Part One, Chapter One. The ends of the Institute, §3. Nota Bene.
Missions, 78 (1951) p. 15

In 1818 he was writing this for his own Missionary priests. In 1826 this text was modified into what today we know as the “Preface” addressed to all the members of the Mazenodian family. If we want to make a difference to the 21st century, the same principles still apply: people must be able to recognize in the quality of our lives that which we preach to others.

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200 YEARS AGO: NOTA BENE – EXAMPLE IS LEADERSHIP

The remedy to the tragic situation of the Church – and specifically to the harm done by the “laziness, indifference and corruption among the priests” – proposed by Eugene is that of the good example of the priests. “Example is leadership,” said Albert Schweitzer – and it was difficult to find anyone more convinced of this than Eugene himself.

We recognize the familiar foundational themes that he constantly came back to: in the footsteps of the apostles, “be” in order to “do”, “all for God” etc.:

The achieving of this end will require the forming of apostles, who, after having become convinced of the necessity of their own reform: “take care about what you do,”should work with all their strength to convert others:

”Take great care about what you do and what you teach and thus you will save both yourself and those who listen to you” (I Timothy 4:16).
And as we have seen that the real source of the evil is the indifference, the avarice and corruption of the priests, once these abuses will have been reformed, the others will cease as well.

1818 Rule, Part One, Chapter One. The ends of the Institute, §3. Nota Bene.
Missions, 78 (1951) p. 15

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200 YEARS AGO: NOTA BENE – ANALYSIS BEFORE ACTION

The Missionaries, dedicated to the process of rebuilding the post-revolution Church of France, dedicated their lives to bringing these abandoned victims of the revolution into the fullness of communion with Jesus Christ and the members of his Body. In order to be effective, it was necessary to have a clear analysis of the situation they were wanting to respond to through their ministry.

To achieve some measure of success in this holy endeavor, we must first of all seek out the causes of the depravity which is presently making men slaves of their passions.
We can synthesis them under three headings:
1. The weakening, if not the total loss, of faith.
2. Ignorance among the people.
3. Laziness, indifference and corruption among the priests…
Once these causes have become known, it becomes easier to apply remedies to them.

1818 Rule, Part One, Chapter One. The ends of the Institute, §3. Nota Bene.
Missions, 78 (1951) p. 15

“Example moves the world more than doctrine. The great exemplars are the poets of action, and it makes little difference whether they be forces for good or forces for evil.”  Henry Miller

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200 YEARS AGO: NOTA BENE – TWO SIDES OF THE PICTURE

One can touch the intensity of Eugene’s emotions! As he reflected on the situation of the Church in France he expressed his horror at the behavior of some of the priests who were not living up to the demands of their vocation.

He then contrasted this by describing his admiration and awe at the beauty of the vocation of the Missionary. It is with this same sense of awe that he reflects on the Church:

The Church, that glorious inheritance purchased by the Saviour at the cost of all his blood
and then he looks at the other side of the situation :
has in our days been cruelly ravaged.

The Church, the Body of Christ, is the magnificent inheritance left to us by the Savior himself. But, with sorrow and pain, Eugene described the state that she has been reduced to:

This beloved Spouse of the Son of God bears him almost nothing other than monsters. The ingratitude of people is at its peak; apostasy will soon be the norm.
And except for the sacred deposit of faith which will always remain intact to the end of time, there remains of Christianity only traces of what it was, with the result that it can be truly said that, due to the malice and corruption of the Christians of our day, their condition is worse than that of the pagans before the cross overthrew their idols

1818 Rule, Part One, Chapter One. The ends of the Institute, §3. Nota Bene.
Missions, 78 (1951) p. 15

I wonder what Eugene would write today if he were to situate his Nota Bene in our present world? The People of God, that glorious inheritance purchased by the Saviour at the cost of all his blood, continues in our days to be cruelly ravaged… Vatican II stressed that WE are that People of God…

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