Eugene rejoices in the wonderful spiritual results of the missions that the Oblates were preaching in several towns. He reminds the members of his missionary family of the importance of being in communion with the local bishop, whose people they are ministering to.
I wanted you to know that I find it quite opportune that you give some details of the blessings the Lord is showering on your mission to His Grace the Archbishop. I do not doubt that you have done so in a good manner, that is, modestly, rightly attributing to God alone all the good that is being accomplished. It is normal to presume that a chief Pastor should insist much on knowing what is being accomplished by the ones he has sent, the ones to whom he has entrusted a special mission to bring a portion of his sheep to the knowledge of the faith, to the practice of virtue.
Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 20 January 1837, EO IX n 603
That spirit of communion continues today, as Constitution 6 stresses. All the service to the local church which the Mazenodian Family accomplishes must always be one of collaboration with all who are working for the Kingdom of God in the Church.
Our love for the Church inspires us to fulfil our mission in communion with the pastors whom the Lord has given to his people; we accept loyally, with an enlightened faith, the guidance and teachings of the successors of Peter and the Apostles.
We coordinate our missionary activity with the overall pastoral plan of the local Churches where we work, and we collaborate in a spirit of brotherhood with others who work for the Gospel. (OMI Rule of Life, C 6)
Let us never forget that the Missionary Oblates were founded primarily to preach missions to those who were considered the most abandoned by the ministry of the local church. We were founded to be on the move, searching for ways to evangelize those who were the furthest from a relationship with Jesus Christ.
We have seen how the missionaries responded to the culture and popular piety of the people of Provence. [ see: “Parish missions: ceremonies to reinforce the preached message and to appeal to the senses” in http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/?p=489 and the entries which follow until http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/?p=543 in which these ceremonies are explained] People responded warmly to symbolic gestures, processions and religious objects. Here, 21 years after our foundation, Eugene reminds the missionaries of the basic practices always to be followed, while thanking God for the rich spiritual harvests of the work of his religious family members.
Our practice is to impart Benediction every morning and evening after the service, to solemnly expose the Blessed Sacrament during the ceremony of the renewing the baptismal vows, and in the morning of the day fixed for the blessing of the children, during the recitation of the breviary before the procession of the Blessed Sacrament.
Several processions take place during the mission
1. The day of the Missionaries arrival.
2. The day of atonement.
3. The day fixed for the consecration of the girls to the Blessed Virgin.
4. The day set aside to commemorate the dead, at the cemetery.
5. The day solemnizing the Blessed Sacrament, with the Blessed Sacrament.
6. The day of the planting of the cross.
The letters I receive from our various missions – we are preaching five at the same time in different dioceses – are most consoling. Marvels are taking place everywhere.
Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 20 January 1837. EO IX n 602
If you are interested in learning more about the missions, I recommend Chapter III of “Living in the Spirit’s Fire” https://www.omiworld.org/wp-content/uploads/Living-in-the-Spirits-Fire.pdf
Eugene’s primary work as a young priest had been his youth ministry with the almost 300-strong youth congregation he had started and nurtured in Aix en Provence. (See “MY BEAUTIFUL CHRISTIAN YOUTH CONGREGATION” at http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/?p=1228 )
Many of them kept on contact with him over the years. Here he refers to one of them, Melchior Bremond, who had been a member of the Youth Congregation from 1814 to 1819:
Letter from M. Bremond, notary in Aix. He writes me the kindest things on the pains I took to safeguard his youth, congratulating himself on his subsequent happy experience.
Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 18 January 1837, EO XVIII
Twenty-six years after the foundation of the Youth Congregation Eugene recalled the beginning and successes of this venture:
I therefore answered the Bishop of Metz that my sole ambition was to dedicate myself to the service of the poor and the youth. I made my first debut in the jails, and my training consisted in surrounding myself with young people whom I instructed. I trained a good number of them in virtue. I saw some 280 of them gathered around me, and those who today still remain faithful to the principles that I had the happiness of instilling in their souls and who do honour to their faith in every rank of society or in the sanctuary, will uphold for a long time, either in Aix or in the other places where they are dispersed, the reputation that this congregation had rightly acquired for itself while I was able to care for it.
Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 31 March 1839, EO XX
In his personal journal, Eugene reveals the depth of his anguish at the sudden tragic death of the 32 year-old Father Joseph Richaud, and his reliance on God to cope with the blow.
The details of that catastrophe are heart-rending. The fall was followed almost immediately by death. Within a few hours this good priest expired surrounded by his grief-stricken Brothers and the whole seminary. The bitterness of our grief is indescribable! My God! Better contain oneself in the resigned silence that You alone can give, for our human nature is prostrate under the redoubled blows of Your stern leading. I hasten to repeat: Thy holy will be done over us, enlighten our journey through this great mystery of your Providence. May nothing discourage us in this way that is incomprehensible to our feeble lights. You call us to work from all parts in your vineyard, we respond to your voice, everyone one gets to work and makes every effort to do the work of two, for the work exceeds our numbers. Blessings follow, good is done prodigiously. Suddenly, and in rapid succession, You take from us the means to continue your work, and only we can take it on. Mystery, mystery: I adore You, O my God, under this veil, as I adore your Trinity in your Unity, as I adore You and love You hidden under the veils which hide you from my eyes in the sacrament of the Eucharist. But Lord, if indeed I was the obstacle to the accomplishment of your designs, You know that I have not waited until today to beg you to remove it. How many times have I not said to You and I repeat it afresh: do with me what You will “my destiny is in your hands” [ed. Psalm 31:16].
Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 14 January 1837, EO XVIII
In 1836 and early 1837 some Oblates had either left or had had to be expelled from the small Congregation. Each one was a cause of suffering for Eugene and the Oblates
In the midst of the consolations I experience at the sight of the good done by our small group, I have the grief of seeing the devil screening us, and that among the grain shaken in the sieve there are some kernels that are lean and shrivelled enough to pass through and thus be removed from the threshing floor of the common Father. What disastrous illusions there are in this matter! I will protest before all and before God against these apostasies till my last breath and beyond, for it is before the judgment seat of God that I summon all those who are guilty of it.
He then reflects on oblation as a permanent commitment
There are some religious who dare to say that they had made their oblation only with the idea of quitting the Congregation someday. What a horror! Let them study theology. They will learn that it is not allowed to place any condition, any mental restriction in making vows, and the formula of oblation pronounced verbally must be made seriously and from the bottom of the heart. Otherwise, it would only be a lie, hypocrisy, the profanation of a holy and religious act.
Are we allowed to play games with God and with people, to consider an act made in the presence of Jesus Christ at the holy altar as only a vain and laughable ceremony? Would there be anything sacred on this earth if vows, that is, oaths made before Jesus Christ and accepted by the Church in his name, do not express what they signify? I cannot make head or tail out of this ….
Letter to Joseph Martin, 9 January 1837, EO IX n 600
Another example of Eugene’s predicament in the personnel crisis. Father Guigues, at Osier, was desperately needing more Oblates. Eugene’s response:
I’m only too aware of the picture you paint for me of your situation but I can only repeat that God knows it better than we do and we must abide by his will.
Make your plans in function of the means available, don’t extend yourself beyond your capacity and don’t lose your peace of mind; that’s where wisdom lies.
Letter to Bruno Guigues, 2 October 1836, EO VIII n 592
Eugene’s advice continues to apply today in every situation that we face as a Mazenodian Family – that is where wisdom lies.
In the crisis of personnel, Eugene was forced to make changes and assign Oblates to different places. Father Casimir Aubert, the novice master, had had to leave Laus to go to Aix. Now he was being asked to change yet again, and he was not happy.
The sudden death of Father Pons, whose absence will always be felt, and the blameworthy departure of Father Pachiaudi, place me in the necessity of calling you to the major seminary at Marseilles. In consequence the novitiate will follow you to Marseilles. It is not through mere flightiness that I am changing the project in this way; but who can cope with completely unforeseeable events? Who can offer resistance to the very power of God?
Eugene as the pilot of the ship had to make decisions in the face of the storm, and he asks Father Aubert, as a crew member, to fit in with the plans of divine providence.
The ways of Providence are a deep mystery to me. Our part is to submit ourselves to whatever they bring that is hard or painful, without ever being disconcerted, even when they pitch us into situations of great difficulty. When we cannot proceed under full sail, then we must resort to tacking and make progress with sails trimmed, even down to the smallest sail that is raised on the mast-head and called the topgallant sail. All I ask in these painful and perplexing circumstances is that the pilot be in charge during the storm, that the crew obey in silence and that I be spared complaints that are out of place in a crisis when each one must carry out his task as best as he may in the post assigned to him.
Letter to Casimir Aubert, 26 September 1836, EO VIII n 590
The small Oblate congregation had been hit by the loss of two men. The existing missionary commitments had thus to be re-evaluated and decisions made to maintain only those works more in keeping with our charism and vocation.
As for myself, I humbly confess I am helpless in the face of the decrees of Providence. I had everything arranged, counting on the two men who have been snatched away from me; I must perforce fall back on our remaining resources to meet various sacred commitments, conformable moreover as they are to our vocation. I don’t conceal from myself the fact that many things are suffering in consequence; but I repeat, I’m not the master of events.
All the Oblates are urged not to lose hope and courage, but to rely in God’s providence and time.
Our duty to all is to do our best, each in his own sphere, with the means that remain to us. These trials should not be beyond our courage. Small wonder when a boat moves along with the wind behind it! The sailors can relax. But when the wind is contrary and the seas are rough, that is the moment for them to jump to work so as to reach land safely. So let’s show patience and be of good courage; don’t let’s allow ourselves to be beaten. How many times have we had the calm after the storm! So let there be no weakness but put a good face on things; men may pass, let us wait on God’s good time.
Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 25 September 1836, EO VIII n 589
Advice still very pertinent today!
Father Courtès, had been confessor to a convent of religious sisters and the pupils of a school. At Eugene’s request, he had stopped this ministry which Eugene did not see as being part of our charism.
Now that you have freed yourself from your convent. I want to use you for works more in keeping with our vocation. I know you are tireless when it is a question of preaching God’s Word and that you acquit yourself worthily in that great ministry.
Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 22 September 1836, EO VIII n 588
We had been founded to be missionaries and preachers to those most in need of hearing the Word of God. Today as we evaluate our ministries, we need to ask the same questions.
Eugene, as the father-figure of his Oblate family, suffered with his family in their suffering. Humanly he needed support – especially at the moment of the death of Father Pons. Here he responds to a letter of support from one of his Oblates
My dear Son, I was telling Father Courtès that your letter and his did me a lot of good, because in times of deep grief one needs the heart of someone one loves to lean on. God’s decrees are inscrutable. They bring to nought each and every scheme that a most pure zeal for the glory of his holy name could devise. God opens up a vast field before us, he summons us to harvest it because it is ripe, we hasten to obey his voice. He proceeds to take the scythe from our hands, blessed be his holy name.
Letter to Casimir Aubert, 20 September 1836, EO VIII n 587