TAKING THE FIRST STEP EVEN WHEN WE DON’T SEE THE WHOLE STAIRCASE

Fr Jeancard had been preaching a parish mission, during which he had experienced health problems.

I was delighted to learn, my dear Fr. Jeancard, that your short apostolic journey was not detrimental to your health. I hope that it will have also been of great benefit to your soul. This should be the case regarding all we do dutifully if we know what is best for us.

Jeancard seemed to have been unhappy about having been changed to the community in Aix. For Eugene, doing the will of God was of paramount importance, despite personal likes and dislikes, and so he invited him to look at the bigger picture:

Our greatest dislikes would have no more effect on us than a dream, if we were quite determined not to hang on to them despite a thousand excuses likely to fill us with illusions which weigh nothing on the scale of religion – the same scale that will be held by an archangel on the Day of Judgement.
So let us perform well, and even willingly, all that the Rule or obedience prescribe to us. We are servants here below of God and of the Church.

Eugene, as his religious superior, had an idea of the bigger picture of all the Oblate ministry and where each missionary fitted into it. He saw himself as doing this on behalf of God the Father, whose steward he was for the Oblates.

The steward of the Father of the family cannot always employ us according to our tastes, he has a more pressing duty to fulfil which is that of service itself. What does it matter after all that we do this or that, provided that we act on behalf of God in the sphere which is indicated to us by our superiors.

Letter to Jacques Jeancard, 4 June 1830, EO VII n 346

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”   Martin Luther King, Jr.

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LET US SUBMIT TO THESE UNFORTUNATE CIRCUMSTANCES AND PUT OUR TRUST IN GOD

Father Joseph Capmas was part of the Oblate community of Notre Dame du Laus. Yvon Beaudoin narrates this sad incident concerning him:

“In the spring of 1830, he was the unwitting and unwilling accessory to a dreadful accident. On his way back from a retreat preached at the minor seminary of Embrun, his horse took the bit in his teeth descending a steep hill. The missionary lost control of his mount. As they dashed by a group of travelers whom repeated shouts of warning had warned off and scattered, one of the men was struck and bowled over. A few days later, he died. According to one physician, it was due to a pre-existing medical condition; according to another physician, it was due to the fall he sustained when he was run down by the horse. The public prosecutor had Father Capmas put in the custody of the court of summary jurisdiction. As a result, he was sentenced to three months in prison with a 50 franc fine and 1200 francs damages awarded to the injured party. Father Guibert appealed to the court at Gap. The case was tried again at Gap on appeal with the result that Father Capmas was fully acquitted.
It was judged that this death could not be attributed to lack of prudence, or negligence or to any bungling on Father Capmas’ part.”(http://www.omiworld.org/en/dictionary/historical-dictionary_vol-1_c/636/capmas-joseph-th-odore-martial/ )

Eugene wrote to Fr Guibert, the superior of this community, regarding this incident:

First, I rejoice, my dear Father, that you no longer spit blood. It is not surprising that so much agitation and anxiety have undermined your health. There is certainly much to be vexed about in seeing iniquity ready to pounce and hatred against religion and her ministers triumphing even over justice.
However let us submit to these unfortunate circumstances and put our trust in God who permits only what is necessary they can never act beyond his will.

Letter to Hippolyte Guibert, 22 May 1830, EO VI n 345

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WONDER-WORKERS

Joseph Capmas had been a priest for 13 years before joining the Oblates. Once he had made his vows as an Oblate he brought his many talents to the preaching of missions. Eugene expressed his admiration to Fr. Courtès

… Fr. Capmas is working wonders in the Dauphiné.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 8 March 1830, EO VII n 343

Yvon Beaudoin writes in the Oblate Historical Dictionary:(http://www.omiworld.org/en/dictionary/historical-dictionary_vol-1_c/636/capmas-joseph-th-odore-martial/ )

In 1830, he was at Notre-Dame du Laus and worked with Father Guibert preaching missions. On April 7, 1830 Father Guibert wrote the Founder that “Father Capmas has achieved a complete grasp of the nature of these missions. His preaching is appropriate for the general population and for the learned as well. His zeal is untiring. He stops at nothing. I have often been obliged to temper his enthusiasm and to take some palliatives.”

For Jesus, all disciples who use their time and talents to make him known as loving Savior, are wonder-workers. As he rejoiced when the disciples told him about their preaching, so he continues to rejoice today as we continue proclaiming him through the quality of our lives and service. Wonder-workers in our everyday lives – the Savior’s wonder-workers.

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THE CROSSES OF OBLATES WHO HAVE ENTERED HEAVEN BY THE LITTLE DOOR WHICH OPENS MORE QUIETLY

Eugene had decreed that the crosses of the deceased Oblates be given to new Oblates so as to maintain the unity of their mission. Father Courtès had wanted to keep the cross of the deceased Father Arnoux, seemingly impressed by his sanctity, and not wanting to hand it over to a young Oblate. It became the occasion for Eugene to repeat his conviction that all Oblates who lived faithfully according to the Rule, were saints.

As I read your modest plea regarding the cross of our Fr. Arnoux, I almost sided with your opinion, feeling that the reasons you gave were well founded, but to decide thus would occasion some inconvenience. We would in fact have to keep a forest of crosses in our houses for I hope, thanks to the goodness of God, that all those who die in the bosom of the Society will arrive in heaven laden with merits after having edified their brothers and dedicated their lives in the service of the Church and the sanctification of souls.

So, how to decide who was more holy so as to keep that one’s cross as a relic?

Who will be judge of the degree of heroism to which one must attain in order to be preferred, supposing that we wish to grant this only to an excellence that is remarkable. Will these distinctions not have something odious about them in a Society of which all the members work to become saints in the exercise of the same ministry and the exact practice of the same Rules? I for one will not make any such discernment. I see miracles only as a reason for an exception. They will prove, not that those who do not work them are less saintly, or that they have lived less well or have died in the Lord to a less evident degree, but that God is pleased to manifest his glory through them, and so they ought to be distinguished amongst the other predestined who have entered heaven by the little door which opens more quietly or, to put it better, without a fanfare.
Thus, up to present, I do not see that we have to make any exception to the Rule that I have established.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 13 March 1830, EO VII n 344

The handing on of the Cross makes me think of Elisha receiving the cloak of the Prophet Elijah as his commission to continue his prophetic ministry. How many Elijahs can we think of in the extended Mazenodian Family whose inspiration and mission we continue today? I know many religious and lay associates who “have entered heaven by the little door which opens more quietly” and who continue to inspire me. What a gift!

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THE CROSS OF THE UNKNOWN OBLATE

They must be passed on to the new Oblates who will profit from such a heritage. I wish to have proper care shown in this distribution.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 8 March 1830, EO VII n 343

Eugene’s biographer, Rey, recounts that the Founder ordered that the name of the deceased Oblate be engraved on the upper part of the copper plate which covers the arms of the cross (REY, I, 482).

On the day of my lifetime oblation I was privileged to receive the Oblate Cross of Fr. Maurice Foley, who had been the second South African to have become an Oblate. He had received the cross in 1903 and only wore it for twelve years until his death in 1915 at 33 years of age. Between his death, and my receiving it on 17 February 1974, 59 years had passed and one, or possibly two, Oblates had carried this cross as their companion during their ministry. Their names were not engraved on the cross and I have been unable to trace who they were.

Thus, I like to think that I carry the cross of the “unknown Oblate” – in the spirit of the memorials which honor the “Unknown Soldier.” What a powerful reminder of the thousands of Oblates and lay associates who have evangelized in so many countries and brought countless people to know the love of the Savior – and whose names are no longer remembered. What a privilege to have been called to follow in their missionary footsteps.

The Oblate cross which is received at perpetual profession is a constant reminder of the love of the Saviour who wishes to draw all hearts to himself and sends us out as his co-workers.

CC&RR, Constitution 63

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THE CROSSES OF DECEASED OBLATES ARE TO BE PASSED ON TO NEW OBLATES

Their only distinctive mark will be the crucifix, which is proper to their ministry. They will always wear on their chest, inserted in the cincture and it hanging from a cord to which it is attached.

1818 Rule, Part Two, Chapter One. Regarding other principal observances

The most cherished possession of an Oblate is the Cross which we receive on the day of our lifetime commitment, our perpetual oblation. When Oblates died, Eugene gave precise instructions about the Cross:

They must be passed on to the new Oblates who will profit from such a heritage. I wish to have proper care shown in this distribution.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 8 March 1830, EO VII n 343

Today, “our only distinctive sign is the Oblate cross” (C64) because it was the only distinctive sign possible for Eugene:

The Oblate cross which is received at perpetual profession is a constant reminder of the love of the Saviour who wishes to draw all hearts to himself and sends us out as his co-workers.

CC&RR, Constitution 63

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IT SEEMS THAT THE GOOD GOD WILLS THAT I BE CONTENT WITH SUFFERING

Poor Eugene, following the ministry of the Oblates and physically incapable of participating himself! A man of big pastoral dreams and seemingly endless supplies of energy – and here he was now at the end of a year that had hammered him emotionally and physically.

I would wish with all my heart to share in your efforts, so I can count on a portion of your merits, but it seems that the good God wills that I be content with suffering from my inaction and from the causes which subject me to it.

Instead of feeling better, he complained that he was feeling worse now than he had five months before, while recuperating in Grans.

I have more bodily ills at present than I had when we were at Grans. I mention this to you in response to the interest that you take in my wretched carcass.

Letter to Jacques Jeancard, 14 December 1829, EO VII n 341

These years of suffering were not in vain because Eugene was to emerge from them as a more rounded personality to whom the words of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross could be applied:

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths.”

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GOD KNOWS OUR GOOD WILL, HE WILL TAKE IT INTO ACCOUNT

What’s all this about the chest which you never used to mention except to boast about its resonance? So now it feels tender and you have to complain about it! Just take care of your voice more; you shout too much when you preach and even when you speak. Take some milk or something else to sooth it; in a word, reflect on how you can keep your fires burning.

Fr. Jeancard, in his zeal and enthusiasm to preach, had over-extended himself during the parish mission at Saint-Remy, and was now suffering. It was the story of practically every Oblate in the early days: enthusiasm and love for the people leading to over-commitment.

I am not surprised at what you tell me of the state of affairs at Saint-Remy, I was convinced beforehand that my plan had been to have the exercises begin eight days before the opening of the Jubilee so that they might have time to respond to the eagerness of this numerous population, but, but, but! it is always the same thing. Hominem non habeo; those who can work are already doing too much; so we have to be content with less.
God knows our good will, he will take it into account.

Letter to Jacques Jeancard, 14 December 1829, EO VII n 341

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MODERATE THE SEVERITY OF THE OPINIONS THAT YOU HAVE ADOPTED TOO LIGHTLY

Study was one of the ways in which the Oblates prepared themselves for evangelization. Eugene had been consulted by one of the seminarians as to the use of a particular book of moral theology. It was by a theologian, Concina, who was known for the rigidity and severity of his views. Eugene had agreed, but with further reflection, he realized what this meant for scholastic Brother Pons, who was “inclined to embrace opinions that are far too rigid.” He immediately wrote to him to stop using this book and to turn to the moral theology of Alphonsus Liguori which was based on the redeeming love of God

It was wrong of me, my dear Bro. Pons, to allow you to nourish yourself with Concina being, as you are, inclined to embrace opinions that are far too rigid. Concina will never be the author for our Congregation. Doctrinal uniformity being prescribed for us, we take it especially from the surest authors and prefer to derive from those whom the Church has recognized as having reached heaven a teaching quite contrary to that for which you have taken a liking.
Liguori, Blessed Liguori, who is going to be canonized, has been adopted by us as the doctor with whom we ought to be more in agreement. The Jesuits and some other Congregations are still more exclusive than we; I am content for the moment with the term I have employed; so, my dear Bro. Pons, let Concina lie in the stacks of the library and take Liguori in order to moderate the severity of the opinions that you have adopted too lightly.
You can console yourself for this separation by the thought that you are advancing along the right path, by following in the footsteps of saints. I was hoping to tell you all this viva voce; but my conscience prompts me not to leave it until tomorrow, since I’m at fault in giving consent upon too little reflection.
Adieu, dear son, I bless you.

Letter to Alexandre Pons, 28 January 1830, EO VII n 342

“To put into practice the teachings of our holy faith, it is not enough to convince ourselves that they are true; we must love them. Love united to faith makes us practice our religion.”   Alphonsus Liguori

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OUR OBLATE VERB: TO PREACH

If we ask which is the verb that Eugene founded us to do, it is “to preach.” It sums up the reason for our existence: to preach the Gospel to the poor, to bring the most abandoned to know God’s salvation. For this reason, he insisted on proper training and preparation for preaching.

We must seek only to instruct the faithful, to be attentive to the needs of the greater part of the audience, and we must not be content to break the bread of the Word of God for them, but also to chew it for them.

1818 Rule Part 1, Chapter 3, §1

The young Oblates were taught to chew the Word of God as the foundation of preparing sermons, and were given opportunities to practice breaking the Word in church.

… We are having our sub deacons preach on Sunday and I assure you that the two I have heard these last two Sundays have pleased me very much. Mille was excellent and Clement very good. I would not have expected it had they not told me in advance that I would be pleased. Next Sunday will be the turn of Pons, and on Christmas Day, Paris, and the second feast will be Mille again who has not yet begun to write his text, which shows you that he composes with great ease.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 14 December 1829, EO VII n 340

Just in case the Mazenodian Family members think that this refers only to priests and deacons, let us remember that the vocation of each of us is to proclaim the Word of God through the quality of our words and actions in our daily lives and activities. As members of the Mazenodian Family, our verb is “to preach” – and in order to do this we need to chew the Word of God and be permeated by it each day. (cf. http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/?p=1368 )

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