A MEDIOCRE SPHERE WHERE SUCH COLD AND FEEBLE SOULS PREFER TO BE

His reflection on the ideals, fiery zeal and soaring achievements of the first groups of Jesuits led Eugene to a feeling of despondency when he compared some of the first groups of Oblates to them. He had been particularly disappointed in the past few years with the quality of the men who came to join, and their ability to persevere in difficulties and strictly follow the Rule of Life.

Can we look around us and see anything similar? We have to labor at training a few children who are mostly incapable of conceiving the great ideals which would raise them above their situation.
Not one of them has anything to give of his own, a stone to bring to the edifice that must be built by concerted effort. Wretched are these times and detestable is the influence of this age on minds!

He bemoaned their lack of responsiveness and how they remained cold and feeble despite all that was done to fire them up.

If any of them can produce anything, it is contrariwise and, instead of a soaring achievement attained by the acting in community of several wills intent on the same goal, we have to watch the dampening and deadening of all the impulses of our souls by the carefulness, cautiousness and scheming we have to employ in their regard in order to utilize them at least in some mediocre sphere where such cold and feeble souls prefer to be.

Eugene had become so despondent about his lack of achievements in improving the situation that he concluded:

I finished by asking God to take me out of this world if I am not to achieve anything more than I have done.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 1 August 1830, EO VII n 351

In the past we have often seen Eugene at his passionate fiery emotional best, and here we see him in a despondent emotional low point. Within hours, however, he had realized that he had exaggerated in expressing himself and we shall see that he rectified his opinion. Do not forget that this letter was never intended to be public – it was a private outpouring to Fr Tempier in whom he confided everything, including his darkest moments.

“Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”   Oscar Wilde

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IT SEEMS THAT ALL THOSE ZEALOUS TO DEFEND THE CHURCH, SO HORRIBLY TORN APART, FLOCKED TO THE BANNER OF IGNATIUS

Eugene’s reflections were within the context of having been invited by the Jesuits to celebrate the Mass for the feast of their founder, St. Ignatius. He was a strong admirer of Ignatius and the Jesuits, and the contribution they had made to the Church

Again yesterday, when the solemnity and length of the ceremonies of the Feast of St. Ignatius, at which they asked me to preside, and the circumstance of it being the last day of my forty-eighth year, aroused in me more devout thoughts and holy desires and allowed me also leisure to reflect with Jesus Christ present and exposed, how deep into my soul I plunged! How many and diverse my feelings!

He reflected on the marvels worked by Ignatius and his first companions

I was happy at the altar as I offered the Holy Sacrifice for the Order of Jesuits without forgetting our own family. I congratulated their holy Founder for the marvels he had worked. But how great the help he received! There is nothing like it in our days. Though he had so many heretics and bad Christians as enemies, how mightily he was protected by most eminent Popes and Bishops! Seeing everything as lost in the Church they confided to his Order the fate of the Church: it was thus he obtained all…

All this was achieved because of the quality of his first companions

But, let it be noted, by what men he was supported! From the first years of their coming together, it could be said of each of them that they did more than he did. I do not speak only of the first companions, I speak of all those who joined them as soon as they became known. It seems that all those zealous to defend the Church so horribly torn apart, who felt they had the ability to be useful to her and the virtue to devote themselves to this great task, flocked to the banner of Ignatius. His company was from the beginning an army of generals. Can we then be surprised at all they have done!

Letter to Henri Tempier, 1 August 1830, EO VII n 351

 

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I THEN COMPLAINED IN A WAY TO GOD FOR HAVING GIVEN ME MORE THOUGHTS, MORE DESIRES, MORE MEANS, MORE WILL THAN PHYSICAL STRENGTH

Eugene’s birthday found him in the somber mood of the reflection of one who is limited during recovery from serious illness and feels frustrated.

1830 marks the beginning of a very difficult phase in Eugene’s life. It was a dark night which was to last for several years and from which he emerged as a wiser figure who had grown much.

As you look at the date on this letter, you will recall my dear friend that I enter today into my forty-ninth year. I was busy yesterday, the whole day, with the thoughts that the circumstance of the end of my forty-eighth year brought to mind. I have groaned, as you can imagine, over a quantity of miseries; I thanked God for many graces, but I was saddened – and it is here that I have been wrong – to find in my life, as a whole, a field greater than that which I have walked on; I meant that it seems to me I have not really fulfilled my course. Is it my fault? Is it a question of time?

Looking back on his life, he is conscious of not having achieved all that he could have. He asked himself whether this was his own fault or had he been a victim of circumstances.

The director to whom I confided these regrets seemed persuaded that it is the fault of the times and the misfortune of circumstances. I then complained in a way to God for having given me more thoughts, more desires, more means, more will than physical strength.

Ruminating about what he could have achieved had he not had these obstacles, he wishes he had been born under different circumstances.

If, to be just, I agreed to admit to myself that I had habitually profited enough from the situations in which I have found myself to act, even with some courage, in the midst of obstacles of every kind, I felt rather annoyed in a way at not having been placed in another time, or in some other position where I could have discharged all the energy that was in me, and which fades because it is not used.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 1 August 1830, EO VII n 351

Let us remember that he is convalescing as he writes to Father Tempier, his confidant and confessor, and so he reflects his intimate thoughts and questions out loud as he writes. We witness a rare glimpse into the frustration of one who was used to being a man of action and constant activity and, who was now, incapacitated.

 

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48th BIRTHDAY: I HAVE GROANED OVER A QUANTITY OF MISERIES; I THANKED GOD FOR MANY GRACES

The travelers arrived in Fribourg, where Eugene’s nephew Louis was boarding at the college of the Jesuits. Politcal events in France at the end of July obliged Eugene to remain until mid-November.

As you look at the date on this letter, you will recall my dear friend that I enter today into my forty-ninth year. I was busy yesterday, the whole day, with the thoughts that the circumstance of the end of my forty-eighth year brought to mind. I have groaned, as you can imagine, over a quantity of miseries; I thanked God for many graces

Letter to Henri Tempier, 1 August 1830, EO VII n 351

It had indeed been a difficult year for Eugene. He was in Switzerland recuperating from a serious illness that had left him weak and had kept him away from his work as Vicar General in Marseilles for many months. He was also mourning the death of Marius Suzanne and of his niece, Nathalie. From a political point of view, having had to react to the increasing anti-religious attitude and laws of Charles X’s government had also worn him out. As he “groaned” remembering the hardships, he was aware that he had never been deserted and that God’s grace had been his constant companion.

It is a reminder that we are never alone.

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THE LOVE WHICH UNITES US ALL TO OUR COMMON CENTER WHO IS JESUS CHRIST

Also, my heart was gladdened at the sight of the first cross I perceived as I entered the canton of Fribourg. We recited with joy the Vexilla as if we had just found our compass once more…
It is on these occasions that one feels what it is to be Catholic and the full rapture of this veritable love which unites us all to our common center who is Jesus Christ, to whom be honor and glory in all places, at all times and for all eternity!

Letter to Hippolyte Guibert, 29 July 1830, EO VII n 350

Having been knocked off-balance for couple of days, Eugene refocused on his enduring and loving relationship with the universal Church. Thirty years later we find him repeating the same conviction to the people of Marseilles.

How is it possible to separate our love for Jesus Christ from that which we owe to his Church? These two kinds of love merge: to love the Church is to love Jesus Christ and vice versa. We love Jesus Christ in his Church because she is his immaculate spouse who came out of his opened side on the cross…

Lenten Pastoral Letter, February 16, 1860

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WE HAD JUST FOUND OUR COMPASS ONCE MORE

Having been knocked off balance by his experiences in the Protestant part of Switzerland, Eugene found his equilibrium again when he saw his first crucifix in a public place.

Also, my heart was gladdened at the sight of the first cross I perceived as I entered the canton of Fribourg. We recited with joy the Vexilla as if we had just found our compass once more. Yet we had journeyed only two days in this beautiful country ravaged by heresy.

Letter to Hippolyte Guibert, 29 July 1830, EO VII n 350

One Good Friday, nearly a quarter century earlier, Eugene had found the compass of his life looking at the Cross. Now he proves how it had remained his compass in all moment of his life, especially those of confusion and difficulty.

The Vexilla is a hymn dating back to the 5th century. A translation of the first verse is:

Abroad the regal banners fly,
now shines the Cross’s mystery:
upon it Life did death endure,
and yet by death did life procure.

“The cross is not just a badge to identify us…it is also the compass which gives us our bearings in a disoriented world.” John Stott

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I TOOK PLEASURE IN RECOGNIZING OUR DIVINE MASTER AS THE SOVEREIGN LORD OF ALL

Eugene also shared his reaction with Hippolyte Guibert. Bearing in mind his devotion to the Catholic understanding of the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus, he wrote

I also said Holy Mass in that city of Geneva, the thoroughfare of the heresy of Calvin, where a Catholic heart finds itself so ill at ease, so oppressed by all it sees and by all it meets. My first care was to go quickly to the church to adore Jesus Christ betrayed for so long a time and blasphemed in this den of apostasy.
I confess I experienced some consolation to find him in this hostile country and it seems to me that the homage I was inspired to give him was such that particularly elevated the soul and united it sweetly to God. I celebrated on the following day the holy mysteries in these sentiments and took pleasure in recognizing our divine Master as the sovereign Lord of all men, even those who rebel against his grace; but, no matter, it would be impossible for me to live in these regions where he is so generally disregarded

Letter to Hippolyte Guibert, 29 July 1830, EO VII n 350

“It has often been said that Bishop de Mazenod was a pastor more than an intellectual. This judgment must be qualified. Many of his pastoral letters and many other letters … show that to defend the faith of the Catholics he was able to express forcefully clear and elevated principles.

Despite his profound convictions about the Catholic Church, the only one who holds the truth, and what he considers the meanderings of Protestantism, Bishop de Mazenod is sympathetic to the needs of people without dwelling on their beliefs; In this he always remains himself, a sensitive man who lives “only by the heart.”

Yvon Beaudoin, “Mgr de Mazenod et les Protestants” in Vie Oblate Life 58 (1999), p 524

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TO RAISE HIM IN THE SIGHT OF SO MANY REBELS, AND INVOKE ON THEM HIS MERCY

Eugene continues to share his first experience of division in Christendom with Henri Tempier:

However, I did not wish to deprive myself of the consolation of saying Holy Mass in this land of infidels, and offered the Holy Sacrifice with intentions you can surmise; I avow it was not without some emotion for after all, to offer the holy victim on this thoroughfare of error, to adore Jesus Christ there, to raise him in the sight of so many rebels, and invoke on them his mercy or, failing that his justice, is worthwhile, especially when one thinks of the past centuries and the present disposition of minds. Nonetheless it would be impossible for me to live in such a place; we left as quickly as possible, continuing on our road.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 26 July 1830, EO VII n 349

A few years later he expressed a more tolerant attitude.

“Despite his intransigence on principles and the harshness of his remarks on Protestantism, Bishop de Mazenod is usually understanding and indulgent towards people. In his letter to the Company for the colonization of the North of Africa, February 4, 1839, after having stated his principles, he writes:

The Church is full of love for all people, regardless of their belief. It loves all those whom God has created in his image and thereby called to the knowledge of the truth. It does all the good it can for them in the temporal order as in the spiritual order […]
However, gentlemen, I do not want to conclude from this that we are obliged, when saying anathema to the errors of Protestants, to exclude them. We must at any rate live with them in charity and be on good terms with them in temporal matters, and with respect to their persons treat them as brothers.

Yvon Beaudoin, “Mgr de Mazenod et les Protestants” in Vie Oblate Life 58 (1999), p 523-524

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ALL CONTRIBUTED TO CHILL THE SOUL AND THROW ME INTO A DEEP SADNESS

After visiting the Oblates in ND du Laus, whose communitarian failings had left Eugene in an unhappy state, he reached Switzerland. His first stop was Geneva – in the Protestant part of the country, and he was horrified to experience, at first hand, the effects of the Reformation, whose extent he had never understood before.

…We arrived very early in this capital of error. I can give you no idea of the painful impression that I felt. The sight of the Catholic Church where I hastened to go and adore Our Lord, only served to aggravate my anguish; the smallness of this church, in the center of a city so remarkably well built, its apparent poverty in the midst of so many riches; the thought that the fine building of St. Peter is in the power of the heretics, everybody I met in the streets marked with the sign of heresy, all contributed to chill the soul and throw me into a deep sadness.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 26 July 1830, EO VII n 349

Again, we need to suspend passing judgement according to today’s standards on attitudes of two centuries ago. Let us remember that it took another 150 years after Eugene’s writings for the word “ecumenism” to first enter into Christian vocabulary. So, from the Roman Catholic theological point of view, the only possibility that existed in Eugene’s time was conversion of the “heretics” and “schismatics” to the true faith enshrined in the Catholic Church.

We also need to remember that Eugene had had hardly any contact with Protestantism. His early years were in southern France and then in what is Italy today – both officially totally Catholic, with insignificantly tiny pockets of non-Catholics. We will see some change of attitude later, when he was Bishop of Marseilles and when he was sending missionaries into predominantly Protestant countries.

After having judged with great severity the heresy and the errors in which the Protestants lived, one is surprised to find here and there in the writings of Bishop de Mazenod judgments that are much more moderate and positive. Twice he calls the Protestants “our errant brothers,” and twice “our separated brethren.”    Yvon Beaudoin, “Mgr de Mazenod et les Protestants” in Vie Oblate Life 58 (1999), p 522-523

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I WOULD GIVE MY LIFE A THOUSAND TIMES IN ORDER THAT NO ONE AMONGST US EVER GIVE THE SCANDAL OF NOT BEING WORTHY OF THEIR VOCATION

Having laid out three fundamental way of refocusing our lives according to the spirit of our Mazenodian vocation, according to our state of life, Eugene continued:

Let each judge himself, correct himself or otherwise regard himself as a good-for-nothing. The sentence seems severe but it is certain.
Indeed I would give my life a thousand times in order that no one amongst us ever give the scandal of not being worthy of his vocation.
To preserve ourselves from this misfortune: Deus autem pacis …aptet vos in omni bono.” [ed. …convince, rebuke and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching …may the God of peace provide you with everything good  2 Tim. 4, 2; Hebr. 13, 20].

Letter to Hippolyte Guibert, 29 July 1830, EO VII n 350

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