SO HERE I AM ARRIVED AT MY FIFTIETH YEAR WITH EMPTY HANDS

Eugene’s retreat meditation led him to reflect on his stewardship – using the parable of the head of the household who entrusted talents to his stewards. Although he had managed well and efficiently, Eugene feels sad because he had not achieved as much grace as he should have.

I have achieved a lot, it is true, overcome big obstacles, conquered insurmountable difficulties, good and very much good came of it. Yes, I cannot deny it, but it is at my own expense. I was better, or to phrase it better, incomparably less evil at the beginning of my ministry when I had still achieved practically nothing, than now when I have achieved much. What to conclude fromthis reasoning? That not only am I an unprofitable servant, but an unfaithful servant, that I may have done what I was obliged to do, but did not do it as I ought, since certainly the first condition of the work the Head of the Household imposed on me was that in carrying out His work I should pursue my own sanctification which one does not attain in our holy state otherwise than by advancing in perfection. So here I am arrived at my fiftieth year with empty hands, since I have been unable to enrich myself in my regular management of the treasures, even as I increased their value to the head of the household, but not with good interest as it should have been since, once again, as I look closely at myself, I find myself poorer today than the first day of my administration, “villicationis meae” [ed. my account of stewardship].

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

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I HAVE ACHIEVED A LOT AND MUCH GOOD CAME FROM IT

I have been a priest for 21 years. I cannot presume that there is as much time left me to live as I have spent in the priesthood. I must look and see what the grace communicated me by the imposition of hands has yielded. The cooperation I have brought to it, the duration of the blessed consolations of the Holy Spirit, the cause of my infidelities and their baneful effects.

Eugene recalls and prays about his life as a priest because as a bishop he will receive the fullness of this priesthood which will build on the foundations of his 21 years of priesthood.

What beautiful years were those first years of my holy ministry.

He recalls the major steps of his life. The first was when Napoleon had expelled the seminary faculty, and the newly-ordained Eugene had become one of those to fill in for them.

One year spent in the seminary as a priest, charged with inspiring in the others love for the clerical virtues and called to cooperate with holy collaborators to conserve and maintain the good traditions of our former Directors, the Emerys, Duclaux, Garniers, Montagnes, expelled from their house, that we had to keep going in their absence.

Them the excitement of his first years of priestly ministry in Aix:

What beautiful years were those first two years I spent in Aix in the exercise of a ministry that was all charity, living within my house, with the help of my servant the good Trappist Brother Maur, in recollection, prayer and study; every moment I stole from external ministry, and the attention I gave to the youth and prisoners.

Catching typhus from the Austrian prisoners of war:

If I had died then, the very death I had asked God to grant me from the time I became a priest, every day at the elevation of the chalice, I would have died a martyr of charity, and I would not have to reproach myself with so many faults, infidelities, I would not have to weep over this state of lukewarmness into which I have been thrown by the innumerable occupations with which I have been overburdened, whether in the ministry of the holy missions, the foundation and direction of our Congregation, or in the administration of the diocese of Marseilles, in such difficult times and in the midst of such opposition.
I have achieved a lot, it is true, overcome big obstacles, conquered insurmountable difficulties, good and very much good came of it.

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

An invitation for us to look back on our lives and give thanks – despite the difficulties.

 

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THE GRACE OF OUR LORD HAS BEEN ABUNDANT

Eugene recalls his personal salvation history:

As I make myself more familiar with the idea of what I already am by my election and what I am to become by my consecration, it will be advantageous to examine attentively the Holy Spirit’s way of acting towards me both at the time of my ordination and during the course of my priestly ministry, and my cooperation on the one hand and my infidelities on the other hand, with the abundant communications of his grace.

Learning from those times when he had not cooperated with God’s grace in the past, he prays for forgiveness and for the ability to allow the Holy Spirit to mak up for his weaknesses and failings.

Thus I will ascertain the loss attributable to my fault, shed bitter tears before God, and full of trust in his mercy, I will dare hope that this living Spirit who is to come down into my soul will restore all I have let deteriorate, strengthen, consolidate, bring to perfection everything in me for me to become truly his right-hand man, the Elias of the Church, the anointed of the Lord, the priest according to the order of Melchisedech who has nothing else in view but to please God by fulfilling all the duties of my ministry for the building up of the Church, the salvation of souls and my own sanctification.
So may I be able to say with the apostle St. Paul: “I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry. I was once a blasphemer… The grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus… . To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Tim. 1:12-17)

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

Like Paul and Eugene, each of us has been called by God in the ordinariness of our lives – and given the strength to be God’s instruments in and through our everyday occupations.

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FEAST OF BLESSED JOSEPH CEBULA OMI

Father Józef Cebula was born into a modest family of Polish origin on March 23, 1902, at Malnia in southern Poland. He suffered tuberculosis as a youth. After an unexpected recovery, he visited an Oblate shrine where he shared his story with an Oblate priest. The priest advised Józef to study with the Oblates at the newly-established Oblate minor seminary.

At the age of 19 he entered the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Following ordination to the Oblate priesthood in 1927, Fr. Cebula spent much of his ministry teaching Oblate seminarians (1927-1937). From 1931 on, he was the director of the minor seminary in Lubliniec. In 1937, he became novice master at Markowice (1937-1941), where his humility and gentleness were noteworthy. During this time he was also active in the preaching ministry and was much sought after as a confessor.

When the Nazis occupied Poland during the Second World War, they declared loyalty to the Church illegal. All Church associations were forbidden, and many priests were arrested. On May 4, 1940, the Oblate novices at Markowice were arrested by the Nazis and sent to the concentration camp at Dachau, Germany. Fr. Cebula was forbidden to exercise his priestly ministry and obliged to work in the fields. But at night, the zealous priest celebrated the Eucharist and administered the sacraments in the surrounding villages, until he was arrested on April 2, 1941. He was taken to a concentration camp at Mauthausen in Austria.

Known for his humility, Fr. Cebula was a man of quiet prayer with a deep spiritual life. He radiated peace in the very middle of the death camp, even when tormented by the Nazis. In Mauthausen he was harassed and forced to work hard, to break rocks in the quarry, simply because he was a Roman Catholic priest. Father Cebula was forced to carry 60-pound rocks from the quarry to a camp two miles away. He had to climb a 144-step staircase called the Death Stairs, while being beaten and insulted by his tormentors. The guards humiliated and mocked him by ordering him to sing the texts of the Mass while he worked. Three weeks later, Fr. Cebula suddenly summoned up his strength and said, “It is not you who are in charge. God will judge you.” The Nazis ordered him to run, with a rock on his back, towards the camp’s barbed wire fence, where a guard shot him with a submachine gun and declared that Fr. Cebula “was shot while trying to escape”. He died a martyr on May 9, 1941, in this volley of bullets. His body was taken to a crematorium and burned. (https://www.omiworld.org/our-charism/our-saints/oblate-causes/blessed-jozef-cebula-1902-1941/biography/)

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IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING TO ME?

In these first moments of my retreat, I come up against an altogether singular obstacle to devoting myself seriously before God to the great topic that calls for my complete attention, namely, an involuntary mental state that persists in seeing as a dream everything that has happened up to now with regard to my election to the episcopate, and all the preparation that has gone into accomplishing this great work of the Holy Spirit in me. I have in my hands the Apostolic Briefs of my canonical institution, I have before my eyes the various dress items of my new estate, I devote myself seriously to the consideration of the lofty dignity to which, all unworthy as I am, I am elevated, the duties this dignity imposes on me, etc., but even so, it still seems as if it were all happening to someone else.

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

The words of the writer, Nikos Kazantzakis: “Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality” is what times of prayer and meditation do.

Eugene’s retreat was a time of prayerfully allowing his eyes to be transformed into the eyes of Jesus the Savior.

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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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