Yvon Beaudoin gives us the background to Eugene’s letter: “The Founder had seen the Pope again on October 2, and was to leave Rome on the 11th. He received however the letter dated September 28 in which Father Tempier sent him a letter from M. Barthe, Minister of Worship, in which he declared the Bishop of Icosia to be incapacitated from exercising any ecclesiastical function in the Kingdom and to be no longer vicar general of Marseilles. Father Tempier consequently put it to his superior that he should stay on in Rome so as not to expose himself to expulsion from France by the police.”
I won’t pretend that I wasn’t upset at the last point you make, more because it delays my return to my family than from sorrow that obstacles have been placed to the exercise of my ministry. If it didn’t damage the principles of the Catholic faith or the Church’s discipline. I would on the contrary be delighted by this turn of events, it is the nicest thing that could happen to me and it would get me the peace and quiet I have been longing for for so long, but infinitely more since I’ve seen how impotent one is to accomplish good works even by self-sacrifice…
I have received the fullness of the priesthood, and this is for myself and for the whole Church the best witness possible that I have served it well; it only remains for me now to make use for my own personal sanctification of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that I have received so abundantly and from which I have not yet derived as much profit as I would like.
It would have been a reasonable expectation on people’s part to think that I am still young enough to be able to do something for them. As God disposes differently, and allows wicked men their way. I will turn it to my profit, at least this is my hope in reliance on his mercy; whether in France or in Rome, it will be open to me to choose a place of retirement.
Letter to Henri Tempier, 8 October 1833, EO VIII n 465
In the midst of all the serious political intrigue around him, Eugene never forgets where his source of strength comes from:
.. It was necessary in effect to take pause after my Wednesday morning session. I lie low, I need to think, to have light, I ask God to grant me enlightenment, my need all the greater in that people’s plans seemingly pit themselves against the inspirations of the Holy Spirit…
Letter to Henri Tempier, 31 August 1833, EO VIII n 459
A useful reminder today to pause in the midst of difficulties and to allow God ot enlighten us.
Finally Eugene met the Pope and was able to begin to understand the mess which the political intrigue had caused.
… The audience with the Pope was closed to all but myself and the ministers. I was with His Holiness for a very long time. Well now! after the government had made futile protestations against my elevation to the episcopate, since it could not deny the Holy See an authority it exercises every day, another line of attack was prepared and they let it be known confidentially that, since I was a well-known Carlist leader and was holding political meetings in the Bishop’s Palace, it would be necessary to prosecute me before the courts;
“Carlist” refers to those in France who regarded King Charles as the last legitimate king, and the current King Louis Philippe as an illegal usurper. While Eugene was certainly no fan of the present king, the allegations made by the government were untrue. The French authorities, however, threatened to prosecute him on these subversive (yet untrue) charges, and thought that getting the Pope to intervene would be one way to solve the problem.
that this would be the subject of an official note unless the Pope wisely intervened, as was the hope, for it would be very distasteful to the Government to be reduced to the extremity of bringing a bishop before the courts. The Pope, in good faith and to shield me from this dishonour, issued his summons. If I had been told why, you know I would have replied in proper manner, and since I have made no moves, or said a single word in favour of the Carlist cause, granted even there be such a cause, seeing that my principles are that the clergy has enough on its hands to defend the faith without getting mixed up in politics. I would have gone to the courts myself if needs be, sure of carrying the day. Since I am here, I shall see the matter through…
Letter to Henri Tempier, 28 August 1833, EO VIII n 458
In Rome, Eugene was staying at the Church of San Silvestro. It was here that he had lived when he had come to seek Papal approbation of the Oblates, and it was here that he had been consecrated bishop the previous year.
Yesterday, Sunday, I did not go out the whole day. I said Mass at the same altar where I was consecrated, and I am continuing this practice every day and asking God that I may never be unworthy of the sublime character and high dignity I received on that spot, but always be a credit to my great ministry through a truly apostolic courage which will enable me never to yield to the powers of hell nor to those of earth which in these days find there their inspirations.
Letter to Henri Tempier, 20 August 1833, EO VIII n 454
Where are the spiritual places I turn to when the evil around me seems to absorb so much of my focus?
Eugene had dropped everything in Marseilles to rush to Rome to respond to the Pope’s urgent call. Yet, when he arrived in Rome, it took the Pope two weeks before he received Eugene in audience.
Gradually it became clear to Eugene that he was the victim of the political intrigues of the French government, and also of lack of communication between two of the Vatican dicasteries. The details are too complicated to deal with in this blog, but I refer you to the article “Icosia” in the Oblate Historical Dictionary https://www.omiworld.org/lemma/icosia-bishop-of/ and chapter 5 of the book by Hubenig and Motte, Living in the Spirit’s Fire https://www.omiworld.org/wp-content/uploads/Living-in-the-Spirits-Fire.pdf
Eugene explained the discovery of the reason for his call to Rome to Fr Tempier:
The Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda… welcomed me with his usual kindness. He confirmed my suspicions of Saturday, namely that I am the victim of a governmental intrigue…
The whole thing is nothing but an intrigue of the French Government which wished to suppress the diocese of Marseilles and fears my influence in the country. It is a poor government that does not realize what it owes me precisely by reason of that influence it so foolishly dreads.
Complaint was laid before the Pope, threats made to charge me before the courts on the ground that I had been ordained bishop without consultation. How I wish I had known about this charge before leaving!
…It is by means of harassments of this sort that these gentlemen think to win the support of the clergy! I have just been told that the “Gazette du Midi” (one of the local Provence newspapers) reports certain other facts which prove that someone has set about subverting in particular the ecclesiastical administration at Marseilles. This, in the light of moves made elsewhere, is proof of the method that they wish to adopt, namely, the suppression of this ancient diocese to the confusion of a great and predominantly Catholic population
Letter to Henri Tempier, 20 August 1833, EO VIII n 454
Jesus also faced this problem – and his followers continue to experience it today in many parts of the world.
On his way to Rome, Eugene hoped to arrive in Civitavecchia in time to celebrate Mass on the Feast of the Assumption. At that time one had to fast from midnight in order to receive Communion the next day. Eugene had in fact fasted for over 24 hours in the hope of celebrating Mass on this feast, but never got the opportunity.
On the question of Eucharistic practices that have changed today, I find Eugene’s description of something he saw on this journey on how Communion was brought to the dying:
… At Livorno. I was witness to a religious spectacle that] rubbed salt in my wounds. You know how I suffer at the unworthy manner holy viaticum is brought to the sick at Marseilles and you were often as vexed as I was. Well, listen now to how it ought to be done and how it is done at Livorno. When there is no urgency, one waits until nightfall. Then the Blessed Sacrament, borne by a priest in cope and large humeral veil, issues majestically from the church beneath a large canopy of four if not six poles. It is preceded by forty or so at least members of the confraternity, torches in hand, followed by a priest carrying the small canopy that is needed in the stairway. Accompanied by an immense throng all reciting aloud the Miserere. At the toll of the bell all windows in a thrice are lit up from the first to the fourth floor. There are lamps, candles large and small and candelabras and, as the sick person’s house is neared, eight to ten relatives or friends come forward, torches in hand, in front of the Blessed Sacrament and join the procession. While the sacrament is administered to the sick person, those assisting remain at the door and recite aloud Our Lady’s litanies and other prayers. The journey back is done in like fashion save that as the church is neared the Te Deum is sung. Admit that this is wonderful and that one cannot help waxing indignant when making comparisons with the way we do it.
Letter to Henri Tempier, 15 August 1833, EO VIII n 453.
Times and customs have certainly changed over the centuries, but the need for a respectful Eucharistic devotion shown in contemporary expressions continues.
My dear friends, whenever I had to take my leave of you, it has always been heavy of heart, but this time there is no consolation at all on the horizon to ease my sorrow. Leaving you, my dear friend. in such an unsatisfactory state of health and burdening you with all the details I would normally handle myself each day…
Patience! Everything must be sanctified by supernatural obedience. It is a matter of the good of the Church. After saying: “If it is possible, take this chalice away from me” I go on to say: “may your will be done”.
Letter to Henri Tempier, 8 August 1833, EO VIII n 449
Little did Eugene know what suffering lay ahead of him, and how his own “Gethsemane” was about to begin.
Yvon Beaudoin explains: “After his nomination as Bishop without the consent of the Government of Louis-Philippe, an abundant correspondence had flowed between the civil authorities of Marseilles and Paris and between Paris and Rome. The upshot of these negotiations was: the Pope had to find employment outside France for a bishop named without the consent of the French Government, all the more since the Bishop of Icosia was considered politically very dangerous. Rome took fright. To avoid complications, the Holy Father summoned Bishop de Mazenod to his side.”
Writing to Fr Courtès, one of the first Oblates in Aix en Provence, about his impending visit to Rome at the summons of the Pope, he says:
… Now I cannot put off telling you something that will come as quite a shock. I am leaving for Rome. The Pope has just put my obedience to this test. Don’t tell anyone about this journey before it has been made public and even then don’t say I am going on the Pope’s command. My sense of foreboding in view of the trust that the Head of the Church is showing me is more than I can say.
He wants me to leave without the least delay for an important message that he wishes to communicate to me personally and to induce me to respond promptly to his invitation he appeals to my well-known sense of devotion to our holy faith.
I don’t hesitate for a moment to obey but I have a presentiment that I am going to be entrusted with some troublesome mission in some region of America. Colleagues who had to be brought in on the matter are carried away by other kinds of conjectures. For myself I see no other possibility. When the Pope speaks to a bishop with the good of the Church in view, he must be obeyed, cost what it might. Redouble your prayers on my behalf. Affectionate greetings.
Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 31 July 1833, EO VIII n 448
Before I interrupted the chronological exploration of St Eugene’s letters in http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/?p=3839 we were reading the events of 1832. The anti-religious government had decided to suppress the Diocese of Marseilles once Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod would pass on. In order to ensure an episcopal presence in Marseilles for the sacraments, a plot was hatched between the Pope and Marseilles to ordain Eugene as a Bishop-visitor to North Africa, with the titular diocese of Icosia. This happened and Eugene returned to Marseilles, where he did episcopal ministry for his aging uncle undisturbed or so he thought…
A letter had arrived, nine months after his episcopal ordination, summoning him to Rome to meet the Pope, and giving no reason for the urgency. Eugene responded:
The Holy Father has put my obedience to a severe test: to set out and set out immediately, to leave the diocese in the middle of the pastoral visitation, to set out I might say notwithstanding an uncle very advanced in age, who in his old age leans on me and relies on my judgment in the government of his diocese, the length of the journey, the expense, family opposition, and who knows what besides? I have thought it my duty to impose silence on all these considerations at the voice of the Sovereign Pontiff who invites me urgently to set out immediately to receive some news which touches the good of the Church.
Short of coming on the wings of the wind, it would not be possible to hasten faster than I have done. As soon as your letter and that of the Cardinal prefect of Propaganda were delivered, I booked a place on the first steamship ready to depart.
Letter to Bishop L. Frezza, secretary of the Congregation for Ecclesiastical Affairs, in Rome, July 1833, EO XV n 171
Eugene recognized who the Pope represented for him in faith and he responded immediately, at great personal discomfort. Today the Pope continues to represent for us an important dimension of our faith understanding and expression.
These reflections have been published for nearly nine years, since May 2010, in four languages. What is their purpose?
It is primarily to make the life and writings of St Eugene available to a wider audience. I share with you my responses to the words and events of the life of St Eugene.
There is a secondary aim, which is available directly through the website (but not through the other means of social media that I use). This is the search engine of the site, http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/ which enables you to put in a word or concept and to find Mazenodian texts in this way. My hope is that it be a good research tool for those who want to explore our founder, spirituality and mission in a deeper way. Sometimes the reflections can appear to be too historical, or too focused on OMI concerns or just plain boring. I cannot avoid this because I aim at giving a fuller background and understanding of St Eugene and his writings.
My main aim, therefore, is not to provide a “spiritual thought” for the day – although I hope that many find these reflections helpful in this respect. It is rather to put the reader into direct contact with St Eugene and all that his life, faith and mission can mean to us today.
On a personal note, I write these reflections and post them in blind faith that some will find them useful. Apart from two loyal daily responders (only on the website), one in French and the other in English, and a handful of “likes” on Facebook, I have absolutely no responses or feedback. I smile with delight when people tell me that Denyse and Eleanor’s comments are much nicer and more practical than my reflections – because it means that these two faithful writers are communicating Eugene’s thoughts in a more tangible and real-life way. We make a good team and I am happy!
However, it would be appreciated if some more reactions and comments were to be expressed – particularly in Spanish where there is zero reaction and response and I wonder whether to continue with all the time and effort put into providing a version in Spanish.