- IF YOU HAVE FAILED IN A TRIAL SO WEAK AS THIS, WHAT WILL YOU DO IN THE MIDST OF THE OBSTACLES OF A DIFFICULT MISSION?
- THOSE WHO HAVE THE HABIT OF COMPLAINING WHEN IT IS A MATTER OF THEIR PERSONAL PREFERENCE
- LAITY ASSOCIATED WITH THE OBLATES IN MISSION AND IN SPIRITUAL BENEFITS
- THE GENEROSITY OF OUR LAY ASSOCIATES
- IF YOU HAVE FAILED IN A TRIAL SO WEAK AS THIS, WHAT WILL YOU DO IN THE MIDST OF THE OBSTACLES OF A DIFFICULT MISSION? on
- THOSE WHO HAVE THE HABIT OF COMPLAINING WHEN IT IS A MATTER OF THEIR PERSONAL PREFERENCE on
- LAITY ASSOCIATED WITH THE OBLATES IN MISSION AND IN SPIRITUAL BENEFITS on
- THE GENEROSITY OF OUR LAY ASSOCIATES on
- OUR DUTY IN RESPONSE TO THIS REMARKABLE FAVOUR IS TO NEGLECT NOTHING IN TRAINING RELIGIOUS WHO ARE FIT TO SERVE THE CHURCH AND SOCIETY on
Father Bermond had begged Eugene to be sent to Canada as one of the pioneer missionaries, but Eugene had reasons to hesitate and so did not include him. In the previous entry we saw how Bermond had resisted to be changed from one community in France to another. Eugene responded to his request in a blunt, but loving way.
But after reflection I come back to your letter. I ought to tell you that it has given me much grief. Your resistance over such an easy thing, the miserable reasons you allege, the insistence with which you oblige me to revoke my decision without worrying about the trouble you may cause me, all this gives me food for thought. First, if your health is so feeble as to make you afraid of several months of a change of air from Marseilles to Aix, will it not be supremely imprudent to risk transferring you 2000 leagues away where you will live in a country of which the climate is so rigorous, so cold in winter and so hot in summer?
Moreover, in such distant missions where one can expect so many frustrations, so many vexations, and where to serve demands so much sacrifice for the will, so much fatigue for the body, men are needed who are firmly rooted in holy indifference, devotedness, absolute obedience, men of sacrifice who act promptly and willingly in opposition to their own ideas, etc. If you have failed, my dear son, in a trial so weak as the one which has been the first to present itself, what will you do in the midst of the obstacles of a difficult mission?
… My duty is to send men strong in integrity, lovers of religious discipline, jealous of the honour of the Congregation which others compromise by their murmuring, their spirit of independence and their lack of regularity… Do you feel yourself to be one of these strong men I seek?
I end, my dear son, for lack of paper yet still with enough space to embrace you.
Letter to Fr. Francois Bermond, 8 September 1842, EO I n 12
A good example of the fatherhood of Eugene: truthful and direct, yet a loving father who wanted the best for his Oblate sons.
Eugene’s role as leader of the Oblate Congregation meant that he had to distribute the Oblates according to the needs of the missions we were caring for. In some cases, he encountered difficulties because of personal likes and dislikes of individuals.
I express how much I was displeased by the repugnance shown by Fr. Bermond to go to the residence at Aix for a while. The pretext of health is not admissible for a man who implores to be sent to the ends of the earth.
Father Bermond had insisted that he should be sent to Canada as a missionary, and yet complained about a temporary assignment to a community 50 miles away.
These dislikes obstruct administration, they are contrary to the basic principles of holy indifference which is the pivot of regularity and of good discipline. They are not allowable in any way, we dare not even acknowledge them.
Then Eugene wryly comments that all those Oblates who complained should be put in charge of finding personnel to fulfil the missions – they would change their tune very quickly!
Ah! I would like to hand over the care of combining the needs of all our houses and the placing of subjects on their way again to those who have been in the habit of complaining when it is a matter of their personal preference. We should see them at work.
Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 7 September 1842, EO XXI
Eventually, Eugene gave in to Fr Bermond’s desire, and left him where he was.
I made no reply to your letter of August 30th, my dear Father Bermond. I contented myself with letting Father Ricard know that I had yielded not to your reasons but to your dislike and that I would leave you at Lumières.
Letter to Fr. Francois Bermond, 8 September 1842, EO I n 12
Writing to the benefactors who had been so generous to the Oblate missionaries in Canada, Eugene wrote to express his gratitude. A gratitude not expressed only in words, but in the action of making them Associates in all the spiritual benefits of the Oblates – as is expressed in making persons “Honorary Oblates.”
To Monsieur and Madame Olivier Berthelet,
Greeting and benediction in Our Lord Jesus Christ!
Your piety has inspired you, for the sake of your souls, with the desire to request that we admit you into communication of the good works of our Congregation. This request is all the more agreeable to us in that we know how much this Congregation is indebted to you for the gift your pious charity has made to her of the beautiful place where those of our members who have gone to evangelise Canada will have their dwelling in the diocese of Montreal. By your generosity, you are taking a great part in the good to be done in this country and you have acquired a right to our just gratitude.
So it is wholeheartedly that in virtue of the authority invested in us by the Holy See as Superior General of the said Congregation we grant you in Jesus Christ participation in the merits of the sacrifices, prayers, fasts and generally in all good works and pious exercises, both spiritual and corporal which, by the grace of God, take place in this Congregation, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Moreover we pray God the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ to deign to ratify and confirm in Heaven this spiritual concession, the while we implore Him to make good our poverty from the inexhaustible riches of the treasure of the merits of His Son, also to heap you with graces and blessings in this life and finally to reward you with the crown of eternal glory.
Given at Marseilles under our sign, the seal of our arms and the countersign of the secretary of the Congregation on the 25th of September, 1842.
+ C. J. Eugene, Bishop of Marseilles.
By mandate of Monseigneur, our most Reverend Father, Tempier, first assistant.
Letter to Mr. and Mrs. Olivier Berthelet at Montreal, 25 September 1842, EO I n 13
In our Mazenodian Family we find this reality continued today.
From the first day of our existence as Oblates, our missionary successes would not have been possible without the presence and assistance of our lay supporters. Twenty six years later, this was proved true in Canada just months after the arrival of the Oblates in Quebec.
God works miracles for us… the beautiful domain of Longueuil, on the banks of the river St Lawrence across from Montreal, has been given to us completely free. It has a splendid house, a magnificent garden and, agreeable as it is useful, a meadow. Generous as they have been, the benefactors are inclined to add yet another piece of land to this already considerable property. Other good souls wish to add their sponsorships to those already received.
Letter to Fr Casimir Aubert, 26 September 1842, EO III n 2
These benefactors were so impressed by the zeal of these Oblates that they made generous contributions to their mission. To one of these benefactors who had given a large sum of money to accompany the gift of the house, Eugene wrote:
“…This request is all the more agreeable to us in that we are indebted to you for your pious generosity which has contributed considerably to the gift which has been made to the said Congregation…”
This missionary partnership continues until today – not only in temporal assistance, but with missionary cooperation as co-workers in a missionary Mazenodian Family. Today our Rule of Life expresses this gift of Mazenodian cooperation in these words: ” Lay people recognize that they are called to share in the charism according to their state of life, and to live it in ways that vary according to milieu and cultures. They share in the charism in a spirit of communion and reciprocity amongst themselves and with the Oblates.”
OUR DUTY IN RESPONSE TO THIS REMARKABLE FAVOUR IS TO NEGLECT NOTHING IN TRAINING RELIGIOUS WHO ARE FIT TO SERVE THE CHURCH AND SOCIETY
The Oblates were experiencing a growth in vocations. God’s gift in calling new members required a response of gratitude expressed in generosity in caring for and developing the growth of these young men.
There is no sacrifice we should not make for the education and good direction of the numerous members the Lord has so liberally given us, for which fact we will never be able to thank him enough. Our duty in response to this remarkable favour is to neglect nothing in training religious who are fit to serve the Church and society.
Growing numbers ensured a more fruitful mission in the future
In moments when we feel hard pressed, we may now envisage a fairly near future when we will be able to act with greater ease. That is sufficient motive to encourage us and to help us to be patient.
Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 23 August 1842, EO IX n 775
Eugene’s words evoke a sense of gratitude for our vocations directors, formation personnel, and for the immeasurable generosity of our Mazenodian Family members who make the training of new missionaries possible. They are remembered each day in the prayers of the Congregation.
HOW COULD MY HEART NOT BEAT AT THE MEMORY OF THESE ADMIRABLE PERSONS WHO DEVOTED THEIR SPARE TIME TO MY RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION, AND WHO FORMED ME IN VIRTUE?
Venice was a place that recalled harsh memories for Eugene of difficulties of being an exile, of the separation of his parents, of financial deprivation and of fear of the revolutionary armies of France.
We needed to distract ourselves from all these emotions, which truly were almost hurtful to us, so much did they make us experience at the same time both pleasure and pain.
In these moments of darkness, there was one shining light that transformed the adolescent’s life: Father Bartolo Zinelli.
I leave to books the descriptions of the beauty of this city; I express here only my impressions in another order of being. How not to tremble at the sight of the places which remind you of the first years of your adolescence, the help that divine Providence lavished on me during this period when my intelligence was beginning to develop. How could my heart not beat at the memory of these admirable men who devoted their spare time to my religious instruction, and who formed me in virtue? It was astonishing to hear me name each of those who had welcomed me in my infancy, to see me cite all the particularities of their life, to show the place that they occupied in the houses where we lived together, and to enumerate, so to speak, all the good which I have received from them. The fact is, no one could understand what profound traces have been left in my heart by the acts of generosity to which I am indebted for a little of the good that is in me, which takes its source in this first education and in the direction which these men of God knew how to give to my spirit and to my young heart.
Father Bartolo Zinelli was a young priest living with his family while hoping to be able to join the Jesuits in more peaceful times. The Zinelli home became Eugene’s place of refuge, and the Zinelli family became his anchor. Don Bartolo’s influence was to be felt in Eugene spirituality and ministry for the rest of his life. (See: ” Human, Christian, Saint: from Experience to Conviction and a Way of Life” – http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/?p=2847)
O blessed Zinelli! What would I have become without you? What thanksgiving do I not owe to God for having provided the acquaintanceship and the affection of such a holy person! Nearly forty years have gone by, and exactly the most dangerous years, under the direction of, and in intimacy with, a veritable saint who, inspired by the most affectionate charity, not only had taken on the task of instructing me in literature, but who fashioned me in virtue, as much by his example as by his precepts! I was the Benjamin of his entire family; it was because of this that he displayed the most affection to me.
Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 26 May 1842, EO XXI
An invitation for us to recall, with gratitude and a prayer, those persons who have had an important influence in our lives.
On his journey to Italy with his sister, Eugene revisited Venice. He had spent three years there some 50 years earlier as a young adolescent.
Arrived in Venice. The day did not go by without our going to visit the district of Saint-Sylvestre, in which my sister and I had lived during our infancy. Having first entered into the church which I habitually frequented, I scarcely was able to recognize it, so many changes were made.
I searched there in vain for the tomb where my great uncle of holy memory had been laid to rest; no trace of it remained on the renovated paving stone.
He was referring to Father Auguste-André de Mazenod, deceased in 1795 during the Mazenod’s exile in Venice. He had been Vicar General of Marseille from 1755 to 1801. With emotion he recalled the memory of Father Francesco Milesi, pastor of the parish in which the young Eugene had lived. Milesi later became Patriarch of Venice.
And my venerable friend, the former pastor Milesi, who had heard my confession in my early childhood, who had embraced me so paternally, who so often had provided for my small childish needs in order to relieve my emigrant parents, whom he likewise treated with tact, who loved me, in a word, as his child. It is he who, in his moving solicitude, provided the acquaintanceship of the blessed Bartolo Zinelli and hinted to him what he had to do to instruct me in devotion and in literature. Where was this good pastor Milesi?
Alas! I inquired at the pulpit where he instructed us every Sunday; I inquired at the altar where I served Mass for him so frequently; I inquired with all those who had known him. His soul is in heaven. Oh! yes, his soul is in heaven, I seem to hear each one respond to me; but his body, his mortal remains repose far from here.
… I said Mass at Saint-Sylvestre at the same altar at which I had so often received the body of Jesus Christ in my childhood; for I was led to receive Communion every eight days. I would not be able to express everything that I experienced during the Holy Sacrifice, in tying together these two extremes of my existence: my infancy and my current state as bishop.
Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 26 May 1842, EO XXI
How often we have visited places connected with the memories of people in our childhood whose significance continues to influence us today. Can we hear each place triggering us to exclaim: that person is no longer here but continues to live in my heart and life through the communion of saints?
Eugene’s sister, Nathalie, had five children. One had died in 1825 at the age of 12, the other in 1829 at the age of 19 and now the third, Louis de Boisgelin had just died at the age of 27. The family was devastated, and their uncle, Eugene, was urged to take some healing time away with them in northern Italy. He and Father Jeancard (a former Oblate and now a diocesan priest in the diocese of Marseilles) spent two months away in Italy with the family.
The blow which just struck us has thrown, alas! too justifiably, my sister and my niece into a profound melancholy: this state would be dangerous for my niece if it were prolonged; it was therefore necessary to take them from here in order to distract them from their grief. My sister would have with difficulty decided to undertake a journey for which she conceals her own need, although she senses that her daughter can hardly do without it. This last consideration makes her overcome her aversion, but it was necessary for me to take part. I would have wished for all the world not to be reduced to this necessity; but I am not accustomed to listen to my aversions when it concerns the well-being of those who have a right to my affection and to my devotion.
Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 25 April 1842, EO XXI
That was his personal diary entry. To Father Tempier he wrote:
I undertook this trip only for reasons of charity and due affection for my sister and niece and nephew; far from anticipating the least pleasure therefrom. I had to force myself to undertake it… Nothing is more normal than the sacrifice I have made. The hope of restoring the health of such a charming child who is always so thin and feeble, as well as the desire to distract my sister from her profound sorrow are more than sufficient reasons to impose on a brother and uncle such as I greater sacrifices than the one I am gladly making. though it does cost me
Letter to Henri Tempier, 30 April 1842, EO IX n 762
Eugene used to insist that the Oblates reduce their attachment to their families, and yet he was so attached to his. Was it perhaps because he had suffered deeply being deprived of life with his family during all the years of his adolescence as an exile?
THE JOY OF SENSING THAT ONE BELONGS TO THIS CATHOLIC CHURCH, WHICH HAS GOD FOR FATHER AND ALL BAPTIZED PERSONS AS BROTHERS AND SISTERS
In communion with the suffering Catholics in Spain, which we have seen above, Eugene wrote a pastoral letter to his diocese.
Yes, my dearly beloved brethren, you cannot merely watch without taking interest in the sad situation. A portion of what used to be one of the most flourishing parts of Christianity stands to be violently torn from its ancient spiritual foundations and so be separated from God’s Church. How can we not be terrified at this schism which would come about in the name of a temporal power taking upon itself the right to be like a wall of separation between the bishops and the Vicar of Christ, between the faithful and him who is their common Father? …There is no law that can go against the law of God, no constituted power whatever, that can supersede the divine constitution of the Church.
Bishop Eugene de Mazenod, Pastoral Letter to the Diocese of Marseilles 1842 (Rey)
To this purpose he organized prayer services in Marseilles.
First station for the Jubilee at the cathedral. The church was found to be much too small: two hours before the designated time, the three naves and all the chapels were full. They arrived in droves to assist in this holy action. The doors had to be closed.
This glorious gathering was a magnificent spectacle, made up of the principal pastor, surrounded by all his clergy and a multitude of the faithful, in order to solemnly invoke the Lord in favor of a part of the grand Christian family threatened in its faith. I intoned the Veni Creator, which was sung by thousands of voices, inspired, as I was myself, by a living sense of fraternal charity, of filial trust, and by a certain, inexpressible interior jubilation. This joy stemmed from the grand communion of saints, whose perceptible impression it was impossible not to experience, with the joy of sensing that one belongs to this Catholic Church, which has God for Father and all baptized persons as brothers and sisters.
Eugene de Mazenod Diary, 19 April 1842, EO XXI