THE EPISCOPAL CHARACTER OF EUGENE DE MAZENOD

Election day for the President of the Republic. I went to vote. The entire staff stood up to receive my vote. This act of respect for the character with which I am invested edified me.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 10 December 1848, EO XXI

REFLECTION

Eugene was convinced that a bishop shared in the responsibility given by Jesus Christ to the apostles and received the Holy Spirit to become the chief pastor of the diocese. In his personal diary he uses the word “character” (as opposed to “position”) in the theological sense of a man being transformed through the sacrament of Orders and given the power to celebrate the sacraments.

It was in this sense that he wanted people to recognize the bishop and not the person, and to acknowledge the office and character of the role he was invested in.

“You must all follow the lead of the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed that of the Father; follow the presbytery as you would the Apostles; reverence the deacons as you would God’s commandment. Let no one do anything touching the Church, apart from the bishop. Let that celebration of the Eucharist be considered valid which is held under the bishop or anyone to whom he has committed it. Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”  (Saint Ignatius, Martyr and Bishop of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 8.)

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TAKE PARTICULAR CARE OF THE BROTHERS

In 1816, at the beginning of our Congregation, all the members were diocesan priests because its aim was mission preaching and dispensing the sacraments. In 1818 when we became a religious congregation, the situation changed and the Oblate vocation was primarily to religious life which expressed and lived out in the priestly ministry of the missions. Soon some came forward who experienced being called to religious life but not to priesthood. This was the origin of the Oblate Brothers. Each came with his particular gifts, many with a profession, which they placed at the service of the mission of the Congregation. It is no exaggeration to say that the Brothers were the mainstay of community life and ensured the supportive structures of the religious life and what was needed for the Oblate mission to be able to function fully. In the foreign missions in particular, they were the guarantors of religious community life for the priests who were always on the move for the preaching and sacramental ministry. In these cases the missionary contribution of the Brothers was their prayerful support by witnessing to their faith, teaching religion, building churches, running schools and sharing and teaching the local population their particular trades and skills.

Because they were the motor of religious life in a community and had not studied theology, Eugene insisted that the superiors of the communities assist the Brothers, especially the one who had just finished their novitiate to deepen their knowledge and spirituality of religious life.

Designate one of our Fathers to take particular care of the Brothers. giving them at least one instruction a week on their general duties and obligations as religious.

Letter to Fr Joseph Burfin at Limoges, France, 9 December 1848, EO X n 992

REFLECTION

I am always grateful for the Brothers I have met in my life and the inspiration they have been for me. For the seven years that I was a scholastic in Cedara, South Africa, two Brothers ran a dairy farm so as to support our livelihood. (One of them was a British nobleman, entitled to be called “Sir”, but who was a model of simplicity and humility and whom we knew as “Uncle Bob”). They and others whom I have been privileged to know have given their lives to service and inspired me through their dedication to prayer and exemplary religious life. Today we find Oblate Brothers in many important ministries throughout the world, and we thank God for this gift.

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I WAS DEEPLY AFFECTED BY THIS LOSS AS I AM BY THE LOSS OF ALL THOSE FOR WHOM I AM A FATHER IN JESUS CHRIST

Bishop Eugene regarded himself as much a father of his diocesan clergy as he did of the Oblates. This was especially the case if he been the bishop who ordained them to the priesthood. In his Diary he notes his sadness at the sudden death of a 24 year-old diocesan priest whom he had ordained.

I said Holy Mass for the young priest Chaillan, vicar at Saint-Cannat who just died of small pox, contracted from an ill person to whom he had ministered. I was deeply affected by this loss as I am by the loss of all those for whom I am a father in Jesus Christ. I acutely feel how much I am attached to them in every circumstance important to them, but especially when death takes them from me. It could be said that I am bonded to them with ties of blood.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 18 November 1848, EO XXI

REFLECTION

The concept of spiritual fatherhood was very important for Eugene. He understood his love for his spiritual children as a reflection of God’s loving parental heart.

Today, all of us who are touched by Eugene’s charism can look at him as a spiritual father who mirrors God’s love for us in our daily life.

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IF IT IS GOD WHO INSPIRES IT, HE WILL BLESS HIS WORK, IF NOT, IT WILL FADE AWAY LIKE OTHERS WHICH DO NOT COME FROM HIM

Eugene had always been a promotor of youth ministry and this continued when he was Bishop of Marseille. He noted in his diary an event concerning three of his diocesan priests who consecrated themselves to youth ministry in his diocese.

Mass in my chapel, Reverends Brunello, Guiol and Timon, very good priests, made in my hands the vow to live together in order to devote themselves to the sanctification of youth. According to my custom, I am happy to work with any inspiration which impels to perfection. If it is God who inspires it, he will bless his work, if not, it will fade away like others which do not come from Him.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 4 November 1848, EO XXI

Fr. Timon-David was close to his bishop and was later to start his own Association for Youth and eventually to become the founder of a religious congregation dedicated to youth ministry, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of the Child Jesus.

REFLECTION

“Send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. Sever any tie, but the ties that bind me to your service and to your heart.”  (David Livingstone)

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BEING OBLATE IS A JOURNEY OF BECOMING

The OMI’s usually renewed their vows on November 1 during the Founder’s lifetime. Because there were 30 Oblate seminarians at the Major Seminary (studying and living with the diocesan students) the ceremony was held at the Seminary.

Customary attendance at the morning Mass of the Major Seminary, after which our Fathers and Brothers renew their vows. Never had the assembly been so numerous; besides the Fathers, about thirty Oblates were present. After the customary address, four priests individually made their renewal, then the Oblates five at a time, finally the two Coadjutor Brothers. This assembly has been among the most touching. It’s self-explanatory.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 4 November 1848, EO XXI

REFLECTION

When Eugene referred to the OMI scholastics in formation, he always called them “the Oblates” as opposed to the “Fathers and Brothers” who were the ones who had completed their formation. There is something touching about this usage because it gives the impression of a person on a journey of becoming. All of us in the Mazenodian Family are on a journey of becoming what God wants each of us to be each day- accompanied by the example and intercession of Mary Immaculate and Eugene.

 

“Forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

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THE POPE WAS INFINITELY TOUCHED BY THE CONDUCT OF FRANCE

With the tense situation around the welfare of Pope Pius IX, in exile in Gaeta, France sent an emissary of the government to invite him to take refuge in Marseilles. Eugene narrated:

In short, the Pope was infinitely touched by the conduct of France and by the personal sentiments of Mr. de Corcelles, but he did not give in for the time being.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 11 December 1848, EO XXI

Two weeks later, Eugene wrote:

 Letter from the Pope. I had not expected this new mark of his goodness. He had already entrusted Cardinal Antonelli to reply to me. This new reply must be regarded as a favor and a very special proof of benevolence. I value it as such:

“My dear Bishop,

            “Our heart is truly touched by the sight of the filial love which France has manifested to the vicar of Jesus Christ and of the interest it takes in the current situation. May God bless the eldest daughter of the Church and preserve her from the poisoned breath which perturbs such a large part of Europe. May he fill her with his abundant graces, so that she may see the religion of her fathers blossom ever more beautifully within her. We are temporarily in Gaeta. Providence has led us here without a premeditated plan on our part. We have the hope, nevertheless, that the opportunity will present itself for being able to show the French nation, in a more consoling manner, the affectionate feelings of our heart, which at this moment affectionately gives her the apostolic blessing.

            “Given at Gaeta, December 14, 1848. Pius IX, pope.”

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 27 December 1848, EO XXI

REFLECTION

“The authority of the Head of the Church is a ministry entrusted to him for the good of all, to be carried out as a good Shepherd who watches over the salvation of the whole flock. It is incumbent upon the One invested with this ministry to “confirm his brothers in the faith” (Lk. 22:32), according to the glorious privilege given to him by Jesus Christ.” (Bishop Eugene’s Pastoral Letter to the Diocese of Marseilles, 16 February 1860.)

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THE POPE GAVE ME HIS PERSONAL BLESSING, WHILE IMPLORING ME TO PRAY AND TO HAVE PRAYERS SAID FOR HIM

In November 1848 the situation deteriorated and the Pope had been forced to leave Rome. Eugene and the people of Marseilles renewed their invitation to him to take shelter in their city and many were convinced of his imminent arrival. This never happened, but Eugene noted in his diary:

All the same, I must not pass over in silence the gesture of extravagant kindness which I received from His Holiness who gave Fr. Hugues, bursar of the Redemptorists, the express order to stop in Marseille in order to visit me, to give me greetings from the Pope, and to tell me that he was giving me his personal blessing, while imploring me to pray and to have prayers said for him. That’s what decided me to publish a brief pastoral letter which will be the first published in France, as I was the first to order prayers at the time of the crisis in which the Pope found himself several months ago.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 28 November 1848, EO XXI

REFLECTION

“However, since the Supreme Pontiff possesses in his sacred person the fullness of apostolic power, and thus sums up in himself all the rights of the mission entrusted to Peter and the other Apostles, it is to him that we must direct our highest feelings of filial piety. He is the common Father, the Head of the great family of God’s children on earth.” (Bishop Eugene’s Pastoral Letter to the Diocese of Marseilles, 16 February 1860.)

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MY DWELLING, AS WELL AS THE HEARTS OF ALL OUR PEOPLE, WILL BE THROWN OPEN TO YOU

The aftermath of the 1848 Revolution had dramatic consequences for Pope Pius IX who was threatened by violent upheavals. Eugene wrote to him:

If I could only ease for an instant the burden of the Church’s sorrows which press so heavily upon Your august head!

He then made a concrete proposal to the Pope:

I make bold to recall that France has often been an asylum for persecuted pontiffs. Even as captives, in recent times, when impiety ruled the country, they were hailed triumphantly with every step they took. Today, perhaps more than ever, especially at Marseilles, the people would lavish the most touching proofs of veneration and love upon the vicar of Christ; they will feel that, by setting foot upon their shore he will reinforce the ground that has been shaken by revolution; he would be like a symbol of salvation to them, like an angel of peace and hope. They would feel that the Lord has, so to speak, appeared in person to protect them and fortify them against the wicked. I need not tell you that my dwelling, as well as the hearts of all our people, will be thrown open to you.

Bishop de Mazenod’s letter  to Pope Pius IX, 3 July 1848, quoted in Leflon III p. 250-251.

Pope Pius was not in a position to accept this invitation. At the same time, Bishop Eugene wrote a pastoral letter to his diocese asking his people to be united with the Pope and to pray fervently for him.

REFLECTION

“The Pope is the visible Head of the Church, and fully represents Jesus Christ, whose Vicar he is, while the others, equally appointed by God, have their share, albeit in a lesser degree, in this sublime representation of the Sovereign Shepherd of souls. The same principle that obliges Christians to love their Divine Saviour in his Church, obliges them to a supernatural attachment to the Supreme Pontiff and to the other bishops who, being in communion with him, are both his sons and his brothers in the apostolate.”

Bishop Eugene’s Pastoral Letter to the Diocese of Marseilles, 16 February 1860.

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ONE HAS TO BE GENEROUS TO HELP THOSE WHO SUFFER PERSECUTION FOR THE SAKE OF JUSTICE

In earlier entries we reflected on the effects of the 1848 Revolution in France and in Marseilles in particular. It was a revolution that had far-reaching consequences throughout Europe and especially for the Church, as Eugene noted in his diary:

Confirmation and ordination in my chapel. Again it is some Jesuits whom I have ordained. It’s indeed necessary to take them away from the atrocious persecution which is being brought to bear on them in Piedmont, in Genoa and in Sardinia.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary 20 October 1848, EO XX1

The biographer, Rey, explains:

“Since Holy Saturday, he had had a daily reminder of the trials endured by the Sovereign Pontiff and the Church. Jesuits driven out of Rome, hunted down in Upper Italy by military laws which subjected seminarians and religious not yet in Holy Orders to military service, flocked to Marseille where their Superiors presented them for Ordination. Almost every day, Mgr de Mazenod had to exercise his lofty ministry as Bishop: “It is a just kindness to have for persecuted religious”. And he added with a smile: “Now the ordination prayers are part of my morning prayer”. (Rey II p.274)

Later we read in Eugene’s diary:

Ordination in my chapel; it’s another young Jesuit who has to be made sub-deacon, deacon and priest within the week. It’s a bit awkward, but one has to be generous to help those who suffer persecution for the sake of justice.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary 22 May 1848

Among the fugitives welcomed by the Bishop of Marseilles was the Superior General of the Jesuits and his collaborators. It was a mark of the gratitude Eugene had for the contribution in his life of the heritage of St Ignatius and the Jesuits.

REFLECTION

“Christians have always dissented through history… and inevitably, when persecution of free speech comes it always comes against the people who have the religious absolutes, because that’s what threatens people’s freedom to sin. So we’re always going to be the culprits.” (John MacArthur)

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“A SABBATH MONTH”

“St Eugene Speaks” is going silent until early June. [There are, however, 3115 reflections dating back to May 2010 that you can access in the “Archives” section of the home page.]

May is the end of the academic year at Oblate School of Theology, with all that this entails. It is also an opportunity for some “Sabbath activities” like a personal retreat and a breather before tackling a busy summer of Congregational publication projects in preparation for the 2026 bicentenary celebration of our approbation by the Church.

 

“Sabbath is not a break from work; it is a redefinition of how we work, why we work, and how we create freedom through our work.” (Dan B. Allender)

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