From their first sermons in Limoges, the style of the Oblates was not understood and appreciated by the clergy and others. Fr Courtès did not allow himself to be disheartened and responded well to the critical comments. Eugene commended him:
Bravo, my dear Courtès. That is the way to answer all these pretentious remarks from men who judge everything by their own measure and who do not know how to recognize that true merit can be found in a sphere other than that of their own rotation.
Let us spurn their prejudices and go at our own rate. We shall finally see who has brought the greater number of souls to God, those academics they seek after, or apostolic men who preach as they should to instruct and convert.
Letter to Fr Hippolyte Courtès in Limoges, 30 December 1847, EO X n 961
“You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.” (J. Wooden)
Continuing his letter to the Bishop of Limoges, Eugene underlines that the preaching of the Oblates is to be to the poor and most abandoned and not to grandiose sermon series in parishes.
I must even say about this matter that the Oblate Rule forbids them to preach Lenten and Advent sermons, and they need an express dispensation to accept that type of preaching which we want to leave to others, being satisfied on our part with the blessings that the Lord has never ceased to lavish on the humble ministry of missions for which the Oblates have been established. I beg you to look elsewhere than to the Oblates for Advent and Lenten preachers.
We must keep the Rule; our men must keep their feet on the ground, live in humility and not push themselves forward before people.
Letter to Bishop Buissas of Limoges, 24 October 1847, EO XIII n 118
“For the Christian, humility is absolutely indispensable. Without it there can be no self-knowledge, no repentance, no faith and no salvation.” (Aiden Wilson Tozer)
The first group of missionaries, temporarily under the leadership of Fr Courtès, arrived in Limoges in early November. To prepare the bishop for this, Eugene wrote to him to make the mission of the Oblates very clear.
Your Lordship will allow me to make an observation in regard to what you tell me that at Limoges you need not only virtue but also talent among our Missionaries. I agree if it is a question of talent suited to the ministry that our Missionaries must fulfill.
They are called to evangelize the poor and work for the salvation of the most abandoned souls.
To fulfill this ministry appropriately, they must first of all possess virtue and then talent in accord with the needs of those whom they are to lead back to God. That is all we must require.
Letter to Bishop Buissas of Limoges, 24 October 1847, EO XIII n 118
This letter stresses the heart of the Mazenodian charism: be in relationship with God and live a virtuous life so as to be able to lead the most abandoned to that same relationship. It is the witness of our lives that evangelizes.
1847 was a year of unexpected expansion for the Oblates in France. Firstly, establishing themselves in Nancy, in north east of the country. Then came the unexpected and providential invitation to open a house for mission preachers in Limoges in the center of France, 700 kilometers from Aix en Provence.
Eugene noted in his Diary:
October 3: What thus does Divine Providence ask of us? The kindness of God! Here is a letter which the Bishop of Limoges wrote to me to offer me a superb establishment in his episcopal city. The house is ready for receiving the missionaries which he is requesting of me…
How can we refuse this gift of God? An establishment in the centre of France, where the people have such a great need for being evangelized.
But, in addition, how to establish a staff in this establishment, at the moment when we are engaged in establishing that of Nancy and when it is necessary to send so many missionaries both to Canada and to Ceylon? There is something therein about which to rack one’s brains.
Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 3 October 1847, EO XXI
To Fr. Vincens he enthused:
Take out your map and find out where Limoges is located. You will find it in the center of France, touching several good dioceses, but with others as neighbours who have more need for missions than others do: Angoulème, Bourges, etc. I prostrated myself before the Lord when I received the first letter from this good Bishop who was offering us this vast field we are to cultivate with such great advantages.
Letter to Fr Ambroise Vincens, 19 October 1847, EO X n 949
“We cannot measure Divine Providence by the yardstick of human mentality.” (A.J. Cronin)
THEY WILL BE PERSUADED THAT WE ACT ONLY BY THE INSPIRATION OF GOD FOR THE GREATER GLORY OF HIS HOLY NAME
I begin by congratulating you for being the first of our Congregation to announce the Word of God to those frozen people of the north.
The Oblate establishment in the city of Nancy was the first foundation in the north-east of France (350 kilometers from Paris and 200 to the German border). Apart from the colder temperatures, the people were not as expansive and extrovert as the southern warm and sunny Provence.
In Provence the Missionaries had developed a particular style of conducting and preaching the 3-6 week missions, with many opportunities for people to express their warm emotions.
Since these people, according to what you write me, do not wish to take advantage of our ministry, we must believe that we will finally conquer their aversion for these holy missions which accomplish such marvels elsewhere.
Eugene then gives Fr Dassy and his community some good advice on how to be patient and how to behave to win the hearts of the locals.
Do not lose courage: we will fashion them to our style. We must not precipitate anything; it will come.
Let us first establish our reputation as men of God who are not seeking the applause of the world, but only want the salvation of souls.
Let people see us as regular, fervent. charitable, devoted to all kinds of good things, kind also, polite, considerate, respectful, etc., and they will find everything we do excellent; and be persuaded that we act only by the inspiration of God, for the greater glory of His Holy Name.
Letter to Father Louis Dassy, at Nancy, 7 December 1847, EO X n 956
“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” (Francis of Assisi)
“We must make it evident that we are penetrated with what we teach and that we have begun to practice it before attempting to instruct others.” (1818 Rule).
May our Mazenodian Family “walking be preaching” wherever we are in our daily lives.
Concerning prayers, I must tell you that several of our Fathers want me to establish a daily invocation to St. Joseph, foster-father of the Holy Family, to obtain that from Heaven above he may provide for the temporal needs of the Congregation which recognizes him as its principal Patron. Not that we want to become rich, but that we may provide for the needs of those whom Providence sends us.
Letter to Fr Ambroise Vincens, Master of Novices, 7 November 1847, EO X n 953
Eugene’s name was Charles Joseph Eugene and thus Saint Joseph always held a special place in Eugene’s life and devotion. An example of this in his near-death experience in 1814:
On the morning of St. Joseph’s feast day I was close to the end; and as if my holy patron had wished to show me the effect of his powerful protection that was being invoked for me on all sides, that very evening I took a turn for the better with astonishing rapidity. The next day or the day after that there was no longer any danger.
Eugene’s letter to his father, 17 June 1814, E.O. XV n. 126
It would seem that one has to see this devotion as being associated to Eugene’s vision of the Church, bought by the blood of Jesus Christ, a vision which extended beyond the limits of the Church here on earth and led him to enter into constant communion with the Church of heaven. This was the source of his deep devotion to the saints, especially to Mary Immaculate and as Father Toussaint Rambert wrote: “immediately after the Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph held first place in his heart”. (https://www.omiworld.org/lemma/joseph-saint/)
“Saint Joseph. One cannot love Jesus and Mary without loving the Holy Patriarch.” (St. Josemaria Escriva)
Continuing his letter to the Vicar General of Nancy about the style and method of Oblate preaching, Eugene wrote:
I will modestly reply by quoting a passage of our Rules which sets down the method that our Missionaries are to follow …
It should be understood that it is in direct opposition to the spirit of our Rule to aim at elegance of style in preaching, rather than solidity of doctrine.
Too many preachers strive to be admired because of the sublimity of their eloquence and by the brilliance of their carefully prepared diction; we must follow a totally different route. We must seek only to instruct the faithful, to be attentive to the needs of the greater part of the audience, and we must not be content to break the bread of the Word of God for them, but also to chew it for them.
We should see to it that, when our sermons are over, they, instead of presuming to bestow foolish admiration on what they have not understood, will rather return to their homes instructed and well disposed, instructed, and able to repeat in their families what they have learned from our lips. (1818 Rule)
I wanted to transcribe this passage for you to commit you to always keep our Missionaries in the humility of their vocation and not expose them to do otherwise than what is recommended to them by their Rules.
Letter to M. Marguet, Vicar General of Nancy, 21 October 1847, EO XIII n 117
“A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon, must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation.” (Pope Francis)
Learn more about this prayer practice of the Mazenodian Family: