“Zeal and charity.[…] A missionary will, therefore, never refuse the request of those who seek to go to confession, whether during the time of missions, or outside of it.…let the missionaries be ever ready to receive sinners with inexhaustible charity. Let them encourage the penitents by their affability, and by showing a sympathetic heart. In a word, let them treat them as they themselves would wish to be treated if they were in the same unfortunate condition.” (from the 1831 retreat of St. Eugene de Mazenod – 163:XV in Oblate Writings)
In the time of Eugene, penitents were not always granted absolution immediately – on the ‘first try’. But Eugene was a man who drove change, many changes. When I was in Aix and Marseille I visited several places where Eugene said Mass and preached, where he most certainly sat and heard what could only have seemed like endless confessions. I saw those small dark confessionals and ‘tried them out’ – not the kneeling bench for the penitent but rather the small dark box with a plain plank of wood for a seat where the priest sat and ministered. I sat there for only a moment and found the space was confining and dark. This is where he and his missionaries spent hours gladly giving of themselves, dying to themselves so that others might come to know and share in that which was most prized in life. I find myself wanting to weep at this image of love. It did and still does capture the very essence all that is profound and holy love and joy. Endless love and compassion – ah – Jesus on the cross. Cooperators of Christ the Saviour.
Could there be any greater joy but to see another blossoming and turning to God, to see them opening themselves and their lives to live in the flame of His all-consuming and life-giving love. I find myself again filled with gratitude for all that God has given to me. Most specially this morning for what I discover, recognize in my relationship with this dear man, the founder of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.