Eugene wrote a long letter to Fr. Guigues at Notre Dame de l’Osier at the beginning of August 1835 detailing quite graphically what the Oblate priests and brothers were doing in Marseilles and Aix to minister to those who were dying from cholera. Fr. Tempier had been very definite with St. Eugene about remaining where he was so as to not fall to becoming a victim of the epidemic.
He wrote: “I ought not to have exposed the lives of those who are entrusted to me and who are furthermore the only hope for the Congregation’s survival, to whose conservation I must attend as I am its father; this service could have been given by paid help. In the case of priests and even deacons, the situation is different. May God bless their zeal and reward their charity! They are at their post. I never cease to pray and to have others pray for their safety, but I envy them a lot and I don’t insult them by feeling sorry for them. How happy they are to be able to sacrifice themselves for their brothers whom they are sanctifying, saving, placing in glory, at the price of their lives, like our Divine Master who died for the salvation of men! How admirable they are! But also, how fortunate, these dear martyrs of love! What a beautiful page in the history of our Congregation! But the truth is my words are inadequate to express what they are doing.” (529:VIII in Oblate Writings)
Of course I look at this and wonder if I could ever, would ever be like those early Oblates – ready to give of themselves, their very lives in tending to the poor – those who were dying from cholera. I wonder if they were thinking that they were sacrificing themselves while not being blind to the danger and discomfort they were putting themselves in. I wonder if it wasn’t that their love was so great as to see beyond the danger and discomfort so as to care for and love those who were sick and dying, who needed to be helped and touched by another. “What so ever you do for the least of my brothers, this you do unto me” comes to mind. When another is in trouble and we truly care about and for them we do not stop to think of what glory this will bring us, but rather how it will ease the suffering of those who are sick. I think if I was just doing it so that God would see how good I was I would not do it half so well or with half so much love.
I would like to think that should something like an epidemic arise that I would be like those early Oblates. But it is unlikely in these times and here in North America that I will have to deal with that. I wonder how many times I see and miss the opportunity in smaller but very real ways right here at home every day?