August 1, 1835 Eugene wrote to his uncle, Bishop Fortune de Mazenod who was the Bishop of Marseilles. He badly wanted to be able to return to Aix Marseilles so as to be in the thick of it with his community in serving those who were dying of cholera.
He wrote: “Judge, uncle, my sad position; banished from Marseilles at a time of such a great calamity, knowing you to be in danger and not to be sharing it with you! Would to God I had gone back from Avignon; then I would have been on the spot at the time of the outbreak and I would not have budged from there. For my sins I had to be sitting ensconced in Dauphiné and be kept in suspense until you made the judgment I should not return. Your prohibition, which was reiterated in every letter I received, put my conscience in a state of doubt…
He continued with notes of how his travels had delayed his trip home so that when he arrived in Gap his uncle’s letter stating that he must not come on to Marseilles was waiting for him. As Eugene writes it was only his vow of obedience that kept him where he was.
You can well judge if danger was a sufficient motive to stop me flying to your side and sharing your lot and that of our worthy friends! But the insistence of your injunction made and still makes a greater impression on me than the thought of a danger that you would have me picture as being inevitable on arriving from a disease-free zone. […] but I could not defend myself from the fear of going against the will of God which in this situation could be made known to me only through your means. […] That is what held me fast, the fear of sinning if I gave away my life in an act of formal disobedience to the only authority I am bound to recognize. It is still what holds me back against my will and at the cost of my rest which is disturbed with this necessity which has been imposed upon me.” (179:XV in Oblate Writings)
The word obedience echos through my heart as I reflect on this. “This fear of sinning” and “an act of formal disobedience to the only authority…” – it is this more than putting himself in bodily danger that keeps Eugene from going to Marseilles and Aix to join with his community and serving as best they could those who were dying of cholera.
I see here yet another example of ‘letting go of self’ to serve as a missionary, to follow in footsteps of the apostles and to be a ‘co-operator of Christ’. I think of the many men and women I have had the grace to know who are Oblate and who give their lives over in obedience to the will of God – letting go of wants and desires.
This obedience, it requires great trust in God and in those who God speaks through. It requires a letting go of self that I want to call holy – it is really a giving of one’s all to God. This is what I believe ultimately held Eugene back from returning to Aix and Marseilles.
How do I live in obedience to God, through my Church, through my community? Because it seems to me that when this question arises it is when I am at my weakest. What does that look like? I know for sure that I cannot do it on my own – I need support and encouragement, I need courage and strength. I need God and the grace that only God can offer.
Thankfully I am not called to do it alone. Obedience – it sounds so old fashioned but really even when it isn’t easy it’s a good value to live by.