As Eugene reflects on how the young Oblates gave of themselves in Aix to serve those who were dying of cholera I take a look at my own life and how I have given of myself in love.
“It is good to do justice to the devotedness of our two deacons and of those of our Oblates who were granted the opportunity of consecrating themselves to the bodily relief of the cholera patients at Aix. The young philanthropists there was so much talk about vanished one by one, and our young Oblates, whom nobody had heard of, stuck it out to the end. Even so it took a lot to overcome human nature time after time, to say nothing of the ever-present danger of taking the sickness. […] Although I’ve criticized the idea of using them in this hard ministry for the reasons that I’ve given you in my letters, that will make a fine page in the history of our Congregation; and the full story of what our Fathers did, and how they did it, can never be told. The service of the hospital at Aix, it can be said, was provided wholly by our Fathers, for only one Jesuit and two Capuchins turned up; the two latter provided only corporal services to the sick.” (533:VIII in Oblate Writings Letter To Father Tempier, at Marseilles August 16, 183 )
It is hard for me personally to relate to what those good Oblates did for the poor who were dying. Have I ever given of myself in such a way? So fully? I remember many years ago I was helping out at a soup kitchen on Christmas Day for the homeless men down on skid row. After the meal was over it was my job to give each of them a bag as they left – a plain paper sack which contained things such as socks and maybe pants, some chocolate and a pack of cigarettes. As they would approach me I noticed that not only their clothes but their skin was dirty and unwashed and that they smelled quite awful. But they smiled and thanked me as I handed them their bags and wished them a Merry Christmas. I remember being unable to help myself as I began to give each a hug and a kiss on the cheek – hard to get past the smell but as I was wishing them a Merry Christmas I wanted personally to be able to give them something, to touch each of them somehow. I wanted, I needed to be able to love them. That was a long time ago but I have never forgotten them. There for a moment I was doing for the least of my brothers what God has done for me.
I think of the lines from the Lacombe Mission Statement: “…In so doing, we risk finding ourselves among the marginalized of our community, our society and our church, taking our place among the poor and the powerless, walking with those who, like us, hold within themselves tremendous beauty, strength and gifts as well as weaknesses, brokenness and limitations, that together we may help one another experience the love of God…”
The risks and the fears are not so great to surpass now for I am older. As for the rest – it doesn’t really matter what the rest of the world does or doesn’t do – all that matters is how I love.