On September 19, 1837 Eugene wrote to Fr. Courtes in Aix on how to give up the hospital chaplaincy at Aix.

This should be achieved at any cost because there is too great a disadvantage in going against the over-all attitude of a Society. […] We cannot pretend that this ministry belongs among the activities of our Congregation. On the contrary, the isolation of the person who is assigned to it makes it formally opposed to the spirit and letter of our Rules. Hence we must apply all our skill to ease our members’ spirit even more than their body; it is useless deluding ourselves that we can persuade them.

 So much so for the principle. Now will you succeed by the means you wish to use? I doubt it. The hospital authorities will well agree to give the chaplain of the mentally sick only a tiny recompense, but then, not only will they not take any steps to ask his Grace the Archbishop for another chaplain other than you for the hospital, on the contrary, they will do everything possible to keep you. It is directly from his Grace the Archbishop that you must obtain this betterment by making him consider the inconveniences that arise for community men who are obliged to live separated from their community. Such a thing is unheard of in any Order or Congregation...” (642:IX in Oblate Writings)

I sometimes find that as I read Eugene’s letters I jump to conclusions before I reach the end.  Or I begin to ask needless questions – again before I reach the end.  But if I can persevere (through my own inadequate tendencies) then the answer will be given.

Community – this letter speaks so directly to community life.  And for those who God has called to live in community – then we should not aid or abet anything that would lessen that community way of life or kill it outright.  I used to wonder (many years ago) if perhaps those who were running to join a community (usually of sisters, but also those who would join male congregations) – I used to wonder if they weren’t running from life, to hide from wounds or responsibilities.  I know – it was probably something that I heard or picked up somewhere or better yet that I might have seen in myself,  but still I thought those things.  Clearly I did not understand or know or recognize some of the ways of love.

Community – that which my being seemed to hunger for even as I was being nourished by it.

There is more to community than just belonging to a family or congregation.  We must somehow take part in it, be a part of it, giving and taking, living and growing.  I readily admit that I do not know how some of the missionaries who are on their own manage it.  Perhaps though it explains the immense joy I have witnessed with those very community members when they have an opportunity to come together and be together, to relax and share, eat and pray and be.

God has given me much.  Once I was able to let go of some of my preconceived fears and ideas of what community was and should be – I was able to begin becoming a part of in a most wonderful way of life.

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In September of 1837 Eugene writes to Fr. Guigues about the day-to-day running of a community and about the many small things that need to occur, including the type of hymnal for mission and how the Brothers are to be treated.

I had, however, made it clear that we do not speak so much of love in the hymns, that I insist on refrains that all the people can repeat. that the good results from community singing to the entire congregation of the faithful should never be sacrificed to the self-love of some privileged choristers..” (642:IX in Oblate Writings)

I find myself responding (vs reacting) to Eugene’s letters this morning.  I found myself responding to his notes on which hymns to use during the missions.  I do not go to church to simply sit back in a pew and not take part – to me that is like going to a play or a concert.  I go to celebrate and take part in the celebration of the Eucharist.  For me the choir is there to help lead me in the celebration – not to celebrate for me.  I do not have that great a singing voice, but to be able to join in, my part in the celebration is perhaps one of the greatest gifts of the Church.

I guess I must always remember that God does not belong exclusively to myself or just a few other people.  It means so much to me when I am not excluded from something simply because my talents are not the same as another’s, or the situation of my life, or how much I have to give, etc. etc.  And may God forgive me if I try to impose this on any others for that to me is like trying to limit God, to limit who God will forgive and who God will love.

I am always most grateful in my church when I, who am not a very good singer, is invited to join in and be a part of.  God invites us all to the celebration without measurement or judgement and to all of share  our voices in praise.

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This morning, as I read St. Eugene’s letter of September 7, 1837 to Fr. Courtès, superior of the Mission in Aix I remembered that today is the Feast of All Saints.  Eugene wrote:

L.J.C. and M.I.

This time, dear friend, it will truly be only a couple of words to tell you that we are keeping well, that the sickness is doing less havoc, even though it has not yet been conquered and that I learnt with joy from your letter that you also have been more at ease. Since I am going tomorrow on pastoral visit to Allauch, I could not have written to you and you would perhaps have been apprehensive. This is what has moved me to say a word to you today when I am so busy that I am obliged to end almost before starting.

 Good-bye, most dear friend, take care of yourself always, and love me as I love you (if that is possible).” (643:IX in Oblate Writings)

This letter speaks of love that is so incredibly beautiful to behold.  It was the kind of love that I was not always entirely sure was possible, at least for the likes of a person such as myself – until I met Saint Eugene de Mazenod.  Here was a man who had lived 200 years ago, who was a priest and who founded a great congregation – the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.  And he loved those who were most poor – those who were not loved by others and who were sometimes deemed incapable and most unworthy of loving and being loved.  St. Eugene de Mazenod who loved God with everything that he had within himself and so loved others.  They say his heart was as big as the world.  A man, a saint who I have come to love so greatly and with such gratitude.

“We must lead men to act like human beings first of all.  And then like Christians, and finally, we must help them to become saints.” 

 My secret desire from the time I was a little girl – that God love me and for me to be able to love God back with all that I was – that was to be a saint.  I wanted to be a saint.  And never even dared to dream it until I met Eugene de Mazenod, Founder of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Hearing his words was an invitation to learn more, to find out who this Saint was.  I was not altogether too sure that this was a healthy way for me to be thinking, after all he died back in 1861 and here I was trying to have a relationship with him!  But I persevered. In that I came to know him and find a way to live in a post particular way – as an Oblate Associate, sharing in his charism, his spirit.

A great saint our Saint Eugene de Mazenod.  I have come to know him well and most often call him simply ‘Eugene’ or at other times ‘dearest friend’.  His prayers, his guidance and sharing of himself and of God’s great love continue to touch me deep in my heart.  He inspires and shepherds me, like the father he has been and is to so many.  With him (and others) I have slowly come to recognize the immense love that Jesus has for each of us, but most particularly for myself.  And I have slowly come to recognize the heart that grows within me that can only reflect back the awesome love that I have been given.  Sainthood becomes not only possible but it is!

This Communion of Saints – that we each are invited to enter into and be a part of!  Awesome.  And so today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints.  Happy Feast Day.

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When Cholera reached Aix at the end of August in 1837, Eugene wrote to Fr. Courtes to have courage and to trust in God.  A short letter but very strong in direction.

Courage, my good Courtès, there is nothing more reassuring than to be where the good Lord places you. You and I, and all of us, are assured of doing the Master’s will, to whom eternity as well as time belong. Let us fear nothing; my only concern or rather my greatest concern for you is that I am far from you. The confidence the good Lord gives me will reassure you; those who surround me share it very simply. This condition is necessary for morale; consider that there is not one priest in Marseilles, whatever his constitution may be, who has experienced the least attack, even though several among them are, so to speak. breathing only the air of the cholera patients day and night.” (640:IX in Oblate Writings)

Here we have Eugene reminding his sons to have courage, to trust in God.

It makes me want to cry for he could be speaking to me right now.  Be brave he seems to say, trust in God for he has never abandoned you.  Which is true.  When I think of the violence and horror that I survived as a child growing up and then through my teens and my twenties.  It is the stuff of pure miracle that I survived. And even more, for then God brought me into the ‘living’.  God wanted for me to live and love and be loved.  In truth I had thought that to be quite beyond such as myself.

“Eleanor, I love you. I have called you by name and you are mine.”  The opening salvo when he lifted me up to embrace me with unimaginable and immense tenderness.  The beginning – as much the beginning as was my baptism.  It happened during Confession.  Imagine it – during confession.  I laugh only because Eugene always made sure that confession was there for the poor.  I was one of those very poor who had nothing left, nothing at all.  Confession.  And then he introduced me to himself on the Cross.

Mine is the story of immense love and mercy; of love and fire and life.  And it is only just beginning.  Courage and trust.  How could I ever deny my God?

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Eugene continues to write many Oblates in the business of the day, never failing to mention the toll that Cholera is taking on the city.  On August 31, 1837 he wrote to Father Guigues, superior at N.-D. de L’Osier :

I am writing to you also to tell you that till now none of our men has been affected, that is, has died, for to be infected and to die within a few hours is the same. It is useless to be reassured by one’s strong constitution, by one’s state of good health. A person is struck down at any moment without knowing why or how, and then dies without any help. Everyday there are examples of the strongest of men succumbing like the weakest. No one can be sure of the morrow.  […] They are coming to take me to the church. Good-bye. I embrace you and I bless all of you. I hope you will redouble your prayers for me.” (639:IX in Oblate Writings)

I find that my reflection from earlier in the day colours all that take in, how I take it in and how I respond.  In reading this letter from Eugene I experience a deep quiet joy simply in listening to his words.  It would seem that the emptying of myself earlier and then being filled was starkly painful at the same time as being a tender consolation and solace.

And so I find myself responding to the words above, responding to the very evident love that resides in Eugene’s heart.  He speaks of the natural weakness of man and how it is only through the grace of God’s strength that they avoid the cholera and so even whatever afflicts our world.

As Eugene says goodbye, he adds that he embraces all of his sons, and daughters.  Although they know of his love he is strong enough to state it quite clearly over and over again –knowing how important it is to hear that we are loved, how important it is for each and every one of us to recognize our need to give hugs as well as to receive them.

It was the request for the redoubling of prayer that touched me though the deepest.  For it seems that further along in our journey that we travel the more grace that we receive, along with the recognition that we truly need and desire more prayers.

God forbid that I should ever fall prey to the temptation to think that I am or could be above all of that.  Dear Eugene pray for me.

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August 25 1837 finds Eugene writing to Father Courtes in Aix to let him know that Cholera has taken possession of Marseilles.  He wrote:

You are well aware of our cruel scourge, I shall not speak of it to you. I only remind you to have prayers offered especially for our Fathers who are conducting themselves admirably as always. […] People come to them as to parishes; not a single night passes without their being obliged to get up and assist some sick person. Till now not one of those whose confessions they had heard, has escaped, but they are very much pleased with their good dispositions.” (635:IX in Oblate Writings)

It is not for their own salvation or peace that the Oblate Fathers got up in the night to go and minister to those who were sick, to those who wished to make their confessions even as they were dying.  And so they went and listened and were instrumental I am most sure in helping those poor soul pass over into a new way of living.  They met our most merciful Lord who had already died for their sins and so were free to look upon him and feel his tender embrace.  While the Fathers themselves would take their leave to return to their beds, praying I am sure that God would spare them each time around.  In this they were most surely Co-operators of Jesus on the Cross for they knew the risks of saying yes to serving as they were needed and then they lived that love out.  It would seem that some of them at least had the joy of knowing that those very persons that they tended to know peace as they died.

I remember a time when I was much younger when I went to volunteer to be with some homeless men in Vancouver.  It was Christmas day, damp and cold outside and they had come in for a turkey dinner.  At the end of the dinner the volunteers would hand each man a paper bag that contained some soap and socks and maybe a pack of cigarettes and would wish them a Merry Christmas.  I remember that they were dirty and they smelled bad and I was pretty sure there was every kind of vermin in their hair and clothes.  But it was as I looked into their eyes that my heart was touched.  I began to give each one a kiss on the cheek and hug them as I said Merry Christmas to them.  Risky for me but not so great as greeting cholera as she took the living.  It certainly was no confession or absolution as the those Oblates gave but it was what I had to give, from my heart.

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On July 26 1837 Eugene wrote a letter to his mother encouraging her to accept the decision of Louis de Boisgelin to enter the Jesuits and stating how one cannot oppose God’s call.

Nothing more natural, my dear mother, than the feelings Louis’ decision had brought on you. I understand your chagrin, and up to a point I share it; but pardon me for saying they are excessive in your case. After first allowing nature its say, one must learn to calm oneself and see things ultimately with the eyes of faith, in a supernatural way. […] To God alone belongs the right to call each one where he will and as he wills. […] Who knows! perhaps he is reproaching himself for having resisted the attraction of grace, and does not want to put off any longer obedience to the voice of the Master who is calling him.” (188:XV in Oblate Writings)

This speaks to me, I find myself here.  Like Eugene, when I first learn of something, hear of it, I find myself ‘reacting’ often very strongly – but then with prayer and reflection I come to a space of wondering why I made such a fuss about so little.  It is my way and I say that not as an excuse but rather as a fact of being.

Was it not been like that with Eugene himself?  It was most certainly with me – “having resisted the attraction of grace – I no longer want to put off obedience to the voice of the Master who is calling me”.  And like Eugene I have no qualms about calling my Beloved the ‘Master’ for he is God – the one true God – above and beyond all other gods.  Perhaps is thus for all of us as God calls to us, or at the very least for many of us.  I am grateful that I did not wait any longer.

I really don’t know how I was able to hold out against His invitation – for it was for this that He created me.

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Eugene wrote a very short letter to Fr. Tempier noting the return of Cholera to Marseilles but equally stating he was unafraid.

“Your cholera and your epidemic do not frighten me at all. I have always regretted that I did not die in 1814, when I had contacted typhoid in the prisons. I would ask for nothing better than to succumb to another attack especially if it is while fulfilling a duty of charity or of justice.” (632:IX in Oblate Writings)

I know that this was not a death wish, however Eugene did wish to be a martyr for God and so I think perhaps this is what he refers to.  At least I hope so.  For he clearly loved life and all that God offered to him.  Yet he would joyfully die while in the service of loving others.

Would I be so magnanimous?  I do not know if I would have the courage but I would like to think that I do.  God asks of me what he knows I can give and handle.  This does not mean that he loves me any less than a martyr, nor that I love him any less than another.  We are all called to something different.  For Eugene it was to found a great congregation and family, to share a way of living with all of us, to be there for his men at the start and to die in old age so that his wisdom and tenderness would be a gift to all.  I am called to live this live with the charism that is shared amongst us.  I am not sure that I have any great amount to give another – save to be a small sign to others.

I am grateful for the life that God calls me to.

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St. Eugene de Mazenod wrote a short letter to Father Tempier on the 24th of July detailing the reason he had burnt a piece of paper containing reproaches uncharitably made to a penitent.

“I shall not end my letter without telling you that the note inserted in yours meant for the penitent concerned was neither friendly nor charitable. People do not expect such hard expressions. If one knows the human heart, one should not expect to heal wounds with such a remedy. Knowing the individual’s sensitivity, I can assure you that he would have been extremely upset by it. That is why I have burnt this little piece of paper which did not at all fit the need.” (631:IX in Oblate Writings)

I know absolutely nothing about the penitent or the letter.  But I do know that there have been times when I have had thoughts that were most likely along the lines of his letter – but I did not act on them and for that I can only thank God.  I have so very often felt guilty after occasions such as that for my thoughts.  Am I doomed forever because I am quite unable to control my thoughts when God has yet to see fit to control them for me?

Whether Eugene reasoned it all out or like me decided to put such thoughts aside and let God somehow deal with the entire matter – I take comfort in knowing that he too had these types of thoughts and reactions to certain things and people.  I find for the most part if I speak aloud of having them people just ‘shush’ the comment away and I often wonder if anyone else is a weak in controlling their thoughts as I.  A relief it is indeed to know that Eugene, who founded my beloved Oblates, who have been canonized a Saint with a big “S” was prone or at least struggled as do I.  There is hope for me yet.

For that I most readily give thanks.

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On July 23, 1837 Eugene wrote a long letter to Father Tempier detailing the business of the day and mentioning his journey from Notre Dame du Laus to St-Martin-des-Pallières; reply to Father Tempier’s letter on various matters concerning Father Delestrade, Father Casimir Aubert and the inhabitants of Balagne in Corsica, then finishing by describing how Armand de Boisgelin willingly consents to his son entering the Jesuit novitiate.  There is not much of great note in it and it has not been particularly inspiring for me.

Yet as I sat and thought about it I thought that this is the stuff of the ordinary and yet I find myself taking quiet delight in all of it – perhaps because with your descriptions I can see it through your eyes.  My main thought this morning is that I am able to find delight and joy in the very ordinary of even a letter that you have written to another.  Perhaps this is a grace that God is inferring upon me and in this is what I take delight – I don’t know.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that this is where God is relentlessly leading me – to find him in the midst of the small and ordinary – in the wonders that make up our days.

I came out of the house this morning to the dark for it was still quite early.  I happened to look up at the night skies which were black and saw to my delight bright stars piercing the darkness.  It is this that I have missed during the summer months when the light of day comes very early.  Such a small thing as that to fill me with such wonder and gratitude.

There is a sense of ‘being okay’ right where I am.  I find that I am slowly recovering and getting better each day.  I continue to have sometimes trouble staying focused but – well it is what it is.  I am getting stronger.  I am not sure that I will ever be back at the life I had where I was capable of pushing myself to the nth degree, but I am capable of living and moving and breathing and that is all that matters.

There is a certain grace to my being this morning although I am quite unable to define it.  The most I am able to accomplish on that score is to recognize it and sit in the midst of it.  Indeed it is a beautiful wondrous morning.  What a gift to be able to start my day in this way.

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