for Saint Eugene de Mazenod (II)
Table of contents
(This issue of OMI Documentation presents theconcluding sections of Fr Bernard Dullier's study on "the communityfor Saint Eugene de Mazenod." See OMI Doc. #230Nov. '99for the first sections.)
We all know that on his death bed the Founderrecommended charity among usin our communities: "Among yourselvespractice charitycharitycharity –andoutsidezeal for the salvationof souls." (90)
Here again the apostolic community is themodel. The Apostlesformed by Christ are united by the bond of charity.The apostles John and Paul both insist on this dimension: "Love oneanother. Indeedeven as I have loved youlove one another" saysJohn (Jn 1334). And Paul writes: "Let your love be genuine.... Loveone another with brotherly affection" (Rm 129).
It is therefore the apostolic nature ofthe Missionaries of Provence community that entails the bond of charityas an indispensable corollary. This idea was present from the outset inthe proposal Eugene presented to Abbé Aubert:"Free butunited by bonds of the most tender charity... we will live apostolically."(91)
It shows through in all of the Founder'scorrespondence. That is why the brief note he wrote during the missionat Grans is considered one of the more important texts on the subject:"Between us missionaries... we are what we ought to bethat is tosaywe have but one heartone soulone thought. It is admirable! Ourconsolationslike our hardshipsare unequaled." (92)Writing to the young Fr Courtès in 1821 he speaks about "thatcordialitythat fusion which ought to exist amongst all the members ofour Societywho ought to have but one heart and one soul."(93) Two years laterhe writes to the novice Guibert: "Weform a familyof which all who compose it wish only to have one heartand one soul."(94)
This must be trueeven when the membersof the community are separated for a short while:"even were weto be dispersedwe would not be less united."(95)
In the Rule of 1826 he repeats word forword what he had written on this topic in the Rule of 1818joining itto the need for the missionaries to imitate Christ: "The missionariesoughtas far as human nature allowsto imitate in everything the exampleof Our Lord Jesus Christthe chief Institutor of our Societyand thatof his apostlesour first fathers.
"Imitating these illustrious modelsthe missionaries will give one portion of their life to prayerrecollectionand contemplationwhile living together in the seclusion of God's house.The other portion of their life they will zealously devote to the worksof the exterior ministry.... Whether out on the missions or at hometheirchief concern will always be to make progress in the way of perfection....They will be united in the bonds of close fraternal charity." (96)
The brotherswho in many other Congregationswere treated as "second class" membersare for Eugene de Mazenodalso included by this bond of charity that unites the Oblate family. Inthe original handwritten manu of the 1826 Rulethe articles onthe lay brothers are in Fr Tempier's handwriting except those dealingwith their participation in the life of the family. These are in the Founder'shand. "The lay brothers must not be regarded in the Society asdomestic servants. They are members of the Institute responsible for manualwork in the houseeven as others have been given the care of higher thingsfor the common good of the Society and of the Church." (97)Hence "they will take their meals in the refectory and will assistat all the exercises compatible with their duties..." togetherwith the other members of the community.
This must be the steadfast characteristicof the Oblate communityprecisely because it is an apostolic community.The novices are to be formed in this spirit: "They must find withus a true familybrothers and a father." (98)That is how young Oblates are to be welcomed into their new community:"What I want is that you should give these young men all yourattention. It is a question of giving them a formationof passing onto them our spiritof inspiring in them that love of the family withoutwhich they will not achieve anything of value."(99)
This was true for those he knew well andwho were particularly dear to himlike Fr Semeria to whom he wrote thefollowing when the latter was seriously ill: "Ohmy dear childrenhow I love you all! You deserve all the love I have for you; you are unitedamong yourselvesyou are united with me. That is what the Lord demandsof us since he is the principle and the bond of our union." (100)
It was also true for those Oblates whomhe did not know personallyand who had joined the familylike Bro Baret:"I do not know you personallybut ... it is enough for me toknow that the Saviour Jesus Christour common Masterhas received yourvowshas adopted you and has marked you with the seal that makes us whatwe areso that we are united in the most intimate bonds of charity andthat I am bound to you forever as you are to me." (101)
It is of course true when all is well bothinside and outside the community. But it is even more true in time ofdifficulties. In such caseswhat else but charity can let the communitysee things through? He writes in this vein to the Aix community as itfaces opposition from the parish priests of the city: "Let usbe united in the love of Jesus Christin our common perfectionlet uslove each other as we have done up to nowlet usin a wordbe at oneand they [the parish priests] will die of vexation and rage."(102)
It is true when the Oblate is alonephysicallyseparated from the community. That is when he must remember the bond ofcharity that unites him with his brothers throughout the world and letshim share in their community. "It is a consolation to think thatat the ends of the earthwhere you areyou are living the same lifeas your brothers scattered over the entire surface of the globe and arein intimate communion with them. You are on the opposite side of the worldfrom Ceylon. Wellyou have brothers there in union with youworkingfor you just as you are working for them.... We raise up to heaven thesame prayerswe are inspired by the same feelings. You are present tous just as if we could see you." (103)
It is true also during oraison. When theOblate community is gathered around Christits centereven if it isgeographically dispersed throughout the worldit finds itself unitedin charity. "This is the only way of reducing distancesto beat the same moment in our Lord's presenceit is so to speak like beingside by side. We do not see each otherbut we sense each other's presencehear each otherlose ourselves in one and the same center."(104)
Was it not this bond of charity that helpedhim bear up under the many hardships encountered in his travels or onthe different missions he had to fulfill outside the Congregation? "VicarGeneral of Marseilles by necessity and under compulsionI do not ceasefor that reason to be the head or rather the father of this Society allof whose members are models of every virtue; I belong above all and principallyto this family for which the Lord has given me so much love and whichis for me constantly and so justly an object of admiration.... How happyI count myself to be one of them! ... I will therefore always live inthe most intimate union with them."(105)
It is so important that he does not hesitateto reprimand even those sons closest to him. Confronted with the disordersand lack of charity that he witnessed when visiting Notre Dame du Lausin 1830he does not hesitate to berate his dear Guibert: "I amstill grievedmy dear friendby what I have seen at Notre Dame du Laus.May it be God's will that my exhortations have produced the effect thatI have the right to expect.... We must be filled with our spirit and liveonly by it. This is self-evident and need not be explained. Just as wehave in a Society a common dresscommon Rulesso must there be a commonspirit which vivifies this particular body.... Those who have not graspedthisthrough not having made a good novitiateare among us like dislocatedmembers. They make the whole body suffer and are not themselves at ease.It is indispensable that they put themselves back in their place. Charityis the pivot on which our whole existence turns. That which we ought tohave for God... has vowed us to his glory by all manner of sacrificewere it even to be our lives.... Charity for our neighbor... we practiceit first amongst ourselves by loving each other as brothersby consideringour Society only as the most united family which exists on the earthby rejoicing over the virtuesthe talents and other qualities that ourbrothers possess just as much as if we possessed them ourselvesin bearingwith mildness the little faults that some have not yet overcomecoveringthem over with the mantle of the most sincere charity." (106)
Finallythis community which is to bebuilt up in the bond of charityis the only provision he gives to themissionaries he sends out on the grand adventure in Ceylon. "Livein the most perfect union.... Should any cloud appear... love one anothershow due deference to one another and you will avoid this unhappinessGod will bless all your undertakingsand you will be rewarded even inthis life as you await your coronation in heaven." (107)
It was clearly for the mission that Eugenede Mazenod gathered some priests in the former Carmelite house in Aix.Much like the Apostles who were gathered to be sent out. This explainswhy the concrete form of community life evolved along with the differentmissions proposed to the Founder.
I - Communityand the mission in France
Likewisewhen they went for a missionin the towns and villagesthe Missionaries of Provence never did so asindividuals. They were always a group and thus could more easily continuecommunity life. The Rule of 1818 as well as that of 1826 insist on thispoint: "If it is possiblethe missionaries will be lodged inthe same house; at least they will take their meals together."(108) They are to have the same communityexercises as they have at home and "every Saturdaythe missionexercises will be canceled. That day will be consecrated especially tothe spiritual conferencewhich will take place in the superior's quarters.All the missionaries must be presentand no one else may be admitted."(109) All general visitsand even visits to the sick are tobe made two by two.(110) The community sendsthem and blesses them before they leave(111)and when the mission is over"the missionaries will leave withoutdelay the area that they have evangelized" (112) to return as soon as possible to the community.
During the missionthose remaining behindare to pray for the workers because "if you do not pray for uswe are in a bad fix" (113) writesDe Mazenod to the community in Aix during the mission at Grans. Thoseon mission are to keep the brethren at home informed of the mission'sprogress.
The community as such is meant to be asign of the missionthat should be perceptible even to strangers. Speakingof what the diocesan priests were saying about the community at NotreDame de l'Osierthe Founder writes: "People vie with one anotherin their admiration for the regularitygood orderpiety that reign inthe house.... Everything edifies themthe silence in the housethe punctualityat all the exercisesthe Officethe small refectory penances. So bealways what you ought to be and never let the presence of strangers bringyou to make changes in anything." (114)
Even if the work is often exhaustingcommunitylife must not be affectedbecause this would compromise the mission.De Mazenod even puts this caution in the Rules: "Let us feel sorrythat the duties laid on us by charity remove us so frequentlyand forsuch long periodsfrom the community in which regular discipline reignsand for a great part of our life deprive usto our regretof its wholesomeinfluence." (115)
It is in the context of community thatthe missionaries' zeal can be measured: "Beware of driving yourselfas if it were a challenge. In God's namego back to the bosom of thecommunity to renew yourselves in the spirit of your vocationotherwiseit is all up with our missionariesthey will soon be no more than soundingcymbals." (116)
Having stated the principle howeveritoften happened that they had to make do as best they could with the meansavailable. This was the case when l'Osier was founded. "We knowthat it was not possible to implement all the points prescribed by theRule when only one of us had to take possession of the houseand wasjoined later by another. But today now that the community has four membersthat there is a superiortwo assessors have been namedand that we willsoon be able to strengthen the family with one and maybe even two moresubjectsobservance of the Rule must be strictly maintained for everyone'sedification."
What was easy in the fervor of the beginningbecame more difficult as the group spread and distanced itself from thebeginnings. With the multiplication of communities there was a strongtendencyespecially for the communities that were the furthest from themother houseto put missionary zeal before everything else. So"letthe superior not forget that he must never send a missionary out aloneon mission. It will therefore be only rarelyand when really there isno other solutionthat he will dispense from this important rule."(118) Note that the never has become sometimes!
The risk can come from the zeal of themissionaries who "run in all directions"thus endangering boththe community and the success of their apostolate. Fr Honorat seems tohave been quite inclined to thisand even Fr Albini sometimes severelytested the Vico community by his very frequent apostolic absences.
But the danger more often came from somebishops who did not understand the reluctance to let the Oblates leavetheir communities. In such casesthe Founder's decisions were beyondappeal: if community life cannot be respectedlet the community be closed:"I have written to his lordship the Bishop of Limoges. It wasa measured letter to make him understand that it is impossible to continuea service which takes our missionaries away from their vocation. Livingin community is essential to their style of life. I explain the situationto him by quoting from the very text of our Rules." (119)Throughout his letters we find similar remarks to the communities at CléryNancyand even once to the community at Vico. He often complains in thisvein to Fr Courtès who tended to give in too much to the requestof the Archbishop of Aix to send the Fathers out alone."All theseoccasional sermons mean nothing. That is not our ministry." (120)
With the departure abroad the more important difficultiesappear and the Founder must insist on the strong bonds between communityand mission.
When sending Fr Honorat to Canada in 1841he insiststhat he form communities. "It is not right to leave Bro. Laverlochèreon his own. And in this connectionI want to insist again that our Fathersbe not sent alone into the missions."(121)
He is very impatient when Fr Honorat sends one Fatheralone to Bytown wherefor the mission to be successfula community shouldhave been established. "I am hopping mad to find myself 2000 leaguesfrom you and unable to make my voice reach you in less than two months....This was not something tentative to be tried. You had to go there withthe firm resolve to overcome all obstaclesgo there to staytake rootthere! What more beautiful mission than this ministry in the lumber campsmission to the Savagesestablishment in a city with a future.... Geta grip on yourselves and establish the community there properly."(122)
At the mostDe Mazenod accepts a community of twobut only at the startwhile waiting for the arrival of other missionaries.They must always keep the growth of the community in sight: "Youtell me that the Jesuits make establishments with two persons. I do notthink our Rules forbid this when one cannot do otherwise. Certainly Iprefer that communities be better organizedbut I will never lay blameifin order to take advantage of a favorable opportunitywe begin withsuch a small number." (123)
But missionaries alone? Never! He does not hesitateto stop the mission at Rivière Rouge because the Fathers are alonefor too long a time. "Our two Fathers... are going to be separatedfor a year. It is not my intention that this be so. I cannot consent thatour Fathers be alone on any kind of mission. Any kind of good (envisaged)must be subordinate to that (policy). Explain this to their Lordshipsthe Bishops and take this for the rule of your administration." (124)
The same holds for the mission in San Antonio. "Ido not want you to put a Father alone in this new ministry. There mustalways be two togetherand they must follow the Rule exactly. Otherwisea priest alone would grow stale and lose the habit of religious life.That is why I insist that they have frequent contact with their communitythat they go there to make their monthly retreat and for direction withthe Superior." (125)
What is true for Canada is equally so for Ceylon. Hisfirst letter to Fr Semeria is essentially about the community that hemust at all costs establish and maintaineven if this should be a sourceof conflict with the bishop. "What you must do is to insist withthe Vicar Apostolic that he never separate you. You must not give wayto contrary arguments that may be put to you. You must make it known thatthis would do violence to your Institutethat you must absolutely gotwo by two." (126)
But the Vicar Apostolic pays no heed to these arguments.Short of priestshe takes no notice whatsoever of the Oblates' communityplans and uses them in various posts among the "older establishedChristians" dispersed like the other priests of his Vicariate.
Herethe Founder reacts differently than he did inCanada. The stakes in the mission seem so important to him that thereis no question of packing up and leaving. He simply tries to save whathe can of community life. "Although you are scatteredI wouldlike nonetheless to constitute you as a regular community now that thereare enough of you to do so." (127)
In factthe Oblates could not establish a true communityuntil 1856 when their SuperiorEtienne Semeriabecame coadjutor bishop.Once freed of the Vicar Apostolic's supervisionSemeria's first concernwas to establish real communities and to send the missionaries out inteams. Success was immediate and the new bishop and superior could finallytriumphantly write: "Grace is powerfully at work everywhere inthe hearts of these poor people. We have the joy of seeing them renewedchanged and sanctified." (128)
We are forced to admit that the Founder's judgment wasrightthe success of his sons' mission in Ceylon coincided with the establishmentof real community life.
The failure of the Algeria mission illustrates whatwe have just discovered with regard to the mission in Ceylon. Even thoughthere were other problems – notably bad financial administration– it was the impossibility of having real community life that provokedthe abrupt end of the mission in that country.
Eight Oblates left for Algeria in 1849five to Blidahand three to Philippeville. They had been assured that the two communitiescould live according to the manner of their Institute.
But eighteen months laterJune 201850the Founderhad to close down the mission and call back his sons. The motives of thisdecision are clearly presented in his Diary: "We recognized thatthe ministry entrusted to our missionaries in Algeria is not what we shouldbe doing. The bishop(129) has a way of seeingthings that is not in keeping with our spirit. He had committed himselfto give them a position in Blidah suited to men who are essentially communitymen. He reneged on this decision and reduced our Fathers to being nothingmore than mere parish priests in small villages." (130)
As in Ceylonhe sees that only community life can permitthem to act as missionaries. Without it they would become diocesan priestsacting "as parish priests of old Christians!" (131)Sent out alonethe Oblates lose that which is specific totheir apostolic vocation.
Having learnt from the difficulties of the mission inCeylon and the failure in AlgeriaEugene de Mazenod insists that themission in Natal start out differently. In order to avoid problems withthe bishopsfrom the outset the mission is set up as an Apostolic Vicariateunder the responsibility of an Oblate. So as to avoid the mistakes ofone who is a novice in mission mattershe chooses as superior of thenew foundationJean-François Allardan already experienced missionaryfrom Canada. De Mazenod gives him precise ordersinsisting among otherthings on the community dimension of the mission that is being entrustedto him: "You can count on some excellent companions who will beyour consolation and who will help you a good deal in doing the good youare called to do in this fine mission."
Despite all the precautionshere again the beginningwas very difficult. Founded on March 151852the mission in southernAfrica would not begin to see any success until February of 1862 withthe settlement among the Basutos. At the timethe mission had nine Oblatesin three places. They were Fr Jean Sabonwho set himself up alone amonga group of Indians in Durban; Fr Barretwho was discouraged and dreamtonly of returning to France; Fr Logegaraywho "had to undo allour hopes for him and present you with the scandal of the extravagancesof his inexcusable conduct."(133) Finallythere was Fr Dunne who did as he pleased. Only Bro Bernard and Fr Gérardwere solid.
For Eugene de Mazenodthe causes lie in the failureof community life. The blame falls on Bishop Allardnot in his role asbishopbut as superior. "Up until now your mission is a failedmission.... I thinkto speak truthfullythat you are not fulfillingyour mission.... What is particularly disturbing is that you have so manycomplaints about those working with you. Examine your conscience a littlebefore God and see whether you ought not to make some changes in yourrelations with them and in the way you are running things. Such disaffectionis unheard of. Everyone admires your virtuesbut you lack something thatwould make people go beyond admiration and feel that attachment whichfacilitates obedience and docility. It is horrifying to see the numberof defections in your Vicariate. Brother CompinFather DunneLogegarayand what can I say about Father Sabon.... Now you are not very happy withFather Barret.... All this is very disturbing and one trembles when itis a question of sending someone to you.... We make the weak despair whenwe have only reproaches to offer them." (134)
The problems arose from within the Oblate communityitself. And the failure of the mission flowed from the failure of communitylife.
It is without a doubt these often difficult experiencesthat led Eugene de Mazenod to add an important appendix to the new editionof the Rules drawn up by the Chapter of 1850 and approved by Rome in 1853:"The Instruction on foreign missions."
Community life has an important place in this text.It can take on varied formsincluding some that the Founder had refusedtwenty years earlier. But no matter what form it takesit must remainat the core of being a missionary Oblate. It is seen as linked to themission and for the mission: "In order to provide the help ofreligion to distant familiesit might sometimes be necessary to establishMissions where one of our Fathers will remain alone for a certain periodof time. In such a casethe Vicar of Missions will see to it that a laybrother joins the one appointed to this post. He will also see that apriest companion be given him as soon as possible." (135)The text continues: "To whatever point of the globe our missionariesmay have been sentthey will always bear in mind that they must be inflamedwith a desire of perfection so much the more ardentthe longer they areseparated against their will from the company of their brothersand thatthey must be faithful to the duties of their religious state and to theexercises of Christian pietythe more frequently they are deprived ofthe benefits of community life." (136)
If we look back over the history of community life inour Congregationwe see it go through a certain number of stages duringthe Founder's life.
After having resolutely made a choice for communityand set up a model quite close to the monastic modelour Founder letthis model evolve over the years and according to the needs. Althoughcommunityconsidered as apostolic communitywas always a fundamentalsign of our charism for himthe concrete model of community changed betweenthe time of the beginning in the old Carmelite convent in Aix in January1816 and the death of Eugene de Mazenod on May 211861.
In 1819with the acceptance of the shrine at NotreDame du Laushe abandoned the monolithic style of only one communityand accepted a plurality of communities governed by the same Rule andfilled with the same spiritbut living differently since the missionsorganized from the city of Aix and those organized from the country shrineof Laus were different.
In 1830the increase in the number of houses throughoutsouthern France led to smaller communitiesoften of only three members.They no longer resembled much the model of the beginning. But the spiritof the Rulewhich reminded them of their identity as apostolic communitieswas always there to maintain the founding intuition.
Looking through the Founder's Diary for 1837 we seemuch diversity between the eight communities that made up the Congregationat the time. The big stable community at the mother house in Aix-en-Provencein no way resembles the split community at Vico where only Fr Telmon keepsthe house going while Frs Albini and Rolleri are constantly away. Notto mention the community of the Calvaire which truly "changeswith the wind."
In 1844 in Canadathe relatively well constituted communityat Montreal did not resemble the community of the Fathers dispersed inthe Saguenay area.
In Ceylon in 1848despite the texts of the Ruleitwould be necessary to invent another form of community for the missionarieswho were alone and separated from each other by hundreds of kilometers.And what about Texas and South Africa?
What about the community at the Major Seminary of Marseilleswhere two Oblates lived in community with four diocesan priests?
What about the community at Nancy that would see thetwo Oblates missioned to Notre Dame de Sion attached to their communityas full members?
The list is hardly completebut it is enough to permitus to understand that beyond the apparent rigidity of the textsEugenede Mazenod spent his time inventingsometimes with difficultynew formsof community to answer the needs of the mission.
Therefore the Founder did not insist on the form andhis letters show us well that he was daring enough to introduce new ideas.Neverthelesshe would not accept that the basis of community be calledinto question. Community is essential to the charism of the MissionaryOblates. In order to continue the apostolic missioncommunity is indispensableand essential to the Oblate beingbecause it signifies in a quasi-sacramentalsensethe initiative of Christ instituting the Twelve for the glory ofhis Father and the salvation of the world.
With this legacythe question for us today is not tosee whether this or that form of living is conform to the mind of theFounder. It is up to us to see whether our way of living is based on Christ'sapostolic initiative and responds to the mission of Christ who is theone sent by the Father for his brothers and sisters. It is not a questionof seeing whether we "regularly" fulfill the "communityexercises"but whether what we do as a community does indeed helpto sanctify usthat ismake us mirrors of the tenderness and mercy ofGod for those to whom we are sent. It is not a question of whether ourcommunity makes us more efficient for the missionbut whether our communityis mission. In shortto take up again something that is like a refrainunder St. Eugene's penis it indeed "an apostolic community"with all its overtonesthat is the basis and end of our community life?
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