Bishop de Mazenod refers to the Apostles more than fifty times in his writings. What is at the root of this interest? No doubt, it was his love for the Church founded upon the Apostles..
Upon his return to Aix in 1802, Eugene found that the Church in his country was in such a "deplorable situation” that he instinctively thought evangelization would have to start afresh just as it had at the beginning of Christianity. Thus, in the beginning of his 1818 Rule he poses to himself the question: "How, indeed, did our Lord Jesus Christ proceed? He chose a certain number of apostles and disciples whom he formed in piety, filling them with his spirit; and after having trained them in his school and in the practice of all virtues, he sent them to conquer the world which they soon brought under the rule of his holy laws. What must we do, in turn, to succeed in winning back for Jesus Christ so many souls who have cast off his yoke? Work seriously to become saints; walk courageously in the footsteps of so many apostles who have left us such beautiful examples in the exercise of a ministry to which we too are called; completely renounce ourselves [...] and then, full of confidence in God to enter the lists and fight to the point of extermination for the greater glory of God” . As a result, Father de Mazenod and his co-workers make their own the goal, like the Apostles: work to become saints and then to evangelize the poor.
We see here the combined influence of the French and the Sulpician school of spirituality. In his biography of M. Olier (1608-1657), M. Faillon wrote: "Adopting the view that the seminary was like the Cenacle where the Spirit of God would descend afresh to form apostolic men who would revitalize the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, it was M. Olier’s desire that all the clerics would take on the sentiments and attitudes of the holy Apostles and that they would become perpetual students of the Apostles’ virtues. He had them depicted [...] in the chapel’s main painting so that the seminary would have recourse to them as to full flowing channels of apostolic grace whose first fruits they had received for future ages, and so that they should honor them with a special devotion as being, after Jesus Christ, the foundations of the Church [...]” .
Saint John Baptist de la Salle (1651-1719), another important follower of the Berullian school of spirituality, considered Christian educators as successors of the Apostles in their ministry. He left his spiritual sons extensive spiritual texts in which he said over and over again: "Those who educate youth are cooperators with Jesus Christ in the work of saving souls [...]; what Jesus Christ told his holy Apostles he tells you yourselves as well [...]; you are the successors to the Apostles in their task of catechizing and instructing the poor [...]; thank God for the grace he has granted you in your task of sharing in the ministry of the holy Apostles and of the leading bishops and pastors of the Church [...]” .
To walk in the footsteps of the Apostles, to imitate them both in their virtues and in their ministry, there, as well, lie the key concepts of de Mazenodian spirituality . Let us take a look at his teaching on this topic and what impact his exhortations had on the Congregation.
Nota bene of the 1818 Rule in Missions, 78 (1951) p. 15-19.
Faillon, M. Olier, III, 1873, p. 81-82.
Texts quoted by DEVILLE, R., in L’école française de spiritualité, Desclée, Bibliothèque d’histoire du christianisme, no. 11, 1987, p. 129-130.
See GILBERT, Maurice, "Sur les traces des Apôtres”, in Etudes oblates, 16 (1957), p. 294.
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