[Received May 15, 1823.]
My very dear Brother Director,
If you can get 120 francs for the stocking machine,46 sell it. I don’t know what Chavanne can manage to earn with his loom to reduce the costs of his room and board. So if he is skillful with the shuttle and if the buyer is willing to reimburse the house for the one-third reduction requested for his room and board, then I think you can safely accept. Otherwise, I don’t see that we can go along with it. Teach the theory to him if you can. As for the frock coat, since you were only two in the house actually wearing it, and there has been a sufficient trial period, I don’t see any problem in your granting permission to wear it, but that is all up to you. However, be sure to ask the advice of those who are wearing it. It is possible that after you have made your public vows, something may be added to the habit. I am waiting for word from the bishop of Le Puy47 about that.
You tell me that you are not without anguish as you see that things are going badly. My dear friend, badly is hardly the word when there is such a depth of good at the heart of your work. It is true that things are not perfect. But the Lord alone is perfect, and even his works, however glorious, lie always on the edge of the abyss. God made the world in six days to teach us that it takes time to achieve anything worthwhile, and that things never go as well in their infancy as when they attain full maturity. How many spring blossoms produce no fruit at all! The sower must content himself with the harvest which God sends him, even if it is not as good as the one he had hoped for, and even if it means that he has to content himself with the barest essentials.
“But the brothers do not attend to their duties satisfactorily.” – Certainly they must be challenged repeatedly in this regard; but our desire for the better must not blind us to the good. They yearn to belong to God, and that is already a good thing. So many people in the world do not possess this desire.
“They are neglectful in observing the rule.” – But they practice what is essential; their morals are pure, their faith is vibrant, their selflessness total. These things are rarer than you think. As for the rest, it is up to you to engender it, to cause it to be loved as much by your own zealous practice as by holy and salutary counsels.
“But the brothers do not accomplish their duties obediently.” – Just do what Saint Paul counseled Timothy: correct, convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience and instruction. Man is like a poor old clock that must be rewound each day, but oh so gently.
“But I do not think that I am the right man to be director of this providence.” – My dear friend, notwithstanding your limitations, if I knew of anyone more suited to the job than you, I would have called you to Monistrol to give you a lighter burden. But since Providence has not, as yet, sent us that uncommon individual, allow me to tell you that though you cannot be said to soar with the eagles, it would very difficult indeed for me to find anyone to replace you. Men with all of the qualities needed to run such a big institution are hard to find. If Providence sends me a few good workers for our machines so that you can in some measure be relieved from the burden of temporalities then, thanks to their obedience, you will instill even greater activity, and the work will go as well as possible. How could I possibly be displeased with you for your love of the rule, your religious spirit, your accountability, your frugality. You have your faults, but who hasn’t?
“But good is not being done.” – There is more good being done than you imagine. Little by little the brothers are bettering themselves, increasing in numbers, forming themselves. The house in Lyon is a support for the brothers in Monistrol as those in Monistrol will be one for those in Lyon. Meanwhile the membership of the congregation is increasing and, very soon, before God, thanks to your singular perseverance and commitment, you will have earned your heavenly reward for having set in place the cornerstone of our foundation and for having been one of its principal bonds. You have been and continue to be an example to many, just as your discouragement would have an equally fatal effect on the vocations of those whom you have already formed to a certain degree.
What wonderful services are being provided us by Brothers Augustin, Bernard, Barthelemy, Claude, etc! And what services to the Church will be offered by those whom we send you to form in the spirit of religion. Do not limit your sights to the narrow confines of our house in Lyon where the snowball will soon become a mountain. Don’t forget the young men whom you are training and who in the world will forget neither the lessons you have taught them, nor your own virtue, though right now they might not seem to be all that you would like them to be. They are retaining more than you think. Should they ever become fathers, ah! how much better will they be able to bring up their children! Good is constantly being done thanks to your ministry, in spite of what you might say.
“Perhaps I think myself more blameworthy than I really am.” – My very dear friend, are you not doing your best? If you thought you could still do better, wouldn’t you do so? How can anyone be blameworthy if he is doing the best he can as best he knows how? Alas! Without doubt, there will always be some uncertainty to keep you on the alert, to keep you from complacency or indifference, but this concern must not discourage you or leave you faint-hearted. When a person is doing all that he can, he is doing all that he must.
So as things stand, there is no urgent reason, at least for the moment, for you to be relieved of your burden. What is urgent is that you do what the good Lord is asking of you, that is to carry on with the work he led you to begin. It was neither pride, nor self-interest, nor gratification which motivated you in the first place, nor is it these things which require your perseverance. Rather, it is the desire to be useful to your neighbor, to the Church, to atone for your sins. Alas! what else is necessary? If you possess before God only this desire, without being able to offer Him any success, you would be a great saint.
How many are there in the contemplative life who have longed to be able to save souls! God rewarded them for it. On the other hand there are those in the active life who have aspired to taste the sweetness of the contemplative life, when perhaps what they really wanted was to satisfy their natural inclination for peace and quiet which has no merit in the eyes of God. Here below, man will always have struggles. If these are not from without, then certainly they will come from within. Struggles outside ourselves often serve to distract us, preventing us from realizing what we would have suffered if we had been left alone to fight the temptations of solitude. The Holy Spirit tells us: “Woe to the man who is alone!” to teach us that even in solitude there are great dangers.
Moreover, my dear and beloved brother, imagine the King of France learning with pleasure news of his armies fighting in Spain.48 Would he not prefer to see them there, in spite of their exhaustion, rather than to see them idly singing his praises at his court? Well then, our God needs soldiers who can endure the weariness of the day to day even more than he needs contemplatives who only honor him with their lips! Sword in hand, zeal for his glory, a desire to save, to teach, to edify one’s neighbor, this is what our God loves above all. “Those who teach others will shine as stars for all eternity,” says the prophet.
You are suffering: well then! all the better! You are walking in the footsteps of the apostles who had to undergo much adversity, of the martyrs who shed their blood, and of Jesus Christ who entered into his glory amid denials, humiliations, and pain. Your brothers do not treat you any more harshly than the apostles did our Lord. You are less persecuted by the world than he was persecuted by the scribes and the Pharisees. Your pupils are far more amenable than were the Jews. Despite all his miracles, he had but twelve apostles, and even one of them betrayed him. Besides, very soon there will be more than twelve brothers who have walked in your footsteps and who will form a part of your crown.
Yes, you are where the Good Lord wishes you to be. You can start having doubts as to whether he wants you there only when you are the last brother remaining in the congregation and all the others will have lost both the spirit of God and their vocation. But so long as there are many, so long as new members keep joining, you must believe that your vocation bears the seal of divine Providence. That is where you belong, not merely because of the promise you made to me. For a soul as loyal as yours, such a word of honor remains sacred forever.
It is possible to overcome the rest without perishing. I shall only demand from you things that are fair and within your grasp. Always open your heart to me, and God willing, I shall be able to counsel you. When the burden has become so heavy that your shoulders can no longer bear it either physically or emotionally, I shall not allow you to be crushed. We shall both one day enjoy some consolation for our sacrifices and some respite as well. All glory be to Jesus! All glory to his cross!
Our good brother Antoine has his pains, I see! Let him rest in the Lord as much as he needs. Yes, he has his pains, and you have yours. Who deserves them more? I haven’t the least idea; but may the loving and holy will of God be done above all!
Make Brother Fregier give in. But as much as you can in your dealings with everyone, show force without bitterness or inflexibility and goodness without weakness. Trust and a bit of fear, these are the two reins with which to drive your cart. Let us never ask of the men what is beyond them. Let us draw out all of the good within them as much as possible and be content with that.
Train Mr. Delon49 to teach handwriting; we shall send him to Yssingeaux50 for All Saints Day if he is able to manage that assignment.
The Honorable Brother Borgia,
director of the brothers of Pieux-Secours,
3 Montée de la Butte, Lyon.
46 In the accounting with Mr. Dufour cited in note 35, the stocking machine was valued at 296 francs and the thread-making machine at 190 francs, 10 centimes.
47 His Grace Louis-Joseph-Maurice de Bonald (1787-1870), son of Count de Bonald, writer and legitimiste philosopher, ardent defender of the monarchy and of the Church. A member of the Chapel Imperial from his earliest years of priesthood, the Reverend de Bonald accompanied Cardinal Fesch during many missions. Appointed bishop of Le Puy in 1823, he initially supported Father Coindre in his foundations: sisters, brothers, the school at Monistrol. He took another stance regarding the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus because of matters of diocesan administration. Appointed archbishop of Lyon at the end of 1839, he was made cardinal in 1841 and, in this latter appointment, he maintained his interest in the congregation, more particularly in Pieux-Secours.
48 The congress of Verona in 1822 authorized France to lend support to the King of Spain, Ferdinand VII, a distant relative of Louis XVIII, embroiled in a conflict with the liberals. This “Spanish expeditionary force” led by the Duc d'Angoulême in 1823 ended with the taking of the fortress of Trocadero, near Cadix, on August 31, 1823.
49 Brother Eugène.
50 An establishment due to be opened at All Saints Day in 1823; in fact, the congregation was never to have a house in this town.
The God Who Won’t Let Go
by Peter van Breemen, S.J.
"I have chosen You to Go Out and to Bear Fruit "
The crowning of forgiveness is undoubtedly that the person forgiven receives once more the full confidence of the one forgiving and is entrusted again with a mission. Perhaps we can interpret the word “re-mission” this way. Mission is always a matter of trust. In the Hebrew language there is a word shaliach which means a person who is sent. Mission plays an important and very lovely role in the Jewish culture, and therefore also in scripture.
Chapter twenty-four of the book of Genesis relates how Abraham “in his ripe old age” sends his senior servant Eliezer to Haran in order to find a wife for his only son, Isaac. It is a magnificent chapter. The dignified behavior of Eliezer is any thing but slavish. He chooses from his master’s possessions ten camels, all kinds of silver and golden presents and fine clothing. He needs these for his mission. Then he sets out for Haran where his master, Abraham still has relatives. There, too, his behavior is courtly and noble, and at the same time full of respect for his master. He never loses sight of the intention of Abraham. When dinner is ready, he does not go to the table until he has explained the message of his master, because he knows that Abraham would do likewise. He graciously combines great conviction and vigor with a clear harmony with the intentions of his master. Not even in his dreams can any thought surface that would sway him from his mission. Mission is a matter of trust, and that trust he will not break. He comes as an emissary of Abraham; this shapes his whole demeanor.
Eliezer comes to look for a wife for his master’s only son. This is a good example of a mission in everyday life. Jewish culture is replete with them. Of course, specifically religious missions also abound. The rabbis use a maxim which says, “A shaliach is like the person who sends him,” like an alter ego. The essence of the mission is the relationship of trust between the one who sends and the one who is sent. These two persons must be in harmony. It is not important whether the mission implies a long or a short trip, or perhaps no trip at all. Mission can very well take place in stabilitas loci, the stability to their abbey to which Benedictines bind themselves. In present day English, mission often has the connotation of an impressive achievement which enables one to say at the end proudly, “mission accomplished.” That is not necessarily an element of the biblical concept of mission; it need not be something great. Far more important is the trust which the master grants his shaliach and which the latter seeks to honor at all costs.
We could describe mission as representation. The shaliach re-presents his or her master. If we take the word representation in its most literal, rich meaning, it might be the best definition of mission. The shaliach renders the master present and active. In the shaliach the master speaks and operates. What the shaliach agrees upon, promises, or signs, binds the master not only morally, but also legally. The master gives his shaliach, so to speak, a blank check, and binds himself in advance to the decisions the shaliach will make. So much trust is included in the mission.
This presupposes on the part of the shaliach an indispensable unselfishness. It would be absurd to send a selfish person on a mission. Only self-forgetful persons can represent their master. In the shaliach there must be room for the person who sends her. Perhaps it is even more accurate to say, whoever accepts a mission needs to be transparent. The master should shine through her. This requires a great clarity so that the master is seen through the emissary.
The older I become, the more important transparency has become for me. Words can sometimes be rather cheap. The motives for our deeds can be mixed, unknown even to ourselves. Transparency, however; is unambiguous. The light shines through. This is what we need.
Jesus was a completely transparent person. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:9). The Father shone through him. To put oneself forward is the exact opposite of mission and transparency. Egoism muddles, darkens, and ultimately destroys credibility. In scripture we find many instances of the so-called shaliach principle, which Jesus uses regularly: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (Jn 13:20) We find this principle also in its negative form, “Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Lk 10:16) Still another example, where Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me, and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.” (Jn 12:44-45)
In his baptism Jesus very consciously took upon himself his mission. It was a loaded moment, and an intimate event, that took place between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit (in the form of a dove, as scripture says). John the Baptist witnessed the baptism and heard the voice of the Father. In his baptism Jesus gave himself completely to the Father and offered himself fully to the mission which the Father entrusted to him. He was very much aware that his whole life was at stake, that he had been anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor and sent to proclaim liberty to captives. (cf Lk 4:18) This was to consume his whole person — indeed his whole life. His public life, his passion, and his death are consequences of this baptism. It is all implied. Jesus had needed thirty years of hidden life to prepare himself for this baptism, for the acceptance of his mission; the three remaining years he needed to realize his baptism. He did so with utmost dedication and fidelity.
What enabled this fidelity? Listen to John’s gospel in which Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.” (Jn 4:34) The loving will of his Father shapes his life, is the content of his life, is the food on which he feeds. “I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.” (Jn 6:38) He is completely transparent. “The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.” (Jn 8:29) Mission resides in union with God and union with God exists only in mission: surrendering to God from the morning to the evening and then throughout the night. In such loving abandon Jesus lived his union with the Father. Likewise for us. When we know ourselves as sent and we live on that mission, we are one with the God-who-sends. Apart from union with God, mission is not possible, just as apart from the mission, union with God is impossible.
The roots of Jesus’ mission go deep. They reach into the unfathomable mystery of the Trinity. There, the source of all love and of all life, we find also the origin of all mission. From all eternity the Son has come forth from the Father, and the Father has given God’s own fullness wholly to the Son. The mystery of Trinity implies giving life in unending self-emptying. The Father gives completely to the Son without keeping anything back – the Son surrenders completely to the Father without any reserve. That is what lovers do: they give themselves completely in order to beget life. How could it be otherwise for God-who-is-love?
When the fullness of time had come, the procession of the Son from the Father was continued in the mission of the Son into the world. This mission stands also in the context of kenosis:
he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross (Phil 2:7-8).
When the earthly life of Jesus came to an end, Jesus spoke twice the same sentence, once in the form of a prayer (Jn 17: 18) and once addressing the disciples: “As the Father has sent me, so 1 send you.” (Jn 20:21) The mission, from and for which he lived and which formed the content of his life, he passed on to his disciples. We have to continue his mission. From now on Jesus has no other hands, no other mouth, and no other heart than ours. St. Paul captures its essence simply in these words, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)
There we find both the meaning and the eternal destiny of our lives: “Those he foreknew [God] also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the first-born among many brothers [and sisters].” (Rom 8:29) Conforming our lives to the image of God’s Son means becoming sons and daughters of God as Jesus was. It also entails accepting his lifestyle, living as he did. That mission requires from us an intimate union with Jesus just as he was intimately united with the Father. Jesus expressed this marvelously in the parable of the vine and the branches. He is the vine, we are the branches. It is obvious that a branch not connected with the vine cannot bear any fruit. It is dead wood. Only the sap of the vine can make the branch fruitful. It is the life of Jesus that bears fruit in us. (Jn 15:1-8)
We are invited to accept our mission anew every day. I am convinced that a mission which is set once and for all is an inner contradiction. Mission means living with open hands. An elderly man once shared with me confidentially that he began each day by prostrating himself for ten minutes with the palms of his hands open. In doing so he gave his whole day to the Lord and accepted everything that God would send him. What impressed me very much in this man was how flexible he remained in his old age, and how easily he could adapt to the unforeseen. I assume that the secret of his availability lies in the first ten minutes of his day.
Mission creates a vital tension in our lives. There are, of course, unhealthy tensions which are harmful for the life between spouses, in a family, in a religious community, in a workplace, or in our personal life. But there are also vital tensions which promote and enrich life, which keep us fit and supple. Mission creates such a lively tension. On the one hand, we are wholly present wherever we are, not flitting about and not daydreaming but focused with genuine dedication of heart and soul to our task. On the other hand, we remain available to be missioned elsewhere or in another way at any time. Therefore, it is good to take up our mission fresh each morning, as if it were completely new. Perhaps for many years it is the same each time, but there may come a day when a different mission presents itself. Whoever remains willing to accept that change is attentively living her mission. Whoever has completely identified himself or herself with a particular task or place cannot change any more and will be devastated when another mission comes. The change may make such a person suspicious. What did I do wrong? What are they “cooking up” for me? Why this shift? The vital tension has been lost.
All who genuinely live their mission experience an inner freedom. Mission makes us free. Whoever lacks a sense of mission is easily tempted to carry the burden too much alone. Someone has called this syndrome The God Complex: to rely too little on God while acting as if one were God. In our mission we are carried by God and the ultimate responsibility rests with God.
Unless our sense of mission remains alive and keeps on growing, we risk its diminishment in our lives, and perhaps even its demise. Mission requires tending. We “prepare the way” for the deepening of mission in three crucial ways:
- We select and safeguard quality time for prayer. We decide that God comes before all else and structure our days accordingly. We bring a deliberate quality of attentiveness to times reserved for prayer. We acknowledge that this relationship matters more than any other.
- We pay attention to our ongoing human development. We learn about ourselves, taking steps to integrate our shadow side, seeking direction and counsel, befriending others, taking seriously the call to become whole.
- We choose a discipline that leads us more and more toward basic integrity. We find balance with regard to food and drink, exercise, and sleep. We keep watch over what we say and do, how authentically and honestly we live. We prefer transparency rather than always trying to “look good” in the sight of others.
It is striking that in John’s Gospel, Jesus says two sentences which are almost identical: the one reads, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (Jn 20:21) and the other, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” (Jn 15:9) Mission and love are obviously connected, even interchangeable. Mission is the concrete shape of love. Think of mission as the riverbed of love. A river needs a bed; without a bed it sinks into a swamp. Undoubtedly, the riverbed constrains the water’s flow; the path of the stream is set by it. On the other hand, the riverbed gives depth and power to the stream. Without the bed the river stops being a river. In a similar way mission is the riverbed of our love. Of course, mission curtails our love and we sometimes experience the pain of that. Then we would vehemently like to widen the bed, to get out of it. And yet, without the bed our love would silt up and turn into a morass. The mission, though not always easy, is a blessing that makes our love authentic and strong, profound and fruitful.
“Mission is resting in the movement of God.” God is motion, energy, the tremendous dynamic of love. From this dynamic stems the whole of creation – so dynamic is our God. At the same time, God is also rest, because God does not strive for a goal. God does not want to achieve anything. This is the dynamic of love. Mission, though active, means at the same time resting in this God-flow. We surrender ourselves to this divine movement, we let ourselves be carried buoyantly by the dynamic of God, like floating on the waves of an immense sea of love. Then we live in harmony with the deepest desires of our own heart, with the ground of our being. That is union with God.
The Bishop of Aachen, Heinrich Mussinghoff once began his Lenten pastoral with a striking analogy. “The Jordan River originates at the foothills of the snow-capped Hermon, flows through the Sea of Galilee and ends in the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee teems with life. It takes in the fresh water and passes it on. Fish thrive in it, olive trees and palms and all kinds of flowers and plants flourish on its banks. Birds and animals find plentiful food there. The Dead Sea, however, is completely different. The Jordan flows into it but finds no outlet. The hot sun evaporates its waters, increasing the salinity to the point where nothing survives. On its shores there are hardly any trees or shrubs. All one sees is salt and desert.” The same water! Where it can flow freely, fruitfulness abounds; where it cannot flow, the sea creates a salted wasteland, without fruit and without life. Love needs a bed in order to continue its movement. Only then is life fruitful and worthwhile. Jesus says, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” (Jn 15:16) We all know the only thing that really remains and counts is love. Even faith and hope come to an end, but love lasts. Love is the content of our mission: to let ourselves be loved, to love in turn, and to pass on this love to others.
Mission is lived from a fullness, not from an emptiness. A marriage or a religious profession, family or community life, a ministry or a project – if we do not live out of a fullness, these lead to nothing. Mission, however, is possible when we find a plenitude like the man who found a treasure in a field and, full of joy, sold everything he had to obtain it. (Mt 13:44) Because he found this precious treasure, he could joyfully give up everything else he had possessed. That is how it is with the kingdom of God, Jesus says. That is what it means to live in gospel fullness.
Living in such fullness, we can give and let go. Then, no matter what our circumstances in life, we can concern ourselves entirely with following Jesus and experience a deep peace in it. But if we try to follow Jesus only because we feel empty and frustrated, if we look for community only because we feel lonely or for ministry in order to find affirmation, we will not succeed. This can easily turn into a half-hearted life. This is not resting in the motion of God. This is not a life resting in the center, but roaming at the fringes. The big question that dominates such a life will be: can I or can I not combine this with my marriage, my vows, or my commitment? Is this within the boundaries or outside? Such a way of life makes us discontent. The gospel does not teach us to live this way. The gospel proclaims authentic joy. In marriage, in religious life, as a single person, as someone searching – we are all invited to live in the center point of fullness where God dwells.