24. Fr Servant to Fr Champagnat. Hokianga. 29 May (?) 1841
Servant spent only a year at the Bay of Islands and was then reappointed to Hokianga, probably to replace Baty who was transferred to the procure and appointed one of Pompallier's vicars later in the year. Among other things, Servant was working on a comprehensive account of Maori life and customs which he sent to Colin in September and which appears in Annales des Missions as a "Notice on New Zealand" (AM 80-102).
This letter, sent only weeks before the arrival of the next group with news of Champagnat's death the year before, seems to have travelled as far as the General House in Lyon and thence eventually into the general archives of the Society in Rome. There is no indication its contents were communicated to the Hermitage, although the second part is specifically addressed to the Brothers there. At least, there was no copy of it in the AFM until one was made from the original in 1993. It is catalogued under Z 208 in the APM.
If we were to seek the motivation behind Servant's exhortation to the Brothers in the second part of the letter, we need look no further than the defections of Brothers Michel and Ammon the previous year and his own difficulties (and those of some of the other Marists) in working with Pompallier. He had described the latter already in a letter to Colin, dated 26 April 1840, and it appears that the Superior General's letter to the missionaries of 21 November 1840, which the new group was also carrying with them, was intended to address some of these problems (rf Introduction to Letter 31).
Text of the Letter
- Reverend and dear Superior,
- As members of the family of Mary we love one another without seeing one another, and even without knowing one another. Neither difference of time nor distance of place can put any obstacle in the way of the charity that unites us. Quam bonum et quam jucundum habitare fratres in unum! [Ps 132:1 Vulgate].
- 1 know what an interest you take in our mission, Rev. Father, and I imagine you will find these little details I am jotting down for you in a moment of free time of some interest.
- Although in their relationships with the whites our natives are beginning to lose some of their primitive virtues, they are still giving example of an admirable simplicity. One day, while convincing me that I should see him frequently to give him instruction, a chief told me: When I pray, I don't know how to say anything to God except: "O my God! I can tell you nothing except that I love you, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
- Our natives, most of them at least, have already heard explanations of God's commandments. The first time they were given a little exposition of the divine law, certain of them said they found them very much in conformity with reason. I don't think we need much time to judge which are more faithful in practising God's commandments, the various Europeans, a certain number of them at least, or the poor Maoris? The following instance will make clear my meaning. A European asked one of our converts to persuade a sister of his to consent to a sinful proposal. The convert went and fetched his little prayer book and, showing it to him, shouted: I believe in God and if you were to give me all the goods in the world, I would not agree to offend him.
- Some time ago, a number of natives at a gathering were discussing human frailty. Since they didn't know then about the sacrament of penance, they asked me if there were any way for a person who had fallen into sin after baptism to get on his feet again. I replied that 0(ur) L(ord) J(esus) C(hrist) had instituted the sacrament of penance to remit sins committed after baptism. They were very pleased with my reply. It appears confession will not be a problem with them as far as that goes. It costs them no more to declare their faults in public than in private. A certain number of converts have already approached the sacrament of penance. As I was instructing one young man about this sacrament, I was telling him it was necessary to declare at least mortal sins when he informed me in all simplicity he had not committed any big sins. Then he asked me if confession was a good thing, and when I said yes, he wanted to confess on the spot. I had to point out to him he had to wait until he was better instructed.
- Our natives are fascinated by pious objects. They like crucifixes, medals, and rosaries. They frequently press us to obtain them. One woman asked me one day for my rosary. When I refused, she retorted: you preach to me to detach my heart from the things of this world and here you are attached to your rosary? They also have all sorts of questions for us touching on the tiniest detail. Some ask if in time of war they can carry the bones of their ancestors with them, others if they can cook their food on Sunday (the heretics declare it a grave fault for them to prepare food on that day). Still others, wishing to clean up an atamira or cemetery where the bones of their ancestors are laid, invite us to go to those sites and say prayers to drive away their former gods whom they now call Satan.
- How lovable these poor natives are when they are converted to the Lord. We love them but they also know how to repay us in return. Here is a little example of this. One day I found myself in an area where there was a lot of bracken and I was given two little girls to accompany me. These children made valiant efforts to traverse the bracken and stretched themselves full length on it to make a path for me. And when I had crossed a steep spot, one of them cried: "Ah, my heart beats again!"
- Reverend and dear Father, I have still more details for you but I will consecrate the space I have left to addressing a few words to our good brothers.
- My dear Brothers in J C.,
- The peace of the Lord be with you! How fortunate we are to be God’s children! God is our life and in dying to ourselves we live in him. What happiness for us to have left behind all the goods of the world. But what am I talking about? What have we left? With God we have everything. He is the sole good which includes all others. Ah, may we be able to live and die in him. May we be able to say to him in the depths of our hearts: "O my God, I abandon myself, soul and body, to your divine service. I am ready to do all that is pleasing to your holy will even when it means I have to walk the way of suffering and humiliation. Isn't life a burden to one who doesn't love God? Why trouble ourselves in this life? Let Providence, so worthy of our love, have its way. The more we love God, the more he will watch over us and provide for our salvation.
- My very dear Brothers, if you want to love God, fix your eyes on J C. If you want to become saints, remain humbly beside the cross of Jesus. Take that cross for your consolation. Pay the divine Master to create a pure heart in you and to renew your soul in its depths, to place there an upright spirit and take away the heart of sin. Let us go to the Lord who calls us. Let us go to him relying entirely on his mercy. If we really knew how to use his grace we would be continuously acquiring ineffable goods. Courage then! The battle lasts only a short time and the triumph for eternity. Ah! could we only love God, love is the delight of our heart! May we be able to love him as much as he desires to be loved and we desire to love him! Everything should be a matter of indifference to us except the love of God and the hope of possessing him. My dear Brothers, I return to my first theme. Let us die to ourselves to live in God. Let him be our support. If we have to fight the enemies of our salvation, he will fight with us because we are fighting for him. If we have to suffer, he will be in us because we are suffering for him. Let us live and die for Jesus because he lived and died for us. The peace of the Lord be always in you!
- Please make a mention of me in your prayers.
- m. apost.
- Frs Besson and Matricon are assured of finding here the expression of my most intimate affection.
- Whether on the the 29 or 22 of May, the date not being very clear.
|Previous Letter||List of Letters||Next letter|