Br Francois to Br Sorlin, St Genis Laval, 17 January 1859
LFF 2: 330-331
Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS
Sorlin had been at Levuka on Ovalau since 1855 and this is where Poupinel on visitation in mid 1858 would have found him. If the latter was able to give him news of Europe and the other missions, Sorlin, in his turn, was not sparing about the problems of Fiji: ‘I was no less frightened on another occasion,’ wrote Poupinel to Mother St Ambrose, superior of the Marist Sisters, in September 1858, ‘It was Br Sorlin, speaking about murders, killings, war clubs…’ (AM 1. 284). Although the era of large-scale tribal war in Western Fiji ended with Cakobau’s victory over the Rewans in 1855, the small Catholic mission still faced danger and persecution. A report to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in 1857 speaks of the exhaustion and disillusionment of the Marists (Knox 26). Francois rightly addresses this problem in his letter to Sorlin, probably making an indirect reference to ex-Marie-Augustine’s situation in . He also mentions the dangers of ‘encounters’ in . It seems the priests thought Sorlin was out visiting too much, but Poupinel, in a later report to Favre, judges they were exaggerating (letter of February 1867, APM, OP 418).
Text of the Letter
- Dear Brother,
- I have heard news of you from the good Fr Poupinel who wrote to me after making the visitation of the missions. I see with pleasure that this excellent Father takes a very special interest in everything conducive to contributing to the good and advantage of the Brothers. You are fortunate to have him for Visitor and you should regard as a signal benefit of Providence and a very consoling sign of the protection of the Blessed Virgin over the missions, the choice made of this Father to have their care, supervision, and direction.
- You see, my dear Brother, how with time, patience, perseverance, all things are arranged for the better. If the Lord sometimes makes us pass through rough trials, it is to put us in the state so to receive his graces and his favours more abundantly and profitably, and so merit a more ample reward. So never give in to dejection or discouragement, but always carry out your exercises and employment, with humility, exactness, love, and confidence. For that, strive to renew and reanimate yourself more and more in the piety, fervour and zeal you had at the beginning of your apostolic career and, following Our Lord’s counsel, watch and pray without ceasing [cf Matt 26: 41] in order to avoid being caught in the ambushes and traps of the enemy of salvation who prowls around us to lead us astray and reduce us under his cruel and shameful tyranny. I pity those who fall into his nets. What remorse, what anxiety, what fear they must feel.
- It is difficult, indeed, to credit how adroit and cunning the devil is in his attacks, subtle and delicate, upon souls who, despising material things, aim at the perfection and purity of the love of God. So it is necessary to be continually on guard to keep ourselves in God’s grace and to pay careful and constant attention to ourselves, to stay in the sanctity of our profession. But what you should find consoling is that it is certain that the one who possesses Jesus Christ and his holy grace, who relies on him and not on self, and who lives in the continual intention and desire of pleasing him, easily uncovers and repels the malignant attacks of Satan. And far from harming him, they are for him an occasion of acquiring new merits and of becoming strong in virtue.
- It is necessary, however, to avoid, as far as possible, occasions and encounters where creatures or the desire to please them occupy your heart, and you seek to satisfy nature and the senses. Place all your pleasure and all your joy in sacrificing to Jesus all the joys and pleasure you might take apart from him, even in things permitted such as drinking, eating, resting, conversing, etc.
- Be moderate in everything, cutting back the superfluous, and using everything, not for the pleasure and satisfaction to be found in it, but out of need and necessity. If you take continual care to keep yourself pure and free from all attachment to creatures and to sensual pleasure, Jesus Christ will pour out his grace more and more on your soul and allow it to taste the sweetness of his holy presence and his divine consolation. For he is very generous and very faithful to recompense the soul’s efforts, cares, pains and sacrifices, which are the mark of the most perfect love. In effect, in nature we observe that as soon as the atmosphere is cleansed of the clouds which covered the sky and overshadowed us, the sun gives us light, warmth, and vitality.
- In the same way in the spiritual order, as soon as the clouds of creatures which surround the heart of man are dissipated by the generous sacrifice we make of them, we see at that very instant Jesus Christ shine forth in our heart and radiate us with his light, his love, his fruitfulness and his energy. He who remains in this state, making use interiorly of its joys and satisfactions in sensible things and even in the graces and special gifts of the Lord, and who is happy like that in his spiritual desert, removed, separated, and detached from all things so as to have only Jesus and his love, is finally master of all and becomes conqueror of the flesh, the world, and the devil. This is a means which, along with prayer and meditation, renders the soul pure and free and completely invulnerable to the enemies of salvation.
- But, my dear Brother, let us never forget our weakness and our inability to do any good without the grace of God, and let us never cease asking for it and requesting it by fervent and continual prayer. At every moment we have need of a fresh imparting of light, movement, force, in order to know, to will and to act, and if these things cease in our interior, we also cease to operate and to be able to cooperate with God’s grace which is the sole and unique principle of all good. Let us, then, never cease to ask our Father to obtain this daily bread of grace and this continuous nourishment of the Holy Spirit. Pray him always to give us what we need to act and cooperate with him at all times and at every moment, for fear of incurring the curse of the tree without fruit [Matt 21: 18-19]. This is what kept the saints in perpetual recollection and what should prevent us from growing slack in prayer and meditation because it is necessary for the life of the soul, and you cannot interrupt or neglect it without beginning to weaken and fall back on the paths of salvation and perfection.
- You will find in the common circular to all the Brothers of Oceania interesting details about my trip to Rome and about the Brothers’ retreats at the new house of St Genis-Laval. So I will not tell you any more for the moment and I leave you with confidence in the sacred hearts of Jesus and Mary, embracing you very affectionately in spirit.
- Your very devoted…. F.F.
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