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29 May 1841 — Father Catherin Servant to Father Marcellin Champagnat, Hokianga

Translated by Mary Williamson, December 2019


Based on the document sent, APM Z 208.


Sheet of paper forming four pages, three of which are written on, with the address on the fourth.


[on the back, p. 4] [Address]
Reverend / Very Reverend Superior of Brothers of Mary/ at the Hermitage near Saint Chamond / department of the Loire / France.
[in Poupinel’s handwriting]
29 May 1841 / Father Servant /


[p.1]
Hokianga New Zealand
29 May 1841.


To the Reverend Father Champagnat, Superior of the Brothers of Mary.


Reverend and dear Superior,
[1]
As members of the family of Mary, we love each other even though we do not see each other and even without knowing each other; neither the variation in time nor the distance of places would be able to put an obstacle in the way of the charity that unites us. Quam bonum et quam jucundum habitare fratres in unum! [1]
[2]
I know, Reverend Father, what an interest you take in our mission and I presume that you would find interesting the little details that brief moments allow me to pass on to you today.
[3]
Although our natives, in their interactions with the white people, are beginning to lose a little of their primitive nature, they still show traits of an admirable simplicity. A chief said to me one day, to prove to me the necessity of my seeing him often to give him instruction: When I pray I do not know anything else to say to God except these words: O my God! I cannot say anything to you except that I love you, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
[4]
Our natives, at least most of them, have already heard explanations of the commandments of God. The first time that we expand a little on the divine laws, some of them say that they find them really quite reasonable. I do not know if it really matters whether the Europeans, at least some of them, or the poor Maoris, are the most faithful in fulfilling the commandments of God. The following piece will clarify my thoughts: A European, soliciting one of our neophytes to have him consent to one of his sisters doing wrong, the neophyte went to find his little book of prayers and showing it to him, he cried out: I believe in God and if you gave me all the goods in the world I would not consent to offending him. Some time ago, several natives gathered together, reflecting on their frailties and not yet knowing about the sacrament of penitence, asked me if there was a means of redeeming oneself, for someone who had fallen, after his baptism. I replied that our Lord Jesus Christ had instituted the sacrament of penitence to put right the sins committed after baptism. They received my reply with great pleasure. Besides, it seems that confession would not be a burden for them, it would not be any more difficult for them to announce their faults in public than in private. Already a certain number of neophytes have presented themselves for the sacrament of penitence. When, one day I was instructing a young man on this sacrament, and I said to him that it was necessary to at least declare their mortal sins, he naively replied that he had not committed any grave sins; then he asked me if confession was a good thing and, with the affirmative response, he wished, on the spot, to put into action the process of confession, but I explained to him that it was better to wait till he knew more about it. The cult objects please our natives; they love the cross, the medals and the rosary beads. Often they make demands of us to acquire some; one day a woman asked for my rosary and when she received a negative reply she responded: You preach to me about releasing my heart from worldly things and you are attached to your rosary! They also have all sorts of consultations with us about the most minuscule things. Some ask us if, in times of war they can carry off the bones of their relatives; others ask if they can cook their food on Sundays (the heretics label it a serious fault for them to prepare their food on this particular day); others, wishing to clear an “atamira” or cemetery where the bones of their ancestors rest, invite us to go to this place and say a few prayers to chase out their former gods, who they call Satan. Oh! How likeable these poor natives are when they are converted to the Lord! We love them, but they also know how to repay us. Here is a small example: Finding me one day in an area covered with ferns, they gave me two male children to accompany me. These children made great efforts as we traversed the ferns; they lay down full length to clear me a route and when I had passed a steep area, one of them cried out: Ah! my heart nearly stopped!
[5]
Dear and Reverend Father, I would have several more details to pass on to you, but I am saving the space I have left to address a few words to our good Brothers.
My dear Brothers in Jesus Christ,
[6]
May the peace of the Lord be with you! How lucky we are to be the children of God! God is our life and in dying ourselves, we live in him. [2] What happiness for us to have left behind us the goods of this world! But what am I saying? What have we left? We have everything in God, he is the one good thing that holds everything within him. Ah! Might we all be able to live and die in him! Might we all say to him from the depths of our hearts: O my God! I abandon my soul and my body to your divine service, I am ready to do everything that will please your holy will, even though I might have to walk in the way of suffering and humiliation. Is not life dependent on who does not love God? Why bother ourselves in this life? Let kindly providence take action: The more we love God, the more he will be watching us and will grace us with our salvation.
[7]
My very dear brothers, if you wish to love God, fix your eyes on Jesus Christ. If you wish to become saints, live humbly with the cross of Jesus. Take this cross for your consolation. Pray to the divine master to create in you a pure heart and to revive the depths of your heart, to put there a righteous spirit and remove the core of sin. Let us go to the Lord who calls us; leaning only on his pure mercy. If we know how to take advantage of his grace, we will immediately gain the ineffable advantages. Courage then! The battle does not last long and the triumph is eternal! Ah! Let us love God, The love and delight of our hearts! Let us love him as much as he wishes to be loved and as much as we wish to love him! Everything should be unimportant to us apart from the love of God and the desire to posses him.
[8]
My dear brothers, I come back to my first thought: Let us die in ourselves to live in God. May that be our support! If we have to battle the enemies of salvation, he will fight with us because we are doing battle for him. If we must suffer, he will be with us because we are suffering for him. May the peace of the Lord be always with you!
[9]
Save me, please, a place in your prayers.
Servant,
Missionary apostolic.
[10]
Fathers Besson and Matricon [3] would wish to find here the expression of my deepest affection.

Notes

  1. Ps. 132 (133).1: Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum. (Oh! What pleasure, what happiness to find oneself amongst brothers!)
  2. Cf. 2 Tm 2.11: If we die with him, we shall live with him; also 2 Cor 5.15: His purpose in dying for all was that men while still in life, should cease to live for themselves and live for him, who for their sakes died and was raised to life.
  3. Claude Besson (1802-1883) and Jean Matricon (1803-1882), Marist priests.