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7 May 1842, Fr Antoine Garin to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Kororareka

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, July 2008


A M D G et D G H[1]


Bay of Islands, Kororareka, 7 May 1842


To Reverend Father Superior General


Very Reverend Father
[1]
I heard you say sometimes, and it is a thing frequently repeated by writers on the spiritual life, that adversities and trials are a good omen; we have a real need for this idea to come and mingle with quite contrary ones which nature would urge on us, and in my own case it has been very helpful for me, because in the middle of the sad situation in which we find ourselves and which keeps on getting worse, I have never lost confidence; I am even tempted to believe that if the good God wishes us to merit some extraordinary favours He wishes to humiliate us beforehand more than we have been yet, although we are already truly so. But I say it again, I still hope, and I believe that the Blessed Virgin who is the patroness and the Superior of this mission will not let it perish in this way. That is what keeps me from being discouraged, and happy. Our needs are very great, our poverty close to extreme, but it will cost God nothing to pull us out of the worst situation, and even if we were yet even worse off I would not give up hoping. Etiam si occiderit me, in ipso sperabo. [2] Father Epalle will give you details truly likely to afflict your heart, and do not think that he is exaggerating things; in my opinion and that of the Fathers whom we have consulted, no one was better suited to give you precise details, and according to their real views: Messrs Perret and Yvert agree. I will even say that right now he can do it better than the Bishop, because during the eleven months the Bishop has been away, many things have recently happened which Father Epalle has all seen for himself and through the regular letters from the Fathers who have described their needs to him our of the midst of their poverty.
[2]
In matters concerning the Society, Father Epalle will speak to you about them, I think, at length. I will not fail however to urge you to form well the men you send us, whether Brothers or priests, because that would spare us from great worries and difficulties. You first have to forewarn them against that idea which people develop, if not in theory, at least in practice, that because they are missionaries, they are freed from the exercises of religious life, that is, from a Rule. I have again come across it recently: I asked the Superior of a mission station how the rule was being observed. Very well, he replied, except for the exercises to be done in common; it was impossible; we each do privately all that had to be done. Already there you have something not very much in line with religious life, all the more so because the sole reason for that conduct was personal incompatibility, I believed it was a bit too much. However I went on with my inquiry: Have you done the annual retreat? No, he told me, I haven’t done one since I left France. How long is that? Nearly three years. And: do you have a talk on the Rule or a reading? No. And the talk on Church matters?[3] Not exactly: from time to time I read my theology. And the culp? We never make that. And so on, on various matters. There, Reverend Father, you have the situation, I don’t say of everyone, but, I believe, of the majority. When I see those Fathers come to the house, I can easily see they are strangers to the discipline of a Rule. That, however, can be fairly reasonably explained, it is the frequency of travelling to the tribes, for then it is fairly hard to follow a Rule, although nonetheless you can do some main exercises pretty frequently, and the natives, far from losing out by that are only edified, they know that a priest is a man of prayer as we tell them, and never do they find it wrong that we leave them to attend to our prayers, while it is not the same with the others.[4]
[3]
So all of this leads me to strongly urge you to have a good novitiate given to those especially who do not find obedience easy or do not have a spirit inclined to the virtues of religious life, because here this is almost the only thing that can keep a missionary going, especially when he is forced to be at some distance from a confrère, as several men have been up till now. Oh! Yes, I realise there are many dangers in leaving a priest alone, he has only himself to spur himself on, he has no witnesses to his conduct, he has no examples that can inspire him, he needs to be encouraged, to be corrected, to be warned, and nothing can replace that but well-tested virtue. If I speak like this about the priests, I have even more reason to say it about the Brothers, because I don’t know why it is so, but some say that the sea journey is a special sort of test. Brothers who were good in France arrive here with a tendency to be a bit more bold in answering, less obedient and less charitable to each other – that’s what I noticed among those of the despatch I was part of, and in general I think it was the same for the others. The real source of the problem may arise from the fact that at sea from the start, seasickness first puts people in a bad mood, they then become a bit demanding in getting help for themselves, because when someone is suffering they very much prefer not to stir themselves and to have themselves helped as much as they wish, which is hard to do, for apart from the fact that what could ease their pain is not always available, they don’t even find good what is naturally so. So there you have a stumbling block for weak virtue, a stumbling block which perhaps is the origin of all the others, the reason why certain Brothers, certain Fathers are resented, that they are found too demanding, having ways which do not fit in with those of the other people; another thing is seeing each other in general, as in a community where the subjects see their Superiors only from a distance; and another is seeing each other close at hand and in minute detail so that no fault is missed, and calamity again for virtue which is too weak! The same thing goes on in the mission as soon as several people live together, and indeed along with a certain idea which becomes formed, by which you believe yourself to be excused in some way from the obligation of striving for perfection, and even from observing the most ordinary exercises and virtues of religious life; you soon lose that recollection, that interior spirit, that respect for silence, so that you are just like worldly people; add to that the fact that the Brothers, dressing only as they were in France before becoming Religious, that is, having neither soutane nor cross in front of them, find it easy to forget to some extent who they are. Brother Basile has changed very much to his disadvantage although he is still basically pious, but he has become argumentative, loud, I would say, a bit disobedient, because his constant answer when he is criticised for anything is that it is impossible for him to do otherwise. What has harmed him like this are the great difficulties involved in cooking; not being used to that, right from the start he was overwhelmed, not having a moment to himself, under some pressure from every side, in the end not knowing where to turn; sometimes Father Epalle was criticising him for breaking dishes and plates, for cooking badly, sometimes the natives were refusing to help him recover the situation because he had taken over their tasks; sometimes the dog would come and take his bacon from the pot; on other occasions it was the hens which he couldn’t get rid of except by beating them, injuring them, etc. etc.
[4]
However I am not going to go on to claim that everything is lost; with advice and a bit of firmness, sometimes even some severity, we have succeeded in getting them to adjust a bit and to bring them into line, although there have certainly been more troubles sometimes. During the main tasks[5] they did the half-hour meditation, then heard Holy Mass, with the exception of two months when they heard Mass while doing the meditation without reciting the Office in the morning. When they did these two exercises separately, they recited only a part of their little hours during the time of Holy Mass, doing the particular examen at midday, and were present at spiritual reading half asleep because of exhaustion; the subject matter for mental prayer was also heard half asleep and in the morning most did it roughly in the same state.
[5]
Add to that the fact that from the beginning they took a set against Mr Perret while working[6] to the point of answering him rudely and giving him a lot of difficulty; so that in this work it could well be said that there was often only the most minimal obedience, that is, that arms and hands were moving but as if reluctantly. It is true that Mr Perret has in his style of command something which does not please most, and if he is a good architect, he is not a good worker, that is, that he is not skilled with his hands, and in doing the things that derive from the architecture, I believe he has not a very inventive mind.
[6]
However that may be, you must understand the situation of the Brothers in the mission. If a Brother is assigned to be with one or two Fathers, he is overwhelmed with work because we clearly see that without crops being grown we have to resign ourselves to dying of hunger; because of that the work is huge. Because it is harder to prepare a new piece of land than to maintain it once it has been got ready. Now that our work is less urgent, the Brothers have asked me to have a bit more time to recite the little hours, which has really delighted me, and we have arranged this time for them after breakfast.[7] Ah, how much we need prayers from our good and fervent Fathers and Brothers in France; I urgently commend to them their dear brothers in Oceania and myself; wretched, I know, although I find it easier to keep myself virtuous because of my position which forces me to concern myself about it.
[7]
We are very concerned, Very Reverend Father, that missionaries comply completely with the Roman manual of ceremonies whether for the Mass, or the sacraments, or the Office. Let us not rest on the fact that we have celebrated in the Roman way, because the Roman rite varies according to different dioceses. We have to get used to going more slowly in ceremonies and the in the recitation of the prayers and the Office. There are some who give scandal in making the signs of the cross with the Sacred Host, while holding it over the chalice, while putting it on the altar, by the speed at which they go; if this haste has the same effect on other people as it has on me, I am sure that there are many people who see that with greatest distress, because truly we forget that we hold in our hands the thrice holy God. The English in general believe that a Mass which lasts only half an hour is very short; let people get that firmly in their heads and act accordingly. Let the Brothers also comply completely with the same manual so that throughout the whole mission there is perfect unity. It is an essential point in relation to the Protestants. Let them also be well trained in plainchant, it is almost a necessity, because a Father will from time to time like to chant a Mass or Vespers in the presence of the natives to edify them and delight them. They love our chants. Let each Father have a manual of the Roman ceremonies and a ritual that they follow in every detail.
[8]
Now that I have got the others to make accounts of themselves,[8] allow me to make mine about myself. I had already prepared a letter in which I explained to you how I found myself unable to properly carry out the task assigned me, and at the same time I asked you to name someone else more capable and more worthy than me, when with great satisfaction I saw arriving Father Forest [9] who, I believe, will soon be able to carry out your intentions. It is not that my position bores me, but that really I feel myself incapable of representing you here, and especially of maintaining among your children the spirit of the Society, because I do not have this spirit because I have not made a proper novitiate, and have not seen the Society closely enough; the time I spent with you at Belley is something but not much, because I was not concerned only with this, and my dealings with you and with the members of the Society were not frequent enough. I do not have that exact and pious virtue that I have noticed in others; and I see some of them putting great importance on things I saw only with indifference, that I did not ever suspect being so serious, and whose fittingness now well understand. I urge silence and exactness, it is true, but something inconsequential leads me also to fail in these points of the rule. I have as well the fault of letting myself too easily be guided by others or rather, taking on too easily their ways of seeing things when they give me their reasons, and I am often swayed to agree with the person who speaks last. I allow myself, again easily, to turn away from something which I had resolved to do because of a little opposition; that comes, I suppose, from my fear of difficulty and displeasing people. I cannot really work out where I get this attitude from; I am, as people often say in similar situations: too good-natured. But this excessive goodness can come from pride which fears displeasing others because of the idea you have that if you displease others you lose their esteem, their affection, that you would like to win people’s favour; or rather from a certain indifference which does not place enough importance on each person’s duties, or avoiding discomfort. I really think I am guided by this last factor, as also by the fear of not being as well seen as I could be, and of displeasing people; I am aware that I often am afraid of discomfort – whether for my body or my soul. Finally, I am virtuous by fits and starts, and even there I don’t see things really clearly; there are times when I feel inclined to give myself the discipline, to wear the cilice, and to practise some bodily penances, which I am doing; but I think that this disposition sometimes comes from the characteristics of my temperament, because it does not last, and there are times when I have real difficulty in imposing these mortifications on myself; I therefore am afraid that this may involve satisfaction of the flesh rather than mortification. Please, Very Reverend Father, give me your advice on that and do not be afraid to act towards me with all the freedom that a Superior must have. I still feel ready to go everywhere that obedience obliges me to go, even if it is to the most difficult to evangelise, because the awareness that I will have that I am there through obedience will always give me tranquillity and bring peace to my soul. I have been pleased to see that you intended to name Father Forest as provincial here. I had already prepared a letter which would be en route if I had had the opportunity I was waiting for, it was to request you to send or designate in my place a provincial more capable and worthy than me. I do not say that out of humility, but in complete truth, because I really believed that I could not fulfil your intentions. I see in Father Forest the man needed for that, and I would be really vain if I claimed to want to listen to the voice of nature which seeks its wellbeing to the detriment of the soul. So I hope that what prudence stops us from doing now will be done when the Bishop arrives, that is to say that Father Forest will be named provincial, to the great satisfaction of all the Fathers and mine in particular.
[9]
I had written to you several times, Reverend Father, to find out whether my letters caused you any expense because of carriage; you had never said anything about that in reply, that is why following on one hand the natural liking I have for writing (although I often search for style) and on the other the recommendation which was made to us, and reiterated in the letters, especially in that one which you sent us personally to give a lot of details and to write at every opportunity. I have allowed myself to write at greater length than I had first planned to do, which happens to me every time I write, because I do not have the ability to say, as do those who know better how to write a letter, many things in a few words. Several times I have reproached myself, either while en route or here, for devoting too much time to that (although I do not first make a rough copy for recopying and I write with rapidity once I am involved with my subject matter). However I was careful to ask my spiritual director’s opinion about that – Father Séon on the journey out and Father Epalle here – and they did not restrain me. I will admit however that once or twice I have set out to write a long letter before advising them about it, out of the fear I had that I would be forbidden, and when they had been begun I went and disclosed my fault and to ask whether I should go on; this happened concerning the one in which I described our meeting with the Protestant missionaries, and the one in which I wrote about a journey. But I assure you that the two lines you wrote in the margin of the letter that Father Poupinel [10] wrote to me produced their effect; up till that moment the interesting news I had just learnt in the letters which had been sent to me had made me joyful, but at the sight of those two lines in which I saw the huge cost of carriage of letters, I was struck as if by a hammer. I was sad about it until day’s end, thinking that I had been the main contributor to this expense. However I will say that Father Séon was the first, both at the Cape and at Sydney, to recommend to all of us, Fathers and Brothers, to write. On this latest occasion you will find I have again written at great length, but you will see that according to the dates, these letters have mostly been begun at fairly distant intervals, and since there has been talk of someone going to Europe, when I asked for advice from Father Epalle, he replied that never would there be a better occasion, that I shouldn’t be afraid of writing at too great a length, that I should talk about a lot of things and give plenty of detail. This has persuaded me to write some more, fairly long, such as the one to my parents in which I describe one of my journeys. I had another reason for that; I was afraid that my parents would see with a jaundiced eye that I was writing at greater length to the pupils at Meximieux than to them. Nonetheless, I was worried by thinking that I was putting too much time into this, that I was forced to put off fairly often my studies in the English and Maori languages, which I am learning, as well as tasks arising from my duties. I am now, at last, freed, and have resolved to very much limit myself, unless I receive from you advice to the contrary. Please say something to be about it (See in the margin +)
[10]+
I have received my music books, I had already experienced a need for them here, because we have young English people to whom I am teaching singing; already they have sung in chapel English and Latin hymns, and they could sing more in French, ones of which they know the first verse well. I lack the instrument I was best at and which would help me here to accompany the children, it is my flute which you have forgotten to send me, because I had brought it to Puylata [11] in a little cloth cover; it was among the things that could not be put into the trunks and boxes with the result that it stayed with you. It has four keys. I ask Father Poupinel to be so kind as to look for it for me.
[11]
I am sending some little curiosities to my parents and the teachers at Meximieux. If you decide, however, that it is more advantageous to use them for yourself or for other people, do as you believe most useful.
[12]
I was hoping to receive in this last dispatch my flute which had not been able to be put in my trunks on my departure. If you could find it, please send it to me, because it is the only instrument on which I can play near enough. The other [things] I am not really concerned about.
[13]
If it happens that I can send only this letter this time, can I ask you to let my parents know that I am still as well as when I was in the best health in France, and that I have a letter ready for them.
[14]
Very Reverend Father, have pity on your poor servant, I indeed still have vices and faults and I see myself as quite a novice in religious life. So please pray for me, so I do not make myself unworthy of the innumerable graces which Divine Mercy pleases to grant me.
[15]
Receive, Reverend Father, the assurance of the complete devotion, the perfect submission and the most sincere respect with which I prostrate myself at your feet in order to beg you to give me your fatherly blessing.
Antoine Marie Garin, missionary apostolic, unworthy provincial

Notes

  1. To the greater glory of God and the glory of the Mother of God
  2. Even if he kills me, in him will I hope – Job 13:15
  3. conference ecclesiastique
  4. n’est pas ainsi due reste
  5. working time? les grands travaux
  6. this would have been while building the mission printery 1841-1842, no doubt - translator’s note
  7. après déjeuner
  8. j’ai fait le procès aux autres
  9. Written “Forêt”
  10. Written “Poupinelle”
  11. Written “Pilata”