Girard0157

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Fr Michel Borjon to Fr Claude Girard, Maketu, 15 May 1842

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, September 2008

A M D G et D G H
Maketu 15 May 1842
Reverend Father[1]
[1]
I have recalled the promise I made to you when I left, to write to you once I had arrived in my mission. Here I am in this mission which I was thinking about even during my novitiate, an excessive desire which I thought I was obliged to moderate through the holy indifference of obedience. May God be blessed! It has fallen to my lot to open up a huge territory, and if there are thorns there are also flowers and beautiful plants. I had had some vague desires to suffer for Jesus Christ. My wishes have been fulfilled; (I am) happy if I can courageously carry on a career of apostolic works and difficulties. But my plan is not to talk to you here about my mission and my work; I don’t want to converse with you while speaking to you in the language of the novitiate, I have not forgotten that you have been my beloved master in the most important area of knowledge, that of salvation, that of religious perfection, and if I love to call to my mind my teachers, my parents, my happy years at the seminary, it is the beautiful time of the novitiate of the little Society of Mary at Puylata,[2] at the foot of Fouvière[3] which shines most strongly in my heart, and I will never lose the memory of that of which I was the too unworthy novice. Forgive me, dear master, if I did not benefit from your lessons.
[2]
At least, I seem to have understood the importance and usefulness of it. Yes, that intense feeling which made me love the novitiate, I still have at the end of the world, and I hope carry it to the grave. Oh beloved novitiate, too quickly gone past, and not usually appreciated enough; he who has experienced you at least preserves your spirit and it is the basis of his happiness and his holiness. Each ministry has its novitiate, and a novitiate as harsh in other ways as the religious novitiate. The missionary begins his on his first ship where he is cloistered for four to five months, seeing nothing but the sky and the water; fortunate if he does not spend the greater part of his time stretched out on his bed of suffering without energy and his heart in his mouth.[4] Having got to his mission, everything is to be made, even his hut. Fortunate therefore, thrice fortunate, is the priest who has gathered a good supply of virtue, mortification and obedience; never did anyone live more roughly, and especially less to his liking than on mission. You work out a fine plan, the breath of adverse circumstances comes and upsets it for you; you wish to go somewhere, but bad weather comes, and there you are frustrated. Poor human nature; you could not put up with a little annoyance, or submit yourself to so gentle a command, and there you are faced with annoying delays, with the caprices of people without reason.
[3]
Beloved master, Guillore’s[5] maxims seem harsh on the benches of the novitiate, but they are sweet in the midst of apostolic journeys. I had an idea which I often wanted to discuss with you; here it is: to devote yourself only to your own perfection; he who puts saving others first can forget himself, but he who first and principally strives to perfect himself will forget neither himself nor others, because if he has a ministry to carry out, he will strive to perfect himself in the tasks of that same ministry. For example, the missionary can divide all his occupations into four things: prayer, the sacred ministry, study and what concerns the body. If he strives for his perfection in his whole being, he will necessarily cover all these occupations, and he will reach perfection in this way only insofar as he has acquired and preserves the spirit of the novitiate.
[4]
Blessed spirit of the novitiate! With you, I am never alone, I am never idle, I am with God and my friends in Heaven, I pray, I work for the salvation of souls, I study, I relax, I fortify my body in God and for God; with you, contemplation, that so gentle companion, surely follows as through the forests, the swamps, into the hut of the savage in the midst of his noisy amusements; with you the love of Mary follows us on a fragile canoe, and how many times already has it been strengthened on the waves through the benign influence of the Divine Mother’s star; it is you who in the midst of the night, in the light of a great fire, brings the travelling missionary to a halt, stands Mary’s picture at the bottom of a tree, and pays her the due honour of the beautiful month of May; finally it is you that has led to this little bell being hung, to be, at each hour of the day and the night, the medium of the voice of God, and a pious memory… so that the more the missionary has loved his novitiate, the more he will preserve its spirit, the more as well he will work for his own perfection and the salvation of souls; the more he will be happy and contented in his ministry. O dear master, how much should I be grateful to you? How beautiful it is, how great, that responsibility which in this way prepares the apostles’ feet which are so beautiful when they are well directed![6] O you who are still going through your beautiful days in the novitiate, perhaps you may in a holy way envy my vocation, I congratulate you for that; but I as well am jealous in a holy way of your blessedness.
[5]
I would like to be novice and apostle at the same time, because you are an apostle in proportion as you have been a good novice, and whoever has the misfortune to forget that at the novitiate will have much more difficulty in not forgetting himself and the others in the missions. You, dear master, and you novices, my dear friends, pray for me and my people; I am fighting on the plain, you, you are on the hilltop near Fourvière and the source of graces.[7] You will have as large a share in my works as you give me a share in your prayers and your exercises of piety.

;[6]:Please offer my respects to our Fathers in Lyons, to Reverend Father Rector,[8] to Father Maitrepierre, to Father Chartignier etc. I have recently found out about Father Forest’s[9] departure. Adieu, dear master.

Your entirely devoted and obedient ex-novice,
Michel Borjon (missionary apostolic)
[7]
PS 4 June. Our Fathers have arrived. I am waiting for a visit from Father Forest. I have been told that your novitiate has been moved to La Favorite. At the same time an order has been given me to abandon the savages to go one hundred leagues[10] further away to work among the Europeans at Port Nicholson. Pray for me that I can properly carry out this new task.
[8]
Father Comte[11] who is here to replace me asks me to tell you many things on his behalf, and to remember him in God’s presence as your former novice.
[9]
PS I find myself situated in the midst of a tribe reputedly one of the worst, and the most indifferent; up to now it has not listened to the word of God. Having a lot to do with the pious souls and the (religious) communities in Lyons, please invite them to pray particularly for this tribe, to make novenas; pray and get people to pray as well, at Fourvière. Please pass on this thought to Reverend Father General.

Notes

  1. The letter has no named addressee, but Father Claude Girard can be identified certainly from internal evidence. He was Father Borjon’s novice-master.
  2. Written “Puit-lata”
  3. Written “Fourvieres”
  4. le coeur sur les lèvres
  5. François Guilloré (1615-1684), a Jesuit priest, wrote Maximes Spirituelles pour la conduite des âmes [Spiritual Maxims for the Guidance of Souls], first published in 1668, and several times later.
  6. He may have in mind Isaiah 52:7 – How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news - translator’s note.
  7. He seems to have Exodus 17:8-16 in mind - translator’s note
  8. directeur
  9. Written “Forêt’s”
  10. about 500 km
  11. Written “Compte”