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5 June 1842 — Father Michel Borjon to Father Claude Raccurt, Maketu, NZ

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, March-April 2009 Based on the document sent, APM Z 208.


[p. 6]
[Address]
Father Raccurt, prefect at the College of Belley, France


[In the handwriting of Poupinel]
New Zealand § Maketu 5 June 1842 § Fr Borjon



[p. 1]
Maketu 5 June 1842


Dear confrère and friend
[1]
I received your October 1841 letter on the 1st June. You send me news about things which give me great consolation. I congratulate you on having seen the Holy City and the Vicar of Christ on earth. Putting aside the little problems you mention to me, it seems to me that it would be a great happiness for me to be blessed by the hand of the Sovereign Pontiff, if I had the opportunity of seeing Europe again after having seen the end of the world. But, may the very kind will of God be forever done; nothing on earth is comparable for me to complete submission to the good Master. On the 12th of this month I will have been in New Zealand a year, and for 10 months at Maketu among the savages, and I do not believe, in spite of the annoyances, the difficulties of the apostolate, I have felt less happy than in the peaceful bosom of the retreat at Belley. Yes, dear friend, let us carry out well the task we are destined for, and in that we will be happy and content, even if we were at odds with all men and demons. I will not give you any details here (you can see them in the letter to Father Lagniet); I only want, as you invite me, to talk to you as a friend about what could be called the spiritual aspect of the mission. Since your zeal for the foreign missions is growing, it must be encouraged, and I will esteem myself happy to have been able, through my inadequate words and prayers, to contribute even a little to an apostolic vocation, a source of so many benefits for souls, of so much glory for God, of so many merits for oneself.
[2]
You want to know my thoughts and my opinions about the missions. You know of your own account what fine things the title of “missionary apostolic” brings to the eyes of faith. The glory of the apostles – it shares it, the occupations, the works and the difficulties of the apostles – it shares them, and if he can respond to the dignity of his vocation by the holiness of his life, he will share the merits and the rewards of the apostles.
[3]
What are my thoughts and my opinions? If I had once again to cross 5000 leagues [about 25,000 km] of ocean, I would do it, I believe, with the same joy; martyrdom is still something fine to me, especially since it has made illustrious the humble missionary of Mary in the person of Father Chanel; the soul of the savage, under a hard and barbaric skin, is still stained with the blood of Jesus Christ, and has what can stimulate the priest’s zeal by reason of the neglected state it is in without help.
[4]
My thoughts and opinions. I believe that we should do mission work only to glorify God, to edify our neighbour, to increase his merits; if not, we will be strikingly deceived more than once. My dear friend, here and more or less in all the missions, more or less obvious difficulties, contradictions, and persecutions test the missionary’s courage, and it is a crucible in which you must expect to see virtue being purified. In the barbarian as well as in the civilised man there are passions to be overcome, and often indifference and coldness. In the regions which have been flooded with Protestants, you have to fight endlessly against [Protestant] ministers and natives in order to secure victory for the cause of the true Church, to uproot from the Catholics’ hearts the Protestant spirit. You have continually to revive the courage of a poor childlike people who easily allow themselves to be cast down and discouraged by the calumnies and invective of the Church’s enemies. Add to that almost continual journeys in order to visit distant and scattered tribes, through swamps, forests, mountains, rivers; sleeping on the ground during journeys, food often only potatoes or with some fish, boiled, and you will get some idea of our difficulties. But if there are great difficulties, there are also great consolations; that, and it is the main one, of serving God at the cost of your health, of your honour, of saving souls while living as a poor man expecting an eternity of rewards. Oh, dear friend, you never feel anywhere so well as here.
[5]
These truths of faith and religious spirit? The fact is that God always matches consolations with sacrifices. Were there no other joys but these, and no success, with faith the missionary serves God as much as he can, that is enough for him. But his ministry is not fruitless; how many are the innocent souls washed in the regenerative waters of holy baptism? How many are the souls snatched from the snares of the devil, of heresy? The truths of the Church give a defence against humiliated error, and who knows the secret plans of the indescribable mercies of God, and the power of the intercession of her who is never called on in vain? Sufferings, difficulties, and humiliations are usually seed fertile with fruit for eternity. That is the thought that leads me to hope for great things for our mission, and which leads me to believe that one day it will be among the most fruitful in terms of souls, because it is a face of experience that God’s works are remarkably frustrated and tested. Our present trials fill me with confidence and hope, in spite of the fears which nature, the efforts of heresy etc, could arouse. God uses what is not to upset what is. Every time I think of your house at Belley, where the Society suffered so much in its cradle, I am happy to think that in this way your establishments and missions went through trials before yielding solid and abundant fruit.
[6]
Concerning bodily dangers; there are none likely from the natives, at least in the circumstances and places where I am; it doesn’t seem for the moment that we have to experience the beautiful experience of martyrdom in this country. Regarding spiritual dangers: there are none remarkable that I know of: either we are two priests together or if we are alone we are not very far from a confrère, or at least not for long. We ceaselessly take steps to gather together several priests who are alone. Besides, apart from the abundant graces of the apostolate, we have, as religious, almost the same exterior means as you. So a Father Provincial made specially responsible for our spiritual welfare directs all the priests through letters of direction and advice. We all have a Rule for religious life; we do our spiritual exercises as much as possible both in the house and on our journeys. I cannot recall having yet been forced to omit my office, my meditation, my particular examen and my Rosary. Concerning Holy Mass, you cannot usually say it among the tribes. Then nakedness of the natives, which is becoming every day more uncommon, is much less dangerous than it might be imagined from a distance.
[7]
Right now the mission offers many different posts. In some places we are among Irish people and are settled in one place; elsewhere we are among the natives and have to do a lot of travel by land or by sea. We have hot places in the tropics, and a colder temperature at the southern end of our island. So that even people in an ordinary state of health can be useful here; more [work] is give to those who can do more, and less to those who can do less. So you see that you have no need to despair of your health; besides, if you are still a good walker as you were in the past, that is an excellent qualification for our mission.
[8]
Love of prayer, the courage to bear suffering, zeal for God and for souls along with an ordinary amount of learning, can make a good missionary. However, I admit, learning, languages, apologetics, familiarity with holy Scripture are very useful here among the Protestants. Regarding English, it is very useful; at least you can learn the grammar and the meaning of the words, and in this way you will understand this language in its written form. But in regard to pronunciation, don’t make use of any system, or at least without a teacher, don’t try to speak it. For that, wait until you are among the English, for once you make mistakes in pronunciation you will recover from them only with difficulty. Study carefully matters concerning the Church, Protestantism and Church history.
[9]
Fear nothing, my dear friend, the means of salvation and perfection are abundant, and if you cannot always live outwardly as in a community, how many are the opportunities for performing heroic acts of virtue, courage, and amassing a huge amount of glory! Because, you know, circumstances often make great men, but also they make great saints. Without struggles, without dangers, without famous warriors, without suffering, without works, without fights, there are no heroes of virtue. My dear friend, I have to be completely honest with you: at the end of the world, to be happy and to please God, you need look for only two things: love of suffering and humiliations. O incomparable treasures, if I had only acquired you while crossing the seas, while preparing for my apostolic life, I would have thought myself blessed, and well enough compensated for all my difficulties. Let us build, let us build the structure of our holiness on these two solid rocks; it will not crumble as long as tempests and torrents are unleashed to destroy it. Help me with your prayers to acquire these two incomparable pearls, for the acquisition of which, I will give, it seems to me, everything I have in the world. With those, how easy it would be for me to be perfect, and to carry out the most holy will of my God.
[10]
My dear friend, I still like to recall that holy friendship we formed at the major seminary, which followed you to Belley and which, I hope, will lead us to heaven. Happy days at Brou, beloved sanctuary of piety, solemn ceremonies, moving ordinations, and as well, edifying conversations, fine examples of regularity, obedience, piety, a preparation for heaven. Try to recall me to the memories of our former friends: Father Breton, Jacquet, Dufour, Dupuis[1]; all of them used to have Marist and almost missionary outlooks. Have they preserved those great ideas? Have they not forgotten those promises that we should mutually help each other and for heaven? Tell them that their friend, who has freely been exiled on a distant shore, has not forgotten them, but that their memory still spurs him on in virtue, and that he still has pleasure in often seeing them in the Blessed Hearts of Jesus and Mary, their common meeting place, and that he promises them a share in his prayers and his works, expecting them to do the same. I also like to call to mind this idea: you have friends in France, friends who are religious, they run with giant strides along the way to holiness. Let’s run eagerly along this holy way so that we all get to heaven, loaded with merit and glory. There our friendship will be more divine and more pure. We will have time to tell each other of our trials and our works amidst the eternal happiness we will have gained.
[11]
Please ask for myself and my people the help of the prayers of the Montluel community[2] etc. I thank you for the interest you get your students to take in our missions. I have not given up the hope of seeing you among us one day. Also tell Father Guttin[3] to get rid of his sicknesses so that he can come to us and speak English.
Very soon I must leave the savages and go to work among the Irish at Nicholson [Wellington]. Father Comte is to replace me. I thank Father Eymard and Father Mayet for their remembrance. Both of them have a fervent regard for Mary – may they pray earnestly for me. Don’t be reluctant to write to me, my confrères and friends as well. The voice of a friend coming from such a distance brings pleasure and revives a man with its ring of piety. No ordinary news, let us share everything, and meanwhile on Sundays and Wednesdays let us both remember to unite our prayers for the conversion of pagans.
[12]
Adieu, dear friend, adieu in the Blessed Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Your affectionate friend
Michel François Borjon, missionary apostolic


Notes

  1. All four were together at the seminary at Brou (in the Bourg-en-Bresse region) and became priests of the diocese of Belley. Joseph-Marie Jacquet and Pierre Dufour received all their Orders at the same time as Borjon, including priesthood (16 July 1837). Marin Breton and Louis Dupuy were ordained priests 21 July 1839. After 13 years as a diocesan priest, Breton entered the Marist novitiate, was professed 1 October 1853 and left 30 November 1857 with the nineteenth dispatch of missionaries. He arrived in Tonga in 1858 and then went to Vava’u where he remained until his death aged 66.
  2. The convent of the Visitation nuns at Montluel.
  3. Anthelme-Francois Guttin (1815-81), a Marist priest.