Fr Jean-Baptiste Comte to Jean-Claude Colin, Bay of Islands, 25 Nov 1843
This letter is “a sign of life” – he is still around, in spite of not having written for a while. Gives a list of who is where on the mission, and what they are up to. All are well – a good spirit of unity prevails. Summarises for Colin an instruction he had recently given a group of Maori – makes it clear that a person who freely refuses baptism cannot be saved.
Translated by Mark Hangartner, August 2010
APM Z 287 25 November 1843
Text of the Letter
- New Zealand, Bay of Islands, 25 November 1843
- To Very Reverend Father Colin, Superior General
- Very Reverend Father,
- A few lines about our life together. Fr Chouvet has come to replace Fr Reignier who was with me. Fr Reignier has been placed closer to the interior of the countryside, four days travel from Opotiki at a place called Rotorua. I have just been called to the Bay of Islands for a period. I would have the care of the Maori at this mission station until the return of Fr Baty who had just left for Sydney, he will no doubt write to you himself from there.
- Fathers Forest and Bernard and the brothers of the order are here. Fr Garin is in the Kaipara, three days travel from the Bay of Islands, for some months. Fr Moreau is at Hokianga with Mgr Petit but only for some months. Fr Petit-Jean is still in Auckland. His school is faring well. There are 24 children. Fr Pezant spent two months in the Bay of Islands. He has just left for the Tauranga station. Fr Rozet is at Whangaroa near the Bay of Islands. We are all in good health. Some, however, are beginning to suffer from rheumatism. We are all happy. the source of our happiness and our joy is in our unity. Mary, Our Good Mother, is our centre.
- I said Mass yesterday at 9 o'clock for the Maori; I gave them a short teaching on holy baptism. If I may render into French what I said in their language, I would remove for a moment the burdens of your word and make you want to laugh.
- Children, I said, when a man dies his body remains stretched out to rot, his soul goes to meet God. God asks him: Where do you come from? - I come from such and such a place. Did you pray? - Yes. Were you a believer? - Yes. Did you do good things? - Yes. Were you baptised? -No, I never wanted to be. - Well then, I don't want you for my paradise, in my heaven of light and glory; go to Satan.
- So Satan takes hold of this Soul, drags him to an eternal fire which burns him forever without making him die. On the other hand, when a baptised man dies, God says to his soul: have you been baptised? -Yes. Have you done good? -Yes. Come then into the joy of my kingdom. So do not say, children, that baptism is a useless thing. If it were only man who created it, you could say, it is a pointless thing <he mea noa> .
- But it was Jesus Christ himself who instituted baptism, who said to his apostles: Go, teach all nations, baptise them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Do you wish to see, children, that the apostles practised baptism? When the Holy Spirit came upon them, they went out of the house and as Peter was the greatest among them, he preached the first. A great number of people believed and said to Peter: What shall we do? Repent, he told them, be baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and three thousand were baptised, he mea pai whakaharahara te iriiringa . It is the soap for the soul.
- When you just bought a blanket it looks good; if you let it fall into mud, it becomes dirty. So you wash it with soap and water, the stains come out and the blanket good to look upon. Just so there are stains on souls; these are thefts, killings, quarrels, fornication and all the rest. The soap to cleanse these is baptism, in washing the soul, it becomes pleasing to God.
- Five Maori made their communion at the Mass. In former times they would sit on corpses to eat them; but today they took their places at the angelic table with such modesty and piety that it was uplifting. These poor Maori are so dear to us!
- Fr Forest has just reminded me that soon we will be together on retreat. Time of war, time of peace. How I need to take time to focus on my own needs! To go deep into my own soul, to use both a pruning knife and pickaxe not only to slash away at what superfluous, but also to dig out those weeds which choke the good plants which nourish faith, charity and zeal and which may ruin a missionary. I am looking forward to it impatiently and and hope the retreat will do me a great deal of good.
- I have no special news about myself. I am homesick neither for Europe, nor my parents, nor friends. Heaven is indeed more beautiful than France. Jesus the best of fathers, Mary the best of mothers, my brother priests the best friends, my Society of Mary the sweetest of delights. However, my very reverend father, I ask you to remember me in a special way, as being the least perfect of all your children, the thinnest, the sickliest, the laggard on the path of virtue.
- I have the honour to be with the greatest respect, my very reverend father,your very humble and obedient servant. Comte M.S.
- a mediocre or useless thing
- Baptism is an exceptionally good thing