Br Charise (Jean-Pierre Gras) to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Wallis, 23 June 1851
APM OW 208 Gras
Clisby Letter 91. Girard doc. 1023
Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS
Br Charise (Pierre Gras 1819-1884) was received as a novice at St Paul-Trois-Chateaux in August 1847 after completing his term of military service in Algeria, a fact he refers to in a later letter (L 97). He had originally intended joining the Carthusians or the Trappists - which tells us as much about the way the brothers lived then as about Charise’s own decidedly monastic spirituality. After assignments at Mondragon and Camaret, he received permission to go to Oceania as a catechist. He made perpetual profession at the Hermitage on 2 July 1849 and left with Br Sorlin and four priests on the 17th of the month. When they reached Wallis, Bataillon employed Charise as his personal servant as well as tailor for the mission. At the time of writing he was preparing to accompany the bishop to Futuna, the beginning of a tour of the vicariate he describes in a letter the following year (L 99).
This letter is an account of conscience to the Superior General as prescribed in the Rule. Unlike some of his confreres, Charise was regular in writing them. The original is in his file in the Wallis correspondence in the APM.
Text of the Letter
- Very Reverend Father,
- I wish today to take the liberty of addressing a letter directly to you. You already know the reason; a child of necessity addresses his Father, so deserving of his love, to give him proof of his love and to let him know the dispositions of his heart, so that with fatherly kindness he can remove the obstacles blocking his progress on the way to God.
- If I recounted all my faults to you in detail, very reverend Father, I would never finish and I would probably bore you. I will content myself, then, with telling you the main ones and the good and bad in me, as far as the Blessed Virgin has been willing to make me aware of them.
- First of all, I am very proud of my straightforwardness. Sometimes I am told I play the professor a bit too much, for, as a matter of fact, I often like to talk about things too elevated for me and I would do better to keep silent. This is the case especially when it’s a question of what is good. I have to stick my nose in and speak with such conviction and boldness before everyone, even my superiors, that I could well be taken for an authority. I also frequently like to make observations, point out difficulties. But afterwards I go along with what is wanted and leave everything in God’s hands.
- Monsignor told me once not to answer him back, whether he was wrong or not, and I was very embarrassed the day of Corpus Christi when I couldn’t work out the plan of a little altar he wanted me to make and I didn’t dare say anything for fear of irritating him. I am a little hotheaded and sometimes a little too quick to speak, but without intending any malice.
- As for the good, very Reverend Father, my conduct is always much the same and my exercises of piety are done regularly enough. I prefer solitude and I don’t restrict myself to spiritual reading. My meditations are often on detachment from the things of this world, on the spiritual death, and on the things that lead the soul to attachment and love of God. Nothing obedience calls me to is too much trouble. But this is so I can get the better of my wretched nature, which is the most difficult thing for me. I have no desire for anything on earth. I don’t believe there is anything there which could hold an attraction for me. Everywhere I find all I want. I ask only to do God’s will.
- As for the exercises of piety, each does in private as he wishes. Since I have been here I haven’t yet seen a chapter of faults for the Brothers or even any spiritual direction. Except, when we made our retreat, Monsignor assembled us to say a few words to us, but not in order to encourage us. Everyone got a telling off - that’s the usual thing to expect. In hot climates, just like plants, we need a sprinkling of dew, very reverend Father, the dew which invigorates the soul and helps it overcome all difficulties - for they are not scarce in these lands. But, in the end, if we are forgotten by men, then God will look after us. I have taken the Holy Family as my patrons and models for all the days of my life. I pray to them frequently during the day to take pity on me, to guide me during the day and all the days of my life, and particularly at the hour of death, and I ask their holy blessing. I have as well some ejaculatory prayers I repeat during the day, such as: ‘Remove from me, Most Holy Heart of Jesus, all that is displeasing to you’, the Memorare, and the prayer to St Joseph. I go to communion three times a week and to confession every week or fortnight.
- There, my very Reverend and amiable Father, that is all I can tell you now, and in a great hurry. A ship has anchored today in the channel to take His Lordship to Futuna, and me too. And as he is taking everything with him I have a lot of packing to do. You won’t be surprised, very reverend Father, if there are a lot of mistakes in this letter. I am taking advantage of the imminent departure for Sydney of a little schooner which is also in port.
- I have the honour, my very Reverend Father, of being always in Jesus and Mary, your very humble and obedient servant,
- Br Charise.
- A monastic form of public confession prescribed by the Rule twice weekly, Thursdays and Sundays, after evening prayer (1837 Rule, Chap II art 41).
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