In John 21:1-14, the disciples had returned to their normal occupation of fishing and the Risen Jesus appeared to them in the midst their everyday activity. They did not recognize him at first, but it was love that opened their eyes.

St Eugene had always loved the Risen Jesus present in his Word. In 1837, before becoming Bishop of Marseilles, he looked back on 55 years of lovingly listening to the Word of God:

I give you thanks, O Lord, for having made shine forth this light from the sacred deposit of your Holy Scriptures. As you show me the way I should follow, and give me the desire to follow it, you will also give me the powerful help of your grace.

René Motte OMI, who made a study of the role of Scripture in the life of St Eugene gives us some practical advice on how we can develop the same attitude as the disciples at the time of Jesus and disciple Eugene. Circumstances today make it more possible for all of us to spend time with the Word of God in this loving attitude:

Silence is necessary, silence to listen to Jesus Christ who speaks in the Bible. Silent listening is generous, since it flows from a deep love. That is what the Oblates [ed. and all members of the Mazenodian family] are called upon to experience “in joy”, says the Founder. They are happy to be in intimate union with Christ, enjoying his word. Thus the mouth will speak from the abundance of the heart (see Matthew 12:34). Consequently, the reading of Scripture is not limited to study; it must be seen in the context of an encounter with Christ. It is thus a listening to his word received as a personal message.

“Sacred Scripture” in Dictionary of Oblate Values: https://www.omiworld.org/lemma/sacred-scripture/

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Handed on to his Apostles by Jesus, this word has lost none of its power in the course of the ages. We have experienced the fact that because it issued from the mouth of him who is himself eternal life, it is always spirit and life.”

Eugene de Mazenod, Pastoral Letter 1844

Today we can understand in a deeper way the experience of the disciples locked in the upper room because they were afraid. The risen Jesus appeared to them and opened their minds to his presence in the Scriptures. Let us invite the Risen Jesus to penetrate the walls of our “upper room” today and give him time to open our minds to understand how present he is whenever we read the Word of God.

Our OMI Rule of Life, totally impregnated by the spirit of St Eugene can be applied to every disciple today:

The Word of God nourishes our spiritual life and apostolate. We will not only study it diligently but also develop a listening heart, so that we may come to a deeper knowledge of the Saviour whom we love and wish to reveal to the world. This immersion in God’s Word will enable us to understand better the events of history in the light of faith. (OMI Constitutions and Rules, C.33)

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The downcast disciples returning to Emmaus had lost all sense of purpose. The one they had pinned their hopes on had been put to death, and all that he stood for had disappeared. No more dreams or inspiring ideals… it was time to return home and shut themselves in.

Luke 24:13-35 narrates how they became aware that a “stranger” was walking with them and entered into their experience and opened their eyes.

Here we understand the meaning of Easter: the realization that Jesus Christ is alive and enters into the reality of our lives. Easter is the opening of our eyes and hearts and lives to his presence.

Unable to attend services in church, we are invited to spend time at home with Scripture. Like the disciples let us let him explain his Word to us and set our hearts on fire in our everyday existence.

Saint Eugene’s life was dedicated to explaining the Good News of salvation to those who were most in need. He and his missionaries wanted the hearts of all those who listened to burn within them. The invitation he wrote in the Rule of 1818 continues today:

Our one and only aim should be to instruct people…
not only to break the bread of the Word for them but to chew it for them as well;
in a word, to ensure that when our discourses are over,
they are not tempted to heap foolish praise on what they have not understood,
but, instead, that they go back home edified, touched, instructed, able to repeat in their own family circle what they have learned from our mouth.

At times we feel like those disciples who wanted to shut themselves into their own isolation in Emmaus. Let’s open our eyes to recognize the presence of the Risen Jesus alongside us.  Let us spend some time with his Gospel. As we break the bread of the Word, he helps us to chew it – and our hearts will burn within us.

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Mary Magdalene was the first to recognize that Jesus was risen and she rushed to tell the disciples who were fearfully isolated in the upper room. “I have seen the Lord!” she proclaimed. Initially incredulous, they too began to experience that Jesus was alive.

As a result of the French Revolution the people of the countryside of France were locked in their ignorance of their faith. Eugene de Mazenod had recognized the presence of the Risen Jesus in his life, and he dedicated his life to proclaiming “I have seen the Lord!” to those who were the most needy of coming to know the Risen Lord.

Inviting others to enter into his life of proclamation, he founded the Missionary Oblates, and insisted that their time be divided between “seeing the Lord” in prayer, reading and reflection and the proclamation, “I have seen the Lord!” whom they had encountered in this way:

The Missionaries will divide their group in such a way that while some strive in community to acquire the virtues and knowledge proper to a good missionary, others are travelling in the rural areas proclaiming the Word of God.
 When their apostolic journeys are over, they will return to the community to rest from their labours by exercising a ministry that is less demanding, and to prepare themselves through meditation and study for a more fruitful ministry when next called upon to undertake new work.

Request to the Capitular Vicars of Aix, 25 January 1816, EO XIII n.2

In these days when so many of us are in isolation, let us use this time in a similar way so that each day we too can proclaim “I have seen the Lord! He is risen and alive for me!”

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Photo by Sammy Chandio on Unsplash

The Risen Jesus tells the disciples to go back to Galilee: “They will see me there.” Galilee is where it all began for the disciples, it was the place where they met Jesus, and he entered into their lives.

Today, the Risen Lord tells each of us: “Go back to Galilee – go back to that time when you realized that I was present in your life.”

During this time of isolation, the Risen Jesus is inviting us to enter into the Galilee of our hearts and lives.

Saint Eugene frequently did this, and he called it recollection. He wanted all those who followed his way of discipleship to do the same, as he wrote in his Rule of 1818:

The whole life of the members of our Society ought to be a life of continual recollection (Art. 1).

To attain this, they will first of all make every effort to walk always in the presence of God, and frequently try to utter short but fervent  spontaneous prayers. (Art.2,)

Eugene and Jesus shared a deep bond of friendship – and a friend always wants to be in the presence of a loved one. His days are filled with moments of recollection – of short bursts of prayer and expressions of love.

During this Easter spent in isolation, this is what Eugene invites us to do in a special way during these difficult days.

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OMI Constitutions and Rules, Constitution 4

Icon written by Lauretta Agolli for the US Mazenodian Family

After journeying with him through the sad event of his Passion, after weeping over the torments that our sins made him endure, how consoling it is to see him rise triumphant over death and hell, and what gratitude must fill our hearts at the thought that this good Master has really willed to make us sharers in his resurrection, destroying the sin that is in us and giving us a new life.

Eugene de Mazenod  to his mother, 4 April 1809, EO XIV n 50

“We announce the liberating presence of Jesus Christ and the new world born in his resurrection”

OMI Constitutions and Rules, Constitution 4

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We shall always look on her as our mother.

In the joys and sorrows of our missionary life, we feel close to her who is the Mother of Mercy.

OMI Rule of Life,  CC&RR Constitution 10

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It was when, hanging on the cross, he cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In the incarnation, Jesus became fully human and became one with us in all our experiences. On the cross, he entered into the extreme experience of human hopelessness: the sense of having been abandoned by God.

He became one with us in all those situations where we cry out in darkness and despair: “Where are you God, why are you absent?”

As we embrace Jesus Forsaken on this Good Friday, let us embrace the door that he opened through his suffering and death: his resurrection and ours.

As I read St. Eugene’s writings, I constantly hear echoes of his Good Friday experience of his fragility and his awareness of God’s healing love. It was a conviction that never left him and that was at the basis of all his ministry: to lead others to his same experience. St Eugene knew darkness and seeming-hopelessness many times in his life. Yet he recognized that in these dark moments, his Savior was present, and he attests to this in constantly in his writings. Just one example:

In the end, though with sadness, I go my way, placing my trust in God alone. Let us love him always more.

Letter to Father Forbin Janson, 12 September 1814

He encouraged others to do the same. In particular today I recall his words to Father Jacques Jourdan, aged 25, and the first Oblate to die. He was suffering from deep depression and darkness:

Courage, my dear friend. Very great saints have been tried like you, but they became saints in spite of these circumstances because they did not cease to obey; courage, once more, my dear friend, we are all down on the floor praying for you so that you will bear this hard trial like a valiant soldier of Jesus Christ. This so amiable Master, our model, did not yield to despair in the garden of Olives; into what an agony he was plunged nevertheless! Hold on to him and fear nothing, drink the cup of his bitterness since he allows to let you share in his passion, but do not doubt that he will soon fill you with his sweetest joys. Until then you must keep your peace and obey…
At the moment of communion, tell him lovingly about all your sorrows: “O Lord I am oppressed be my security!” [Is. 38, 14].Embrace his feet in spirit, protest that you will never separate yourself from him, that you wish to love him for ever, then take him into your heart and be not troubled about anything.

Letter to Jacques Antoine Jourdan, 30 March 1823

Victor Frankl, a survivor of the second world war concentration camps attests to this when he wrote:

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

St. Eugene teaches us the choice of the attitude of recognizing Jesus in his forsakenness on the Cross in every moment of the darkness we experience in this present crisis.

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This is how Eugene and his closest Oblate companion, Henri Tempier, spent that night in 1816.

Briefly put. Father Tempier and I felt that we should not delay any longer, and on Holy Thursday (April 11, 1816), when both of us had taken our place under the structure of the beautiful repository we had erected over the main altar of the Mission church, in the night of that holy day, we pronounced our vows with an indescribable joy. We enjoyed our happiness throughout this beautiful night, in the presence of Our Lord.

Rambert I, p. 187

This time of reflection recalled the time Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane at prayer while struggling to live the events taking place at that moment. The “not what I want, but what you want” (Mark 14:36) of Jesus to the Father became the commitment to the “not what I want, but what you want” of Eugene and Henri Tempier to the Father – and consequently the key to understanding the meaning of self-giving – which we know as “oblation.”

As we meet in the Garden of Gethsemane today, let us be united with one another in giving each other strength as we struggle in our aloneness. (“Oraison”)

Let us also be conscious of the courageous oblation of those who are caring for the sick and the dying, and of those providing us with “essential services” that make our daily lives possible. As we keep watch with Jesus and St Eugene in Gethsemane, let us pray for these ministering angels and let us become ministering angels to one another.

The altar referred to today was originally in Aix, but is now in Rome.

“If we are to share our lives with others and generously give of ourselves, we also have to realize that every person is worthy of our giving. Not for their physical appearance, their abilities, their language, their way of thinking, or for any satisfaction that we might receive, but rather because they are God’s handiwork, his creation. God created that person in his image, and he or she reflects something of God’s glory. Every human being is the object of God’s infinite tenderness, and he himself is present in their lives. Jesus offered his precious blood on the cross for that person. Appearances notwithstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love. Consequently, if I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life. It is a wonderful thing to be God’s faithful people. We achieve fulfilment when we break down walls and our heart is filled with faces and names!”

Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 274

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The pandemic does not make it possible for some of us to participate physically in the Holy Week liturgies and the sacraments. What an experience of the Cross it is, and what an invitation to see things in a new light!

From the Cross, our Savior reminds us that he is present every time we read the Scriptures, and every time we consciously live this promise with someone else: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am present among them” (Matthew 18,20). The persons taking this promise seriously, DO have the presence of Jesus among them – even if separated by many miles and even continents. Jesus has promised always to be present in this way if we remember to allow him to. This is one way of living the Cross with those who suffer today.

Saint Eugene recalled:

Can I forget the bitter tears that the sight of the cross brought streaming from my eyes one Good Friday?

Eugene de Mazenod, Retreat Journal, December 1814, EO XV n.130

“How could we get deeper into this salvatorian spirituality of ours? Let me mention three ways.   First.  Someone inspired by St. Eugene will not be afraid of the cross. As true Oblates we will look openly into the face of the suffering and crucified Christ. This is done not so much by pictures and movies as by reading the Scriptures, experiencing Christ’s presence in the sacraments and looking into the face of the poorest of our brothers and sisters.

W. Steckling OMI, OMI Information n 462, Rome, February 2007.

“Sometimes we are tempted to be that kind of Christian who keeps the Lord’s wounds at arm’s length. Yet Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others. He hopes that we will stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune and instead enter into the reality of other people’s lives and know the power of tenderness. Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated and we experience intensely what it is to be a people, to be part of a people.”

Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 270.

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