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Thirty years later, Eugene still vividly remembered the struggle he had in order to go against his mother’s opposition to his vocation. Her reaction, and that of his grandmother, must have been very extreme for him to use such strong language so many years later:

I renounced the comforts of a private life and I violently tore myself loose from the embraces of maternal tenderness, personified above all in the person of my grandmother for whom I was an idol;
and after a prelude of some works of charity among the sick and the prisoners, I embraced the ecclesiastical state
because it was only in this state that I could realize that which my heart inspired me to do for the salvation and consequently for the true happiness of people.

Diary, 31 March 1839, EO XX

The intensity of the gaze of the Savior had certainly penetrated his heart and he was compelled to dedicate himself to bringing others to what he experienced as the only source of true happiness – whatever the personal cost.

“The one who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and the one who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Matthew 10:37

To complete the picture, it must be said that Madame de Mazenod was to become one of her priest-son’s greatest supporters. Without her help many missionary projects for the “true happiness of people” would not have been possible.

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“Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me!”    M. Luther (Words spoken in a very different context, but very applicable to all decisions regarding our relationship with God)

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Seeing himself and the world through the eyes of the Crucified Savior led Eugene to the unwavering certainty of being called to a life of total oblation at the service of the Savior. Madame de Mazenod was certainly not convinced, and her son reacted:

I was hurt at the same time to see that it upsets you so much to see me entering the state of life God calls me to, and to see as a calamity something that should be a source of joy for you.

Eugene had to use all his powers of persuasion to convince her that it had not been a hasty decision, and that a lot of thought and consultation had gone into his discernment.

You tell me one must reflect for a long time before taking such a serious decision. No doubt, one must reflect and test oneself, but must this scrutiny last all one’s life? No decision was ever more carefully and lengthily discussed than the one I am taking.

The he describes his meticulous discernment  process.

Come next Christmas, when I will probably be receiving the subdiaconate, I will have been discerning this matter for three years; more than a year of testing in the seminary, after consulting all the best directors available, and all to know if a vocation which dates back to my reaching the age of reason  [comes from God].
It has led me to trample underfoot the most seductive vanities and renounce all the advantages I might have found elsewhere, to say nothing of considerations that would have shaken a person less firm, to master finally all the feelings of a heart easily moved to emotion and so accustomed to get its way, to know, I say, if this vocation comes from God.

He concludes by appealing to his love for his mother that would never allow hi9m to heut her – yet his love for God had to come first.

Ah, my God! If the Lord had not inspired this resolution, could I have endured even the thought of causing you to shed one single tear? Answer me that, knowing my heart as you do.

Letter to his mother, 4 April 1809, EO XIV n 50

It was the certainty of someone who had experienced being loved from the cross by the One who gave everything for him. This certainty made sense of his life and his calling.

Perhaps your and my life experience has not quite led us to the same conviction of certainty – yet the same loving gaze and open arms of the Savior on the cross invite us to allow Him to make sense of our lives … let’s ask St Eugene to help us to respond with generosity as he did. It changed his life!

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“Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”   Vaclav Havel

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Convinced that his vocation to respond to the Savior’s love as a priest came from God, Eugene now had to convince his unimpressed mother that he had no choice but to obey. He wrote to her:

to communicate to you the Master’s designs we are all bound to obey on pain of damnation, to answer any objections you might make, in short, through telling you my reasons, to get your approval for a project that certainly comes from God, as it has passed all the tests required of any inspiration that seems unusual and it has been endorsed by all the persons who hold his place in my regard.

Realizing that his mother’s objections were caused, in part, by her maternal fear of losing him, he reassured her:

It remains, my dear, darling mother, for me now to reassure you about the thing that might seem hardest to bear from a natural point of view. God is not demanding here sacrifices beyond our strength. There aren’t going to be any heart-rending partings, departures without coming back.

Letter to his mother, 29 June 1808, EO XIV n 27

Our baptism has drawn each of us into a divine adventure. Today Eugene invites us to reflect on how aware we are of our daily lives fitting in with God’s plan for us.

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“God must move our life and draw it into a divine adventure, which is unknown to us; one in which, at the same time spectators and actors of the marvelous plans of love, we give moment by moment the contribution of our free will.”  Chiara Lubich

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“Through the eyes of the crucified Savior” – a life-changing realization of God’s love for Eugene.

Having completed his discernment process, Eugene no longer had any doubts. The Savior whose love he had experienced from the cross, was challenging him to respond with a similar love: to devote himself in a special way to His service” as a priest.

The Savior’s look had led Eugene to look at the world through His eyes  and impelled him to respond accordingly: to dedicate his life to “the salvation of souls he has redeemed by his precious blood.”

He announced his decision to his mother – a decision that he pursued single-mindedly and never once regretted or veered away from in the next 53 years of his life:

As the Lord is my witness, what he wants of me is that I renounce a world where it is almost impossible to find salvation, such is the power of apostasy there; that I devote myself especially to his service and try to reawaken the faith that is becoming extinct among the poor;
in a word, that I make myself available to carry out any orders he may wish to give me for his glory and the salvation of souls he has redeemed by his precious blood.

Letter to his mother, 29 June 1808, EO XIV n 27

Thanks to Eugene’s vision and courageous response we are able to celebrate its fruits today, and continue to apply it in all situations.

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“To succeed in your mission, you must have single-minded devotion to your goal.”   A. Kalam

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As Father Magy accompanied Eugene in his vocational discernment, he expressed the heart of all spirituality: it is a lifelong response to what God has done in a person’s life. In the life of each of us there is a God-spark that lights the fire of our lives and gives meaning and purpose. In Eugene’s case it was the realization of being seen and loved through the eyes of his crucified Savior.

“The source of your confidence lies in what God has already done for you; it should be a joyful pledge of what he wants to do for you in the future, if you do not obstruct his action. Your vocation is as certain as it could ever be. That is all you need to know. “

We have seen how the spark that lit Eugene’s fire also led him into struggle and confusion. Fr. Magy’s advice was realistic: “For the rest, entrust yourself blindly to God. Nor should you count on the sweet consolations that it pleased God’s fatherly goodness to have you experience to give you support and encouragement. It is especially in abandonment, darkness, and temptations that fidelity becomes evident. Your moods fluctuate. God is always the same and deserves to be served with the same quality of zeal. On foggy days, remember the sunny days.

The truth that has seized upon you is not revealed to you by the senses which cannot seize it; it is a heavenly beam. This beam of light no longer shines, but the truth remains.” Letter from Father Magy to Eugene, August 1808, quoted in Rey I, p. 88

“On foggy days, remember the sunny days” was the invitation of Jesus to the disciples who had experienced his transfiguration and needed to remember the light in the darkness of Gethsemane and Calvary. It is the invitation that continues today, that in moments of darkness and lack of consolation, we must never lose sight of the  spark that gave us light – and continues to do so. This is where our spirituality begins.


“From my point of view, God is the light that illuminates the darkness, even if it does not dissolve it, and a spark of divine light is within each of us.”   Pope Francis

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As the time approached for Eugene to take the decisive step to go to the seminary and prepare himself for priestly ministry, his spiritual director, Father Magy, gave him ongoing support and encouragement.

   “O happy day, the anniversary of your Baptism! Oh, how your letter flooded me with joy. Your sentiments disconcert me, but I find consolation in being disconcerted…

       “You have a devotion to Saint Ignatius. That great saint trained so many apostles. He will obtain for you the grace to be one. You, you will be one. I have the feeling you will be …

You have the desire to be a martyr; that is the desire characteristic of an apostle. Your desires will be fulfilled: offering your senses and your inclinations in sacrifice will make you a martyr.

Go for it! Courage! The field is open; the harvest is abundant and the workers are few. Set everything on fire.”   Letter from Father Magy, August 1808, quoted in Rey I, p 88.

The enthusiastic and fiery Eugene did not need much more encouragement. What had come together for him on Good Friday, was now about to begin to take effect: apostle, the desire for total oblation in love as a martyr, burning with zeal for the salvation of others … Two hundred years later, that fire continues to burn and has set us on fire as a Mazenodian Family, built on its apostles, its martyrs, its fiery missionaries, its co-workers… What a legacy, and what a challenge to go for it, to have courage, to set the world on fire.


“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”   T. S. Eliot

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As friendship was important to Eugene, so much more important was its expression in the presence of God. Having asked his friend Emmanuel to pray for him and support him in his discernment, he then proposes a practical way of doing this.

How I wish I were in a position to talk more clearly with you! You would be a help to me not only by your prayers, but also by your example, and at your side I would be more courageous in the battle and more assured of victory.
But since such a union is unfortunately impossible, let us make this separation more endurable by a more frequent correspondence: let us fix a spiritual rendezvous in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ every Sunday at 10:30 a.m., an hour at which Mass is solemnly celebrated in every Church. There we will pray at the same hour for our mutual needs, and through our union, we will so to speak compel the tender heart of our Redeemer to apply in our regard in a special way the merits of his Passion and Death.
Goodbye, my dear friend, please send me a reply without delay and go on loving me as much as I love you.

Letter to Emmanuel Gaultier de Claubry, 23 December 1807, EO XIV n 22

This is the practice that Oblates affectionately know as “oraison” – a time of silent fraternal communion in prayer with one another in the presence of Jesus. It would become a hallmark of Eugene’s spirituality and practice in his relationship with people, and especially the Oblate missionaries scattered all around the world.

It is a way of actualizing the promise of Jesus: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20


“Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall. The wall is the thing which separates them but is also their means of communication. It is the same with us and God. Every separation is a link.”   Simone Weil

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Just because a person has had a strong religious experience, and is in a process of discernment as to how to live it out, it does not automatically mean that life gets any easier. As much as one needs spiritual direction one also needs companionship from peers on the journey. The need for this deep type of companionship was always present in Eugene’s life. Here he demonstrates this need for support to his friend Emmanuel de Claubry:

And now, shall I speak of myself? Yes, but only to ask for your prayers, to give you the charge expressly to persevere in asking God to accomplish in my regard the adorable designs whose outcome I impede by my infidelities; that he might knock, prune, reduce me to desiring only what He wills, that He might overturn all the obstacles standing in the way of my arriving at a more perfect state to which I strongly believe I am called.
May he give me the grace of recognizing ever more clearly the vanities of this miserable earth, so that I see only those heavenly goods that the moth cannot corrupt. In a word may he make me worthy of the communion of saints and have me assume the place among them that he seems to have destined me for, but which it seems to me I am still far from deserving.
How I wish I were in a position to talk more clearly with you! You would be a help to me not only by your prayers, but also by your example, and at your side I would be more courageous in the battle and more assured of victory.

Letter to Emmanuel Gaultier de Claubry, 23 December 1807, EO XIV n 22


“We must learn to speak according to our own inner truth, as far as we can perceive it.  We must learn to say what we really mean in the depths of our souls, not what we think we are expected to say, not what somebody else has just said.  And we must be prepared to take responsibility for our desires, and accept the consequences”

Thomas Merton

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Conversion and discernment are not once-off events. We have major moments of understanding and conversion and commitment to a life direction and lifestyle – but these have to be renewed on a constant basis. Each day we need to renew our commitment. Each day we need to allow the Savior to look at us and to renew us in our journey. Admittedly it gets easier as one practices and grows in habits (and in age), but we can never let down our guard.

For the first years after his conversion, Eugene struggled to maintain its effects. The following prayer is found in his notebook of that period:

For a perfect conversion.
How still imperfect, my God, is my conversion; the root of sin lives on in me; the thoughts and memory of the world are still powerfully at work; the things I have renounced retain their hold on my imagination, and reawaken threatening images.
My heart, still weak, is quite disturbed by it, and in the midst of this disturbance it feels all its passions coming back to life; it takes but little for it to be ensnared.
Is this what it is to belong perfectly to God? My inconstancy in the little good I do, my God, is no less humiliating for me;
full of good desires, I am often satisfied with their formulation, almost all my zeal is used up in the making of plans;
I fluctuate between yielding to grace and to my own desires, while time flows by, I journey swiftly towards eternity, and I am always the same.
Shall I all my life be the plaything of the enemy of my salvation? Make firm, my God, my inconstancy, wholly change my heart; inspire within me, for my salvation, the same zeal I showed for losing myself. Sicut enim exhibuistis membra vestra servire … iniquitati … ita nunc exhibete … servire justitiae (Rm 6, 19) [ed. For just as you presented the parts of your bodies as slaves… to lawlessness … so now present them… to serve righteousness.]

Prayer for a perfect conversion, EO XIV n 24


“The church is not a theological classroom. It is a conversion, confession, repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness and sanctification center, where flawed people place their faith in Christ, gather to know and love him better, and learn to love others as he designed.”    Paul David Tripp

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