Can I forget the bitter tears that the sight of the cross brought streaming from my eyes one Good Friday? Indeed they welled up from the heart, there was no checking them, they were too abundant for me to be able to hide them from those who like myself were assisting at that moving ceremony. I was in a state of mortal sin and it was precisely this that made me grieve…
Blessed, a thousand times blessed, that he, this good Father, notwithstanding my unworthiness, lavished on me all the richness of his mercy.
Retreat Journal, December 1814, O.W. XV n.130
One can change one’s ways because of fear of punishment or because of love. A change brought about by love is more likely to endure. Eugene shows this conviction powerfully in the retreat he did just before his priestly ordination:
In any case, I have never needed the idea of hell to bring me to God; I have never been able to bring myself to dwell on it in my acts of contrition. When I ignored God, fear of hell did not hold me; now that I have come back to him [by a quite different road than fear of hell], even were there no hell I would want to love my God and serve him all my life.
Retreat notes before his ordination, December 1811, O.W. XIV n.95
As we look at the cross with Eugene, he invites us to see only God’s love – and through the loving eyes of our Crucified Savior to look at ourselves and those around us as we really are.
“The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.” Victor Hugo