Having been knocked off balance by his experiences in the Protestant part of Switzerland, Eugene found his equilibrium again when he saw his first crucifix in a public place.

Also, my heart was gladdened at the sight of the first cross I perceived as I entered the canton of Fribourg. We recited with joy the Vexilla as if we had just found our compass once more. Yet we had journeyed only two days in this beautiful country ravaged by heresy.

Letter to Hippolyte Guibert, 29 July 1830, EO VII n 350

One Good Friday, nearly a quarter century earlier, Eugene had found the compass of his life looking at the Cross. Now he proves how it had remained his compass in all moment of his life, especially those of confusion and difficulty.

The Vexilla is a hymn dating back to the 5th century. A translation of the first verse is:

Abroad the regal banners fly,
now shines the Cross’s mystery:
upon it Life did death endure,
and yet by death did life procure.

“The cross is not just a badge to identify us…it is also the compass which gives us our bearings in a disoriented world.” John Stott

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    At first I wondered how I could relate, if I could relate to what Eugene was describing – for I was looking at it quite literally. Then I remembered a very small incident from earlier this past week. Two days ago I went to visit a friend who is staying in a retirement home for respite as she recovers from a recent surgery. As I was leaving and waiting for the elevator to arrive an elderly women arrived with her walker saying she was going to have tea with the ladies and then she seemed to stare at me. Once in the elevator she pointed to my small Oblate Cross searching for words which eventually came out as she touched the cross and said she liked my ‘pendant’. I smiled and replied “oh my cross” as I touched it. She brightened and said yes ‘cross’ and seemed suddenly to become a little more ‘aware’. She told me she was a Catholic – that she used to go to St. Joseph’s church down the street which was not too far from where we were. I responded telling her that St. Joseph’s was my parish church. We arrived at her floor – we smiled and said goodbye as she left the elevator and as the doors closed I could hear the voices greeting her. I thought about it for a second and then continued on my way. My cross was a point of contact and more than that a moment of awareness as she found herself. Funny how this stayed hidden in my mind until this morning.

    I live in a city where one can find many crosses, they are atop many churches and although I see them they do not always invite me to a point of awareness. But the small Oblate cross that I wear is always on me, a part of me. It is more like a wedding ring than a piece of jewelry. I touch it in moments of uncertainty and hold it in moments of wonder and joy. I touch it because it grounds me, brings me back to who I am, I caress it in moments of tenderness and clutch it in moments of struggle. It centres me and reminds me of who I am in the eyes of God. It is my beginning and my end. Beloved.

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