Can I forget the bitter tears that the sight of the cross brought streaming from my eyes one Good Friday?
“Can I forget … the sight of the cross?” asks Eugene, and the peace that flowed into his life as a result.
Never was my soul more satisfied, never did it feel such happiness; for in the midst of this flood of tears, despite my grief, or rather through my grief, my soul took wings for its last end, towards God its only good whose loss it felt so keenly.
Retreat Journal, December 1814, O.W. XV n.130
In 2014 Pope Francis gave a homily at the Easter Vigil ceremony concentrating on the message of the Risen Christ to the first witnesses of the Resurrection: “Go back to Galilee.” Galilee is the place where it all began for the disciples, and now after the death and resurrection of Jesus, they are asked to return there, but with new eyes. Pope Francis puts it this way: “To return to Galilee means to re-read everything on the basis of the cross and its victory.” It describes the Good Friday realization of Eugene that the only focus for making sense of his life had to be the cross and its victory.
Pope Francis then reminded us that each of us has our own personal Galilee and, in this way for me, captures the meaning of Eugene’s conversion experience, and the invitation this holds for each member of the Mazenodian family:
“In the life of every Christian, after baptism there is also a more existential Galilee: the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ who called me to follow him and to share in his mission. In this sense, returning to Galilee means treasuring in my heart the living memory of that call, when Jesus passed my way, gazed at me with mercy and asked me to follow him. It means reviving the memory of that moment when his eyes met mine, the moment when he made me realize that he loved me.”
For Eugene, Good Friday was the culmination of a labored conversion journey – the moment of realization that from the cross Jesus was gazing at him with mercy and asking him to follow him. It was the moment when the eyes of the Savior met the eyes of Eugene, the moment when he made Eugene understand that he loved him. From that moment onwards, and until his eyes opened to eternal life in 1861, their eyes and love never parted. It is because of this that we understand why the Oblate cross became the focal point of Eugene’s life and mission and why it is the only focal point that makes sense to the Oblates and to all who live the charism of Eugene.