Eugene had gone to the city of Gap to perform an ordination, but it was cancelled at the last moment.

But the good God had not brought me to Gap for that reason. In the depths of a jail cell there was a man faced with a public curse, a vile criminal, a scoundrel condemned to death, who was waiting for the final word from Paris to see himself led to the scaffold. This unfortunate fellow, forsaken by men, was not deaf to the voice of the minister of religion who came to bring him a message of peace. He came to his senses, confessed his sins and his dispositions seemed so excellent that the minister reconciled him to God.

Eugene, who always saw abandoned people through the eyes of the Crucified Savior, could not tolerate the injustice of not ministering sacramentally to criminals awaiting execution.

There he is in his cell, concerned only about his salvation. There was nothing more to be done for him except to recommend him to the mercy of God. Such would have wished the horrible prejudice, the barbarian abuse which mercilessly refuses any other religious comfort to a man condemned to death. That there is a divine precept to receive Holy Communion before one dies, that the sinner who is reconciled with God is bound to the obligation of the annual Communion, which is more compelling as each day goes by, has no importance at all to them. No, the custom said it was not proper to give the Body of Christ to someone condemned to death, and would hinder him from fulfilling that great duty and violently deprive him of the right that he had to share in the Eucharist in his terrible situation.
He would have undergone that atrocious injustice if the good Lord had not sent me to Gap. May God be blessed a thousand times! …Meanwhile, I took upon myself the task of sanctioning by my example the doctrine I teach. Today I went to say Mass in the prison.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 16 July 1837, EO XVIII

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    Here is what the greatest secret of life looks like; seeing others through the eyes of the Crucified Saviour. Eugene speaks of the violence of depriving someone of their right to receive the Eucharist; speaking of it as a crime of injustice towards the other. He himself had suffered great injustices during his life and in particular in the previous five years of his life; and so out of love and compassion he set about righting that wrong committed against the condemned prisoner.

    I doubt that it matters one iota to God if a person seeks forgiveness for his or her wrongs before being judged and condemned or after the punishment is given and served. I am reminded for a moment of the story of the prodigal son. The father who loves, unconditionally loves both of his sons. Still it is easier to cast judgement and punish than it is to love and forgive.

    Sometimes we think that to evangelize, to preach the Good News is to be able to speak about the Bible, to be able to know each word written down and to be able to follow it according to the “letter of the law”. But I think there is more to it than that. Evangelization and the preaching of the Good News is to share our own experiences of God love and forgiveness. That is what Eugene endeavored to do with his life; it was this that allowed him to see through the eyes of our crucified Saviour – to stand and walk in that particular light. Not just something that happened with a few apostles and disciples 2000 years ago for even 200 years ago; but something that is lived in the here and now. This demands great dying to self, immense love and even greater forgiveness.

    Daunting for sure, but through Him, with Him and in Him – I believe all things are possible.

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