Eugene narrates the moving experience of ministering to the prisoner condemned to death:

All the prisoners and some other people took part in it. Fathers Lagier and Mille served at the altar. We obtained permission for the condemned man to be freed from some of his irons to be able to come to the chapel. He still had enough chains to make his presence known whenever he made the least movement. Actually, we only heard him when he came in and once kneeling he remained still, reading from his book throughout the entire mass. At Communion time, I moved everyone aside to station him on the lowest altar step. The feast was for him, the honors were due to him since, even though he was condemned to death and weighed down with chains as I saw him, he was then reconciled with God. God had pardoned his crimes; to my eyes he was to be admired, a privileged person for whom the Lord had worked marvels, to whom I was going to give the efficacious means of perseverance, someone predestined who would possibly be in heaven in a few days. Even though several other people were to receive Communion, I spoke only to him. Those words were inspired in me by our divine Saviour Jesus Christ whom I was holding in my hands and they penetrated the very soul of that poor Christian who broke out in tears. I was also moved and tears fell from the eyes of everyone present, even the prisoners who were undoubtedly overjoyed at such a scene and themselves felt the workings of grace on hearing proclaimed the mercies of God in favor of a great sinner, but a repentant one, as they no doubt were themselves at that moment.
After the Mass, I had the condemned man come forward again and spoke to him as an immediate preparation for receiving the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of Confirmation that I was to administer to him. His tears did not dry up and it seemed that our hearts were truly ardent when all those marvelous things happened before our eyes through my great ministry. I concluded by giving a blessing with the Blessed Sacrament. They do it sometimes in that chapel, and it was fitting that nothing be lacking in the solemnity of this day.

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

What an amazing example of treating a person with dignity, as undeserving as the world considered him to be!

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    This morning I have sat with Eugene’s words. No mere human eyes could have seen what Eugene recognized in this poor condemned man; he was seeing the condemned man through the eyes of our crucified Saviour. The reality of that and what it looked like for Eugene, the two other priests, the other prisoners… this poor prisoner who remained without even the dignity of a name… and yet Eugene spoke of that day as being a solemnity. Solemnity – a word that we reserve for a great person or saint.

    Yesterday I was on my way to the hospital for a routine checkup when I experienced a panic attack. It rolled over and enveloped me so that I was not able to think my way out of it. I found myself lost in the midst of the panic; unable to find my way out on my own. After asking some road workmen for directions but who were unable to help me I approached a man who was leaving a small office building and who took me in and introduced me to one of his staff. A young woman told me she would drive me to the hospital; it took only 5 minutes in her car. Rather than abandoning me at the curb she then took me into the hospital and to the section where I needed to be and checked with a nurse that I was in the right place. From there the nurse took me through a maze of corridors to be x-rayed. After being seen by a very kind and gentle doctor I asked for directions to get back to where I could catch a bus to go home. It was complicated she said, no coloured markers on the floor to guide me through another endless maze of corridors and so she walked with me, to the other end of the hospital. She opened a door and there halfway down the road was the bus stop I needed to go to.

    I was the recipient of kindness and gentleness from ordinary people who did not know me and yet who saw me as a person who mattered in the overall scheme of things. Their kindness allowed me to walk through the shame that had risen and tried to over-take me; being there to guide and walk with me. A small thing perhaps in their day but for me stunningly huge.

    Eugene with a heart that was as big as the world, seeing through the eyes of our crucified Saviour. It does not always have to be something larger than life which allows a person to feel as if they have been handed the keys to the Kingdom of God.

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