St. Eugene’s Good Friday Experience A reflection for Good Friday, April 2nd
St. Eugene’s Good Friday Experience
Today, Good Friday can be a day of mixed emotions and feelings for a lot of us – especially this year as we continue to live with the consequences of Covid 19. For many of us within our own families, communities and parishes and throughout the world, the reality of suffering, pain and loss have become all too real. Good Friday is a day when we are gently called to stand at the cross, not on our own, but with others. Perhaps, this year, more than ever we are being called to pray with and for all those who are suffering in any way. Our prayers and faith bring us together and unite us this Good Friday.
Eugene De Mazenod, the Founder of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate knew and experienced pain and suffering in own life. He was born into a wealthy family at the time of the French Revolution. They were forced to move to Italy as exiles and live as refugees. While there, his parents grew a part. Eventually they separated and later divorced. This deeply affected Eugene and was a cause of much pain for him all his life. Eugene returned to France 1802 with the hope of simply carrying on with his wealthy and carefree life that he had previously known. He wanted to be rich, popular and to live a life of leisure and prestige. He once wrote to his father telling him; ‘as long as I can remember, I have set my ambition on being famous, with the admiration of people who count.’ None of this happened. He was unable to reunite his family, regain their fortunes and was unable to start a family of his own. Eugene no longer knew what to do with his time. He realised that he was wasting his life. He wrote, ‘I looked for happiness outside God and for too long with resulting unhappiness…’ He felt lost and disillusioned.
On Good Friday in 1807, something remarkable happened to him. God reached out to him in a profound way. As Eugene stood in front of the cross, God looked at him through the eyes of the crucified Saviour and loved him. Like the rich young man in the gospel, Jesus looked at him and simply loved him. For the first time in his life Eugene felt that he was loved, accepted and forgiven by Jesus. This powerful encounter changed the direction of his whole life. It was at this very moment that Eugene knew deeply and personally that he was loved by God. It was in front of the cross that Eugene recognised Jesus as his Saviour. This may have been the most important moment of his life because it was then that he decided to dedicate and commit his life to Jesus.
The experience Eugene found its expression in reaching out to others; to help them know the same love God had for them in Jesus. In 1808 despite opposition from his own family, Eugene decided to become a priest. He felt a deep desire to dedicate his life to sharing this experience and good news with others, especially those who were poor, neglected and abandoned by society. He was ordained on December 21, 1811.
Initially working alone, Eugene soon realised that he could achieve very little. He invited likeminded priests who dedicated themselves to caring for those who were poor. This small group were called The Missionaries of Provence, after the town in which Eugene was born. They spent their time with young people, prisoners of war, servants and the farm workers in the remote countryside.
Despite some setbacks and difficulties, this small group of missionaries grew and attracted more members. On February 17, 1826, they were given official recognition as a new religious order in the church. They were given the new name by which we are known today; The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Our current Oblate Rule reminds us that the cross of Jesus Christ is central to our mission. Like the apostle Paul, “we preach Christ and him crucified.” (C.4)
The Oblate Cross which is received at Final Vows is a constant reminder of the love of the Saviour who wishes to draw all hearts to himself and sends us out as his co-workers. (C.63)
God looked at Eugene through the eyes of the crucified Saviour. This Good Friday, God is reaching out to each of us. It is through the eyes of the Jesus on the cross that God sees, loves, and forgives each of us personally. This is the power of the cross; through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus God is reaching out to each of us. Today and every day God says; ‘I call you by your name, do not be afraid… you are precious in my eyes and I love you.’ (Is. 43.1,4)
We are united with each other this Good Friday so we too can experience the same love, mercy and forgiveness of God that Eugene experienced. We stand at the cross today so we can stand at the empty tomb tomorrow and share in and experience the Resurrection. As scripture reminds us; ‘If we bear in our body the death of Jesus, it is with the hope that the life of Jesus, too, will be seen in our body.’ (2 Cor.4.10).
This Good Friday, wherever we are; at home with our families or in our local church with others, we are invited to spend some time in front of the cross and experience that same loving look of tender compassion from God that St. Eugene experienced. Today, take a few minutes of silent prayer and allow God to look at you through the eyes of the crucified Saviour and offer this simple prayer; Lord, by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free, you are the saviour of the world.’
Today, in the company of St. Eugene de Mazenod, may we glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; for he is our salvation, our life and through him we are saved and made free.
Today, pray in thankfulness for those who love and serve you; those who ‘wash your feet.’ Who can I love and serve in some small way over the next few days?
– Br Michael Moore OMI
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