Saint Eugene de Mazenod: a journey of conversion and a call to discipleship

Many believe that conversion is like miracle, immediately granted as one pleads.   Eugene’s change of life (Matanoia) is not accidental, but it’s a gradual journey from egocentric to Divine-Center life. Such a journey implies crises, but it leads to new knowledge, gives the ability to discern and transforms the pilgrim life, in one work it’s indeed the Divine Providence work.

Not only God did form Eugene, but also called him to discipleship, He made him a cooperator of Christ. Studying his life I feel his tears, his longing, his loneliness and fulfillment. Where there is SIN – hardships -, there also is GRACE – blessings.

Eugene looked back on his past where he could see God’s work on his life. In Venice (1794), he was under Don Bartolo Zinelli guidance and there he learned how to improve his humanity, to become a good Christian and strive for holiness.

Zinelli surrounded Eugene with a family atmosphere the young teenager was looking for. The mentor guided him with his deep knowledge of God and moral standard, he thought Eugene the rules of holy life that later became like a compass in the difficult journey of the future co-operator of God. In Zinelli’s house Eugene became aware of God’s presence in his life.

In Palermo (1799), another stage of his exiled life, Eugene enjoyed the life of noble and rich people full of pleasures and opportunities. He forgot God’s appeal. Later he will recall this experience with shame, thinking that such a life was an obstacle for priesthood.

Our Founder’s conversion took place gradually through good and bad experiences, but always with a personal encounter with the divine grace. He learned that God loved him personally, looked at him mercifully and acted with him justly. Immerged into the saving power of God Eugene’s life changed and he became more and more compassionate towards others.

The meditation of Eugene over Good Friday, in particular during retreat at the Aix Seminary (1814), unfolds our understanding of his journey to conversion. Contemplating the crucified Christ a stream of regret tears flowed from his eyes. The vision of the suffering Lord moved his heart and granted him the happiness he had looking for all along his life. This is the pinnacle of his conversion experience; in front of the cross he saw Jesus saving power and he experienced a sweet consolation because he was the broken man saved and redeemed by Christ’s love. His soul became one with his Creator and redeemer and a great sense of gratitude led him to discipleship.  He wrote: “Let me at least make up for lost time by redoubling my love for him, that is, to act in everything and for everything only for God”. Eugene’s wish is to share his same “Good Friday” journey with God’s people.

Personally, I do realize that, as Oblate, I need constant conversion of heart and mind.  I have been with the OMI community since 2000. I can say that I am a good seminarian, but not a great one. I am a traditional religious man who follow rules and schedule, but fear to leave his comfort zone. My life at the seminary has been comfortable, secure, but it made me lukewarm. What is bothering me now is a simple question: “Which kind of Oblate priest will I be? Do I need a change of heart and mind? Yes! I need to change my lifestyle and give it all to God. I want to improve because I still consider my privacy more important than communion of life; because I consider my security more important than apostolate; because I am not able to take initiative when the needs arise.  Only through conversion I would be able to grow and develop. Our Founder experienced how the crucified Christ gave himself to him and he replied with a radical bold action: he didn’t keep nothing for himself, but he committed all his life for the mission.

I believe that the “journey of conversion” has only one meaning: give once life to God. Fr. Ronald Rolheiser also wrote, we need to become all flame – meaning – to give over those last, clung-to, areas of our lives. The more we, the Oblates, give to God, the more we are filled with his grace becoming cannel of salvation as it has been for Eugene after the Good Friday of 1814.


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