St. Eugene de Mazenod A man for all seasons
We live in a world where it might seem that saints are no longer fashionable. Many people question their relevance in our time. But saints are not simply to be admired; they are role models whose lives are meant to encourage and challenge us.
St. Eugene is just such as saint.
Eugene was born into a wealthy family at the time of the French Revolution. Eugene and his father fled to Italy as exiles. His mother stayed in France and consequently his parents grew apart, eventually divorcing.
At his mother’s request, Eugene returned to France in 1802. France was in ruins after the Revolution. The youth were ignored and abandoned. The poor, the farmers, the workers and the servants were being exploited. Eugene felt called to respond to the many needs he saw around him. He was ordained in 1811 and wasted no time in reaching out to the poorest and those in the greatest need.
The homily he gave on Ash Wednesday 1813 gives us an insight into his passion and commitment for proclaiming the Good News to the poor. ‘…You Servants, what are you in the eyes of the world? A class of slaves to those who pay you; exposed to contempt, injustice and often even to abusive treatment…’ ‘You farmers and peasants, what are you in the eyes of the world? However useful your work, you are judged by the strength in your arms…’ What about you poor and needy, who are obliged by others injustice or the harshness of fate to beg for your pitiful existence…’ ‘The world cannot bear to look at you, and so turns it back on you’.
For a priest to speak so boldly in defence of the poor was a cause for scandal among the middle and upper classes. But Eugene continued, ‘Come now, he says, ‘and see who you are in the eyes of faith. You, the poor of Jesus Christ, the sick and suffering, those covered with sores – all of you whom misery overwhelms, my brothers and sisters, listen to me. You are children of God, the very brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, co-heirs of his Kingdom…’ ‘You are kings, you are priests, you are, yes, in a certain way, gods… So lift up your heads… for once, let your eyes look inward and see through the rags you wear… you are more precious before God than all the riches of the world, than all the kingdoms of the earth, a people about whom God is more concerned than about all the governments of the entire world…Therefore, o Christian, recognise your dignity’.
This is good news, not fake news!
This homily is still very radical and relevant for today’s problems. It addresses many of our world’s
social problems. Eugene still speaks to us and to anyone who feels abandoned, dismissed or ignored by our modern society.
Eugene and his family were forced to leave France as political exiles. How often do we see similar situations repeated every night on our televisions as we watch countless men, women and children being forced to flee war torn countries such as Syria?
His parents divorced: therefore he was familiar with the struggles of a separated family life suffered by so many people in our own parishes and maybe even our own families.
Workers today in many ‘developed’ countries are abused and exploited as they struggle to earn enough to stay alive. Do you know that there are more slaves in the world today than any other time in history?
Today, too many people in our society and communities are dismissed when they are no longer seen as being able to contribute to the economy. The elderly, the sick and unemployed are among those on the margins of our society who for whatever reason are often stripped of their dignity, self-worth and self-respect.
Eugene’s homily still has the power to challenge and disturb us. Maybe that is why he is such a
relevant saint for the church and world today.
Eugene was not born a saint. He lived a life as each of us does: he was as challenged as we are with joys and sadness, success and failure, doubt and faith. He committed and dedicated his life to two things; love of Jesus and love of the poor.
In 1825 he wrote, ‘we must help people to act like human beings, and then like Christians, and finally we must help them to become saints”. This was the life he led himself. Eugene was a man of his time, but he is also quite definitely a saint with a message for us today.
Truly, he is a saint and a man for all seasons.
Michael Moore, OMI & Mary Tyrrell