After returning to Aix Eugene got permission from the Church authorities to minister to those who were most neglected by the Church and the society. A few days ago I also mentioned that although Aix-en-Provence was a rich town it had many poor people serving the rich. Eugene de Mazenod who grew up in a wealthy household was blessed to grow in sensitivity to the needs of those poor people. He realized how alienated they were. Even their language wasn’t French but the local dialect called Provençal. We can imagine how those people felt at church where sermons and instructions were given in French they hardly understood. Fr de Mazenod who had such a powerful encounter with Christ some years ago on Good Friday wanted to give those people an opportunity to come to know and love the Lord. When his first Lent in Aix after his return from the seminary was coming he obtained permission to preach in his home church in Provençal. It was decided that he was to preach every Sunday in Lent at 6am. Eugene insisted on such an early service as it was the only time the servants could come to church and then return to their tasks in the houses on the wealthy.
The first Sunday of Lent saw a large crowd of the people who weren’t sure whether the news about instructions preached in their dialect was true. We can only imagine those people who were despised and used by the rich filling up the church, looking around and seeing more and more people similar to them. They didn’t fill out of place this time but they could feel like a community. Then the big shock came, even when it was announced before. Fr Eugene ascended the pulpit and started talking in their language. For the first time they heard a sermon they could understand. I give you just a few lines of that sermon Eugene de Mazenod preached in the new church of Mary Magdalene: “Come now and learn from us what you are in the eyes of faith. Poor of Jesus Christ, afflicted, wretched, suffering, sick, covered with sores, etc., all you whom misery oppresses, my brothers, dear brothers, respected brothers, listen to me. You are God’s children, the brothers of Jesus Christ, heirs to his eternal kingdom, chosen portion of his inheritance…let your eyes see for once beneath the rags that cover you, there is within you an immortal soul made in the image of God whom it is destined to possess one day, a soul ransomed at the price of the blood of Jesus Christ, more precious in the eyes of God than all earth’s riches, than all the kingdoms of the earth, a soul of which he is more jealous than of the government of the entire universe. Christians, know then your dignity…”
Every day they were treated like a piece of furniture and now they were learning that they had dignity! I wish somebody recorded them walking back to their work places. Did they talk about those words they heard from a nobleman or did they keep quite meditating on the message? WE don’t have and tapes or DVDs showing us those poor people but there was something striking in them as Eugene had been profoundly impacted by the outcome of that series of Lenten homilies. He was turning into the direction that would expand his impact beyond the Provence and France.