There is something wonderful about opening a new book about a saint. Besides learning a bit about the history and time period that the saint lived in, we can learn about what people in those time periods struggled with. We then realize that their struggles are oddly similar to the ones we still struggle with today. (Ya know the old saying, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” still holds true). This is exactly how I felt as I opened Eugène de Mazenod: A Saint for Today by Alex R. Hey, and learned more about a very turbulent time for families in European history. Hey writes in the introduction that he came to know and love St. Eugène while he was trying to find the patron saint of children of divorce. St. Eugène wasn’t an exact fit, the patron of dysfunctional families, but as Hey researched the saint, he found many similarities to his own feelings dealing with his own broken family.
Turbulent Times, Turbulent Life
The story of Eugène de Mazenod is one that is very relatable to us today. The period of time that Eugène lived during (the French Revolution) was similar to our own time. The people would live beyond their means to look more wealthy that they really were. The would incur large sums of debt, which put extra stresses on the relationships of the family. This is what too many families struggle with today! His family had to flee France during Bastille Day to avoid Charles-Antoine de Mazenod, Eugène’s father, from being killed! After that day, his previous “noble” and rich lifestyle was over, and his parents struggled to provide for him and his sister.
Eventually, St. Eugène’s mother moved back to France and divorced his father in order to keep her inheritance. From that point forward, Eugène longed for his parents to reunite, which never came to fruition. When Eugène was a young man, his mother ultimately left and divorced his father so that she could maintain the luxuries she was used to. This left his father in debt and struggling to make ends meet, barely providing food for the two of them.
Blame for Broken Family
St. Eugène struggled with his parent’s divorce and blamed the struggles in his life to this event. While he did have a crisis of faith as a young man, he ultimately didn’t succumb to life long sadness which affects so many children. St. Eugène was just as human as all of us. He had dark times and struggled with God because life wasn’t as perfect as he wanted it. Once he finally realized that he needed to give it all to God, he was able to follow God’s will for his life.
Looking Forward Towards God
What Hey came to realize, and is a strong theme throughout this story, is that St. Eugène was not defined by his broken family. He overcame the brokenness he felt being abandoned by his mother. He, of course, like all of us, needed other people in his life to help guide him in his spiritual growth. With our divorce rate so high, there are many children who feel abandoned by one or both of their parents, and feel like they have no one to talk to. Children often feel ashamed and angry that they weren’t able to keep their parents together. In their innocence, they may even feel that they are the reason why their family was torn apart.
Eugène became able to see the good that could come from his sufferings. The separation from his father and the refusal of his parents to reunite now awakened him to the idea that the Lord had grander plans for him than he could have imagined. His sufferings allowed him to recognize that the plans of God and the plans of Eugène were not the same.
And isn’t this so true! God calls each of us in our struggle, and will provide help to endure those dark times, if we are willing to say ‘yes’. This is exactly what God provided in St. Eugène’s first mentor, Don Bartolo Zinelli during his first exile in Italy. While only studying with him for a relatively short period of Eugène’s life, Don made an everlasting impression on the young boy and who ultimately lead him into the priesthood. He founded the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and eventually became the bishop of Marseilles.
Alex Hey writes with eloquence and clarity when describing the events in the life of St. Eugène. He brings in the lessons learned by St. Eugène’s struggles, so that we can also learn the lessons to overcome the similar struggles in our own lives. The book is very well documented and referenced. Hey honestly about St. Eugène’s struggles and dark times, giving us the example of how to overcome those difficult times. Eugène de Mazenod: A Saint for Today by Alex R. Hey, is a great example for us to all follow to overcome our childhood and family trials and hold close to God who will ultimately guide us to our best selves, no matter what our vocation may be.