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February 05, 2019 Tuesday 11:46:59 AM IST

What money can’t buy


Eve Lavalliere (1866–1929) was a French stage actress who had everything in life except peace. She had beauty; her fans adored her. She had talent; critics praised her. She had fame; kings and queens came to hear her sing. She had wealth, more than she ever wanted. She had lovers, all of them at her beck and call. But peace always eluded her until one day she decided to leave everything.

Eve was born in Toulon, France, as the daughter of a tailor who was an alcoholic and prone to fits of anger. He made her life and the lives of her mother and her only brother always miserable. One day, exploding with anger, he shot his wife and pointed the gun at Eve. But instead of shooting her, he shot himself. Her only brother, who was a witness to this tragedy, ran away from home that day, never to be seen again.

Becoming an orphan, she lived with her relatives for some time. Then one day, she ran away from them and found a job to support herself. As she had great talents for singing and acting, she always dreamed of becoming an actress performing on stages in Paris. As luck would have it, she was given a chance when a leading actress of a theatre died unexpectedly. Even though she lacked experience, she was an instant hit on stage because of her natural qualities for acting and singing.

Until then, she was known by her original name, Eugene Fenoglio. But when she began to perform on stage, she changed her name to Eve Lavalliere which became suddenly very popular. Her stage performances were spectacular. She excelled both in comedy and tragedy. All of a sudden, she became the talk of the town. Soon she began to be known as the best actress in France and in all of Europe.

A fairytale life

Soon, life became a fairytale for Eve. She had everything she wanted. She enjoyed life to the fullest. However, soon the fairytale began to turn into a nightmare. For a time, she was the mistress of a rich man. Then she bore an illegitimate child who later became the cause of great pain and agony for her. Even though she had several men in her life, she never found true happiness and peace. Three times she decided to commit suicide, but didn’t go ahead.

Meanwhile, Eve’s fame spread outside Europe. In 1917, at the age of 51, she was invited to perform in the United States. In preparation for this tour, she went to a countryside near Tours with her friend Leonia who was a refugee from Belgium. While she was there, she met Fr. Chasteigner who was the local parish priest as well as the trustee of the palace she rented there. The interaction with him resulted in a transformation in her. She found peace in her life, which she was always craving for.

Craving for peace

Giving a shock to the entertainment world, Eve abandoned her career and decided to live a life of austerity doing penance for her many sins of the past. She earnestly desired to join a convent and to spend the rest of her life as a nun in prayer and fasting. However, she was refused admission because of her notoriety and ill-health. So she decided to live the life of a hermit serving the poor. After serving the poor in Tunisia for four years, she returned to France and spent the rest of her life in prayer and penance with the support of Leonia.

During this time she endured much suffering because of ill health. “Do you suffer a lot?” a newspaper reporter asked her in one of the rare interviews she granted. “Yes, horribly,” she replied. “Have you any hope of being cured?” the reporter asked. Then she said, “None. But I am so happy. You cannot imagine how great my happiness is.”  

How could she be so happy in the midst of all her suffering? Because she had found God. She died at the age of 63 on July 10, 1929. On her tombstone the following words are found: “I left everything for God. He alone is enough.”

At one time in her life, Ève had everything except God. But she was never happy. Later, she had nothing in her life except God. And she was totally happy. That is why she chose to write the words “He alone is enough” on her tombstone. Eve found happiness in life because she allowed God to enter her life.

What money can’t buy

We often think money, prestige and fame will bring us happiness. But as Eve had found out, they can’t bring us happiness unless we also have God in our life. It is only when we allow God to enter our life that we find true happiness and peace. According to British poet Alexander Pope, there are seven kinds of fools in this world. And the seventh kind of fool is the one who believes that his life is secure without God.

We may not be like the seventh kind of fool described by Pope as we agree that we need God in our life. But we are often hesitant to allow God to enter our life. This is because we don’t want him to be too close to us. We only want him when we need his help. But if we realize that God alone is enough for us as Eve Lavalliere did, we will never refuse God to enter our life. On the contrary we will always open our hearts to him with love which will bring lasting peace and joy into our life. 

Fr. Jose Panthaplamthottiyil, CMI

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