Dictionary of Oblate Values  vol.: 1  let.: C

CHURCH

INTRODUCTION

THE CHURCH IN OBLATE SPIRITUALITY

If someone were to ask us to define who is an Oblate, we would not hesitate to answer: "The Oblate is a Man of the Church". From the very beginning, in fact, Eugene de Mazenod established a relationship between the Oblate vocation and the Church.

"I saw the Church threatened by the most cruel persecution [...] So I entered the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice with the desire or rather with the set determination to devote myself, in the most complete way, to the Church's service, in the exercise of the ministry most useful to souls, for whose salvation I was burning to consecrate myself [...]". [1]

The French Revolution had decimated the better elements in the Church; Napoleon had imprisoned Pope Pius VII in Savona and obliged the College of Cardinals to settle in Paris. A few seminarians - among whom we find Eugene de Mazenod - had made themselves available to serve them.

"While still a deacon and then as a young priest, in spite of the most active surveillance of an easily provoked police force, I had the opportunity of devoting myself to the service of the Roman cardinals through daily contact [...]". [2]

When he wrote the Rule for his budding congregation, his first thought was for the Church: "The Church, that glorious inheritance purchased by the Saviour at the cost of his own blood, has in our days been cruelly ravaged. [...] Faced with such a deplorable situation, the Church earnestly appeals to the Ministers whom she herself enrolled in the cause of her divine Spouse [...]". [3]

In the mind of the Founder, the Oblates were called to bring the Church back to life again; their vocation was identified with that of the Apostles: "On earth, there is no loftier vocation than ours. Amongst religious, some are called to one good work, others to another; some are destined, be it indirectly, to the same end as ourselves. But as for us, our principal end, I would almost say our only end, is the self-same end that Jesus Christ set for himself upon coming into the world, the self-same end that he gave to the Apostles, to whom, without any doubt, he taught the most perfect way. And so our humble Society knows no other founder than Jesus Christ, who spoke through the mouth of his Vicar, and no other Fathers than the Apostles". [4]

Another indication of the very close relationship which existed between the Oblate and the Church was the Founder's desire to refurbish by means of the Congregation the glory of the Religious Orders destroyed by the French Revolution: "That is why they will endeavour to make alive again in their own persons the piety and fervor of the Religious Orders destroyed in France by the Revolution". [5]

The Oblate's love for the Church is a love of identifying with the Church. In a number of mission areas, the Oblates constitute the only Church presence; they are the Church. It is also a fruitful love. In a number of places in the world, the Oblates have been the community builders, the founders of dioceses and parishes.

The vocation of the Oblate is to build the Church where it has not yet been established, or yet again where it is undergoing trials. The Oblate is therefore called to bring the church into being through the proclamation of the Gospel and through gospel witness. In this sense, one can say that the Oblates are men of the Pope and of the bishops.

The distinctive character of the Oblates is love and evangelization of the poorest; their style is simplicity, their modus operandi is mobility, their main objective to create the Christian community and to go towards those who still ignore the message of salvation.

John XXIII stated that Eugene de Mazenod is "worthy of being listed among those who have won a place in the rebirth of the missionary movement of the times, the emulator of those priests and bishops who have felt beat, in their own breasts, the heart of the universal Church". [6]

CHRIST AND THE CHURCH

One of the characteristics of Oblate spirituality is the intimate union of Christ with the Church: "The experience of Eugene de Mazenod reveals a characteristic trait that we would like to briefly underline. The love of Christ and the love of the Church make up the lifeblood of every Christian. They are the two poles of attraction of the lives of all the saints. These two loves must come to the fore in a more or less explicit way. In the lives of the saints in general, it is only after the encounter with Christ that the encounter with the Church comes gradually to maturity. Just consider - even if we will not treat of these people in depth - Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, etc. It was only after their encounter with Christ that the Church slowly came to full bloom, sometimes painfully and after misunderstandings and hesitations.

"From the very beginning, Eugene de Mazenod seems to have possessed a fully realized fusion of these two loves. In his case, it reached such a point that one could apply to him the principle of the two communicating containers: When his love for Christ increased, his love for the Church increased in equal measure and vice versa". [7]

In his famous pastoral letter of 1860, a letter which lays out for us a synthesis of the Eugene de Mazenod's ecclesiology, we read the following: "How is it possible to separate our love for Jesus Christ from that which we owe to his Church?" These two kinds of love merge: to love the Church is to love Jesus Christ and vice versa. We love Jesus Christ in his Church because she is his immaculate spouse who came out of his opened side on the cross [...]. [8]"

The union of Christ and the Church also represents the union of Christ and our soul as well.

"Our Lord Jesus Christ wanted to reenact in his mortal life all the fortunes of the sons of men whose nature he had assumed through his mysterious incarnation. In the state to which sin had reduced him, poor, suffering, humiliated, man under condemnation to death, such was the state to which the only Son of God chose to reduce himself. And so he became as well the son of man,a title he gave himself. He espoused our cause to the point of identifying with us, to the point of adopting from us everything human which was compatible with the infinite perfection of his divinity. As the Apostle stated, he accepted to undergo every trial - except sin (Hebrews 4:15). So it is that he is the spouse of his Church and of our souls, that his Church herself is his mystical body and that all of us who have been baptized in the same spirit (1 Corinthians 12: 13), together with him, we are all members of this same body (1 Corinthians 12:27) which is his.

"In this admirable union between Jesus Christ and our souls is found the mystery of our, participation in his grace and, by his grace, a participation in his glory. But just as he became one with us in humiliation in suffering, in the complete poverty of our fallen nature, it is required that by the faithful cooperation of our wills we unite ourselves to him in the ways of his mercy and of his love in order to raise us up from our fallen state and be led back to his Father." [9]


[1] "Mémoires de Mgr Eugène de Mazenod", 1845, quoted in RAMBERT I. p. 47, Selected Texts, pp. 71-72.
[2] Letter to Cardinal Thomas Gousset, July 21, 1852, quoted in REY II, p. 423.
[3] CC and RR of 1818, part 1, chapter 1, para. 3, art. 3, Nota bene, in Missions, 78 (1951), pp. 15-16.
[4] Letter to Fr. Mille, to the Fathers and Brothers of Billens, November 1, 1831, in Oblate Writings I, vol. 8, n. 406, p. 40.
[5] CC and RR of 1818, part 1, chapter 1, para. 2, art. 2, in Missions, 78 (1951), p. 14.
[6] Speech given on the occasion of the ordination of missionary bishops, May 21, 1961, in Documentation catholique, LVIII (1961), col. 756.
[7] D'ADDIO, Angelo, "Cristo Crocifisso et la Chiesa Abbandonata", Roma, 1978, p. 157.
[8] Lenten Pastoral Letter, February 16, 1860, in Selected Texts, p. 73.
[9] Lenten Pastoral Letter, February 8, 1846, quoted in MAMMANA, Giuseppe, "Eugène de Mazenod et l'Église", in Vie Oblate Life, 41 (1982), pp. 18-19.

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