The Second Vatican Council vigorously presented anew the fact of the universal call to holiness (LG 5). Oblates, like all Christians, are called to holiness. Foremost among them stood, Eugene de Mazenod who consistently cherished an ever-growing desire for holiness. He himself wanted to be holy and he wished the same for all those he would touch through his ministry. He wanted first of all to lead them to live as reasonable human beings, then as Christians, and finally, he wanted to help them become saints. This is the holiness he desired for his Oblates. He exhorted them with these words: "In God's name, let us be saints".  He considered the community as a place of sanctification; he embraced religious life as an effective means to achieve this and chose the preaching of parish missions as a ministry in which one achieved holiness and sanctified the people. He understood the intrinsic link that exists between holiness and mission; it was something he stressed often and on a regular basis. He lived his life in such a way as to focus constantly on the attainment of holiness. He was never one to compromise or settle for half measures. Moreover, he presented his confreres with the challenge of a radical life commitment: "I do not want any smoldering wicks in the Congregation; let them burn; let them give heat and light or let them leave". 
In this article we will not treat of that general holiness which is each Christian's goal. We will concentrate rather on the characteristic traits which distinguish the path of holiness which Oblates are called to follow.
Eugene de Mazenod
1. THE DYNAMICS OF HOLINESS
One of the first features that catches the eye when we read the writings of Eugene de Mazenod is the terminology he uses when treating of this issue. As opposed to the abstract term "holiness", the Founder often preferred the more concrete term saint or the more dynamic term sanctification, tending toward holiness and perfection. Indeed, as far as he was concerned, holiness is a dynamic process of becoming - a constant journeying which lasts a lifetime. In the Preface, we read that Oblates "must strive to be saints. [...] seeking at all times to reach the very summit of perfection". "Let there be no limit set for our personal holiness," Father Leo Deschâtelets used to exclaim when he read this text. 
Such a dynamism must be sustained by the firm determination to attain sanctity. "When it comes to perfection, one must never say that it is sufficient." 
The reminder to desire and have the will to achieve holiness is constantly repeated and is consistent. In the Rule, the first criterion to discern an Oblate vocation is to "burn with great desire for one's own perfection" (C and R 1928, art. 697). "A firm resolve we have adopted is to rid ourselves of all those who do not want to strive for perfection".  This desire should not remain the prerogative of novices, but must grow ceaselessly as the Preface reminds us: "[...] seeking at all times to reach the very summit of perfection".
If, indeed, holiness is a gift of God which communicates his life, it is also a response which demands commitment, work, becoming. In virtue of our baptism, we are holy, but at the same time we should bring to maturity the seed of life implanted in us by baptism.
2. HOLINESS OF THE APOSTOLIC MAN
A characteristic trait of the holiness the Founder demands of his Oblates is the intrinsic link he sees between holiness and the apostolic man. Holiness and apostolic man are terms that are used almost synonymously. As a result, we now begin to see the kind of holiness to which the Founder felt God was calling him, the holiness he recommended to his Oblates. Letters written during the early years of the Congregation's life give us a good idea of how the Founder envisioned the Missionary of Provence: He had to be "an extraordinary man" , a "truly apostolic man" , capable of combining into one a life of holiness with a life of proclaiming the Gospel. By "extraordinary men" the Founder did not mean a person with outstanding gifts, a renowned preacher capable of capturing the hearts of his listeners: "Were it a question of going out to preach more or less well the word of God mingled with much alloy of self, of going far and wide for the purpose, if you wish of winning souls for God without taking much trouble to be men of interior life, truly apostolic men I think it would not be difficult to replace you. But can you believe I want merchandise of that sort?"  he wrote to Abbé Henry Tempier when the founding of the Congregation was still a project on the drawing board. For his missionary project, more than good preachers, he needed men of the interior life, truly apostolic men, definitely saints: "We must be truly saints ourselves. In saying that, we include all that can possibly be said" . Numbers are not the primary consideration here; rather it is quality. This is the way he explains it to Abbé Charles Forbin-Janson. In contrast with his friend who is working on a vast missionary project, recruiting many priests to evangelize the whole of France, Eugene de Mazenod is looking for men capable of living an authentic Christian and communitarian life. He wrote to Forbin-Janson, "If I were you, I would aim at somewhat less brilliance and I would insist more on soundness. Of what use are fine speeches if one is conceited? Humility, the spirit of abnegation obedience, etc., and the utmost in the way of fraternal charity are also necessary for the good order and the happiness of a Society. Not all your people have properly understood that [...] Here we agree on no such arrangements. We were six [...] Our community is very fervent. There are no better priests throughout the diocese." 
The expressions "to be saints" and "to be apostolic men" are equivalent in some way. He wrote to Father Tempier to exhort the missionaries "to conduct themselves like saints, like real apostles" . And with regard to the scholastics in his charge, he wrote to Father Mouchette, "They have to realize that their ministry is the continuation of the apostolic ministry [...] So let them lose no time in becoming saints, if they have not done so already [...]" . Toward the end of his life as he was summing up his own particular ideal of life, he wrote to the missionaries in Canada: "I have such a high view of your vocation that I cannot bear the thought of the tiniest imperfection and it troubles me as if it were a serious infidelity. Every day I pray that his grace will keep you all in great holiness. I cannot think in other terms of the life of sublime devotion which is the life of our missionaries". 
We have to return to the sources so as to understand the relationship between mission and holiness. Indeed, it was a two-fold indivisible objective which was the inspiration for the founding of the Institute: mission and the desire for Gospel perfection. An interior crisis tormented the young Abbé de Mazenod for years: whether to dedicate himself to an apostolic career or to withdraw to a monastery. It was only when he had gained the assurance that in founding the Missionaries of Provence the rural poor would be evangelized while at the same time he could achieve the holiness to which he felt called that this crisis was resolved. In the book of Formules d'admission au noviciat [Formulas for Admission to the Novitiate], he wrote that the holy Institute "should help us to attain the virtues specific to the state of perfection to which we most willingly dedicate ourselves. That is why we are laying the foundations of the Society of the Missionaries of Provence in Aix on October 2, 1815". 
In the Petition Addressed to the Vicars General of Aix, he had written: "The end of this Society is only to work for the salvation of one's neighbour by dedicating itself to the ministry of preaching; its chief aim also includes providing its members with the means necessary to practice the virtues of religion [...]" . That is why in the budding community, the missionaries will work "at their own sanctification in conformity with their vocation". 
The Preface confirms that the end of the Institute, under the Lord's inspiration, is to "work more effectively for the salvation of souls and for their own sanctification". The original priests in the group wanted to submit themselves to a Rule because they resolved "to obey the following Constitutions and Rules; by living them they hope to obtain all the benefits they need for their own sanctification and for the salvation of souls". The end could only be achieved if the members of the Institute "carry out their duty worthily, faithfully fulfilling their splendid vocation". Introducing the vowed life into that original group, and their progressive transformation from a group of diocesan priests into a religious community must be understood in this light.
3. THE CHRISTOLOGICAL DIMENSION OF HOLINESS
When it is a case of describing in a concrete way the program of holiness to which the members of the Society are called, Eugene de Mazenod recommended a specific style of life where life was divided into a period spent in the ministry and another spent in community in order to be equipped to work "together for the glory of God and for our sanctification" . The life of recollection, silence, study and prayer which the members of the Institute experience in community seems to be the most suitable way to keep them on the path of holiness. "One part [of the year, spent in community will be used for] our individual sanctification". 
Later on, the Rule would give a more concrete expression to this original insight: "[...] one part of their life will be spent in prayer, internal recollection, contemplation in the privacy of the house of God in which they will lead the common life. The other will be entirely dedicated to the most active works of zeal in the world outside [...]". 
In the history of the Congregation, this distinction almost established a dichotomy and created a division in the ideal apostolic man: a division between missionary action and the life of withdrawing into community - associating the means of sanctification with the latter period.
On the other hand, to achieve a good understanding of the distinction set forth by the Founder, we must see it in context. This idea draws its inspiration from the imitation of Christ and the Apostles: the missionaries should: "imitate in all things the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, main founder of the Society and the Apostles, our first fathers. In imitation of these great models, one part of their life [...]" . In the light of this text, the main task of the missionaries is neither preaching nor praying in the silence of their house, but rather the imitating of Christ. Consequently, the unifying element is found in reliving the tension inherent in the mystery of Christ by following the example of the Apostles . The holiness recommended by Eugene de Mazenod is eminently Christological: it is a case of becoming other Christs, to become co-workers with him in his paschal mystery. Missionary action is intrinsically the work of Christ, that is, to relive Christ in his greatest mystery, the mystery of the Redemption.
It is in this perspective that we can reread the numberless references to Christ, especially to Christ the Savior, which continually flow from Eugene de Mazenod's pen in his writings. From the beginning of his spiritual life, Christ is the model and guide to follow on the path of holiness. He stands before the mystery of Christ like "a painter copying a model". What does the painter do? "He places his model in the best possible light, observes it very closely, stares at it, seeks to fix its image in his imagination, then he sketches on a sheet of paper or on a canvas a few lines which he compares to the original; he corrects them if they are not in exact correspondence with the original, then he continues" . Eugene did the same with Christ - he wrote: "Beloved model to whom I must conform myself, as is my desire with his grace". 
This is not a question of imitating externals, but rather of an authentic identification with Christ to the point of becoming his other self. In 1811, while still a young priest, Eugene wrote: "[...] Saint Paul said that those whom God wished to save, whom he has predestined for his glory [...], he has decided and ordained would resemble his son Jesus Christ, [...] he has predestined for his glory. Whichever way you put it, it is still conformity with Jesus Christ that is the definitive sign of predestination as it is always infallibly either its effect or its cause. Do we resemble Jesus Christ? Do we imitate Jesus Christ with all our strength; do we live the life of Jesus Christ? Then we shall infallibly be saved". 
For Eugene, conformity with Christ is achieved through the cross. No road to holiness is without suffering. Annoyances, trials, difficulties... everything can serve as an occasion to relive Christ crucified. Reflecting on his own personal experience, he wrote: "Never allow yourself to be crushed by the difficulties and the sufferings that are inseparable from our life here below, whatever the position in which Providence has placed us, Wisdom consists in taking advantage of everything for our sanctification". 
Even if it seems to harbor an inherent dichotomy, the Oblate project enjoys profound unity. Mission calls to holiness and vice versa. While meditating on the Rule, the Founder wrote: "[...] For to what a high degree of holiness does the apostolic vocation bind, I mean to say, that vocation which dedicates me to work unstintingly at sanctifying souls with the means used by the Apostles?" 
4. THE COMMUNITARIAN DIMENSION OF HOLINESS
Another characteristic trait of the idea of holiness in the thought of Eugene de Mazenod is the communitarian dimension. If it is not good enough to have mediocre preachers, it is not sufficient either to have apostolic men as isolated individuals. To be "truly apostolic men" it is necessary tomarch together in the footsteps of the Apostles. What is called for is to live as they lived, gathered around Jesus in conformity with the model they taught to the first Christians of Jerusalem. A "shared holiness" was called for. In a letter to Abbé Tempier suggesting a first meeting with all the future members of the community Eugene de Mazenod wrote : "We will help each other mutually with advice and with all that the good God will inspire in each of us for our common sanctification". 
Yet again he wrote to Father Tempier that the house in Aix "in my mind and my hopes must reproduce the perfection of the first disciples of the apostles", that is, the first Christian community in Jerusalem because, as he went on to say, "I base my hopes on that much more than on eloquent discourses. Have they ever converted anyone?"  Here he is making an obvious reference to the witness given by the first Christian community with its life of holiness, the fruit of mutual love. Indeed, it was characterized by the union of hearts and minds and by the common sharing of material goods. As a result, what would be expected of the future members of the Society was to live in a perfect harmony of sentiments, with mutual good will and a spirit of detachment shared by everyone. Everything, even the work of personal sanctification, was to be a shared endeavor. Consequently, in community the members could experience together the same spiritual joy. Life in common would stand out as an essential element for the apostolic man, either with regard to efficacious missionary activity or for personal sanctification. Holiness was a project they worked at together; it became a shared holiness. "Oh! do not doubt that we will become saints in our Congregation, free but united by bonds of the most tender charity [...]." 
Once the group of the Missionaries of Provence was established, the demand for sanctification in view of the mission became greater. To someone requesting a deion of this new vocation, the Founder wrote: "The missionary, being specifically called to the apostolic ministry should aim at perfection. [...] So he ought to do everything to arrive at this desirable holiness which is to produce such great effects" . The novice, Jacques-Joseph Marcou, illustrated that he had learned this lesson well when he gave this explanation of his vocation to the seminarian, Hippolyte Guibert: "Shall I speak to you personally of our Institute? It would be enough for me to tell you that we strive for perfection; [...] we are one in heart and soul". 
The apostolic man is someone who commits himself with all earnestness to walking the path of holiness, along with his brothers in community. As we read in the Preface, this is because mission demands "apostolic men deeply conscious of the need to reform themselves, who would labour with all the resources at their command to convert others".
In the Rule, Eugene de Mazenod clarifies this idea of perfection that he initially spoke of. The path of holiness he wishes to follow is a communitarian path. The apostolic man does not achieve sanctity independently of others. We stand together as one unit, bound by the bonds of mutual love. Indeed, as we have already said, to become saints means to relive Christ in his fullness as persons transformed into him by the Spirit who grafts us on to him. It is the identification of each individual with Christ alone which makes it possible that the missionaries become one with him: "They will all be united by the bonds of the most all-pervading charity and in perfect submission to the superiors".  Commenting on this passage of the Rule, the Founder himself noted: "And always with Jesus Christ as our model. United to Jesus Christ in the most profound charity, they will stand as one man among themselves, his children, very closely united in the bonds of the most ardent charity, living under the rule of the most perfect obedience to obtain the humility they need". 
On another occasion, he wrote to Father Hippolyte Courtès: "Let us be united in the love of Jesus Christ, in our common perfection, let us love each other as we have done up to now, let us [...] be at one [...]" . Grafted into the one and only body of Christ we are called to become the one and only Christ.
Ultimately, the ideal of the Oblate as apostolic man contains, and has contained from the very beginning, a great richness. It embraces, bound together in an inseparable way, the concept of holiness of life, of holiness shared in fraternal living and of holiness shared in apostolic ministry. A synthesis of this ideal is found in the text: "Live for God and for the Church, for the sanctification of the poor heathen, for the Congregation [...] Be united, cor unum et anima una. Constantly re-read your holy Rules. By being faithful to them you will become holy [...] Remember that Deus charitas est" . Father Joseph Morabito sums up in this manner what Eugene de Mazenod is recommending: "Oblation, personal holiness, apostolate; elements which harmonize perfectly, complete each other and of which the first, oblation, is like the heart from which flow the two others which are like the fruit and the goal" . The distinctions must of necessity be confined to the realm of ideas. In reality, the Oblate undertaking is of the greatest simplicity and indivisible.
5. PRACTICE OF THE VIRTUES
In his journey toward sanctity, Eugene de Mazenod attached great importance to the ascetical practice of the virtues. Charity, the bond of perfection, stood in the first place. In the original plan for founding the Congregation, it was to be the exclusive bond uniting the missionaries. It was "the pivot on which our whole existence turns" . But charity has all the other virtues as her servants. The Founder often lists them in his writings, even if he does not do so in a systematic way. Writing to Father Tempier, he told him: "For the love of God never cease to inculcate and preach humility, abnegation, forgetfulness of self, disdain for worldly esteem. May these ever be the foundation of our little Society, which, combined with a truly disinterested zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, and the most tender, affectionate and sincere charity amongst ourselves, will make of our house an earthly paradise [...]" . To Charles de Forbin-Janson, he wrote: "Humility, the spirit of abnegation, obedience etc., and the utmost in the way of fraternal charity are also necessary for the good order and the happiness of a Society" . Among the ascetical attitudes, he pointed especially to "holy detachment which is the royal road to accomplish God's will" , "the pivot of religious life" . And yet again, "self-denial, [...] abnegation, [...] interior life, regularity, love of one's vocation" ; "reserve and exterior modesty which is very edifying" ; "the most ardent desire for perfection, [...] devotion for the Church, zeal for the salvation of souls and a great attachment to the family, [...] respect for superiors [...]." 
But it is especially in the Preface that the Founder sets forth a demanding ascetical program. The missionaries "must wholly renounce themselves, striving solely for the glory of God, the good of the Church and the growth and salvation of souls. They must constantly renew themselves in the spirit of their vocation, living in a state of habitual self-denial and seeking at all times to reach the very summit of perfection. They must work unremittingly to become humble, meek obedient, lovers of poverty and penance, mortified, free from inordinate attachment to the world or to family, men filled with zeal, ready to sacrifice goods, talents, ease, self, even their life, for the love of Jesus Christ, the service of the Church, and the sanctification of their brethren."
6. THE RULE A "MANUAL" FOR HOLINESS
The Founder did not limit himself to asserting the demands of holiness, of pointing out the basic paths to be followed (apostolic, Christological, communitarian) or the concrete virtues to be lived. He also presented concrete means to achieve this. He did it especially by writing the Rule, the observance of which was, according to him, the ordinary path to holiness. We read in the Rule, "All the members of our Society including the Superiors, are bound to order their whole lives in strict agreement with our Rules and Constitutions, and in such manner to strive to reach the perfection of their state" (C and R of 1928, art. 228). With the sanction of papal approbation, it was obvious that "they are no longer simple regulations, merely pious directions; they are Rules approved by the Church after most minute examination". 
The Founder was "strongly convinced that the sanctification of our Society's members and the success of their work depend on their fidelity in observing exactly the holy Rules of our Institute [...]" . In a letter to Father Marc de l'Hermite he wrote that the Rule serves "both for your own sanctification and for the salvation of souls which it is your mission to convert" . And in one of his circular letters, he wrote: "There lies the secret of your sanctification: these Rules contain everything which should lead us to God. Adorn your souls with the finest virtues; heap up your merits; ensure your own perseverance. Read, meditate and observe your Rules and you will become genuine saints; you will build up the Church [...]." 
Indeed, as Father Yvon Beaudoin has pointed out, the Rule written by the Founder contains more rules on holiness than on the end of the Institute, the ministry and means of saving souls. He was convinced that "the most effective means of evangelization is the example of a holy life". 
 Letter to Father Francis-de-Paul Henry Tempier, February 18, 1826 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 7, no. 226, p. 40.
 Diary, July 19, 1846.
 Circular letter no. 191, August 15, 1951 in Circ. adm., V, p. (23) 320.
 Acts of visitation of the house at Billens, August 26, 1831 in Selected Texts, no. 290, p. 342.
 "Un devoir de famille", in Missions, 44 (1906), p. 225.
 Letter to Abbé Charles de Forbin-Janson, October 9, 1816 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 6, no. 14, p. 24.
 Letter to Abbé Henry Tempier, December 13, 1815 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 6, no. 7, p. 13.
 Ibidem, p. 13.
 Ibidem, p. 13.
 Letter to Abbé Forbin-Janson, October 9, 1816 in Oblate Writings I, no. 14, vol. 6, p. 23 & 24.
 March 30, 1826 letter in Oblate Writings I, vol. 7, no. 233, p. 73.
 December 2, 1854 letter in Oblate Writings I, vol. 11, no. 1256, p. 253.
 Letter to Father Valentine Végréville, April 17, 1860 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 2, no. 273, p. 229.
 August 12, 1820 in Ecrits du Fondateur, booklet no. 3, Rome, 1952, p. 7.
 Letter to the Vicar Capitulars of Aix in Oblate Writings I, vol. 13, no. 2, p. 3.
 Ibidem, p. 3.
 Letter to Abbé Tempier, December 13, 1815 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 6, no. 7, p. 12.
 Letter to Abbé Tempier, October 9, 1815 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 6, no. 4, p. 7.
 C and R of 1818, Second Part, Chapter One, par. 4, "Of the other principal observances" in Missions, 78 (1951), p. 55.
 Ibidem, p. 54-55. See also the beginning of the Rule: the Missionaries "strive to imitate the virtues and examples of our Savior Jesus Christ", ibidem, p. 13.
 See CIARDI, Fabio, "Fisionomia e natura della comunità oblata nel periodo di fondazione (1815-1818)" in Claretianum, 16 (1976), p. 252-258; GILBERT, Maurice, "Vie active ou vie mixte?", in Etudes oblates, 7 (1948), p. 287-290; LAMIRANDE, Emilien, "Les 'deux parts' dans la vie de l'homme apostolique d'après Mgr. de Mazenod", in Etudes oblates, 25 (1966), p. 177-204; RESLE, Joseph, "Concurrence ou convergence?", in Etudes oblates, 28 (1969), p. 22-44.
 DADDIO, Angelo, Cristo Crocifisso e la Chiesa abbandonata. Eugenio de Mazenod: un appassionato di Christo e della Chiesa, Frascati, 1978, p. 40.
 Retreat made in Amiens, December 1 to 21 1811, "On the Prodigal Son", in Oblate Writings I, vol. 14, no. 95, p. 225.
 General resolution, end of December, 1811 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 14, no. 101, p. 232.
 Letter to Father Végréville, April 17, 1860 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 2, no. 273, p. 228-229. On the centrality of Christ crucified in the spirituality of the Founder see DADDIO, Angelo, Cristo Crocifisso e la Chiesa abbandonata. Eugenio de Mazenod: un appassionato di Christo e della Chiesa, Frascati, 1978.
 "Retreat notes", 1826 in Selected Texts, no.198, p. 223.
 Letter of December 13, 1815 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 6, no. 7, p. 14.
 Letter of November 15, 1815 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 6, no. 6, p. 11.
 Letter to Mr. Hilary Aubert, 1815 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 6, no. 3, p. 5.
 Letter to Mr. Joseph Augustine Vigier, January 6, 1819 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 6, no. 38, p. 55.
 Letter written about 1821 and quoted by Yvon BEAUDOIN in "Le Fondateur et l'observance de Constitutions et Règles, d'après ses écrits", Vie Oblate Life, 43 (1984), p. 103.
 C and R of 1818, Second Part, Chapter One, par. 4, "Of the other principal observances" in Missions, 78 (1951), p. 55.
 Circular letter of October 8, 1831, Nos saintes Règles, quoted in circular letter no. 14, by Father Fabre, May 20, 1864, Circ. adm., I, p. 128.
 Letter to Father Hippolyte Courtès, March 3, 1822 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 6, no. 80, p. 89.
 Letter to the Oblates of the diocese of Saint Boniface, May 26, 1854 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 2, no. 193, p. 75-76.
 MORABITO, Joseph, "L'Immaculée dans la spiritualité du Fondateur", in Etudes oblates, 14 (1955), p. 37-38.
 Letter to Father Hippolyte Guibert, July 29, 1830 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 7, no. 350, p. 202.
 Letter to Father Tempier, August 12, 1817 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 6, no. 20, p. 31-32.
 Letter to Abbé Forbin-Janson, October 9, 1816 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 6, no. 14, p. 23.
 Letter to Father Courtès, October 23, 1839 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 9, no. 702, p. 136.
 Letter to Father Vincent Mille, June 6, 1831 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 8, no. 393, p. 27.
 Letter to Father John Mary Verdet, August 24, 1854 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 2, no. 200, p. 81.
 Letter to Father Courtès, April 2, 1823 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 6, no. 100, p. 110.
 Letter to Father Tempier, June 18, 1828 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 7, no. 302, p. 156-157.
 Letter to Father Tempier, February 18, 1826 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 7, no. 226, p. 40.
 Acts of visitation of the Notre-Dame du Laus community, June 28, 1828 in Selected Texts, no. 253, p. 301.
 Letter of August 17, 1852 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 11 no. 1112, p. 95.
 Circular letter of August 2, 1853, p. 4, quoted in circular letter no. 14 by Father Fabre, May 20, 1864, Circ. adm., I, p. 110.
 BEAUDOIN, Yvon, "Le Fondateur et l'observance des Constitutions et Règles, d'après ses écrits", in Vie Oblate Life, 43 (1984), p. 102-103.
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