DISCERNING NEW DIRECTIONS IN MINISTRYAddress of Father General to the OMI Lacombe Province Convocation
We published the first part of Father General’s November 16, 2011, address in the March edition of OMI Information. In speaking of the conversion called for by the last General Chapter, he began by speaking of the inner freedom needed for this conversion. This is a continuation of that speech.
B –LIVE FOR GOD’S GLORY: Over and over, Eugene de Mazenod states that Oblates must be “zealous for the glory of God” and it is good to think about this in relation to God’s mission in which we participate. Our document from the last General Chapter, referring to “crossing borders” asks us to discern our motivation (Acts of the 35th General Chapter, 2010, “Conversion” p.26, # 7, English edition). Looking at motivation is essential as we assume any ministry. The important question is whether I’m doing a particular ministry primarily for God and for the poor or for myself. A few years ago, the major superiors of the conference of religious men in the U.S. were questioned whether we did ministry as a response to the call of the Lord or as a way to gratify our own needs. This is a very radical call to conversion, to repent of seeking ourselves through our ministry to the poor so that we live for God alone as Saint Eugene de Mazenod called us to live.
Our current vocabulary today goes something like this: “this ministry really energizes me” or “this is a life-giving work I am doing”. The question is for whom is it life-giving? For me! To whom does the ministry give energy? To me! Is this what ministry is all about? I’m not saying this is all bad. Of course it is good to find life and energy in what we do. Yet, that isn’t what ministry is primarily about. That is a by-product of our ministry, for which we give thanks when it is present. When our motivation is to serve God’s mission and to make God’s glory the center of our lives, then we have the freedom and availability to say, “Here I am. Send me.” Then we can tell the personnel director, “I am available to be sent me where I am most needed in the Province.”
Repenting is asking God for the grace to be able to recognize that mission is about God, living fully for God and seeking God’s will and admitting we are sometimes wrapped up in our own self-interest. Without a doubt, we have done good things, but we could have done so much more!
C – COMMUNION: Repentance also calls us in the area of apostolic communion. Our lives are meant to reflect the love, unity, sharing and communion of the Triune God by our communion. Are we free to live in community and to work together with others?
Trends in society (e.g., individualism, workaholism, consumerism, secularism, materialism, narcissism, etc.) influence us and have pulled us away from each other and given emphasis to the individual and his or her achievements. The Gospel, our CC&RR and the General Chapters, on the other hand, have continually called us to renew our life in apostolic community as a sign of God’s very life. We must take the initiative to reinvigorate our lives of apostolic community, the fraternal communion of life sharing deeply our faith, our lives, our care for one another and creating space and time for prayer, meals, meetings and recreation. Sharing is also in the area of finances, putting everything in common. We need the Spirit’s breath to transform our hearts so that we are enabled to make the great Passover to mission as the fruit of our communion. With all our personal limitations acknowledged and owned by us, and cognizant of the challenges we have before us in this area of our lives, we are called continually to work on creating actual apostolic communities characterized by significant relationships. While we have deep bonds of relationship with friends, family and coworkers in ministry, our Oblate life should provide significant relationships of faith, of missionary and religious life that nourish us and help us to grow in holiness. The Founder’s mandate to live charity is a call to give ourselves generously to the process of creating Oblate communion as we live together. The vow of perseverance commits each one of us to give ourselves over and over (oblation) to the process of nurturing life-long communion with one another.
II – We look to the Savior: When we confront our lives (under God’s gracious gaze) we experience the need for a friend to save us. We rediscover Jesus again and again as that compassionate love of the Father welcoming us home and saving us. This is the root of our Oblate identity and spirituality. This involves, as our Founder wrote, real tears of an intimate discovery of God’s love for us. This experience has to be deepened, not forgotten; and lived again over and over. We grow in our love for Jesus in prayer, in our study and contemplation of the Word, in our relationships with others, especially with the poor.
How can we preach the Good News of the Savior and his Reign if we do not live and stay in his company? We follow Jesus not as an idea, but as a friend, a brother and the Savior. We are missionaries who preach the Gospel to the poor and it is a person about whom we are passionate, Jesus, whom we proclaim. An old cartoon from “Family Circus” shows the family in church and the pastor is preaching. Little Dolly, pointing to the pastor, leans over to her father and asks: “Daddy, is he really God’s friend, or is this just his business?” A good question to ask is “Are we the friends of Jesus?” in the deepest sense of the word “friend.”
The Call to Conversion is always connected to Jesus: being freed by him, loved by him, challenged by him and empowered by him with the Spirit. At the heart of the charism of Saint Eugene is Jesus: we are drawn to Jesus, to identify with him, and to allow him to live in us, reproducing within ourselves the pattern of his life (OMI CC&RR #2).
III - Third, we have then to make a choice. We have been able to see ourselves with love and courage, we have grown in freedom and our motivations are more consistent. Now we have to make a decision. Grace is with us, and we are invited to make an option, stepping out in freedom. This is the risk, the challenge, the daring to leave all behind to follow Jesus, to drop our nets in the boat and leave father, to walk away from the money box at the tax collectors’ booth, to break away and make a rupture. The radical choice is right here and right now.
We have left home so many years ago, but there are so many other “homes” we have built for ourselves over the years. We have to choose to leave the comfort of familiarity, of security, of personal success, etc. We must decide to leave and cross borders. Our plans, our agendas, our ways of seeing things, our points of view, our favorite ministry, living the way we like to live, are elements of a personal kingdom that needs to be taken apart for new life in Christ to happen. We see that this happened often in St. Eugene’s life: when he decided that he would enter the seminary and live alone for God; when he founded the Missionaries of Provence; when he decided to go to Rome to receive approbation of the CC&RR: when he left Aix to go to Marseille to help his uncle; when he was called to become a bishop; when he had to readjust his political views with the changing reality in France; when he was called upon to send his missionaries to new countries outside of France. Everything was a consequence of this decision to be a priest and servant of the poor and involved many other decisions and crossing of borders after that.
IV - Fourth, this brings us into another culture of living and we could say, a ‘strange place’ in which to live. We have truly crossed borders, not just to get away and live our own way. We have journeyed to a land of freedom where Gospel logic reigns: the first are last and the last are first; those who try to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel will save it; the clever and learned people don’t understand the mysteries of the Kingdom and the little ones and simple people do; those who are great become the least and the least become the greatest; the mighty are cast down from their thrones and the humble are lifted up; it is the Master who serves and washes feet; the smallness of the mustard seed and the little amount of yeast reveal the power of faith; where emptying out oneself, one is filled; where those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted; where others have a tiny speck in their eye and I have a huge beam in my own.
We enter this strange land if we dare make the passage. Instead of emphasizing self-fulfillment and self-realization, we embrace the Gospel call us to self-transcendence. This form of going beyond ourselves for the kingdom, for Jesus, for the poor brings us immense fulfillment and joy, love and meaning without measure. Although it is a hard passage, there is nothing like it in the whole world!
Now we are in the process of conversion, now we are striving to become saints as Eugene exhorted us. Now we can deepen our communion of life with others in apostolic community, not because the community is fulfilling my needs, but in freedom I choose to love those who are my brothers and sisters. Now we are free people who can collaborate with others and who can execute together a plan with priorities. Now we make ourselves available. We discern together and ask God, “What is the mission you want us to do?”
Conversion has brought us to a strange land of freedom and joy where everything seems upside down at first. We are empowered in freedom by the Spirit of Jesus as prophets to announce his Good News. We are able to make ourselves available for the Province discernment which has made decisions about our way to participate in God’s mission.
My brothers and sisters, gathered for this Convocation to fan the flame of the Spirit and discern new directions in ministry, it is the Holy Trinity who calls us to participate, grow, convert, be holy and share more intimately their communion so that we can be truly preachers of the Gospel and missionaries to the most abandoned. The Trinity calls us; empowers us and sends us. Sustaining our life and loving us, the Trinity invites us to holiness and to participate in God’s mission in the world. We are asking as a province community: “What would you have us do, Lord?” With Saint Eugene’s example, in radical freedom, in holiness of life and in apostolic community, let us prayerfully discern directions as the Province of OMI Lacombe Canada to bring the Gospel to the poor and abandoned of our society today. We ask Mary Immaculate to help us listen and respond with all our heart to God’s call.
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