STIR UP “A COMMON DESIRE TO REVITALIZE OUR APOSTOLIC COMMUNITIES”
By Fr. Paolo Archiati, OMI, Vicar General
A few years before the Congress on the Founder’s charism, held in Rome in 1976, Oblate reflection on the theme of community had produced a small but interesting document, born of a precise mandate of the General Chapter of 1972, to emphasize the “common desire to revitalize our apostolic communities.” In response to that mandate, Father General and his Council developed this brief document, having among their objectives “to reestablish confidence in Oblate community.” We read in the introduction that mission and community were inseparable in the beliefs and plans of the Founder. These realities have remained closely linked in the entire history of the Congregation. The Chapter of 1972 reaffirmed it: “without the apostolic community, the missionary vision remains only an illusion.” A sociological inquiry conducted at that time had shown that from 75 to90 percent of Oblates believe that community life was essential to our kind of life and to our apostolic commitment.
The document begins by situating Oblate community in that particularly difficult moment in history, marked by insecurity because of the changes taking place and by the search for new ways of living the reality of community life. In this situation, characterized by confusion and discontent, and therefore unfavorable to the missionary life, the Oblates had felt called to respond through “a sustained and constant effort that requires the personal and collective participation of all.” The difficulties that touched the Oblate community at that time were a reflection of a wider phenomenon that encompassed society and the Church herself. Against this background, the Oblate community was trying to “rediscover” its place. In a society characterized by the pursuit of material goods and social, illusory prestige, the Oblate was searching once more for his identity.
“The substance of the Good News proclaimed by Jesus,” the document says, “is that among men, community is possible and necessary.” Fraternal life is for us an experience of salvation through which we share our lives with others as Christ shares his with us. “Where there is love, there is community. Where there is community, there, the Kingdom of God is growing. And where there is the Kingdom, there is salvation.” The community, therefore, built on mutual love, is crucial to the establishment of the Kingdom of God. “The community can be broken by times of division and dissent, but it can also rise to the heights of forgiveness and reconciliation.” Through the community, we offer to the world the witness of unity which is presupposed by the very faith of the world.
The third part of the document shows some ways to live community. As a starting point, one should be clear about the basic elements that let the community be born, live and grow. “The community,” we read in number 11, “is not a clerical clique or a shelter from prying eyes. Even less is it a boardinghouse or a fixed abode. It is a living communion of persons, a human environment in which everyone can open up and develop.” A healthy relationship between the individual on the one hand and the community on the other hand is a prerequisite for the success of the community experience. The community is defined as “a network of relationships in which everyone feels ‘at home.’” In this scenario, fraternal charity with all its nuances plays a major role; on this point, the Founder never missed an opportunity to call his Oblates to the practice of this virtue, especially in their mutual relationships within the community. His spiritual testament is the most obvious proof of this.
Diversity, simplicity of life, sharing and communal property are other elements that characterize the Oblate community and ensure its life. A particular element emphasized in the document is communal prayer: “everyone should understand that one of the most intense moments in the life of the apostolic community is when it gathers to go to the Lord in order to seek his will, sing his praises, beg his forgiveness and ask for the strength to continue to serve.” Prayer is expressed in many ways, but “what is absolutely necessary is that the community remains a praying community.” I wonder if there is something here to be improved in our journey today.
The fourth part of the document is a look at the future in relation to the Oblate community and the challenges that historical circumstances pose for it; it opens prospects for new ways to live community, new ways of belonging to the Oblate family and new answers to the situations and the signs of the times.
Finally, mention is made about Oblates who live alone. On this point, we will say more later. Here it is stated that “what gives impetus to community spirit is more the “cor unum’ rather than a simple physical proximity.” The statement is correct and satisfactory in principle, but it would be interesting to conduct a study that is historical and attentive to concrete experiences to see how much reality backs up this principle. Perhaps it is time to draw conclusions from the experience of the past 50 years from that point of view. It is a complex reality that cannot be analyzed simplistically nor naively, but it is appropriate to deal with it. Sometimes I wonder if one of the fruits or signs of conversion, during the Triennium that we have just begun, could not be just that: that no Oblate lives alone anymore!
“Mission and community: that is our vocation.” The conclusion of the document returns to the theme of the relationship between mission and community. I invite you to read numbers 22-24 of the document, available on our Oblate website. Other than the language used, the content in this final part of the document does not seem to be 42 years old like the document itself. It demonstrates, as if it were necessary, that renewal is a daily “call,” just like conversion.
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