Past Issues - 7 - 2014/1
In 1816, according to tradition, on 25 January, the young priest, Eugene de Mazenod, gathered around himself his first companions in order to begin a small society that would later become the religious Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. We are approaching, therefore, the 200th year since that event, and to prepare for it and celebrate it, we thought it fitting to live these three years till that date, focused on some particular themes tied to our spirituality and our life.
And so there surfaced the idea of a Triennium, not only of preparation but also of celebration and thanksgiving to God for the gift we have received in Eugene, whose holiness the Church recognized almost twenty years ago, as well as for the gift of the Oblate vocation which we share in different ways. Within this movement there is included what has now commonly come to be called the great “Mazenodian Family” – made up of all who recognize in Saint Eugene de Mazenod the inspiration for their lives and their missionary activity, or who in some way join themselves to him and to the charism given him by the Spirit for the Church.
The first year of this “Oblate Triennium,” begun on 8 December 2013 and to conclude on 8 December 2014, is dedicated to a reflection on the theme of community. The second, 8 December 2014 – 7 December 2015, will be dedicated to the theme of formation, seen as a fundamental dimension in which the Oblate is involved until the very end of his life; finally, the third year will go from the feast of the Immaculate Conception in 2015 until 25 January 2017. It will be a year of celebration, with the theme of the mission. During each of these three years, we will have available some guides for community meetings and personal reflection. Oblatio is also following and accompanying this journey, and this first issue of 2014 offers some contributions on the theme of the first year. Each year is linked to part of the slogan of our last General Chapter – a new heart; a new spirit; a new mission – and to one of the three vows: chastity for the first year; poverty for the second; and obedience for the third.
We would like to keep the fundamental goal of the Triennium free of useless triumphalism and to live it in a commitment to a true renewal of our lives and in thanksgiving for our vocation. It is meant to rekindle in the heart of every Oblate the fire of life and mission. To achieve this goal, two tasks have been proposed: the sharing of our faith through regular community meetings and concrete actions that express the conversion we have been working on since the last Chapter.
The year 2016 will also be the year of our next General Chapter for which we began remote preparation during the interchapter meeting in Bangkok last year. Now a word about community, the theme of the first year.
It is superfluous to repeat how important the reality of community was in the inspiration of our Founder and what role it had in our first missions. Inspired by that which gave life to the first Christian communities, Eugene liked to repeat, as an invitation to “his” Oblates, the importance of having among themselves “one heart and one mind,” with all the nuances of that expression which we find with remarkable frequency in his many letters. The other community which he systematically had in mind when he thought of the Oblate communities being established was that of the apostles around Jesus their Master. These are constitutive characteristics of Oblate community. Since the time of the Founder, numerous studies have been conducted on this issue, dealing with it in its entirety or from various angles.
In more recent times these studies have multiplied and diversified, extending to aspects of common life not previously considered. In a 1956 article published in “Etudes Oblates” that same year, Father Cosentino studied the common life in the foreign missions according to the thought of the Founder (La vie commune dans les mission étrangères selon notre Fondateur, 15 , p. 275-280). It is surprising to note, in the light of this study and considering the reality of today, not only how much we have strayed from the directives but also from the thinking of Eugene. Since that far off 1956, studies on Oblate community, besides multiplying, have also highlighted very different characteristics. Recent Superiors General and the documents of recent Chapters devoted considerable space to this theme, a sign of how current this reality is. In several of his contributions, Father Jetté focuses on some of the issues that make community life a real challenge for our time. Father Zago emphasizes the apostolic dimension of the Oblate community and its intimate relationship with the mission, dedicating to this theme a letter to Oblates in first formation (1990). Father Steckling, on 24 March 2008, writes an important letter to the Congregation on the apostolic community. When he was Assistant General, he had prepared a series of guides for community animation in the entire Congregation. The reality of community pervades the text and spirit of the Constitutions and Rules of 1982, approved after the long period of experimentation after 1966. They were recently re-edited with the changes from the General Chapters of 2004 and 2010. The third section of the first part is dedicated to the apostolic community.
The General Chapter of 1972 asked the new Superior General, the first to be elected to a “term,” to send a message to the Congregation to underline our commitment to revive apostolic communities. This text is analyzed in the recent issue of “OMI Information” (No. 542 – March 2014). The document of the General Chapter of 1986, Missionaries in Today’s World, dedicates Chapter VI to the theme of community life as an essential dimension of our vocation. Practically the entire document of the next General Chapter, in 1992, will be devoted to the same theme: Witnessing as Apostolic Community. The document of the Chapter of 1998, Evangelizing the Poor at the Dawn of the Third Millennium, considers the Oblate community as a subject of evangelization – the Oblate response to the needs of the world and especially the poor – and as a call to continue, in the light of the previous Chapter document, the study of life in community. The document of the Chapter of 2004 – Witnessing to Hope – dedicates Number 2 to the theme of Oblate community, linked to that of religious life as the characteristic element of Oblate life; it commits every Oblate community to a renewal in the various areas of its life. Finally, the document of the recent General Chapter – Conversion – identified in the community and community life: the first area in which we are all called to commit ourselves to a “profound conversion,” not only communal but also personal. In this first call to conversion, there are listed nine specific points on which we are called to challenge and convert ourselves. It would be interesting if an Oblate were to take the initiative to do a comprehensive study, historical, spiritual and experiential, on this topic, from the time of the Founder to the present, through the various stages of our history and the history of the Oblate mission. This is an invitation for readers of Oblatio...
After this short and summary “digression” into our history, especially the more recent, from the perspective of the community, there comes the need to take stock of the situation, to ask ourselves where we are on this journey, how we have done so far and how we are responding in our present life to all these principles. The statistics, especially those that indicate how many Oblates live alone and how many communities are composed of only two Oblates, do not seem encouraging.
Returning to the article of Father Consentino mentioned above, it would be a grave and culpable omission to retreat today from a serious examination of conscience on this topic, especially while we are preparing to celebrate a “year of grace in the Lord,” namely the second centenary of our history. I wonder if the time has arrived to consider seriously and through a series of courageous decisions that which the Founder has left us. The texts cited by Father Consentino in his article are most eloquent and they provide us not only with a way of seeing things which we can either accept or refuse; they provide us with a precious part of the “charism” received from him through the Church and particularly through his “family.”
Living together, in community, as brothers joined by the most sacred bonds of charity and animated by the presence of the Master, is the first witness that we, as Oblates, are called to offer to those to whom we are sent and in the midst of whom we live; it is the first form of evangelization which precedes every other preaching or discourse. But this also has repercussions on the life of every single Oblate, on his consecration to God through the vows, on a specific way of living his belonging to God, his oblation, the gift of his life for the mission. Are we ready for this step? We live in a complex world and in at time in which we try hard to manage our own personalities; sometimes, the community is seen as a “refuge” for those who are afraid to face a world with its problems, its challenges, its bogeymen; at times it can be experienced as an obstacle to the growth and development of one’s own personality.
At times, it is a subject we prefer not to face for fear of discovering that we are vulnerable and incapable of true friendship and authentic human relationships. It is a theme that calls into play persons, works, relationships and other aspects of our lives as consecrated persons and as missionaries.
From this point of view, the bicentennial of our foundation offers us an opportunity that we cannot let fade away or ignore. Perhaps from here, there could be born a new enthusiasm for our missionary life, a witnessing that could motivate other men to respond generously to the project of Saint Eugene. It’s a real occasion: it would be a sin to waste it!
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