by Fr. Paolo Archiati, OMI, Vicar General, Originally Published on OMIWORLD.ORG
We have recently begun a journey especially important for the life and mission of our family. During these three years, we will be preparing to celebrate, and we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of our founding. Through our newsletter, I would like to share, throughout this year, some thoughts and considerations on Oblate community, the theme chosen for this first part of this journey.
I would like to start this series of reflections by recalling an event that our family celebrated in 1976: the famous “Congress on the charism of the Founder today.” The special issue of Vie Oblate Life which contains the proceedings of that conference contains an interesting contribution that highlights some of the characteristics of community in the light of the apostolic life, especially in reference to the Founder and the beginning of our Congregation. Father Marcello ZAGO, attempting to summarize the conference in an article on the fundamental points of our spirituality, sees in the community a place of apostolate and holiness, an ambiance that evangelizes and through which we become a sign for the poorest and most abandoned.
In our Oblate spirituality, there is a close link between Christ, evangelization and community: three fundamental elements of Oblate life which are the source of all our renewal. The community is not only a means of evangelization; it is also a place for our own evangelization: we evangelize to the extent that we identify with Christ, and the community is an indispensable means for this to happen. Among the features of Oblate community, modeled on that of the apostles gathered around Jesus, the article stresses charity as its fundamental law; unity; communion around the one broken bread, around the word of God and in the sharing of goods.
The community is first and foremost a fraternity of faith: the Founder wanted the Oblates to return to their community, not so much to protect themselves from the dangers of the world, but mainly so as to have the possibility of seeing themselves as brothers in Christ, and thus be able, in touch with Him, to revitalize themselves in spirit. In this community, each one is a minister of faith for the others and he lets the others be that for him; this leads them beyond simple friendship and human affection, both so important for the common life.
Among the obstacles that the common life encounters, to be stressed are the scattering of members; the diversity of activities and ministries that engage us in multiple work groups; the diversity in formation and background. In some situations, one experiences frustrations and disappointments, sometimes even a cynical tendency to nip in the bud any sort of enthusiasm for life in common and for any community activity; and in some situations, paradoxically, the greatest obstacle to communion of faith in the community is represented by the apostolate itself, when an apostolic work is assumed by a person and not by the community and when the ministry creates a work community that is different and far removed from the religious community to which we belong . Many of our Oblate houses, Father Zago writes in the article cited above, more often resemble a boarding house than a community; this is why we need a new conversion to Christ and to the Church, a conversion which requires Oblates to gather in community for a self- evangelization, to evaluate their life, the quality of their witness and their goals. In this, community animation has a role of paramount importance.
The final statement of the conference emphasizes how the ongoing renewal of the sense of community is seen by all as an opportunity to enrich the life of the Congregation and its mission of evangelization. The community, we read, is not simply seeing ourselves as a group of evangelical laborers who work together; like the Church, the community evangelizes itself and evangelizes others. The person of Christ, who through love is made present in the community, evangelizes those who accept and live a real sharing of life, so that it is the whole community that evangelizes.
Some of the final recommendations of the conference are significant in this regard. It recommends, for example, choosing, at all levels, superiors who believe in and live the Oblate ideal, having as a priority continual renewal. It asks that attention be paid lest whoever may not want to move forward becomes a roadblock to others in their journey. It invites us to have the courage to abandon works that do not comply with the goals of the Institute in order to promote those that do (and in doing this discernment, the community factor should weigh decisively, more than it does in so many circumstances).
“For this,” we read in the final declaration, “we live in community with each other … in it, we are mutually strengthened in faith through charity and we enrich each other with our discovery of God and of Christ, who lives and works in us and in the world.” If we consider that this important conference took place almost 40 years ago, we realize that some challenges still remain today and we understand why conversion is a journey that is unending.