By Fr. Cornelius Ngoka, OMI, Assistant General
Throughout this year, we have prayed and reflected on formation as a conversion journey that lasts a lifetime. We have lived faith-sharing encounters and experiences, we have perhaps made concrete acts of conversion. Soon, we will begin the third year of the Oblate Triennium leading us to the celebration of the day, 200 years ago, when the first Oblate community met in Aix-en-Provence, January 25, 1816. In the letter of request addressed to the Vicars General of Aix, Saint Eugene and his first companions state that “if they have preferred to form a regular community of missionaries, it is in an effort to be useful to the diocese while at the same time working at their own sanctification, in conformity with their vocation.” ( Selected Texts Related to the O.M.I. Constitutions and Rules, No. 5)
For the Founder, formation and renewal are integral parts of being a missionary. He was convinced that the future will always depend on the quality of the formation of Oblates at all levels. Here are some excerpts from his letters; let us allow Eugene de Mazenod to speak to us of formation in the language of his time but with a conviction and a vision which touches and challenges us today.
“I am sorry that you are overloading yourself with work. I do not approve of this at all: it has the double disadvantage of exhausting your men and of keeping them too long outside the house…In God’s name, let them return to their communities to renew themselves in the spirit of their vocation; otherwise, it is the end of our missionaries. They will soon be nothing more than sounding cymbals.” (To Father Guigues, Superior of Notre-Dame de l’Osier, 27 May 1835 in Selected Texts, No. 255)
“Never forget that it is for God that you work, that it is the glory of his holy Name that it is at stake, and that the Church requests this service of you. This means that you must supernaturalize your studies, sanctify them by a great purity of intention, leaving all self-love aside and not seeking yourself at all. In this way, even secular authors bring you as close to God as do the Fathers of the Church” (To Father Mille, Superior of Billens, Switzerland, 3 January 1831, in Selected Texts, No 463)
“Certainly you have to use proper moderation in your relationship with the Brothers entrusted to you. Much gentleness in manner and much strictness in regularity and observance of the Rules which should become like a sound habit to make of them, as it were, a sort of second nature which they will maintain throughout their lives.” (To Father Mouchette, new moderator of scholastics at Notre-Dame de Lumières, 9 July 1853 in Selected Texts, No. 459)
“I was going to ask you to instill in them self-denial, renouncement of their own will, obedience as it is understood by our Rules and observed in all good Congregations and Orders, zeal for their own perfection so as to deserve to work for the sanctification of others… I implore you to demand also that they be polite, honest and kind. Do not permit any rudeness.” (To Father Bellon, moderator of scholastics, 30 August 1844, in Selected Texts, No. 458)
“The satisfying news you send me about your community of Montolivet is a great consolation. My eyes, and still more my heart, are forever turned towards those dear sons, who are the hope of our family. I am happy that they understand the sublimity of their vocation and are courageously endeavoring to become holy religious.” (To Father Mouchette, moderator of scholastics, 11 March 1860, in Selected Texts, No. 461)
“Have Father Viguier make a good novitiate. Do not be satisfied with appearances; make him practice every kind of virtue; train him in the love of poverty, obedience and entire abnegation of himself, in the spirit of mortification, in humility. What I say regarding him, I equally recommend for all the others.” (To Father Tempier, 18 June 1821, in Selected Texts, No. 430)
“The master of novices must be totally about his business. Hence he should never be taken away from his normal duties with the novices whom he should attend to as, so to say, the hen attends to its chicks. In case the superior needed the novice master for some other work, he must come to an understanding as to time with the novice master so that the novitiate, which is strictly speaking his only task, does not suffer.” (To Father Courtès, 3 October 1834, in Selected Texts, No. 435)
The commitment to live formation as a constant conversion experience disposes us to renew our yes to the Lord, following the example of Mary Immaculate, in an ever inventive fidelity.