All of us have learned since childhood to say “Thank You!” whenever someone gave us something. During the whole year of 2016 we Oblates will have the opportunity to say “Thank You, Lord, for the many gifts we have received during the last 200 years, since our foundation.” Not only as a Congregation should we give thanks to the Lord, but also as individual Oblate Units. Each unit has its own Oblate history to contemplate and admire, to analyze and recognize the “passing of the Lord” in our lives.
I invite each one of us to reflect, meditate and even discuss the following steps of our foundational and vocational oblate process:
1. The Experience of God and the Gift of the Oblate Charism
Our Founder was blessed with the experience of God’s love one Good Friday. He experienced the person of Jesus as Saviour. This experience led Eugene to identify his call to leave everything and follow Jesus. It is this experience that has guided each one of us to enter the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The human and spiritual gifts we have received have led us to identify ourselves with the Oblate Charism of Saint Eugene. This experience of God and of the Oblate Charism is not only essential in the original founding of our Congregation but also in the origins and basis of our own vocation.
I think that spending time meditating on the Preface of our Constitutions and Rules will help us renew ourselves in our basic decision to leave everything and to follow Christ in a radical and prophetical manner. Our Superior General, Fr. Louis Lougen, has insisted on this many times in his conferences to Oblates all over the world. In the Preface we find the true motivations that guided Father Eugene in founding the Oblates and these same motivations have guided us during the last 200 years.
2. Foundation with the gift of faithful followers
We have been blessed with vocations during the 200 years of existence. Every generation of Oblates has contributed to the understanding of our Charism and has contributed to the missionary activity in the Church. Thanks to the faithful testimony of previous generations of Oblates we have gained a place in the Church and we can be proud to be part of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
The canonization of our Founder in 1995 was very important for helping us to realize that our name is truly a “passport to Heaven” like St. Eugene used to say.
3. Establishment and expansion to guarantee continuation
During the course of 200 years we have adapted many things according to the needs of the times. Every General Chapter has been an occasion to evaluate and plan our missionary activity according to the needs of the world. Special care has been given to the adaption of our Constitutions and Rules, which are at the root and heart of our Oblate charism, based on the values which moved the Founder to gather a group of men which, in time, became the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Because these Constitutions and Rules are so basic, they must be reflected and assimilated by every generation of Oblates in evaluating our life and mission.
The Constitutions and Rules are essential criteria of our tradition from the beginning. They have evolved over the years and have been revised through the acts of one or another of our General Chapters to guide us, as Oblate values in our life and mission. From the humble beginning in that upper room of our foundation house in Aix-en-Provence we are now present in 68 countries. Just as our Founder “spared no effort to extend the Savior’s empire” we too must now identify where the poor of today are.
The two choices that we have today are to renew ourselves and survive or to remain frozen and face death. Any organism that does not renew itself is destined to death. There is no reason to exist in the Church if we are not faithful to our Oblate Charism. Christ has promised us that the poor will always be with us, but the question is: Will we have good faithful Oblates to take care of the poor?
4. The Five Calls of Conversion from the 2010 General Chapter
As usual, the last General Chapter in 2010 is calling us to convert so that we can be efficient in our mission as collaborators in the building of the Reign of God in the world. The call was made 5 years ago and it is still there today in the voice of the present Pope. In Evangelii Gaudium the Holy Father is telling us that both Church and society are in need of conversion. We all need to “heal” both ourselves and the world.
5. Suggestions from Major Superiors
Three years ago, in preparation for the Inter-Chapter in Bangkok, the Superior General invited all Major Superiors to come up with some practical signs of conversion. Below are some of the suggestions from Provincial and Delegation Superiors. The question is: Do we dare to choose any of these concrete signs of our communal conversion?
· Start a Unit discernment process to determine:
§ Which Oblate ministries should we keep and which new ones should we start?
§ Which Provinces should be reduced to Delegations; which Delegations should be reduced to Missions?
· Verify what could be done for the new poor, youth, migrants, refugees, elderly, women empowerment, prisoners, cultural minorities, Indigenous people, and HIV groups.
· Identify and promote the Oblate charism among the laity and establish a project of missionary collaboration with Oblate Lay Associates based on the Oblate Charism.
· Begin a new mission “ad extra” or within the Oblate Unit among the “new poor”.
· Create “pilot communities” stressing our Oblate witnessing of vowed life in an apostolic community among the poor.
· Each Region assumes a project in common to found a new international and intercultural mission.
· Build Christian-missionary-parish communities that are more than just parish management offices.
· Get involved in social justice, eco-justice and peace & reconciliation through a ministry of non-violence.
· Dialogue with other faith groups that exist outside but near the Oblate community.
· Send a letter to the Holy Father to renew our intention to serve the Church and our readiness to accept a new mission where the needs are most pressing among the poor.
In light of Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato si’ we are invited to prepare a new missionary project among the poor taking into account an Ecological and Economic sustainability.
We have a big task before us. Let us be conscious that we are not alone. The Lord walks with us! Let us thank the Lord with some words inspired by the life of Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero:
” It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
. . . We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. . .
It may be incomplete. But it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are the workers, not master builders; ministers, not Messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. ”
And to conclude our thanksgiving let us remember our Founder, Saint Eugene: “Let all the Oblate brothers be imbued with the family spirit that ought to exist among us. … For this I have always thanked God as a special gift he has deigned to grant me; he has given me an exceptional heart, an overflow of love which is special to me, … with God’s love for men. … May this mutually help us more to savour the beauty of our vocation, and may everything be related to God for his greater glory. This is the most ardent desire of my heart.” Letter to Father Mouchette, moderator of scholastics, December 2, 1854. (Yenveux V, 209) Selected Texts, 299, p. 352-3