Given the climate that surrounds us, I had been tempted to ask, “why celebrate?” Given the rancor and divisiveness in our society; given the pain and suffering in our church, I found myself tempted to give up, run and hide. Yet, celebrate we must; jubilee is not about us and our accomplishments. It is about the faithfulness and blessings of God in our midst. But, we – all of us together, members of the Oblate family – celebrate humbly.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair….” Charles Dickens penned those words in another time and place. Any of us, looking back over the past seventy-five years, could apply the words of Dickens to our years. Or, we could turn to the words – quite dated now – of the Second Vatican Council in The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, “The council exhorts Christians, as citizens of both cities, to perform their duties faithfully in the spirit of the Gospel. It is a mistake to think that, because we have here no lasting city, but seek the city which is to come, we are entitled to evade our earthly responsibilities; this is to forget that because of our faith we are all the more bound to fulfill these responsibilities according to each one’s vocation. (#43)”
Our Oblate missionary character and charism do not allow us to choose the heavenly city and flee the earthly city; we do not have a “Benedict option”. It is challenging to celebrate today. And yet we do so. We know, again, that it is not about us, but rather it is about the One who called us to come and follow, the One who calls us friends, the One who told us – all of us – to remain in his love, the One who gives us his Spirit and calls us to be instruments of his redeeming love in the world.
Over the course of our years of Oblate life and ministry, we have witnessed the deepening understanding of church as communion among the brothers and sisters in the Lord. Today, Pope Francis reminds us that the whole church, the People of God, the Body of Christ, all of us are called to be missionary disciples. He employs the image of walking together – “caminando juntos” – as brothers and sisters, sharing the very mission of Jesus. This is our only way forward! Together!
The readings today invite us to place our focus on the heart of the matter.
Paul’s summary description of the core of the Good News as “the message of the Cross” is singular in the New Testament. For Paul, the wisdom and power of God is keenly focused in the Cross of Christ. Paul describes his preaching as the word of the Cross; he identifies the crucified Christ as the object of his proclamation. The Corinthians define themselves according to human standards; Paul defines them according to God’s wisdom. Some in the Corinthian community came to see themselves as “well-born,” “special,” “privileged;” Paul announces to them that according to Divine Wisdom and God’s purposes, it is the “foolish,” “the weak,” and the “lowly” who have been chosen. The Mystery of Salvation is Divine Wisdom, and is, subsequently a constant call to us to reorient our lives according to the Cross.
Talk about the Cross is not meant to be some depressing topic, but is, rather a lens through which we can understand how God acts and how we ought to act as image and likeness of God. It is of the nature of God to be self-emptying love seen in the act of creation; it is of the nature of Christ to be self-emptying love all the way to and from the Cross; it is of our human nature, baptized into Christ, to be self-emptying love, in family, in relationships, in work, in life callings and commitments.
Eugene de Mazenod, like St. Paul, saw the light and discovered his call, at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday. Sounding like St. Augustine in the Confessions, Eugene acknowledged his sinfulness and his attachments to worldly vanities and worldly wisdom. He felt God call him by name, shout to him and call him out of his deafness, and his faith was enlivened. Encountering the love and mercy of God in the Crucified Savior, Eugene embarks on a journey of conversion and of reorienting his life direction. Eugene’s experience and his spirit shine through our Oblate Constitutions and Rules, and Eugene continues to invite each of us to have the same experience of grace at the foot of the Cross and to follow him in a lifelong process of daily conversion to Christ.
What does this mean in practical terms? The human good is not about self-satisfaction, but about loving others without counting the cost. Each of us as a member of the Christian community – imperfect, weak, inconsistent, yet capable and desirous of loving – recognize a call to be like Christ. This lifelong journey of conversion to Christ is about progress not perfection. And it is about learning, over and over again, how to lay down one’s life for one’s friends as Jesus did, to put aside one’s own wants in order to love the other.
Two important lessons are hidden in this afternoon’s readings: first, we discover the meaning of life at the foot of the Cross, and second, we must remain anchored in friendship with Christ as brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. Jesus tells us “remain in my love.” We remain in his love together.
There has been an unhealthy severing of the bond of unity in the Christian community, seen especially through the sexual abuse scandal, which has laid open rifts between pastors and people, hierarchy and the baptized.
We talk often these days of the Mazenodian Family, this community of friends, gathered around the charism and spirit of Eugene de Mazenod. Look around: this afternoon, this is the Mazenodian Family here and now. A small number of Oblates, especially of the age we are, is quite limited. This community of friends and associates, brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ can make a real difference in the mission of healing the church and bettering the world.
The very first Constitution in our Constitutions and Rules says: “Christ thus invites us to follow him and to share in his mission through word and work.” We Oblates share this mission with you our sisters and brothers and friends. This partnership gives us hope, even in this time of discouragement. Many years of Oblate life and ministry, represented by the Jubilarians here today, are significant contributions to the continuing liberating mission of Jesus in the world.
Together, let’s joyfully celebrate God’s grace and blessings in our jubilarians, and, strengthened by the bread of life and the cup of salvation, let’s go forward together to lift up the poor, to bind up the wounds of sin and division, to further peace and justice, love and integrity in this world broken by conflict and destruction. Remaining in the love of Christ requires that we share the love of Christ.