(An Oblate Reflection for the Extraordinary Mission Month October 2019)
The mission we fulfill is primarily the mission of Jesus Christ. He called us to himself and entrusted it to us but it still remains His mission of saving the world. The consequence of this is that we are not the first actors in the Lord’s field but joyful workers in his mission. This awareness should influence a lot our style of life and our style of work. We are disciples and messengers of Christ with all significances of that. Sometimes during different meetings, formation sessions, or individual encounters we hear the opinion that as Oblates we are missionaries and not monks, in the sense that we are called to the active life, to be always present among the people, to undertake activities to lead them to Christ and to give them the help they need in their journey. Partially, that’s true—we are not monks—but we cannot forget that for being good missionaries of Christ we need to be close to him and to have a deep relationship with him. Simply, the condition for being a good missionary is a deep spiritual life. Someone said that we cannot serve Christ without Christ; we cannot participate in the mission of Christ while neglecting our relationship with him.
Last July in Obra, Poland, the Congregation’s leaders held its Inter-Chapter meeting. One of the aims of this event, according to the Rule 128e, was to evaluate our commitment to the mission as we were invited by the 2016 General Chapter. Before and during the Inter-Chapter meeting itself, the regions, units, and the whole assembly of participants looked at what the Congregation had been able to realize from the recommendations of the last Chapter and where we can speak about failures in implementing them. The participants also asked themselves: what are the reasons that in many places of the Congregation we were not able to fulfill everything that was planned? The different reflections and deliberations led the participants to see clearly that in the fulfillment of the bold but also very concrete recommendations of the Chapter, it is necessary to have courage, readiness to leave sometimes what is to us well known, as in the ways of doing mission and living community life. However, the realization of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit requires also that we have hearts that are ready for conversion. Conversion means that we always turn our face towards Jesus. Thus, the Inter-Chapter participants grasped that in the actualization of our vocation, a deep spiritual life is just as important as our missionary zeal, our creativity, and our audacity to go and proclaim the Good News and serve the poor. As missionaries going out very often to the most abandoned and poorest people we should be, or become, contemplative men.
Saint Eugene de Mazenod, in the first Rules, said: “In imitation of these great models (Jesus Christ and Apostles), one portion of their life will be given over to prayer, interior recollection and contemplation in the privacy of God’s house, wherein they will dwell together in common. The other portion will be entirely consecrated to outside works requiring the most active zeal…”
Father Fernand Jetté went even further in saying that when Eugene de Mazenod spoke about the “apostolic man” he meant more about the Oblate’s manner of life rather than his missionary activities.
In our mission we would like to imitate Jesus Christ our Master. When we look at Him we see Him as a very active man: staying with the people, preaching, healing, helping, etc. But a few moments later we also see Him praying and staying in intimate relation with the Father.
Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium: “What is needed is the ability to cultivate an interior space which can give a Christian meaning to commitment and activity. Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the Word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless; we lose energy as a result of weariness and difficulties, and our fervor dies out. The Church urgently needs the deep breath of prayer…” (no. 262).
For the missionary, time spent with Jesus Christ in prayer and contemplation is never a lost time. From here he draws power, inspiration, new zeal; in prayer he also asks for the fruitfulness of his missionary works. Again, Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium indicates to us that a “true missionary, who never ceases to be a disciple, knows that Jesus walks with him, speaks to him, breathes with him, works with him. He senses Jesus alive with him in the midst of the missionary enterprise. Unless we see him present at the heart of our missionary commitment, our enthusiasm soon wanes and we are no longer sure of what it is that we are handing on; we lack vigor and passion. A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain, and in love, will convince nobody” (no. 266).
Our Constitution no. 2 tells us: “We are men set apart for the Gospel, men ready to leave everything to be disciples of Jesus. The desire to cooperate with him draws us to know him more deeply, to identify with him, to let him live in us. We strive to reproduce in ourselves the pattern of his life.”
This cannot happen without time dedicated for prayer, meditation, studies, etc. We are missionaries, but religious missionaries, and this means that we are men of God and of the people, called to do mission, but also to build this mission on the rock which is Jesus Christ.
Through the time dedicated for being with Jesus we show that we understand whose mission it is and who is the Savior who gives efficacy to our activities to fulfill the mission.
It is not by chance that Saint Therese of Lisieux became the patroness of mission although she never left her monastery. The fruits of our mission come from two sources: our different activities that witness to our love for Jesus amidst people, and our following Jesus with hands put together in prayer.
In our missionary endeavours, it is thus necessary to find a balance between contemplation and action. On one hand, prayer cannot become an escape from missionary and pastoral work. At the same time, the number of missionary activities cannot steal away the time which should be dedicated to our encounter with Jesus. Finding the balance between these two components of our life will allow us to really look at the world and its needs through the eyes of the crucified Savior (cf. C. 5).