We gratefully celebrate throughout this year the 200th Anniversary of the founding of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate by St. Eugene De Mazenod. On January 25, 1816 a 33-year-old Eugene and five young companions came together as brother priests and made a solemn commitment to one another and to God to live and work as missionaries together. These first “Missionaries of Provence” formed the foundation of the Missionary Oblates. As they began to reach out in post-revolutionary France to the rural poor and abandoned in the villages of the countryside of Provence, France they took as their motto these words from Isaiah (61:1) and Luke (4:18): “He has sent me to evangelize the poor; the poor are receiving the Gospel.”
This 200th Anniversary is a time to tell stories and remember our Oblate heroes, while we are aware that the vast majority of our heroes are like “unknown soldiers” quietly buried in the passage of time. This includes the many people who, while not vowed Oblates themselves, have supported the Oblate mission and have collaborated with Oblates, all as part of the Mazenodian Family.
A new, third century dawns. Who will be the heroes of the next century? How and what will the Mazenodian Family be celebrating in 2116? Only God knows, of course, but no matter what transpires over the coming 100 years, our first steps into the next Oblate century need to be fresh and filled with commitment and hope. Perhaps the words ascribed by St. Bonaventure to St. Francis of Assisi which he directed to his companions near the end of his life are aptly challenging, if not disconcerting: “Let us begin again, for up until now we have done nothing.”
Our times are just as complex and tumultuous perhaps more so than the post-revolutionary times of St. Eugene. We experience deep polarization and division. We are frightened by terrorism, bombarded by loud self-serving voices 24/7, appalled by the suffering of millions of displaced refugees and immigrants – all the while sensing that we perhaps have been lulled into indifference by our comforts and apparent security.
How do we as Missionary Oblates and friends of Oblates begin this new century? What needs to be carried forward? I believe that these priorities and emphases will be essential for our future. Is there something here that you can support in action and prayer?
- Giving intentional pastoral and loving attention to youth (young adults, young couples, adolescents, children and their families) and walking with the new generations into the future and teaching them to be followers of Jesus;
- Living among, doing ministry with and empowering the poor, abandoned and marginalized with their many, many faces; Building a “culture of encounter” through “fearless dialogue” (Pope Francis to the U.S. Bishops in September 2015) within our North American context and with other cultures, peoples and religions. (We have missionary examples, among others, to build on: Fr. George McLean, O.M.I., in his Council for Research in Philosophy and Values — www.crvp.org; Fr. Séamus Finn,O.M.I. in the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility — www.iccr.org; Fr. Harry Winter, O.M.I. in his ministry of Mission, Unity and Dialogue — www.harrywinter.org. We also have two centers of higher learning that promote mission and dialogue in North America: Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio and St. Paul University in Ottawa.);
- Entering into a more consciously caring and grateful relationship with our Earth and all that makes up our environment. (As we build on the ministry of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation and the Oblate Ecological Initiative — www.omiusajpic.org and www.lavistaelc.org in Washington D.C. and Godfrey, Illinois respectively).
These priorities and emphases (and others for sure) cannot lead us into the
next Oblate century if we are not living authentically our religious and Christian lives, especially in their spiritual, community, social and vowed dimensions. “We achieve unity in our life only in and through Jesus Christ. Our ministry involves us in a variety of tasks, yet each act in life is an occasion for the personal encounter with the Lord, Who through us gives Himself to others and through others gives Himself to us. While maintaining within ourselves an atmosphere of silence and inner peace, we seek His presence in the hearts of the people and in the events of daily life as well as in the world. We are pilgrims, walkingwith Jesus in faith, hope and love.” (Oblate Constitution #31)
May God give us the grace, the courage and the light to be worthy of a new Oblate century!