Fr. Paolo Archiati, OMI, Vicar General
The “Oblate May” is full of celebrations: the novena for Oblate vocations, the anniversary of the deaths of Fr. Albini and of St. Eugene, the liturgical celebration of Blessed Joseph Gerard. This year is even more special, since it adds to all these reasons for celebrating: the year of mercy, the 200 years of our foundation, the preparation for our 36th General Chapter… What more do we need to be happy and thankful to God for so many gifts of his love?
Well, we actually have one more reason to be thankful for. That is the heart of every May 21 celebration: the testament of our Founder. How many times have we read it, meditated on it, made comments on it! And yet, it remains the cornerstone of our foundation, of our family, of our mission in the Church. It is the heart of his whole life.
We keep the memory of many events related to St. Eugene’s life, but May 21 remains special for us. In the Church’s tradition this is his “day of birth”, the dies natalis, the day that God has chosen to call his faithful servant into his glory, the glory for which he had spent all his life!
St. Eugene’s whole life is actually very well summarized in his spiritual testament and gives us as Oblates the two elements that are at the heart of every Oblate vocation and of the Oblate mission. It also summarizes the two great desires of Eugene. All our spirituality turns around these two points.
At the 2013 Interchapter in Bangkok, we tried to start a remote preparation for the 2016 General Chapter by asking ourselves what the “theme” of the Chapter might be. Seven groups discussed and deepened the main elements that had been proposed: Living and witnessing – Evangelical poverty; New Oblates for a renewed and updated mission; New Spirit, new mission… in a changing world; Oblate religious identity – Our mission with the poor; A new missionary identity: dialogical, transparent, with the poor.
All these themes made me think of the inner struggle of the young Eugene, when he was trying to find his way to serve God. On the one hand, he was feeling called to withdraw into the solitude of a monastery and to give himself to contemplation and to stay alone with God, the God that had shown him all his mercy and to whom he wanted to consecrate all his life. On the other hand, knowing the deplorable situation of the Church, of those who had lost their faith, especially of the poor and the most abandoned, he was feeling “guilty” about hiding himself in a monastery, far from the place where he would have shown his gratitude to God through a life given to preaching the Gospel to the poor. That inner struggle lasted quite a while in his life; then, little by little, he came to an integration of these two aspects. In his first Rule, he passed on to his Oblates how crucial it is to live them both, as deeply and fully as possible.
His spiritual testament to the Oblates, his very last words, could not give a better message in the same line. “Among yourselves practice charity, charity, charity”. This is a call to always go back to the very heart of our vocation: to live our life as a gift to God in response to his gift to us. We are all forgiven sinners, and this is the very reason of our love for God: gratitude for his love and forgiveness. The best way to show this is to live charity in our relationships within our family, with one another. This is a call to rediscover our very identity as disciples of Jesus, to renew ourselves in the spirit of our charism. This is so well stated in our Constitution 2: “We are men ‘set apart for the Gospel’ (Rom 1:1), 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”.
“And, outside, zeal for the salvation of souls”. The second part of Eugene’s testament emphasizes the other aspect of our Oblate life: mission, evangelization, zeal, our missionary outreach. This is what kept the young Eugene from closing himself up in a monastery, from giving himself to God in a way that would have prevented his being in the midst of the world, with the people and among the poor. He had experienced the power of the blood of Jesus, shed for him and for his sins, and he wanted to give his whole life to extend the salvation coming from that blood to as many people as he could, especially through his Oblates.
In his Retreat Notes of October 8, 1831, Eugene made it extremely clear that the goal of his small society was that, living together as brothers, the Oblates had as their main work the evangelization of the poor, continuing, through constant imitation, the virtues and the examples of their Savior Jesus Christ. The two aspects of their life are so intimately united that it is in no way possible to separate them.
Mission in and through community, community for mission. This has been the message coming to us from our last General Chapters. A mission with new colors, like those repeatedly indicated by Pope Francis: the peripheries, the borders, the new poor, those that we call “the poor with their many faces”, those to whom we give our preference.” (see C. 5)