By Fr. Paolo Archiati, OMI, Vicar General
Every year in February, we celebrate the approval of our Constitutions and Rules by Pope Leo XII in 1826. During the jubilee year of our foundation, we referred several times to another Rule which is mentioned in the famous “Request of authorization addressed to the Vicars General of Aix”, written by Eugene on January 25, 1816.
In this letter that we may consider as our “foundational” text, Eugene and his first companions request from the Vicars General of Aix “the authorization to come together at Aix in the old house of the Carmelites which one of them has acquired; and to live there in community under a Rule whose main points they now indicate to you.”
Immediately after these words, Eugene underlines the two main ends of the Society that he is about to begin. Two ends, two objectives that we should never separate from one another. They are the goals that the Rule will help the members of the Society to achieve. At some moments of our history, and even today, we may tend to forget the second of these two “chief” aims. We are a missionary Congregation, as it is beautifully stated in Constitution 5. Mission is certainly one objective of our religious family, expressed by Saint Eugene in these words: “to work for the salvation of one’s neighbour by dedicating itself to the ministry of preaching.”
But our Society has two “chief” aims, not just one, and I think these two goals go together, both in our lives and in our mission. That is why the text continues: “… its chief aim also includes providing its members with the means necessary to practice the virtues of religion to which they are so strongly attracted…”. If the first missionaries were not to find in this Society the possibility of living those “virtues of religion”, they would have gone to some other religious Order.
This is why Eugene is so explicit: “If they have preferred to form a regular community of Missionaries, it is in an effort to be useful to the diocese, while at the same time working at their own sanctification, in conformity with their vocation.”
Our Rule, whose approval we celebrate on February 17 every year, is at the service of both these goals. The Preface to the Constitutions and Rules is also very clear on this point, when it says that by living them, “these priests… hope to obtain all the benefits they need for their own sanctification and for the salvation of souls”.
The final number in our Constitutions and Rules (C 168), and certainly not the least, reminds us that, through our oblation, each Oblate “…assumes responsibility for the common heritage of the Congregation, expressed in the Constitutions and Rules and our family tradition”. We are exhorted to let ourselves be guided by our Constitutions and Rules “in creative fidelity” to the legacy that Saint Eugene, our Founder and Father, left us.
A reference to our Rules, even if in a more spiritual way, was made by Pope Francis when he met the members of the 36th General Chapter on October 7 last year. Among other things, he said: “Following the example of the Founder, may charity among you be your first rule of life, the premise of every apostolic action; and may zeal for the salvation of souls be a natural consequence of this fraternal charity.”
This exhortation binds together the beginning and the end of Eugene’s life, his Rule and his Testament, his first and last Will. Our first “rule of life” is charity among ourselves. This is also the premise of every apostolic action. These words of the pope help us not to forget that our religious family has two main goals that we must always keep united, because they are strictly interconnected and interdependent. From our desire and efforts towards holiness springs the effectiveness of our missionary life; from the challenges of our mission, faced and lived through our missionary zeal, springs our ongoing holiness, a gift for God, for our brothers within the community to which we belong, and for the people we serve.