PILGRIMS OF HOPE IN COMMUNION: A REFLECTION
By Sandra Prather HOMI,
OMI Lacombe Canada
About ten years ago, my husband, sister and I walked three hundred and seventy kilometres of the Camino de Santiago. Carrying backpacks, sleeping in a different village or town each night, for three weeks we were true peregrinos, pilgrims. We were on ‘the way’ to the great Cathedral of Saint James in the beautiful city of Santiago.
Strangers as we were in the country, the worry was that we would get hopelessly lost at some point. Fortunately, the ancient pilgrimage trail through Spain is well marked: frequent, well-placed images of clamshells on posts, sidewalks and buildings indicate the path as well as reassure you that you are still going the right way.
Not all journeys are as clearly marked. Sometimes, unbeknownst even to ourselves, we stray off trail or take a wrong turn. Other times, we are distracted or unfocused and we miss the signs telling us to turn or set out in a different direction. When the happens, we end up lost or wandering aimlessly. That’s why, every once in a while, it is good to stop, look around and, as any good GPS system does, re-orientate.
To re-orientate means to take new readings, look at the signs around you and ask what adjustments need to be made. Strangely enough, that’s also the purpose of a General Chapter! Every six years, the Oblates gather and re-orientate. Prayerfully and discerningly, they look at where they are, read the signs of the times, and ask what they need to do to stay on the right road of proclaiming the gospel with passion and fire. The answers to those questions will guide them for the upcoming six years.
This year, as part of the preparation for the 37th General Chapter, the Pre-Capitular Commission entered into a congregation-wide consultation. They were seeking to identify the ‘signs of the times’ commanding their attention. Their theme, ’Pilgrims of Hope in Communion,’ reflects the discernment that followed. The elements of ‘pilgrim, hope and communion’ were the signposts chosen to guide the Chapter’s deliberations in setting direction for the near future.
As members of the larger Oblate family, what do these signposts say to us? How might they set our direction as we seek to live the Oblate charism in our milieu of family, work, volunteerism and culture?
1. We remember that we are PILGRIMS.
In other words, we are on the move! Pope Francis reminds us that we are a Church which is ‘on the Way.’ We are pilgrims: history, Francis points out, teaches us that standing still cannot be a good condition for the Church (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 23). Nor is it a good condition for us. Instead, Francis says, we should be characterized by an inner restlessness.
I think this is a restlessness that pushes us out beyond our comfort zones, a dissatisfaction with the status quo. Seeing injustice, environmental degradation, violence and hatred, it says, “It should not be this way!” It then moves us to work for change. It is the Spirit saying, “Get out of your rut, seek new and creative ways to be church, to proclaim the gospel, to be witnesses to life.” It is Eugene saying, “Where there are new needs, we must create new means.”
2. We are to be a certain type of pilgrim: we are pilgrims of HOPE!
Why hope I wonder? Why not pilgrims of mercy, or of love? What are the signs of the times that led the Pre-Capitular Commission to choose hope as the virtue we are to embody as we walk?
Perhaps it is this: we live in a time where so many people struggle to find hope in their everyday lives. The reasons are myriad; the personal losses and tragedies of the global pandemic, on-going wars, intractable poverty, the on-going destruction of our environment, and on and on. Maybe, in looking at the signs around them, the Oblates saw the need for someone to be a witness to hope in a turbulent, chaotic and increasingly desperate world.
For us to be witnesses to hope, however, we must ground ourselves in something beyond ourselves. Hope, as Vaclev Havel wrote, cannot simply be an optimism that everything will turn out well. It is, rather, he says, a dimension of the soul. It is grounded in a belief and conviction, that despite everything, God wins. Indeed, God has already won. In 2004, in the 34th general Chapter document, Witnessing to Hope, the Oblates claimed hope as their special strength, “our joy-filled sense that at the heart of all [these] difficulties, God who is Lord of this world, is still very alive and worth giving our lives for” [Witnessing p.10]. It is this shared conviction that constitutes us as pilgrims of hope.
3. We are pilgrims of hope in COMMUNION.
Finally, we are meant to do this together. This is the synodal spirit Pope Francis call us to: we journey together side by side, knowing that the Spirit is present in each one.
I think one of the major gifts of the recent Oblate Lay Associations Congress was that it awakened us to a broader understanding of the Oblate family. Watching the videos from each region which highlighted the various ways Oblate laity are living the charism of Saint Eugene, one could not help but be moved and touched. God is at work among us; the Oblate charism is alive and well! Truly, together we are stronger and we are meant to be walking together.
“Walker, there is no path; the path is made in walking”. The path we walk as church, as Oblates and the Oblate family, is not neatly laid out for us. Instead, we have signposts along the way as we journey. The signposts that point to our being pilgrims of hope in communion, will, we trust, lead us in the right direction.
The logo chosen for the Chapter reflects this. It shows a group of people walking together. They are ‘on the way.’ There are some Oblates among them; there are some children; there are men and women. They look like a pilgrim people. There is a dove-like Spirit hovering over them. They are surrounded by green and growing branches – the promise and hope for a fruitful life as they journey. They look like the church. They look like us.
“If a Christian does not feel this inner restlessness, if he does not live it, something is missing; and this inner restlessness comes from his own faith and invites us to evaluate what is best to do, what must be maintained or changed.” [Pope Francis, speaking about the synodal church.]
1. Where do you feel an ‘inner restlessness’ that pushes you want to work for change?
But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.” Lam 3:21
2. How are you a carrier of hope? What or who grounds your hope?
“I hope in thee for us.” [Gabriel Marcel, Christian existentialist]
3. How does ‘being in communion’ strengthen your hope?
The title “Walker, there is no path! The path is made in walking” is from a poem written by the famous Spanish poet Antonio Machado
ABOUT THE WRITER: Sandra Prather, Oblate Associate and Honorary Oblate has been associated with the Oblates since the mid-1980’s. As Executive Director of an Oblate retreat centre, Star of the North, for over 20 years, she became well-acquainted with he Oblates and their charism.
Sandra’s life-long work has led her into an on-going relationship with St. Eugene, his charism, and the Oblates. Since that time she has worked at developing Oblate Associates across Canada and beyond.
Sandra and her husband Bob live in Sherwood Park, AB Canada and are blessed with four adult children and ten grandchildren.