1. Charity in the experience of the Founder
  2. Charity, a distinctive trait of the Oblate family
  3. The Superiors General
  4. The pedagogy of charity


We cannot speak of Eugene de Mazenod’s charity solely in terms of moral appreciation or of virtue. In his life, love was much more than simple moral conduct. It was not a virtue, but a Person, God himself.


The object of our study here will not be the moral effort made by Eugene or his spiritual journey to acquire this virtue. Rather, we will examine the workings of God, Love itself, to penetrate gradually, but in an ever more radical way into Eugene’s life, capturing his heart and setting it afire.

a. “Created solely for love”

Eugene was not born a saint. [1] But it is in the course of reflecting on his life that he would discover at its inception the active presence of God. He loved to stress the fact that God had freely given him certain attitudes which shaped his manner of being: “It is hard to understand, given the portrait of myself I have just painted, how sensitive a heart I have, overly so in fact. It would take too long to give you all the stories of my childhood traits I have had related to me and which are really rather surprising. It was quite normal for me to give away my breakfast even when I was hungry to satisfy the hunger of the poor, I used to bring firewood to people who complained of the cold and of not being able to afford to buy it, on one occasion I went as far as to give away the clothes off my back to clothe a poor person, and many, many other stories in the same vein. When I had offended someone, even if it was a servant, I never had a moment’s peace until I had been able to make reparation for what I had done, with some gifts, or gesture of friendship, or even a hug for the one who had reason to complain about me. I have not changed over the years.  [2]” As we see, Eugene was “created by God with a sensitive soul, a tender heart, loving, generous” [3]. At the same time, as far back as he could remember, he found in his heart an extraordinary attraction for God, an attraction that envelopes his whole life: “God placed in me I would almost say a kind of instinct to love him, my reason was not yet formed when I loved to dwell in his presence, to raise my feeble hands to him, listen to his word in silence as if I understood it. By nature lively and irrepressible, it was enough to bring me before the altar to make me gentle and utterly tranquil, so ravished was I by my God’s perfections as if by instinct, as I said, for at that age I did not understand them.” [4]

From the context, we can deduce that the love for which Eugene felt he was created went beyond the depth of feelings and presupposed a total consecration to the service of God: “He wished to give nature a priest, he wanted to create a being who would enter into relations with him […] able to love him. This being, I told myself, this being is me. My soul is an emanation from the divinity, that tends naturally towards it, and will never find rest outside of it; created solely to love God, etc. And my body equally is formed only for his service, to give glory and homage to God. [5]” One could say: here is Eugene as he came from the hands of the Creator. All of these traits were freely given to him as “a talent” (Matthew 25:15) in order that he could make them bear fruit throughout his life.

b. “A continuance of creation”

Eugene was nine years old when his eleven year period of expatriation began, a period which he considered a continuation of the creative action of God: “I saw these graces as a continuance of creation, as if God, after he had formed me, had taken my by the hand and given me these successive experiences, saying: I created you to love me, serve me, etc.; I do more, feeble creature that you are, I insert you here and there, so that you may achieve that end more easily […]”. [6]

Let us endeavor to uncover the events and persons the creative hand of God used to continue his work in Eugene. According to the testimonies we have, his stay at Turin was, without doubt, a time of an intense personal encounter with Christ in the Eucharist [7]. Eugene was far away from his parents in a foreign country, obliged to communicate and study in a language which was not his mother tongue. God was his only friend. He then learned that God alone was enough for him and he learned this lesson well [8]. At the College of Nobles, he got up “every day, one hour before the other students” to pray alone in his room [9]. In Venice, Don Bartolo Zinelli [10] outlined for him a spirituality suited to his age and temperament. He taught him to love God with a love that was genuine, lively, tender, and able to express itself in external gestures [11]. He was free from sentimentality as well as from Jansenism and moral rigorism. He spent a good deal of his time reading and studying certain selected questions. In fact, not only did he know his faith, but he professed this faith with pride and was prepared to defend it [12]. On the other hand, faith was not for him merely a question of the heart, nor a matter of convictions, but a very personal relationship with God.

Up until this point, Eugene had had the opportunity to become acquainted with the mystery of God. For the moment, he had to integrate his interior life with his daily social life. He arrived at Palermo. Until now, he had been obliged to live: “without having occasion to meet even one child or having learned any amusement, even the most unworldly”  [13]. Without exaggerating, we can consider his stay in Palermo as providential. If we take seriously Eugene’s admission that “from twelve to sixteen years of age the separation from the female sex had an air of the anti-social” [14], with the result that he would not “shake hands with ladies, except for those advanced in years” [15], we must acknowledge that his stay in Palermo contributed an essential element to his human development. Eugene was not alone in this journey. God, “who always watched over him from his tender years, now opened to him the doors of the Cannizzaro family. The Duke and the Duchess both became very fond of him. [16]” It was especially his encounter with the Duchess of Cannizzaro that was providential. A woman in her forties, happily married with three children, this lady considered Eugene one of her own “sons” and he called her his “second mother.” He “loved her” and had a “tender affection” for her[17]. He learned to express his feelings through small outward signs, for example, having the thoughtfulness of presenting her “a bouquet” [18].

On her part, the Duchess of Cannizzaro felt she had a responsibility to contribute to Eugene’s spiritual formation and human development. She brought him to the theater and on walks. Some nights, she read with him, for example, “the tragedies of Racine” [19]. At the same time, she “often” shared her faith with Eugene and offered him advice [20]. Eugene’s father characterized the Duchess as: “a mother to the poor and afflicted” who “without keeping anything back for herself”, gave “immense amounts to charity”. Eugene became “the confidante of all her plans, the co-worker and distributor of all her good works” [21]. He also took part in the social scene. The Duchess presented him to her sister, the Princess of Ventimiglia. Her daughter, “angelic in beauty”, counted him “among her dearest friends” and he “loved [her] as tenderly as if I were her brother” [22]. However, Eugene did not carry on like an empty-headed fool. According to what he tells us, he constantly felt “a kind of abhorrence for any kind of dissipation” and he “deplored it with disgust in others”. His aspirations were directed to “a totally different kind of joy” [23]. Upon leaving Palermo, Eugene seemed to have retained the lesson he learned. He showed himself a mature person, open to God and open to the world as well. He viewed man as “the finest of the Creator’s works” [24]. He was not ashamed to cry [25], nor to love tenderly [26], nor to show weakness, of having a hand that “trembles a little” [27]. He could laugh at himself [28]. He had “a deep love of music” and was enchanted “with the superb pieces by Paisiello, Cimarosa, Guglielmi, etc” [29]. He took an interest in books on history and literature, but also had knowledge of “Les entretiens avec Jésus Christ dans le très saint sacrement de l’autel”[30]and needed “a prayer book that belonged to his mother” [31].

On October 24, 1802, Eugene returned to France and led an existence that fluctuated between diversion and dejection. During the carnival of 1803, we see him dancing and attending concerts. He wrote to his father to describe how he was amusing himself. [32] But his heart was not at peace. He became ever more sarcastic, sometimes even contentious and cynical [33]. He “often” took “walks alone” [34]. “For sometimes three weeks” he remained “sad” and visited no one [35]. From 1804 on, between concerts, picnics and light comedy, he found more and more time to visit churches. The documentation attests that during this period, a very intriguing evolution was taking place within him. In May of 1804, he noted: “When I enter a church to place at the feet of the Eternal God my humble supplications, the idea that I am a member of that great family of which God himself is Head, the idea that I am so to speak in that situation the representative of my brothers, that I speak in their name and for them, seems to give my soul an instant expansion, an elevation that it is difficult to express. I feel that the mission I am fulfilling is worthy of my origins” [36].

Such a text reveals unmistakably a great spiritual maturity. Then, there is the seventeen pages of “Remarques sur le Génie du Christianisme of Mr. de Chateaubriand”. These notes date from January 1805. By reading them, “we can recognize Eugene’s good judgment and in particular be astonished at his interest in and his knowledge of Christianity, apologetics, etc” [37], and of patristics. We see that faith is not for him a question of poetry, emotion, humanism or of the advancement of liberty, but an “essential matter of life eternal” [38]. Likewise, he had a conscience which was sensitive to the exalted dignity of proclaiming the Word of God, the priestly vocation and the centrality of the message of the cross in communicating the Gospel [39]. Finally, during the last months of 1805 or at the beginning of 1806, he committed himself to the apostolate. He went from “garret to garret” visiting the poor and the sick. When the need arose, he made beds for the sick, swept out their hovels, bandaged their wounds, called the priest at the appropriate time and closed the eyes of “those he had cared for until their dying breath”. “Several times a week”, he visited the hospital where, he said, he went to “show honor and service to Jesus Christ in his suffering members” [40]. On December 30, 1806, the Mayor of Aix offered to make him administrator of the prisons. Eugene accepted; he subsequently offered this consideration: “I cannot tell you how much it costs a heart such as mine to live, so to speak amidst the miseries and sufferings of every kind and especially when I consider the hardness of the people and their perseverance in evil” [41].


We have seen how, “at various times […] and in various different ways” (Hebrews 1:1) through persons and events, God showed himself on Eugene’s path. That brings us to the year 1807. An objective analysis of Eugene’s writings reveals that it was a case of a defining moment in his journey. At that moment, even if we do not know exactly how everything happened, God “spoke through his Son” (Hebrews 1:2) by depicting before his very eyes “the features of Jesus Christ crucified” (Galatians 3:1). One could say that this Good Friday was the day of God’s victory in Eugene’s life. God, who had been in constant pursuit of him for a long time, finally captured him and made him fall in love with him. Faced with the revelation of the love of God in Christ crucified, stripped and powerless, but filled with inexpressible attraction in a tireless search for sinners which he led with an extraordinary gentleness, Eugene could not remain indifferent. He owed it to himself to respond. His first response came from the heart.

a. A response from the heart

The first response of his heart was silence and tears [42]. Then came wonder. Eugene was aware that words were powerless to express what he had undergone from “this infinite, incomprehensible goodness” [43]. But, at the same time, he felt compelled to tell people about it. The first thing to astonish him was the lavishness with which God poured his blessings “without limit” upon him[44]. His astonishment grew when he understood that God was a totally unselfish benefactor. In total awe, he exclaimed: “He put up with me, he affected not to see the damnable injuries that I continually inflicted on him; never changing, he opened to me his loving heart. […] How long did it last, this prodigious scene of love on the one hand, of barbarity, folly on the other? [45]” He became aware that God, in spite of his “sovereign majesty” [46], did not look upon our sins; in his omnipotence, he did not want to act toward Eugene as “master as he well could” [47], but he shows himself to be “a tender and dear father” who struggles for his happiness. Thus Eugene’s wonder went beyond the level of intellect, and embraced his whole being, turning into adoration: “[..] glorificabo animam tuam in aeternum quia misericordia tua magna est super me [Forever I will give glory to your name; great is your love for me]” [48].

Adoration was not “an exercise of piety” in Eugene’s life; his whole life was filled with delight and wonder. Like the lover, he sought the most fitting name he could find for God. He called him: “Excellent, rich, generous Master”. He cried out to him: “O my Savior, o my Father, o my Love!” “my good Jesus”. But never satisfied in his endeavor, he preferred “to admire his goodness” [49]. In his life, adoration therefore became the “happy necessity of centering its thoughts solely on this divine Saviour, of serving him with more ardour, loving him without cease” [50]. Saying a great deal about his experiences, we can say that Eugene loved to remain in silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, “touched and permeated by love”. His manner of adoration was that of the silent presence of lovers, side by side. With great intimacy he poured forth “his heart into the bosom of the one who loved him”; he rejoiced “to spend some moments in his company” [51]; he stood in awe of “his excessive […] goodness” [52].

Another sentiment “permeated” the heart of Eugene, that is, gratitude, the gratitude of the person who felt he has been pardoned and loved despite his faults. To show his gratitude gradually became one of Eugene’s major preoccupations. It seems that God rightly used this sentiment to introduce him into an ever deeper intimacy. To the Eugene who states that he is appreciative of even “an insignificant favor which flows from the heart”, God simply showed his magnanimous heart and so won his “eternal” gratitude [53]. Contrary to what one could have expected, the relationship between Eugene and God was not that of a debtor and his benefactor, or the sinner and the one sinned against. Not at all. The relationship was one of a tender love of friendship[54]. Here is a passage from his numerous retreat notes: “My God, that is all over henceforth and for my whole life. You, you alone will be the sole object to which will tend all my affections and my every action. To please you, act for your glory, will be my daily task, the task of every moment of my life. I wish to live only for you, I wish to love you alone and all else in you and through you. I despise riches, I trample honours under foot; you are my all, replacing all else. My God, my love and my all […].” [55] The desire expressed in this prayer is in no way insignificant, just one desire among many others. There is no ambiguity in his words when Eugene says: “My Lord, my Father, my love, bring me to love you; this only do I ask, for I know full well that is everything. Give me your love” [56]. No less eloquent is the experience of celebrating his first Mass with the intention of obtaining “the love of God above all things” [57].

b. A vital response

Without a doubt, it was love which infused dynamism into Eugene’s life. Nonetheless, he was far from shutting himself up in sentimentalism and spiritually exclusive intimacy. He was brought to express his love in daily life.

After his Good Friday experience, we find in Eugene a particularly strong concern to be docile to God. This is merely the expression of the love of one who desires to form one single will with the Beloved and who is happy when the Beloved feels free to do what he wants with him. In all things, Eugene wanted to act “only for God”, without “getting back anything” for himself or any thought for men’s opinions [58]. He was not satisfied with external obedience only; he desired to sincerely love the will of God: “[…] I will try to arrive at a loving preference for what is conformed to the will of the Master, which alone must rule not only my actions, but even my affections” [59]. In his seeking the will of God, we can note one more characteristic of those who have fallen in love; along with his docility, we find in him the desire for “total abandonment”. In this abandonment, he wanted to be radical, to the point of “sacrifice of himself” and of “renouncing himself” [60]. If it is true that Eugene sought and abetted the will of God, there were times in his life when he admitted, “The ways of Providence are a deep mystery to me” [61] and that the “decrees” and “secrets” of the Lord are “unfathomable” [62]. His attitude was always the same: “Let us adore the designs of God”.

In pursuing the dynamic of love, Eugene went even further; he felt the desire of making his own the mission of the Beloved. Becoming aware that Jesus had been sent especially to evangelize the poor, he conceived the desire to “follow in the footsteps of […] Jesus Christ”, (Preface) and be co-workers with the Savior, the co-redeemers of the human race [63]. As a motto for the Congregation, he chose the words Jesus Christ used to describe his own mission (Luke 4:18). The desire “to follow Christ” made of Eugene a missionary to the poor. This desire led him even further. He was not satisfied with sharing the mission of Christ; he wanted to be united with him. This desire embraced his whole life to the innermost recess of his heart. Eugene dreamed of uniting himself to Christ to the point of identification. The term “conformity with Jesus Christ” constantly recurred in his writings. He wanted to be “like” him, to imitate him with all his strength and to “live” from his life [64]. During his preparation to receive the priesthood, he noted: “I applied myself to consider our Lord Jesus Christ, the lovable model to whom I must, as is my desire with his grace, conform myself” [65]. He wrote: “How indeed can I say: Vivo ego iam non ego vivit enim in me Christus [Galatians 2:20]. There are no half-measures, if I want to be like Jesus Christ in glory, I must first resemble him in his humiliations and sufferings, like Jesus crucified; let us try therefore to conform in all I do to this divine model so as to be able to address to the faithful these words of St. Paul: imitatores mei estote sicut et ego Christi [I Corinthians 4:16]” [66]. This desire for union with Christ to the point of identification with him reached its high point in his aspiration for martyrdom. His whole life long Eugene dreamed of martyrdom. While still at the seminary, it was his desire “to follow my Master on to Calvary” [67]. From the time he became a priest, “every day at the elevation of the chalice”, he asked to die a “martyr of charity” [68]. He “ardently” desired this kind of death [69], and envied the lot of those who were able “to sacrifice themselves for their brothers […] like our Divine Master who died for the salvation of men” [70]. In the first article of the original text of the Constitutions and Rules, Eugene communicated his ideal of his Congregation: “The end of this Institute […] is above all things […] to imitate the virtues and example of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” [71]. Later on, as he was developing his thought, he expressed himself in even bolder, stronger fashion: “In a word, they will strive to become other Jesus Christs” [72]. It would be difficult to say more. For Eugene “it is all there” [73].

Before dying on May 21, 1861, he told his Oblates: “Among yourselves, practice charity, charity, charity – and outside, zeal for the salvation of souls”. Spontaneously, we recognize here the spiritual testament which summarizes the true spirit with which he wanted to see the life of his Congregation imbued [74]. To grasp the full richness of this testament, we cannot be satisfied with only the moral aspect of love. We have to see it in the context of “the history of love” which Eugene lived with God. “Anyone who has not personally experienced in his own life what it means to have been loved by Christ and to have cost Him the price of his blood can never entirely grasp the full meaning of the Oblate vocation. […] But he is not an apostolic man, indeed, he cannot be one, unless he has first of all encountered Christ personally in his own life, and personally known Christ’s love for him. Father de Mazenod’s initial experience consisted in precisely that” [75]. This experience of the love of Christ is the very source from which the charism flowed.


Eugene de Mazenod shared his experience of love with the whole Congregation in such a way that charity has become the distinctive trait of the Oblates.

He forged an unbreakable link between fraternal charity and the missionary work of his Institute. The last testament of the Founder remains one of the moments when his teaching was at its zenith. Indeed, if our personal relationship to Christ is the source of our life and our apostolate, fraternal charity is the fruit and the sign of the new life born from him.


It is fraternal charity which makes of us a community, which makes us witnesses, which makes us Oblates. It is at the heart of our charism; it is an essential part of our family spirit; it is characteristic of our identity [76]. We are all familiar with the last words of the Founder: “Among yourselves practice charity…, charity…, charity”. But it was not only at the end of his life that he achieved this farsighted vision; this, in effect, was the vision he had from the beginning; he adopted it as the foundation of formation and of the animation of the Institute. In 1830, he visited the community of Notre-Dame du Laus. The lack of regularity he saw there distressed him. In a subsequent letter written from Fribourg, he revisited this theme. Reminding his readers of the importance of observing the Rules, he pointed out the uniting principle of our whole life: “[…] So must there be a common spirit which vivifies this particular body. The spirit of Bernardine is not that of the Jesuit. Ours also is our own. Those who have not grasped this, through not having made a good novitiate, are among us like dislocated members. They make the whole body suffer and are not themselves at ease. It is indispensable that they put themselves back in their place”. To illustrate this spirit he speaks of charity in its threefold expression: towards God, towards our confreres and towards others. “Charity is the pivot on which our whole existence turns. That which we ought to have for God makes us renounce the world and has vowed us to his glory by all manner of sacrifice, were it even to be our lives […]. Charity for our neighbour is again an essential part of our spirit. We practice it first amongst us by loving each other as brothers, by considering our Society only as the most united family which exists on the earth, by rejoicing over the virtues, the talents and other qualities that our brothers possess just as much as if we possessed them ourselves, in bearing with mildness the little faults that some have not yet overcome, covering them over with the mantle of the most sincere charity, etc., and as for the rest of mankind, in considering ourselves only as the servants of the Father of the family commanded to succour, to aid, to bring back his children by working to the utmost…” [77].

Charity is not a possession exclusive to the Oblates. It is the new commandment given by Jesus to his disciples. Vatican II defines religious life itself in terms of charity. This is the most fundamental rule in the exercise of the mission, as John Paul II reminds us in his missionary encyclical [78].

So what is particularly new in Oblate charity? Above all, the Founder wanted us to be authentically Christian, genuine religious, zealous missionaries. It was his desire that our communities should be lived in the likeness of the original Christian community such as is described in the Acts of the Apostles. The expression “one heart and one soul” brings us back to that ideal that was intimately connected with witness and apostolic fruitfulness. He wanted to see us continue the spirit and the works of the suppressed religious orders. In other words, he wanted us to live the soul of consecrated life: “Urged on in this path by the charity which the Holy Spirit pours into their hearts, they always live more for Christ and for his Body which is the Church” [79]. It was his wish that we be zealous missionaries, that is, missionaries filled with an active and creative love for the souls loved and saved by Christ.

And yet the Founder demanded something more specific in our way of living charity. This specificity is noticed by others. Those who attend chapters and congresses of different institutes and then visit us tell us that they notice something different precisely in the way we live our fraternity, the way we treat each other, our ever simple and open friendliness in our family life. This fraternal complexion colors our obedience and our way of living community life. Even if we cannot precisely define what it is that particularly distinguishes us from other religious, the important thing is to be ourselves and to live in an authentic manner that to which we are called.

Father Maurice Gilbert, founder of the review Vie Oblate Life, and a great specialist on the Founder brought to a close his article on the last words of Saint Eugene by saying this: “Thomas Merton […] makes this simple observation: ‘The Franciscan ideal of poverty seems to play the same role in their spiritual life as silence and solitude plays for purely contemplative orders’. The two ways, in fact, meet at the end: purification of the soul and union with God. It is equally legitimate to ask: for the Oblate, what is the road to sanctity, the Oblate way of sharing in the paschal mystery of Christ? It is certainly not the silence and solitude of the contemplative, nor even the poverty of the Franciscan. Might it not be precisely the ideal of fraternal and apostolic charity? […] Taking up again Thomas Merton’s wording, we think we can say: the Oblate ideal of charity seems to play the same role in their spiritual life as that of silence and solitude in the lives of the purely contemplative orders. The ‘testament of the heart of the Founder’ expresses well ‘the soul of our soul’.” [80] I agree with this conclusion and, to charity I would add zeal. The Oblate ideal of charity and zeal is a characteristic of our charism. It is the main and most important way for our interior purification and our union with God, our road to holiness. It is our way of communicating the paschal mystery.

The Constitutions and Rules of 1982 emphasize even more the demands of charity. They present an ideal of community which is first of all Gospel inspired, and therefore infused by charity, and only then functional and structural. The word “charity” is used to indicate fraternal relationships inspired by faith, whereas that of “love” points above all to relationships with God [81] and with the Church. In continuity with the Founder’s thought, the term charity is associated with that of obedience [82] to indicate an important complementarity. The term “brother” or “fraternal” is used to designate all Oblates [83] and their type of relationships [84].

Constitution 37 points to the essential relationship between charity, community, witness and mission [85]. “By growing in unity of heart and mind, we bear witness before the world that Jesus lives in our midst and unites us in order to send us out to proclaim God’s reign” (C 37). Charity and witness are attached in a special way to the vow of chastity [86].

The Constitutions and Rules of 1982 present two former texts of the Rule on fraternal charity. The one included in the section on apostolic community is from 1826. It stresses mutual support, a joyful charity and respect for one another (p. 46). The other dates from 1850 and is placed at the end, almost as a synthesis of the Constitutions and Rules. It extends an invitation for a renewal in the spirit of one’s vocation and in apostolic boldness. Its final words are as follows: “Mindful of these words, (which marvelously sum up our entire Rule), “all united in the bonds of the most intimate charity under the direction of the superiors”, may they form but one heart and one soul” (p. 141).


In the Founder’s mind, charity was not limited to the local community, but made of it an intimate and dynamic source of life for the mission. Charity should embrace the entire Congregation in all its members and all its communities. It should create a unity which enables people to overcome difficulties and to make the whole Congregation missionary [87]. In the writings of Saint Eugene, there is a surprising fact which reveals his prophetic sense. At a time when the Oblates were almost all French and all knew each other personally, he insisted on the link between charity and unity. Today, such a unity takes on much greater importance in view of our geographical spread and the diversity of our cultures.

Eugene de Mazenod wanted his Congregation to be one united family, one body, one structure, one tree. Towards the end of his life, he wrote to the Oblates of Canada: “However far away you are from the centre of the Congregation, remember that you must live the life of the family of which you are a part. It is a consolation at the ends of the earth, where you are, to think that you are living the same life as and in intimate communion with your brothers scattered over the entire surface of the globe” [88]. Again: “Let us rejoice then mutually over all the good done by our brethren in the four quarters of the world. With us, it is wholly a question of solidarity. Each works for all and all for each. Oh! how beautiful, how touching is the communion of the Saints?” [89]

The person of Eugene de Mazenod became a central element of this bond of unity. His spiritual fatherhood, fruit of his own particular charism as founder, unites all Oblates among themselves [90]. He often mentions the relationship which exists between him and them: “a relationship springing from the heart and which forms true family ties between us […] this, I have not come across anywhere else. […] I am saying that it is this sentiment, which I know comes from Him who is the source of all charity, which has evoked in the hearts of my children this reciprocity of love which forms the distinctive character of our beloved family”. A little earlier in this letter he had said: “I would want all the scholastic brothers to be imbued with the family spirit which ought to exist among us” [91].

We are very familiar with his last instructions before his death: “Among yourselves practice charity, charity, charity – and outside, zeal for the salvation of souls”. Less well known, but every bit as significant was what he enjoined upon Bishop Hippolyte Guibert when the latter was administering the Viaticum to him. He instructed him to tell the Oblates: “[…] two things in his name that he had always loved us and would always love us, and that he wants us, for our part, to love each other as brothers; that this mutual affection would make us happy, holy and strong to do good” [92]. He really considered charity among his Oblates as important, and he saw in this the common spirit which gave life to the whole Congregation.

The Founder gave us an example by loving his Oblates intensely. Some superficial readers are even scandalized at the affectionate tenor of his letters to some among his Oblates. On the contrary, this is the kind of love Saint Eugene wanted for all his Oblates – but not only for them – a gift of God, an attitude like Christ’s, a means of achieving true sanctity. He wrote to Father Baret: “You are aware, my very dear son, that my big failing is to love with a real passion the children God in his goodness has given me. No mother’s love comes close to it” [93]. And to Father Anthony Mouchette: “I love my sons immeasurably more than any human person could love them. That is a gift that I have received from God, for which I do not cease to thank him, because it flows from one of his most beautiful attributes […]” [94]. Two years later, he wrote to the same person: “Often I have told the good Lord that, since he has given me a mother’s heart and sons who merit my love under so many titles, he must allow me to love them immeasurably. This I do in good conscience. It seems to me, dearly loved son, that the more I love someone like yourself, the more I love God who is the source and bond of our mutual affection”[95].

In his Diary, he explains the reason for his sentiments that are so strong: “I declare that I cannot grasp how those who do not love human persons who deserve to be loved, can love God. […] Let him who may be tempted to find fault with me know that I little fear his judgment and that I could forcefully prove to him that I have every reason to thank God for having given me a heart that is able better to understand that of Jesus Christ our Master, who has made, animates and inspires mine better than those cold egotistic logicians who apparently put their heart into their brain, and don’t know how to love anyone because, in the final analysis, they love only themselves. […] There is no half measure, “So this is the commandment that he has given us, that anyone who loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21). Let us study Saint John, fathom the heart of Saint Peter and his love for his divine Master, and especially let us deeply probe all that flows from the loving heart of Jesus Christ not only for all men, but especially for the Apostles and Disciples, and then let them dare to come and preach to us a love that is speculative, without feelings or affection!”

Because of his deep love for them, the Founder demanded that his Oblates write to him regularly. He would respond with marks of affection or of rebuke. He communicated with them in prayer, delighted in their visits, suffered because of their lack of fraternal charity, a failing he judged with great severity [96]. Even if it was only now and again that he set forth his theoretical teachings on charity, for all that, they are nonetheless very rich in content [97].

The Superiors General

The Superiors General came back time and again to the theme of fraternal charity [98]. Father Joseph Fabre, successor to Saint Eugene, wrote: “Our vocation calls upon us to have only one spirit among us; we should be happy about this. But it also requires that there be only one love and it bids us all to love each other like real brothers, sons of the same father. No doubt, when we enter religious life, we take with us our faults and our personal problems; community life helps us to get rid of them or at least teaches us to endure them. It is through the affection we bear for each other that the genuine Oblates of Mary Immaculate are to be recognized. That will be the distinctive sign among ourselves and a distinctive sign to those outside as well. Consequently, we must hold each other in high regard and love each other. To be sure, this affection cannot and should not lead us to entertain illusions about our very real faults, nor about the qualities that we lack. […] Let us all revive within us the love of our beloved family, in the love of all our brothers, in fond submission to our superiors and to our Rules, in order to bring to fulfillment more and more among us our beloved Father’s deathbed wish: “Zeal for the salvation of souls … charity… charity … charity..”[99].

In his circular letters, he returns very often to the theme of love as a characteristic trait of the Oblate. In 1863, he wrote: “One word about the virtue that should characterize the Oblate of Mary Immaculate, fraternal charity, charity for souls: That is our special virtue: Sicut fratres habitantes in unum… arctissimis charitatis vinculis connexi (Constitutions). Our venerated Father recommended to us in all sorts of ways the practice of charity. During his life, he gave us some admirable examples of this. […] What did his dying lips enjoin upon us? Charity, always charity” [100]. Writing in 1865, he exhorted: “My beloved brothers, let us secure the bonds which unite us and which tie us to our superiors: Let us form one and the same family, ordered according to the will of God” [101].

Charity is “the virtue of predilection for his Oblates, who everywhere are distinguished by this sign, just like in former times the early Christians were recognized, and we can say of the Oblates what we said of those Christians” [102]. “Always and everywhere, may we be recognized by this sign” [103].

Father Fabre’s last exhortation in 1892 is consonant with his entire teaching: “Let us love one another as our Lord Jesus Christ loved us. More and more let us remember our venerated Father’s injunction; may charity always be our driving force on earth to continue to be our bond of unity in heaven. Amen.!”104 [104]

Father Louis Soullier continues in the same vein when he states: “May the spirit of love and charity which should be the distinctive trait of the Oblate of Mary Immaculate always reign more and more […].” [105]

Father Cassien Augier takes up the theme of charity as an Oblate characteristic when he asks the whole Congregation: “Where are we when it comes to the virtue of charity that has been bequeathed to us as the characteristic trait – in some ways the family spirit of the Oblate? How do we rate ourselves? In what manner do we speak about each other?” [106] In France, the suppression of religious congregations and the dispersal of their members gave the Superior General an opportunity to urge even more unity as a fruit of charity: “A union, a stronger more intimate union of spirits and hearts. That is the grace that Our Lord asked for his disciples: “Ut sint unum, sicut et nos unum sumus (John 17:22). May they be one as we are one […] Let us remain united and we will be strong and the most violent attacks against us will be ineffectual. This union already exists. […] Circumstances should secure and strengthen the bonds of charity. More than ever, we should be only one heart and one soul with our superiors and our brothers” [107].

Father August Lavillardière’s wish was also that of seeing the Congregation united in fidelity to its vocation. “May this union be always the characteristic trait of our beloved Congregation! Union of minds, union of hearts, union in our mutual relationships, union in the observance of our holy Rules, union in our apostolic traditions! […] It will enable us to attain the goal of our sublime mission: Is it not the source of strength, of peace, of holiness!” [108]

Faced with the growth of the Congregation and its constant expansion, Bishop August Dontenwill felt the need of confirming the bonds of unity, especially by a better communication of news. In the review, Missions, he saw one of the most appropriate tools for fostering mutual knowledge, an indispensable element for unity in order to “prevent distance from becoming the cause of the disintegration of fraternal bonds. […] We might be tempted to say that the providential growth of our Institute makes it even more important for us to become informed as to what is going on in the various parts of our world. When we visit you, it is a pleasure for us to hear from all over concerned questions on the activities of our brothers sent afar off and that we had the joy of seeing in previous years. But it is a hard thing for us to sense in these inquiries the underlying anxiety or distress that lies hidden or tries to remain hidden, badly concealing this reflection which has sometimes escaped from the lips of one or the other: “The Congregation is growing so large! We no longer know anything about each other!” […] We have already mentioned the moving concern that we have noted everywhere to have news of the Congregation. Thank God for it! We have been able to visit almost all the provinces and vicariates and we can see the intense union which exists among all the branches of the family. Bishop de Mazenod’s work has grown admirably well. His activity has extended itself to the five continents of the world and we could never thank God and our Immaculate Mother enough for this growth, an undoubted sign of blessing. But we should not forget that this prosperity has been given to us only as an additional gift: the final prayer of our venerated Father had as its object, zeal and charity. But before we consider the unrestricted numerical growth of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, it is our duty to desire and ensure their supernatural dedication and their fraternal union” [109].

Father Theodore Labouré stressed once more the link between the international character of the Congregation and its unity. “For the man who has traveled, it is obvious that all over, no matter what their nationality, Oblates are Oblates, beloved and devoted sons of Bishop de Mazenod. This family love was one of the most striking characteristics of our chapter of 1932” [110]. In his report on the chapter of 1932, he wrote that he displayed his “concern to preserve and even develop the life of the Oblate family. […] He made use of printed material, Oblate publications, writings of the Oblate family. These publications can naturally be classified into two categories: the ones which have as their goal a strong unity among the members and with the head of the Oblate family from every country, every race, of every nation. The others allowed the Congregation to steep itself in its origins by communing more abundantly in the thought, the spirit and the very life of our venerated Founder and his first companions” [111].

In their writings, Fathers Leo Deschâtelets and Fernand Jetté once again studied in depth the traditional vision of charity as a characteristic element of Oblate life. The texts cited here below with reference to the pedagogy of charity express well the thought of Father Marcello Zago. He revisits this theme in his letter on fraternal charity addressed to the Oblates in first formation.

The pedagogy of Charity

Charity, writes Father Zago, is not something automatic or spontaneous. It is not comparable to a certain human love which is often blind. It is the prize of conquest, an ascesis. It is a sharing in the paschal mystery which entails both death and resurrection. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit. [112]


There are two characteristics of this virtue, similar to two sides of the same coin. Oblate charity must be incarnate and consecrated. That is, it must fulfill the requirements of persons consecrated to God and dedicated to the mission. To say that charity should be incarnate is to say that it should be concrete and whole. It includes the mind, the spirit, the heart and the senses, both internal and external. It must be affective and effective, sensitive and obliging, attentive and creative. It demands mutual appreciation and respect, mutual help in personal growth and fidelity to one’s vocation, the sharing of one’s own life, one’s interior life included. It becomes communion and interdependence that is not limited to specific areas. Basically, it opens up on all dimensions of our life, especially on the more important ones such as mission and consecration, the life of faith and of prayer, one’s personal journey and human needs. “I do not say to you: love each other well, this recommendation would be ridiculous. But I do say to you: take care of each other and let each look after the health of all” [113].

Then, our fraternal love should be consecrated. That is, the forms it takes should express our special consecration to God. There are naturally different expressions and demands of love according to whether a person is married or living a celibate life in the world. To love as consecrated persons love, one has to allow oneself to be molded by the Word of God who enlightens our path and points out the way. Not only the texts on charity, [114] but the Word of God in its fullness makes us share in the attitudes of Christ. Measuring ourselves against this Word of God and fostering a genuine friendship with Jesus, we reach the point of being able “to love others as Jesus loves them” (R 12) [R 18b in CCRR 2000]. It consists in a progressive identification with Christ who develops in us the habit of seeing “through the eyes of our crucified Saviour […] the world which he redeemed with his blood (C 4) and setting out, like he did, to love all persons, starting with our brothers. Oblates are, then, ready “to sacrifice goods, talents, ease, self, even their life, for the love of Jesus Christ, the service of the Church, and the sanctification of their brethren” (Preface).

In his love, the Founder allowed himself to be molded by the Word of God that he read and meditated on daily, and by his experience of Christ renewed in constant prayer. In his first commentary on the Rule, he wrote: “Closely united with Jesus Christ, their Head, his children will be one among themselves, very closely united by the bonds of the most ardent charity, living under the most perfect obedience, in order to acquire humility which is so necessary for them, “arctissimis charitatis vinculis connexi”. Hence they must not sulk at one another, not sadden one another through expressions of indifference or coldness. “Arctissimis charitatis vinculis connexi, omnes sanctae obedientiae sub superiorum regimine exacte subiicientur”. This does not apply only to the Superior General. What shall I say about murmuring? What about bias?” [115]

With regard to charity, the most difficult aspects to practice are mutual forgiveness when an injury and fraternal correction is involved. Among us there used to exist the tradition of a community exercise called “the coulpe”. Perhaps it is because we forgot the deep meaning of this exercise that we dropped it.

Indeed, the document, Witnessing as Apostolic Community, containsstatements that many people found impressive: “Hurts springing from our life or ministry are unavoidable and that is why the community plays a role in bringing about healing and reconciliation. When this service is not provided, the accumulation of misunderstandings destroys trust and renders community relationships superficial and formal” (no. 23, par. 4).

The ideal community is, in fact, non-existent; nor does perfect charity exist, not even among consecrated individuals who are in daily communion with the Lord. When faced with the difficulties and misunderstandings that arise among confreres in community, there is only one solution: mutual forgiveness and a fresh start on the road as the disciple of Jesus. The Gospel way is found in reconciliation, in recommitting oneself to love each other as brothers. In these situations, what Jesus said holds true for us as well: “For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? […] You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).We will, then, experience in an even greater degree the ideal situation of ancient times. “How good, how delightful it is for all to live together like brothers!” (Psalm 133:1)

Moreover, to carry other people’s burdens (see Galatians 6:2), to give life, (see John 15:13), to forgive each other (see Ephesians 4:32), to offer mutual assistance fostering growth and to overcome one’s faults are all integral parts of fraternal charity. Community is genuine when there is mutual assistance, forgiveness and fraternal correction. The Founder wrote to a director of the seminary at Ajaccio: “[…] Let us devote ourselves to prayer and humility, and may the charity of Jesus Christ inspire us, without it we run the risk of becoming mere Pharisees, well able to see the speck of dust in our brother’s eyes but unable to see the beam which afflicts our own” [116].


Charity is of particular importance in our world as well as in the life of the Congregation today. Indeed, we are becoming a Congregation that is ever more international and multi-cultural. It is only due to charity that our multi-ethnic communities can become authentic and witness to our world. International communities are becoming more and more frequent in our houses of formation in Latin America, Africa and even in North America and Europe, because modern society is becoming ever more pluralistic and multi-ethnic. Obviously, this situation brings with it specific challenges for an effective life in common which can overcome not only squabbles but superficial relationships as well. This situation stimulates our communities to build their foundations on the Gospel. Our life in common does not spring from or find its growth in bonds of flesh and blood or of culture, but in the call from Jesus Christ (see C 1) and in Gospel charity (see C 3) that make missionaries of us (see C 37).

The community which lives in charity is a response to our world that is divided, turned in on itself, dominated by selfishness and injustice [117]. “In a prophetic way it challenges the individualism found in today’s society and the arbitrary use of power that is responsible for the plight of so many poor people. At the same time our community life offers grounds of hope to this world which is struggling to overcome its disintegration and fragmentation. Like Christ’s gentle invitation to his banquet, our community life speaks with the meekness of an authority that invites but never imposes or coerces” [118].

A community where charity reigns is a sign of the new life that Christ has brought us. Community charity contributes an element of credibility to our ministry which calls people to reconciliation, going beyond selfishness to reach solidarity and justice. It normally gives rise to vocations and conversions because it allows the Lord to work in us and through us. In conclusion, we end off like the Founder in his first circular letter of August 2, 1853: “In the meantime, brothers, we wish you happiness; try to grow perfect; help one another. Be united; live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. […] The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:11-13). [119]