THE FOUNDER AND APOSTOLIC COMMUNITY
From the time of his ordination in 1811 Father de Mazenod did not want ecclesiastical honours or a parish, but wanted to give himself to the service of the poor and of the youth in Aix en Provence. For three years he performed an individual apostolate, concentrating on those who were not being touched by the conventional parish ministry: those who spoke Provençal, the domestic servants, the youth and prisoners. In addition he was a spiritual director at the seminary of Aix. This full programme was brought to a stop when he contracted typhus in 1814 and was dangerously ill. On his recovery he became aware that the needs of the poor were so great that he could not cope alone in this manner any longer and that he needed to find a personal equilibrium.
Faced with two choices: either to enter a well-regulated community, or to bring into existence a missionary group , he chose the latter option, while incorporating a strong element of the former . From the beginning the plan to preach to the poor of Provence involved a community of priests who would live together in the same house, and would be held together by a rule and a regular lifestyle .
THE “FOUNDING VISION” (1816 – 1818)
Father de Mazenod does not take the credit for being the founder of the missionary community: the founder is Jesus Christ himself . It is Jesus who guided and led him in a certain direction. That direction is charted in his writings from 1814 to 1818, from the time that he first speaks about his ideal until it is “codified” in the Rule of 1818.
a. What form does this community take?
– An apostolic missionary community which aims at the sanctification of its members
A group of diocesan priests living together in the same house, and who strive to imitate the virtues and examples of Jesus Christ . The form of the community is that of Jesus and his apostles, who were schooled in his teaching so that they could be sent forth to conquer the world .
The community is centered on Jesus, in which all the members are like the apostles around Jesus: “It has already been said that the missionaries ought, as far as human nature allows, to imitate in everything the example of Christ our Lord, the chief Founder of our Congregation, and that of the holy Apostles, our first Fathers. Following in their footsteps, the missionaries will give one portion of their life to prayer, recollection, and contemplation, while living together in the seclusion of God’s house” .
The Founder is clear that the first aspect of community is all about relationship with Jesus, about sanctification of the missionary: “we will become saints in our Congregation, free but united by bonds of the most tender charity” . It is not an individual task, but “we will help each other mutually with advice and with all that the good God will inspire in each of us for our common sanctification” .
Sanctification is not an end in itself, but is essential so that the missionary may sanctify others: “The missionaries will be grouped in such a way that while some of them will strive within the community to acquire the virtues and the knowledge suitable for good missionaries, others will travel through the country-sides preaching the Word of God” . While not preaching and being in the community they will “prepare themselves through meditation and study to make their ministry even more fruitful when they are called to new missions” . Sanctity is thus essential for the mission of the community.
– Community comes into existence as the result of mission, and for the purpose of mission.
In the Petition addressed to the Capitular Vicars-General of Aix on January 25, 1816 the ideal of community is present from the beginning. They are to live together in order to grow into perfection, and they want from this the same advantages that they would have had had they joined a religious order (of which community is an integral part). The aim of the community is personal sanctification as well as being more useful in the diocese.
The Rule of 1818 states: “The other portion of their life they will zealously devote to the works of the ministry, namely, to missions, preaching, the hearing of confessions, catechizing, directing the young, visiting the sick and prisoners, giving retreats, and other works of this kind” .
The two-fold division of their labors in community: a part of the year being spent on each, are meant to be a tangible expression of community. In other words, the community does not exist for its own sake, but for the sake of the apostolate: personal sanctification and ministry are totally tied up, and there is no dichotomy here, only two expressions of the same reality. Fr. Beaudoin makes this relationship between community and mission clear when he speaks of the Rule of 1818: “If we examine these articles of the Rule in the light of the Founder’s letters, the importance of community is beyond any shade of doubt. Oblates seek sanctity together, pray together, do the work of evangelization together. The whole second part of the Rule makes explicit the communitarian striving towards perfection so that the ministry, which also is carried out in community, should, by the blessing of God, become fruitful. In the sixth paragraph which treats of the various ministries, the Divine Office which all the Oblates must recite in common is even presented in this light: ‘The Institute considers this exercise as the source of all blessings which are to be poured over the entire holy ministry in the length and breadth of the Society’.” 
b. Characteristics of community which are essential to its mission
In order for the community to achieve its twofold function it has to have certain characteristics, which Father de Mazenod spells out in the Rule: “Whether out on missions or at home, their chief concern will always be to make progress in the way of ecclesiastical and religious perfection. They will cultivate especially the virtues of humility, obedience, poverty, self-denial, the spirit of mortification, the spirit of faith, purity of intention and so forth. In a word, they will strive to become another Jesus Christ, spreading abroad everywhere the fragrance of his amiable virtues” .
Here emerged the characteristics of community on which the Founder himself was going to lay constant emphasis for the rest of his life: united by the bonds of charity, and of one heart and one soul, living a life of regularity, in obedience to the Rule and the Superior, – all this so as to be apostolic missionaries to evangelise the poor.
Thirty two years later, in 1850, Bishop de Mazenod was still as definite in his vision when he wrote to the whole Congregation: “Mindful of these words, (which marvellously 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” .
THE VISION BECOMES THE RULE OF LIFE (1818 – 1861)
Originally Father de Mazenod intended to have only one community, but the request to take on the apostolate of Notre Dame du Laus, effectively ended this idea. From now on it became essential to maintain one community spirit among all the communities, thus necessitating a Rule . The first Rule of 1818 was rewritten and presented to the Pope, receiving his approbation in 1826 . Of the 1826 text, Father Santolini comments:
“Of the 798 articles, the community is explicitly or implicitly mentioned in more than 120. This is a sign of the Founder’s and the Oblates’ concern to put community as the basis for the apostolic life. If we were to sum up this thought, we could say that he wanted to create within the Congregation an acute sense of family life as well as a fierce determination to maintain it at all costs against any outside interference. ”
a. The characteristics of apostolic community
– United in the bonds of charity.
a. We form a family. “We form a family, of which all who compose it wish only to have one heart and one soul” – here is the kernel of community for the Founder , a concept which he comes back to again and again . He defines unity as “that cordiality, that fusion, … which ought to exist amongst all the members of our Society which ought to have but one heart and one soul” . In one of his early letters to Father Tempier, he exclaims, “Between us missionaries … we are what we ought to be, that is to say, we have but one heart, one soul, one thought. It is admirable! Our consolations, like our hardships are unequalled . In an atmosphere of mutual support, all difficulties are surmountable, even if the members are dispersed .
The community of the Congregation makes its members one family, even if they do not know each other, as Bishop de Mazenod says to a newly-professed Oblate: “I do not know you personally… we are united in the most intimate bonds of charity and that I am a bound to you forever as you are to me” . The novice master is urged by the Founder to ensure that “they must find with us a true family, brothers and a father” .
b. Centered around the presence of Jesus. Unity attunes the members of the community to the will of God . It is the presence of Jesus who ensures unity. For Saint Eugene he is “our common love” , “our common Master” , and the Oblates are urged to “gather closely around this good Saviour who has made his home amongst you” . At a moment of separation from the Oblates, he remembers them during the Mass and describes the role of Jesus in the community: “We should often come together like this in Jesus Christ, our common centre where all our hearts become as one and our affections are brought to fulfilment” .
During oraison the Oblates are united with each other, despite the distance which separates them: “This is the only way of reducing distances, to be at the same moment in our Lord’s presence, it is so to speak like being side by side. We do not see each other, but we sense each other’s presence, hear each other, lose ourselves in one and the same central point” .
Praying also leads to a unity in community: “Everyone must know by heart the prayers recited in the Congregation, and especially those recited after particular examen as I strongly insist that we never leave them out wherever it may be that we find ourselves, whether travelling or whatever. That form of prayer, including the litanies, is special to our Congregation, they are distinctive and like a bond, a unity between all the members of the family” .
Writing to the community at Vico, Saint Eugene exclaims, “You have earned all the love I have for you; you form only one person among yourselves. you form only one person with me. That is what the Lord demands of us since he is the principle and the bond of our union” .
c. Aims to sanctify its members. The community is a vehicle used by God for the sanctification of its members if they avail themselves of “the means of salvation that his mercy provided in our holy house, in the midst of such good brothers as yourselves” . It is a communal task: “We are put on earth, particularly those of our house, to sanctify ourselves while helping each other by our example, our words and our prayers” .
d. Charity is its pivot. The community is to live by the spirit proper to the Oblates, based on charity as its pivot: “Just as we have in a Society a common dress, common Rules, so must there be a common spirit which vivifies this particular body… Charity is the pivot on which our whole existence turns. … 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” .
“The utmost in the way of fraternal charity are also necessary for the good order and the happiness of a Society” . In a practical manner, charity is expressed as, “take care of each other and let each look after the health of all” . When there are difficulties between members of the community, “let holy charity consume all our squabbles in the melting-pot of religion” .
In the face of difficulties which threaten the whole Congregation, it is in charity that they can resist: “Let us be united in the love of Jesus Christ, in our common perfection, let us love each other as we have done up to now, let us, in a word, be at one while they die of vexation and rage” .
e. The whole community is always missionary. The letters which the Founder writes to the missionaries and from the missions are a tangible means of creating one heart and one soul in the community – sharing details of how things were going, and also praying for each other. “I have no need to tell you how much I bless the Lord for all he is doing through your ministry; we are all in transports of joy, as if this were new to us. I have read our fathers’ letter to the community” . This is a concrete sign of what it means that the community is apostolic and that all are missionaries, because those who stay at home are praying for the workers, and studying to prepare themselves in turn for their own preaching when their turn comes: “If you do not pray for us, we are in a bad fix” .
The community is missionary in the example it gives to outsiders. Speaking of the ministry of the community of Notre Dame de l’Osier to priests: “People vie with one another in their admiration for the regularity, good order, piety that reign in the house… They find edification in everything: the silence that reigns in the house. the punctuality at all the exercises, the office, the small refectory penances. So be always what you ought to be and never let the presence of strangers bring you to make changes in anything whether it be in the Rule or in our customs. If one can find in your house no more than a group of priests living under the same roof, as pastors from the surrounding neighbourhood might do you will be guilty-before me before the Congregation and before God; and the people for whose sake you surrendered your Oblate way of life will go away but little edified and certainly deceived in their expectations. And so I recommend you to be quite rigid on all of this. I want none of your expediency or human respect. Everyone knows who you are so be worthy of your vocation and strive to accept its every least demand .
The abilities of the individual are there for the good of the community and its mission: “The Good Lord did not give you your talents for your own use only; but in calling you to the Congregation. he wished you to use these talents for the good of the whole family” .
f. Community life is not to be sacrificed to the mission.The Founder is practical when he observes that the greater portion of the life of an Oblate is spent in work outside of the community. He writes, “Let us rather feel sorry that the duties laid on us by charity remove us so frequently, and for such long periods, from the community in which regular discipline reigns, and for a great part of our life deprive us, to our regret, of its wholesome influence” .
The zeal of the missionaries, however, is to be seen in the context of the community: “But beware of driving yourself as if it were a challenge. In God’s name, go back to the bosom of the community to renew yourselves in the spirit of your vocation. otherwise it is all up with our missionaries. they will soon be no more than sounding cymbals” .
It is interesting to note that the needs of the community have to be taken into account when arranging the public prayers at N.D. du Laus: “The evening oraison ought always to take place at half past seven, during the half hour which precedes supper. In order not to deprive him who conducts the evening prayers from the entire oraison of the community, when the oraison coincides with the time of the other, see to it that this prayer does not last more than a quarter of an hour. In no instance must it go beyond twenty minutes, but let it not go over a quarter of an hour when the times of the two exercises coincide. As the community must make its oraison before the Blessed Sacrament and you do not have the holy Eucharist in your interior chapel, the one who takes the evening prayer for the faithful must do so in a very moderate voice so as not to disturb the community” .
In the works undertaken in France, Eugene always insisted on a minimum of two Oblates working together. When a work was undertaken which did not fulfil this condition, Bishop de Mazenod was determined that it not be continued, as is seen in Limoges: “I have written to his Lordship the Bishop of Limoges; it was a measured letter to make him understand that it is impossible to continue a service which takes our missionaries away from their vocation. Living in community is essential to their style of life. I explain the situation to him by quoting from the very text of our Rules” .
When the Oblates began to go to the foreign missions, it was not always so simple to have the men living together in community. Despite the difficulty he always insists: “It is essential that you should continue to demand that you be left in pairs. If there is only enough for one you must share what there is, but I can never agree that a subject be alone without at least one companion” .
In 1853, the thinking of the Founder and of the Congregation was set down in the Instruction on the Foreign Missions: “To whatsoever Missions in foreign countries they may have been sent, our Fathers will always bear in mind that they must be inflamed with a desire of perfection so much the more ardent the longer they are separated against their will, from the company of their brethren, and that they must be faithful to the duties of their religious state and to the exercises of christian piety with a will so much the more determined, the more frequently they are deprived of the benefits of community life” .
g. The Oblates must love their community and find happiness in it. The Oblates must love their community: “One must moreover be greatly attached to the house. he who only looks on it as a hotel where he only passes through would do no good therein. One must be able to say like St. Thomas: haec requies mea for the whole of one’s life. I see that communities where this spirit reigns the most are those which do the most good and where one lives the most happily. May God give us the grace to be imbued with this truth and let us neglect nothing to instil it in our young people” .
It is in the community that they are expected to find happiness “within the confines of our houses” . Community provides “all that is needed to live happily” . “Live happily my dear children in your precious community. You would not imagine the happiness I experience when I hear about the unity and cordiality that reigns among you” .
In his advice to Fr. Mille on formation, the Founder emphasizes that the young people in formation must love the family – hence the foundation of community is this: “It is a question of giving them a formation, of passing on to them our spirit, of inspiring in them that love of the family without which they will not achieve anything of value” .
It is in the community itself that relaxation is to take place: “it is not fitting to go outside our own houses for distractions or for rest” .
h. Makes up for the weaknesses of its members. Despite Saint Eugene’s idealism and initial enthusiasm for the joys of community life, experience taught him “that even the holiest and most fervent of communities are not exempt from some kinds of affliction” .In this light, he says of the behaviour expected of the members: “the community needs from those who form it that they do not give her the distasteful spectacle of an acute disorder, of an insulting disdain, of a disedifying irregularity, or a scandalous desertion, all of which trouble her tranquillity, her peace, her happiness, and even compromise her existence” . Eugene is aware that the community reflects something of the weaknesses of its apostolic model when he says, “The Lord. our divine model had many griefs from his well-loved apostles who were so often intolerable and bothersome” .
It is mutual support which makes up for the weaknesses of its members, starting with Eugene himself: “I feel fortunate amongst my brothers, amongst my children, because in the absence of virtues which are proper and personal to me, I am proud of their works and their holiness” .To two members who left the Congregation, he made the same point: “You would always find therein the help that was indispensable to the feebleness of your learning, to the nullity of your knowledge” .
Community provides the opportunity for fraternal correction “which ensures your progress and preserves you from the error of illusion” , something which de Mazenod often practised in his own correspondence. In our fraternal correction “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 brothers’ eyes but unable to see the beam which afflicts our own” .
Community enables its members to bear difficulties: “so that we may help each other mutually to bear a misfortune which is common to us, since it weighs on the Society” .
The members of the community are urged to pray for each other as Eugene himself does at oraison each day for each of them. During the many cholera epidemics in Marseilles, he writes asking the communities to pray for the safety of those who are exposed to infection in their work with the sick .
i. Sickness and health. On the question of the health of the members of the community, Eugene is insistent in many of his letters that the men look after their health. “I call attention to your health and to that of the whole dear family” . During their pastoral work rest is essential: “I absolutely insist that you rest and that you study; one must know when it is time to close one’s door”, he wrote to Father Jean-Baptiste Honorat . The community must provide the atmosphere for this: “The missionaries need prolonged rest for the body and interior tranquillity in their holy house for the spirit and the soul. One must observe our Rules on that point as on all the others. Be of a common accord in establishing perfect regularity in your house” .
When it comes to sickness and preparing the members for death, he is clear about the role and attitude of the community: “I need not tell you with what care and charity you must treat him. Even if we have to sell things down to our shoes, let nothing be spared to comfort him; if his relatives were to propose that they take him home, do not consent; it is amongst his brothers that he ought to find all the services his condition demands, day and night, spiritual as well as temporal .
And again, writing to Father Courtès: “I am not in favour that we send away from our communities our sick when they are in danger of death. They have the right to a care of the best order and the consolation of dying in the arms of their brothers is certainly something for a good religious who knows the value of supernatural aids .
j. The heavenly Oblate community. Those who have died form the heavenly Oblate community: “Now we have four in Heaven; this is already a nice community. They are the first stones, the foundation stones of the edifice which must be built in the celestial Jerusalem; they are before God with the sign, the kind of character proper to our Society, the common vows of all her members, the practice of the same virtues. We are attached to them by the bonds of a particular charity, they are still our brothers, and we are theirs; they dwell in our motherhouse, our headquarters; their prayers, the love which they keep for us, will draw us one day to them so as to dwell with them in the place of our rest” .
k. Sacredness of the bonds which link the members. The reaction of Eugene de Mazenod to those who leave the community highlights the binding force of the commitment to the Oblate community, while at the same time giving them the attitude they should have regarding those who leave: “These profanations and perjuries provoke horror; they scandalise the Church and outrage God, hence I cite all these profanators before the judgement of God who will punish them for having dealt so basely with him. I bless you, you and all who are faithful to their vows and their oaths. We will never be able to do enough to make reparation by unlimited devotedness on our part, even unto the sacrifice of our lives in order to make up for sacrileges springing, so to speak, from our midst, and committed by those whom we have called our brothers .
To leave the Congregation is to cut oneself off “from the family which had adopted you” .
– United in Obedience
In his Mémoires, the Founder recalls the circumstances which necessitated the Rule of 1818: “I wanted to convince them that if we were to answer the call to another diocese to establish a new foundation, we should have to broaden the Rule we were following, draw up more extensive Constitutions, tighten our bonds and establish a system that we should have but one mind and one code of action” .
The Founder is unyielding on the point of obedience, but not for the sake of obedience itself, but for the purpose of maintaining one heart and one soul. “Regard the Rule as our code, the superiors as God, our brothers like our other selves” .
a. Regularity: fidelity in shaping one’s life according to the Rule.
A characteristic feature of the Oblate community is its adherence to the Rule and its spirit of regularity. “We live in community under a mild Rule which fixes our duties and gives a very great value to the least of our actions. the spirit of charity and of the most perfect brotherhood reigns amongst us” . In order to insure that the community was what it was meant to be, the Founder constantly insisted on regularity, especially in his letters to the local superiors. He defines regularity as, “fidelity in shaping one’s life according to the spirit and the letter of the Rule” .
To Fr. Tempier, the newly appointed Superior of Laus, the second community of the Congregation, he exhorts, “Maintain in everything a most exact discipline; you are beginning to form a community in regularity, do not let abuses creep in” . To Father Courtès and the community of Aix he explains the spirit and purpose of regularity: “Love one another. Let all agree in maintaining good order and discipline by fidelity to the Rule, obedience, abnegation and humility. The Church expects you all to be a powerful aid in her distress; but be well persuaded that you will only be good enough to achieve something inasmuch as you advance in the practice of religious virtues” .
The regularity of the community is reflected in its mission: “Let it be demonstrated that, when a religious has to devote himself to external ministry, the habitual regularity that he should have acquired in the bosom of the community is a source of abundant graces and help, so that he isn’t found wanting and doesn’t disappoint the faithful’s expectations .
b. The Superior.
The role of the Superior in the community is paramount. It is his role to ensure that the Rule and its preions are lived, that the internal life of the community unfolds (“Charity, charity, charity”), and that the community fulfils its mission (“Zeal for the salvation of souls”). The Founder’s exhortation to Father Guigues on becoming a superior is echoed throughout his life to all Oblate superiors: “Let the introduction of the least abuse be anathema to you. God would call you to account for it. For it is you who are to build the foundations of the new community. And it is vital that it diffuse abroad the good odour of Jesus Christ” .
The century after the death of the founder: “united in the memory of a Father forever beloved”.
“Let us be united in spirit and in heart and we will be strong for doing what is good; let us be united in the memory of a Father forever beloved”  is the first charge given to the Congregation by the Founder’s successor, Father Fabre. At the end of the letter he speaks of how this unity is to be achieved: “In conclusion, let me exhort you in the Lord to remember the final behest of our beloved Father as he lay dying so that we can draw down upon ourselves and our works the most abundant graces: Among yourselves practice charity, charity, charity, and outside, zeal for the salvation of soulss” .
Father Fabre knew Eugene de Mazenod well, and on the first anniversary of the death of the Founder he recalls the impression made on him by this death, showing the emphasis that would be running through his life and teachings as Superior GeneralHere on earth the undying memory of this beloved Father, the memory of his entire life, will continually speak those words that still seem to ring in our ears, the words that, when death was pressing upon him, with so much earnestness and confidence he used to exhort us to exercise zeal and practicecharity” .
Fr. Roy points out that the direction taken by Fabre will be continued by his successors, “This last message of our Founder will come back time and again in the writings of all the Superiors General. It is a leitmotif which from now on will characterize the Oblate community: charity among the members will create a true community, zeal outside will make of it an apostolic community” .
While it is fraternal charity which characterizes the community, Fabre and his successors remain faithful to de Mazenod’s ideal of the link between the two parts of the Oblate’s life, being religious and missionaries: “Community makes of the Oblate a true religious so as to evangelize the poor” . They stress that our works are never meant to be individual works, but the mission is fulfilled as religious in the name of the community and for the community .
When Fabre speaks of community he does not limit himself to a house community, but emphasises the concept of the wider community of a province, and the whole Congregation, which must have the same esprit de corps . It is thus that he and Augier faced the situation of the expulsion of the missionaries from France, calling to mind the basic unity which exists in the Oblate community as the binding force despite their having to be dispersed and living alone. “This dispersion will be able to affect our bodies only; nothing will be able to separate our hearts and spirits. They are too closely united by the holy vows, by the bonds of charity most fraternal” . Father Augier echoes the same sentiment on the Oblate community: “Let us remain united and we will be stronger, and the most violent attacks will avail nothing against us” .
Father Roy, in his study of the theme of apostolic community in the circular letters of the Superiors General, gives the following overview of their teaching:”Each one of our Superiors General expressed himself according to his temperament and his perception of things. The one speaks of apostolic family; the other of a community of apostolic religious or of missionary contemplatives; another speaks of apostolic community; and still another of evangelizing community or of a missionary community. But… there is no clash among the varying kinds of emphasis. These are all complementary aspects of one and the same beautiful reality: the Oblate community, such as the Founder wanted it in the contemporary world of his day, in the time of Father Fabre in 1880, or in the time of Father Jetté one hundred years later.”
“Underlying these different aspects are differences in emphasis, however, it is easy to detect a continuity where this reality, in the course of the years, grows in richness or content through the contributions made by the different Superiors General …”
“The heritage he (the Founder) left us inspires in us an esprit de corps, a very strong family spirit; if it is not strong enough, one or the other Superior General will, upon occasion, bring it to the fore – and sometimes in a very forceful way. At the same time as there is an insistence on charity and the family spirit, the place and the value of the religious consecration, of the vows, of the Rule are vigorously presented as well, first of all as structures, as a foundation, then as a milieu for personal and community growth. It is only later that there will be a concentration on the developing of the relationship that should exist between community and mission, in order to finally affirm very clearly that the community is itself a support and an expression of the mission” .
FROM 1966 ONWARDS: CLARIFYING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MISSION AND COMMUNITY
In the century after the Founder’s death there has been no doubt about the zeal of the Oblates, as is attested to by the number of countries in which there are Oblate missionaries. Rather the question has been of reaching a clarity in the role between community and Oblate mission. We have seen that for Saint Eugene there was a twofold purpose in community: personal sanctification and mission – i.e. the two portions of the Oblate’s life. There was always a struggle to come to an equilibrium between his initial desire to spend half the year preaching missions and the other half in prayer and study, between the demands of community and mission.
Until 1966 the Rule was basically that of the Founder, where there was no specific section on community, but where the idea of community was at the heart of the whole missionary life and activity of the Oblate. The 1966 Constitutions and Rules broke away from the traditional pattern and included a section with the title, Life in Apostolic Community, consisting of seven Constitutions (42 – 48) and eleven Rules (87 – 97). The accent is on the mission taking place in the context of community, and on interpersonal relationships. The Reading Guide for the Constitutions and Rules comments: “This indicates that the community is far more than a juridical entity; it is a communion in charity, it is the Lord’s family. From another point of view, the three articles 42, 44, 45 accentuate the special character of an apostolic community, as the place where the missionaries foregather and where activities are planned (a. 42); interchange and dialogue have a primordial role in their spiritual development, intellectual pursuits and in the apostolate of one and all (a. 44); the mission to announce the kingdom is what establishes and binds together the unity of the members (a. 45)” .
In aiming to achieve the synthesis between community and mission it brought to the fore the elements of fraternal sharing and mission, but the handling of community lacked some of the elements which were important for the Founder, elements which were to be added as a result of the reflection of the Congregation in preparation for the 1982 text.
1982 CONSTITUTIONS AND RULES: THE UNIFYING PRESENCE OF CHRIST THE SAVIOUR
a. We fulfil our mission in and through the community to which we belong (C 37).
The Constitutions of 1982 provided the synthesis by showing that there are not two separate parts in the life of the Oblate, but one reality. Part One of the 1982 Constitutions and Rules on The Oblate Charism is made up of two chapters, Mission and Apostolic Religious Life, thus showing this forging into a unity of life. Initially they had been the traditional two separate parts, but the capitulars of 1980 voted to unify them in order to express the unity of the Oblate’s life and ministry .
The synthesis between community and mission is brought about by focusing on Christ the Saviour. Reading through each of the Constitutions and Rules one can see “community” and “mission” as two spotlights which focus on one reality: Jesus Christ the Saviour. They shine from different angles and can be differentiated, but once they have come together focused on the central point, they are no longer distinguished as they have forged and become one, illuminating the focal point and bringing out all its richness. The presence of Jesus Christ the Saviour is the only reality around which our Oblate life focuses . Centred on Jesus the Saviour, the Oblate attains personal salvation and works for the salvation of others in and through the community to which God has called him. Thus for the Oblate there can be no community without mission, and no mission without community.
b. The call and presence of the Lord as the constitutive factor of community
The model on which the Oblate apostolic community is based is that of the apostles gathered around Jesus (C 3), and of the community of the first Christians (C 21 and C 37).
Because Christ the Saviour calls us to follow him, personal sanctification means becoming one with him (i.e. “the Apostles’ unity with Jesus” C 3), and mission means bringing others to that same unity (i.e. “their common mission in his Spirit” C 3). It is the presence of Christ the Saviour in the community which makes mission possible, and it is the mission of the Oblate to make Christ present in the community as well as outside. No longer are there two separate parts in our lives, but with “charity and zeal” permeating all areas, community exists for mission, and community itself is also part of mission. “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) .
c. Qualities of apostolic community
In his address to the Intercapitular meeting of October 1995, Father Zago gave this summary of the dimensions of community:
“According to the Constitutions and Rules, community has a human dimension of mutual understanding and friendship, a Christian dimension of sharing faith, a religious dimension of support from our vows, a missionary dimension in the planning and carrying out of our ministry, an economic dimension in openness in the administration and sharing of goods” .
I will begin by using these headings to point out the various dimensions of apostolic community according to the Constitutions and Rules.
– Human Dimension: “the affection that binds us together as members of the same family”
The overriding human characteristic is the affection that binds us together as members of the same family (C 42). Our communities are not only there as residences for a group of men committed to doing the same work, but our community life embraces every aspect of our lives, showing interdependence in our lives and missionary activities (C 38). In a spirit of simplicity and joyfulness we share ourselves, our friendship, our talents and our possessions (C 39). Bound together in charity and obedience, we will be open to fraternal sharing, and express our responsibility for each other in fraternal correction and forgiveness (C 39). We will help each other find joy and fulfilment in our community life and in our apostolate, supporting one another in our resolution to be faithful to the Congregation (C29). For example, in living out the demands and difficulties of our celibacy we will find our support in friendship and in fraternal life (C 18)
The human needs of the Oblate are to be considered, including opportunities for recreation, rest and relaxation (R 25) [R 39b in CCRR 2000], respect for its members’ needs and their right to privacy (R 26) [R 41a in CCRR 2000], and care and concern for sick and aged members (C 42). A fraternal community radiates the warmth of the Gospel through hospitality (C 41).
As members of the same family we keep alive the memory of the deceased and pray for them (C 43). When members want to separate themselves from the Congregation we will try all means of correction and conciliation, and if these fail then charity must characterize our attitude towards them (C 44).
– Christian Dimension: witness of the presence and mission of Jesus
Our communities are a sign that, in Jesus, God is everything for us (C 11), and they give witness to and make real the presence and mission of Jesus (C 37). They should help us to become more prayerful and reflective and to live the Gospel to the full, thereby freeing us for ever greater fidelity to our calling (C 87) [C 91 in CCRR 2000]. To this end, the time spent praying together is one of the more intense moments of life (C 40). In the Eucharist, the bonds of apostolic community are drawn closer, while at the same time opening the horizons of our zeal to all the world (C 33). Community prayer takes the form of celebrating a part of the Hours in common, a period of mental prayer spent together in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament (C 33), and setting aside special moments for deeper personal and community prayer, for reflection and renewal in the monthly and annual retreats (C 35). There also needs to be an openness to new forms of personal and community prayer which can help us encounter the Lord (R 20) [R 33a in CCRR 2000].
Our togetherness in seeking and proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and in awaiting and working for Christ’s coming is not limited to moments of prayer, but flowing from prayer, we commit ourselves to be a leaven of the Beatitudes at the heart of the world (C 11).We are called to share our faith experiences (C 87) [C 91 and R 91a in CCRR 2000] so as to be interdependent in our lives and missionary activity (C 38). It is our fraternal charity which sustains our zeal (C 37).
– Religious Dimension: vows which bind us in love to the Lord and to his people
The affirmation that “community is the life-giving reality fashioned by the vows” (C 12), introduces the section on the evangelical counsels. Father Jetté explains the role of community in our profession of the counsels: “Commitment by vows reminds us first of all that the bond which unites us passes through Jesus Christ. Because of him we live together, we love each other, mutually help each other and share a common missionary activity” .
Each of the vows fashions a dimension of community.
Our celibacy allows us to give witness as a group to the Father’s love for us and to our enduring love for him (C 16). In living our consecration, we will endeavour to help each other to grow in maturity (R 11) [R 18a in CCRR 2000], and will find our support in friendship and in fraternal life (C 18).
Our members adopt a simple lifestyle, remembering that it is essential for our religious institute to give collective witness to evangelical detachment (C 21). We hold all things in common (C 21), with all we acquire either through our personal industry or through the work of the Institute belonging to the community (C 22). Each member in his own way contributes to the support of the community and its apostolate (C 21). Whatever is owned by the community may be considered the patrimony of the poor, and will be administered carefully (R 14) [R 22a in CCRR 2000]. The community, however, placing its trust in divine Providence, will not hesitate to make use of what it has, even of what is necessary for its sustenance, to benefit God’s poor (R 14).
Our vow of obedience shapes our communities to stand as a sign of that new world wherein persons recognize their close interdependence, thus challenging the world’s spirit of domination (C 25). In the Superior we see a sign of our unity in Christ Jesus(C 26). As individuals and as a community we have the responsibility to seek the will of God. Decisions which express this will are best reached after community discernment and prayer (C 26).
The vow of perseverance is also not limited to the individual dimension. Through living this vow we will help each other find joy and fulfilment in our community life and in our apostolate, supporting one another in our resolution to be faithful to the Congregation (C 30).
Constitution 48 also points out that our initial and ongoing formation as religious takes place within the context of an apostolic community. We are all involved in a process of mutual evangelization, supporting one another in a healing and empowering way. Together, we create an atmosphere of freedom and mutual trust in which we call each other to an ever deeper commitment.
– Missionary Dimension: we fulfil our mission in and through the community to which we belong
Father Zago speaks of three requirements:
1) The mission is entrusted to the community, it is a community task before being a personal one. All the members support it. The community is committed to its life and ministry -cf. C 38, and R 1 [R 7a in CCRR 2000].
2) Community structures are at the service of the mission. Therefore the community must adopt a program of life best suited to the apostolate, while always keeping in mind that community life and mission are not opposed to one another – cf. C 38; R 23 [R 39a in CCRR 2000].
3) The community is, of its nature, missionary. The quality of community life is expressed in mission in as much as the community is the expression and the bearer of the life-giving message. Our mission is accomplished not only by our words and our work, but also and above all by the quality of our lives (cf. CC 3, 11, 37) .
Rule 24 [R 38a in CCRR 2000]points out that new forms of community living can develop in response to special missionary needs.
– Economic Dimension: collective witness to evangelical detachment
Since we are a missionary Congregation, the temporal goods of our Institute are, above all, at the service of the mission (C 122). Each member in his own way contributes to the support of the community and its apostolate (C 21), and all possessions belong to the community. The houses and Provinces will be solicitous in sharing their resources with Oblates working in poorer areas and in missions with fewer material goods (R 15) [R 22c in CCRR 2000].Commenting on this aspect of sharing of goods, Father Joergensen writes, “This sharing is a beautiful witness we give to the world. An international organisation that really practices financial solidarity. The proposal of the 1992 Chapter to share the financial assets in a way that every Province shall be self-supporting is a sign of this. It would mean the end of the dependence of ‘the poor Oblates’ on ‘the rich Oblates’. It is an important question of power sharing. A move from charity to justice” .
– Dimension Of Clarity: expressing our missionary goals
In recent years much has been spoken and written about apostolic community, and there is a danger of this concept being an emotive and nebulous one. What is necessary is to be clear about our terms and goals. As individuals and as a community, we have the responsibility to seek the will of God (C 26) and to be clear about our community goals. Because we are bound in charity and obedience (C 3), decisions which express this will are best reached after community discernment and prayer (C 26). All of us are coresponsible for the community’s life and apostolate. As a body, therefore, we discern the Spirit’s call and seek to achieve consensus in important matters, loyally supporting the decisions taken. Such shared decision making can best take place in a collegial and trust-filled atmosphere (C 72).
By sharing our faith experiences with one another we are better able to express our missionary goals in the context of the Province’s priorities (C 87). Once these goals have been set, then it is necessary to have a program of life and prayer to sustain community and mission (C 38), with regular meetings to regulate the life and purpose of the community (C 38).
The one who helps the community to focus on its life and purpose is the Superior in whom we will see a sign of our unity in Christ Jesus (C 26). He is a sign of the Lord’s loving and guiding presence in our midst (C 80). He animates and directs the community to further the apostolate and the best interests of the members (C 89), and will act collegially, assisted by a Council which expresses in its own way the members’ concern for their community and for promoting its common good (C 83). Superiors are accountable at each level of government to higher authorities, and to the review of their own community (C 74). The Superior General and Council are to identify basic issues and help us to discern our common objectives (C 111).
In striving for clarity of life and ideals, the Constitutions and Rules will be the norm according to which the community’s life and missionary activities will be regulated, while being the object of the community’s reflection in prayer and fraternal sharing (C 28).
– Dimension of the various expressions of community:
The Congregation as a whole is one apostolic community (C71), with all its members being coresponsible for the community’s life and apostolate, and all being expected to participate appropriately in its government through responsible collaboration (C 72).
– The Congregation as a Community. The General Chapter has a very specific purpose in the life of the Oblate apostolic community as it meets to strengthen the bonds of our unity and to express our members’ participation in the life and mission of the Congregation (C 105). It is a privileged time of community reflection and conversion (C 105) [C 125 in CCRR 2000].
From the Chapter the Congregation receives its Superior General – the man who is to be the Congregation’s living bond of unity. His ministry is to stir the faith and charity of our communities to ever greater efforts in response to the Church’s needs (C 112) [C 133 in CCRR 2000]. With his Council, the Superior General animates and unites the Congregation, so that, as one apostolic community, it remains faithful to the demands of the religious life and its mission (C 76).
On the Congregation as a community, Father Zago writes, “The Congregation is a community with its own structures and features, its particular charism and its superior, its missionary task and its own spirituality. By losing a sense of the Congregation as community, one is cut off from the reality approved by the Church. It is important, therefore, to maintain links not only with the authorities (superiors) but also with the whole organization through exchange and information” .
– The Province as Community. The Provinces and Vice Provinces are in their own way true apostolic communities (C 92) [C 96 in CCRR 2000], with the local communities and individuals being mutually responsible for each other and for the common mission (C 92). Just like the local Superior, the Provincial Superior is responsible for the specific mission of the Congregation within the Province and the religious apostolic life of its communities and members (C 94) [CC 99 – 101 in CCRR 2000]. Of the Provincial’s ministry, Fr. Jetté says, “His Province is first and foremost a family, an apostolic family. The members of this family want to devote themselves heart and soul to their mission, while remaining rooted in a community and supported by it” .
The Provinces and Vice Provinces are grouped into Regions to ensure co-operation and exchange (C 104) [C 119 in CCRR 2000], and aim to increase the unity of the Congregation as an apostolic community.
– The Local Community. The Congregation’s vitality and effectiveness depend largely on the levels of local community which lives the Gospel and proclaims and reveals it to the world (C 76). The Constitutions stress that the local communities are the living cells of the Congregation (C 87) [C 92 in CCRR 2000], whose aim it is to help their members to live the Gospel to the full, so as to have greater fidelity to our calling.
The term local community refers to a house, residence or district (C 88). Each local community has a Superior whose twofold task it is to animate and direct the community to further the apostolate and the best interests of the members (C 89) [C 93 in CCRR 2000]. It is also his duty to ensure that the local community is not turned in on itself, but that there be fraternal contact with other communities of the Province (C 89). The Superior has a local council, appointed in consultation with the members of the local community (C 91) [C 95 in CCRR 2000].
– District Communities. C 88 places house, residence and district on the same level as local communities. This is an important statement in that it highlights that Oblates who are dispersed for the sake of the Gospel, and can benefit only occasionally from life in common (C 38), are still living in community, even though the contacts they have with their brothers are limited. These contacts need to be regular enough to be able to build up and maintain the constitutive human relationships necessary for community. In recognising that the district is not merely a unit of government, but community in a real way, it brings to life the concept of district community. It is not a second-class type of community, but is given as one of the ways in which our vocation to apostolic community is lived out on a local level. Therefore everything which applies to a house community applies equally to a district community insofar as the Constitutions are concerned (C 77). The Rules make practical distinctions, none of which change the nature of the community (R 86, 142) [R 92c, 151a in CCRR 2000] . Oblates, whatever form their local community takes, are interdependent in their lives and missionary activity, being bound together in charity and obedience (C38).
– Formation Community.Formation of the new members of the apostolic community clearly has to take place in the context of an apostolic community (C 48). Following the model of Jesus forming his disciples (C 50), as disciples of the same Lord, the formation personnel along with those in formation make up one community (C 51).
Within the formation community, the formators form a nucleus at its heart (C 51). This heart is to live among themselves, as mature Oblates, all that is true of an apostolic community. It is the task of the nucleus to live in such a way as to make Jesus live in their midst (C 37), so that it is Jesus, present among them, who is the Formator who ensures that those in formation are “schooled in his teaching” (Preface). Rule 35 [R 51a in CCRR 2000]reminds us that no one can be a formator unless his life is characterized by a community spirit and apostolic zeal. Father Jetté writes, “Communitarian and apostolic spirit. The educator shares in an intense community life. He thrives in community and helps others thrive as well” .
The need for community is pointed out for each stage of formation. For novices:
Life in community, with its joys and tensions, its spirit of charity and mutual support, will help novices identify with the Oblate family and will initiate them into the self-denial which is part of apostolic religious life (R 41) [R 56a in CCRR 2000].
Wherever these studies are pursued, it is important that scholastics live in an Oblate community and develop a missionary outlook (C 66).
For those who have completed their initial formation:
During the first years after their initial formation, Oblates will receive guidance and supervision from other Oblates more experienced. This is the time when they need the support of a community which, in turn, they enrich (R 58) [R 65h in CCRR 2000].
For ongoing formation:
One of the foremost responsibilities of Superiors at all levels is to develop in the community a spirit that fosters ongoing formation (C 70).
– Lay Involvement. Rule 27 says that “in various places lay people feel called to participate directly in the Oblate mission, ministry and community”. The 1985 Administrative Directory comments:
“Membership in the Oblate Congregation is restricted to Catholic men who make vows according to the Oblate Constitutions and Rules and accept an obedience for a mission which involves them in the ministry of the Church, often as ordained priests or deacons. By contrast, Rule 27 opens up the possibility of new ways of associating lay people to Oblate mission, ministry and community. If the Oblates are considered not just as a religious Congregation but as a movement of people dedicated to de Mazenod’s goals and inspired by his ideals, then association with this movement is possible to the extent that a man or woman is available for mission, shares in Oblate community and is engaged in some form of Oblate ministry” .
This possibility continues to be explored .
GENERAL CHAPTER OF 1986: “MISSION THROUGH AN APOSTOLIC COMMUNITY”
The Oblates gathered together in the General Chapter of 1986 responded to the demands of society and our mission by outlining six areas which call the Oblates to respond urgently. The sixth of these calls is to “a mission through apostolic community” . Section VI is dedicated to apostolic community (paragraphs 109 – 137).The capitulars say: “Oblate community is an essential dimension of our vocation… Community life is not only necessary for the mission, it is itself mission and at the same time it is a qualitative sign of the mission of the whole Church .
Pointing out that when the link between community and mission is less evident, “the community is in danger of losing its vigor and the mission its support” , the Chapter re-affirms the thrust of the Constitutions and Rules on the relationship between mission and apostolic community. In a paragraph which echoes the thought of the Founder and of Father Fabre on the unifying role of the Rule in community and mission, they say, “We have just begun to discover our Constitutions and Rules. We must study and meditate on them tirelessly, so that they might be an even greater source of life and bond of unity” .
GENERAL CHAPTER OF 1992: “WITNESSING AS APOSTOLIC COMMUNITY”.
The message which the 1992 capitulars gave to the Congregation can be seen as a call to implement the concept of apostolic community given in the Constitutions and Rules and in “Missionaries in Today’s World”. Their document “is an invitation to re-read our main Oblate sources from the vantage point of the quality of our life with a view to improving our testimony at the core of today’s world” .
“Like the Founder we see so many ills that beset the world and the Church … The weariness, indeed the resignation of those voices who have given up all hope of ever having their voices heard, has touched us deeply” . After examining the demands and challenges of the present day world, the document poses the question of how Oblates can respond to these demands. The answer is clearly given: “we seek to gather around the person of Jesus Christ so as to achieve solidarity of compassion, to become a single heart that can be food for the life of the world” .
It is through our apostolic communities that we can respond to the present day missionary challenges. It states, “We can be effective evangelizers only to the extent that our compassion is collective, that we give ourselves to the world not as a coalition of free lance ministers, but as a united missionary corps” . The accent of the document is on the witness which the quality of relationships on the human and faith level within the apostolic community build, so that “it is flesh for the life of the world. The community we create together around Jesus Christ is the banquet table to which we invite mankind” .
Oblates are invited to re-assess their commitment to apostolic community, and to widen their understanding of the implications of their vocation to mission in apostolic community in the areas of animation, accountability, formation, and association with the laity.
The document concludes on a Marian note: “Mary Immaculate is the Mother of our apostolic community… Mary is our model in her commitment to the values of the Kingdom and in her unique witnessing in the midst of her Son’s first community” .