1. Eugene de Mazenod
  2. The Oblate tradition
  3. The Constitutions and Rules

The Second Vatican Council vigorously presented anew the fact of the universal call to holiness (LG 5). Oblates, like all Christians, are called to holiness. Foremost among them stood, Eugene de Mazenod who consistently cherished an ever-growing desire for holiness. He himself wanted to be holy and he wished the same for all those he would touch through his ministry. He wanted first of all to lead them to live as reasonable human beings, then as Christians, and finally, he wanted to help them become saints. This is the holiness he desired for his Oblates. He exhorted them with these words: “In God’s name, let us be saints”. [1] He considered the community as a place of sanctification; he embraced religious life as an effective means to achieve this and chose the preaching of parish missions as a ministry in which one achieved holiness and sanctified the people. He understood the intrinsic link that exists between holiness and mission; it was something he stressed often and on a regular basis. He lived his life in such a way as to focus constantly on the attainment of holiness. He was never one to compromise or settle for half measures. Moreover, he presented his confreres with the challenge of a radical life commitment: “I do not want any smoldering wicks in the Congregation; let them burn; let them give heat and light or let them leave”. [2]

In this article we will not treat of that general holiness which is each Christian’s goal. We will concentrate rather on the characteristic traits which distinguish the path of holiness which Oblates are called to follow.

Eugene de Mazenod


One of the first features that catches the eye when we read the writings of Eugene de Mazenod is the terminology he uses when treating of this issue. As opposed to the abstract term “holiness”, the Founder often preferred the more concrete term saint or the more dynamic term sanctification, tending toward holiness and perfection. Indeed, as far as he was concerned, holiness is a dynamic process of becoming – a constant journeying which lasts a lifetime. In the Preface, we read that Oblates “must strive to be saints. […] seeking at all times to reach the very summit of perfection”. “Let there be no limit set for our personal holiness,” Father Leo Deschâtelets used to exclaim when he read this text. [3]

Such a dynamism must be sustained by the firm determination to attain sanctity. “When it comes to perfection, one must never say that it is sufficient.” [4]

The reminder to desire and have the will to achieve holiness is constantly repeated and is consistent. In the Rule, the first criterion to discern an Oblate vocation is to “burn with great desire for one’s own perfection” (C and R 1928, art. 697). “A firm resolve we have adopted is to rid ourselves of all those who do not want to strive for perfection”. [5] This desire should not remain the prerogative of novices, but must grow ceaselessly as the Preface reminds us: “[…] seeking at all times to reach the very summit of perfection”.

If, indeed, holiness is a gift of God which communicates his life, it is also a response which demands commitment, work, becoming. In virtue of our baptism, we are holy, but at the same time we should bring to maturity the seed of life implanted in us by baptism.


A characteristic trait of the holiness the Founder demands of his Oblates is the intrinsic link he sees between holiness and the apostolic man. Holiness and apostolic man are terms that are used almost synonymously. As a result, we now begin to see the kind of holiness to which the Founder felt God was calling him, the holiness he recommended to his Oblates. Letters written during the early years of the Congregation’s life give us a good idea of how the Founder envisioned the Missionary of Provence: He had to be “an extraordinary man” [6], a “truly apostolic man” [7], capable of combining into one a life of holiness with a life of proclaiming the Gospel. By “extraordinary men” the Founder did not mean a person with outstanding gifts, a renowned preacher capable of capturing the hearts of his listeners: “Were it a question of going out to preach more or less well the word of God mingled with much alloy of self, of going far and wide for the purpose, if you wish of winning souls for God without taking much trouble to be men of interior life, truly apostolic men I think it would not be difficult to replace you. But can you believe I want merchandise of that sort?” [8] he wrote to Abbé Henry Tempier when the founding of the Congregation was still a project on the drawing board. For his missionary project, more than good preachers, he needed men of the interior life, truly apostolic men, definitely saints: “We must be truly saints ourselves. In saying that, we include all that can possibly be said” [9]. Numbers are not the primary consideration here; rather it is quality. This is the way he explains it to Abbé Charles Forbin-Janson. In contrast with his friend who is working on a vast missionary project, recruiting many priests to evangelize the whole of France, Eugene de Mazenod is looking for men capable of living an authentic Christian and communitarian life. He wrote to Forbin-Janson, “If I were you, I would aim at somewhat less brilliance and I would insist more on soundness. Of what use are fine speeches if one is conceited? Humility, the spirit of abnegation obedience, etc., and the utmost in the way of fraternal charity are also necessary for the good order and the happiness of a Society. Not all your people have properly understood that […] Here we agree on no such arrangements. We were six […] Our community is very fervent. There are no better priests throughout the diocese.” [10]

The expressions “to be saints” and “to be apostolic men” are equivalent in some way. He wrote to Father Tempier to exhort the missionaries “to conduct themselves like saints, like real apostles” [11]. And with regard to the scholastics in his charge, he wrote to Father Mouchette, “They have to realize that their ministry is the continuation of the apostolic ministry […] So let them lose no time in becoming saints, if they have not done so already […]” [12]. Toward the end of his life as he was summing up his own particular ideal of life, he wrote to the missionaries in Canada: “I have such a high view of your vocation that I cannot bear the thought of the tiniest imperfection and it troubles me as if it were a serious infidelity. Every day I pray that his grace will keep you all in great holiness. I cannot think in other terms of the life of sublime devotion which is the life of our missionaries”. [13]

We have to return to the sources so as to understand the relationship between mission and holiness. Indeed, it was a two-fold indivisible objective which was the inspiration for the founding of the Institute: mission and the desire for Gospel perfection. An interior crisis tormented the young Abbé de Mazenod for years: whether to dedicate himself to an apostolic career or to withdraw to a monastery. It was only when he had gained the assurance that in founding the Missionaries of Provence the rural poor would be evangelized while at the same time he could achieve the holiness to which he felt called that this crisis was resolved. In the book of Formules d’admission au noviciat [Formulas for Admission to the Novitiate], he wrote that the holy Institute “should help us to attain the virtues specific to the state of perfection to which we most willingly dedicate ourselves. That is why we are laying the foundations of the Society of the Missionaries of Provence in Aix on October 2, 1815”. [14]

In the Petition Addressed to the Vicars General of Aix, he had written: “The end of this Society is only to work for the salvation of one’s neighbour by dedicating itself to the ministry of preaching; its chief aim also includes providing its members with the means necessary to practice the virtues of religion […]” [15]. That is why in the budding community, the missionaries will work “at their own sanctification in conformity with their vocation”. [16]

The Preface confirms that the end of the Institute, under the Lord’s inspiration, is to “work more effectively for the salvation of souls and for their own sanctification”. The original priests in the group wanted to submit themselves to a Rule because they resolved “to obey the following Constitutions and Rules; by living them they hope to obtain all the benefits they need for their own sanctification and for the salvation of souls”. The end could only be achieved if the members of the Institute “carry out their duty worthily, faithfully fulfilling their splendid vocation”. Introducing the vowed life into that original group, and their progressive transformation from a group of diocesan priests into a religious community must be understood in this light.


When it is a case of describing in a concrete way the program of holiness to which the members of the Society are called, Eugene de Mazenod recommended a specific style of life where life was divided into a period spent in the ministry and another spent in community in order to be equipped to work “together for the glory of God and for our sanctification” [17]. The life of recollection, silence, study and prayer which the members of the Institute experience in community seems to be the most suitable way to keep them on the path of holiness. “One part [of the year, spent in community will be used for] our individual sanctification”. [18]

Later on, the Rule would give a more concrete expression to this original insight: “[…] one part of their life will be spent in prayer, internal recollection, contemplation in the privacy of the house of God in which they will lead the common life. The other will be entirely dedicated to the most active works of zeal in the world outside […]”. [19]

In the history of the Congregation, this distinction almost established a dichotomy and created a division in the ideal apostolic man: a division between missionary action and the life of withdrawing into community – associating the means of sanctification with the latter period.

On the other hand, to achieve a good understanding of the distinction set forth by the Founder, we must see it in context. This idea draws its inspiration from the imitation of Christ and the Apostles: the missionaries should: “imitate in all things the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, main founder of the Society and the Apostles, our first fathers. In imitation of these great models, one part of their life […]” [20]. In the light of this text, the main task of the missionaries is neither preaching nor praying in the silence of their house, but rather the imitating of Christ. Consequently, the unifying element is found in reliving the tension inherent in the mystery of Christ by following the example of the Apostles [21]. The holiness recommended by Eugene de Mazenod is eminently Christological: it is a case of becoming other Christs, to become co-workers with him in his paschal mystery. Missionary action is intrinsically the work of Christ, that is, to relive Christ in his greatest mystery, the mystery of the Redemption.

It is in this perspective that we can reread the numberless references to Christ, especially to Christ the Savior, which continually flow from Eugene de Mazenod’s pen in his writings. From the beginning of his spiritual life, Christ is the model and guide to follow on the path of holiness. He stands before the mystery of Christ like “a painter copying a model”. What does the painter do? “He places his model in the best possible light, observes it very closely, stares at it, seeks to fix its image in his imagination, then he sketches on a sheet of paper or on a canvas a few lines which he compares to the original; he corrects them if they are not in exact correspondence with the original, then he continues” [22]. Eugene did the same with Christ – he wrote: “Beloved model to whom I must conform myself, as is my desire with his grace”. [23]

This is not a question of imitating externals, but rather of an authentic identification with Christ to the point of becoming his other self. In 1811, while still a young priest, Eugene wrote: “[…] Saint Paul said that those whom God wished to save, whom he has predestined for his glory […], he has decided and ordained would resemble his son Jesus Christ, […] he has predestined for his glory. Whichever way you put it, it is still conformity with Jesus Christ that is the definitive sign of predestination as it is always infallibly either its effect or its cause. Do we resemble Jesus Christ? Do we imitate Jesus Christ with all our strength; do we live the life of Jesus Christ? Then we shall infallibly be saved”. [24]

For Eugene, conformity with Christ is achieved through the cross. No road to holiness is without suffering. Annoyances, trials, difficulties… everything can serve as an occasion to relive Christ crucified. Reflecting on his own personal experience, he wrote: “Never allow yourself to be crushed by the difficulties and the sufferings that are inseparable from our life here below, whatever the position in which Providence has placed us, Wisdom consists in taking advantage of everything for our sanctification”. [25]

Even if it seems to harbor an inherent dichotomy, the Oblate project enjoys profound unity. Mission calls to holiness and vice versa. While meditating on the Rule, the Founder wrote: “[…] For to what a high degree of holiness does the apostolic vocation bind, I mean to say, that vocation which dedicates me to work unstintingly at sanctifying souls with the means used by the Apostles?” [26]


Another characteristic trait of the idea of holiness in the thought of Eugene de Mazenod is the communitarian dimension. If it is not good enough to have mediocre preachers, it is not sufficient either to have apostolic men as isolated individuals. To be “truly apostolic men” it is necessary tomarch together in the footsteps of the Apostles. What is called for is to live as they lived, gathered around Jesus in conformity with the model they taught to the first Christians of Jerusalem. A “shared holiness” was called for. In a letter to Abbé Tempier suggesting a first meeting with all the future members of the community Eugene de Mazenod wrote : “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”. [27]

Yet again he wrote to Father Tempier that the house in Aix “in my mind and my hopes must reproduce the perfection of the first disciples of the apostles”, that is, the first Christian community in Jerusalem because, as he went on to say, “I base my hopes on that much more than on eloquent discourses. Have they ever converted anyone?” [28] Here he is making an obvious reference to the witness given by the first Christian community with its life of holiness, the fruit of mutual love. Indeed, it was characterized by the union of hearts and minds and by the common sharing of material goods. As a result, what would be expected of the future members of the Society was to live in a perfect harmony of sentiments, with mutual good will and a spirit of detachment shared by everyone. Everything, even the work of personal sanctification, was to be a shared endeavor. Consequently, in community the members could experience together the same spiritual joy. Life in common would stand out as an essential element for the apostolic man, either with regard to efficacious missionary activity or for personal sanctification. Holiness was a project they worked at together; it became a shared holiness. “Oh! do not doubt that we will become saints in our Congregation, free but united by bonds of the most tender charity […].” [29]

Once the group of the Missionaries of Provence was established, the demand for sanctification in view of the mission became greater. To someone requesting a deion of this new vocation, the Founder wrote: “The missionary, being specifically called to the apostolic ministry should aim at perfection. […] So he ought to do everything to arrive at this desirable holiness which is to produce such great effects” [30]. The novice, Jacques-Joseph Marcou, illustrated that he had learned this lesson well when he gave this explanation of his vocation to the seminarian, Hippolyte Guibert: “Shall I speak to you personally of our Institute? It would be enough for me to tell you that we strive for perfection; […] we are one in heart and soul”. [31]

The apostolic man is someone who commits himself with all earnestness to walking the path of holiness, along with his brothers in community. As we read in the Preface, this is because mission demands “apostolic men deeply conscious of the need to reform themselves, who would labour with all the resources at their command to convert others”.

In the Rule, Eugene de Mazenod clarifies this idea of perfection that he initially spoke of. The path of holiness he wishes to follow is a communitarian path. The apostolic man does not achieve sanctity independently of others. We stand together as one unit, bound by the bonds of mutual love. Indeed, as we have already said, to become saints means to relive Christ in his fullness as persons transformed into him by the Spirit who grafts us on to him. It is the identification of each individual with Christ alone which makes it possible that the missionaries become one with him: “They will all be united by the bonds of the most all-pervading charity and in perfect submission to the superiors”. [32] Commenting on this passage of the Rule, the Founder himself noted: “And always with Jesus Christ as our model. United to Jesus Christ in the most profound charity, they will stand as one man among themselves, his children, very closely united in the bonds of the most ardent charity, living under the rule of the most perfect obedience to obtain the humility they need”. [33]

On another occasion, he wrote to Father Hippolyte Courtès: “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 […] be at one […]” [34]. Grafted into the one and only body of Christ we are called to become the one and only Christ.

Ultimately, the ideal of the Oblate as apostolic man contains, and has contained from the very beginning, a great richness. It embraces, bound together in an inseparable way, the concept of holiness of life, of holiness shared in fraternal living and of holiness shared in apostolic ministry. A synthesis of this ideal is found in the text: “Live for God and for the Church, for the sanctification of the poor heathen, for the Congregation […] Be united, cor unum et anima una. Constantly re-read your holy Rules. By being faithful to them you will become holy […] Remember that Deus charitas est” [35]. Father Joseph Morabito sums up in this manner what Eugene de Mazenod is recommending: “Oblation, personal holiness, apostolate; elements which harmonize perfectly, complete each other and of which the first, oblation, is like the heart from which flow the two others which are like the fruit and the goal” [36]. The distinctions must of necessity be confined to the realm of ideas. In reality, the Oblate undertaking is of the greatest simplicity and indivisible.


In his journey toward sanctity, Eugene de Mazenod attached great importance to the ascetical practice of the virtues. Charity, the bond of perfection, stood in the first place. In the original plan for founding the Congregation, it was to be the exclusive bond uniting the missionaries. It was “the pivot on which our whole existence turns” [37]. But charity has all the other virtues as her servants. The Founder often lists them in his writings, even if he does not do so in a systematic way. Writing to Father Tempier, he told him: “For the love of God never cease to inculcate and preach humility, abnegation, forgetfulness of self, disdain for worldly esteem. May these ever be the foundation of our little Society, which, combined with a truly disinterested zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, and the most tender, affectionate and sincere charity amongst ourselves, will make of our house an earthly paradise […]” [38]. To Charles de Forbin-Janson, he wrote: “Humility, the spirit of abnegation, obedience etc., and the utmost in the way of fraternal charity are also necessary for the good order and the happiness of a Society” [39]. Among the ascetical attitudes, he pointed especially to “holy detachment which is the royal road to accomplish God’s will” [40], “the pivot of religious life” [41]. And yet again, “self-denial, […] abnegation, […] interior life, regularity, love of one’s vocation” [42]; “reserve and exterior modesty which is very edifying” [43]; “the most ardent desire for perfection, […] devotion for the Church, zeal for the salvation of souls and a great attachment to the family, […] respect for superiors […].” [44]

But it is especially in the Preface that the Founder sets forth a demanding ascetical program. The missionaries “must wholly renounce themselves, striving solely for the glory of God, the good of the Church and the growth and salvation of souls. They must constantly renew themselves in the spirit of their vocation, living in a state of habitual self-denial and seeking at all times to reach the very summit of perfection. They must work unremittingly to become humble, meek obedient, lovers of poverty and penance, mortified, free from inordinate attachment to the world or to family, men filled with zeal, 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.”


The Founder did not limit himself to asserting the demands of holiness, of pointing out the basic paths to be followed (apostolic, Christological, communitarian) or the concrete virtues to be lived. He also presented concrete means to achieve this. He did it especially by writing the Rule, the observance of which was, according to him, the ordinary path to holiness. We read in the Rule, “All the members of our Society including the Superiors, are bound to order their whole lives in strict agreement with our Rules and Constitutions, and in such manner to strive to reach the perfection of their state” (C and R of 1928, art. 228). With the sanction of papal approbation, it was obvious that “they are no longer simple regulations, merely pious directions; they are Rules approved by the Church after most minute examination”. [45]

The Founder was “strongly convinced that the sanctification of our Society’s members and the success of their work depend on their fidelity in observing exactly the holy Rules of our Institute […]” [46]. In a letter to Father Marc de l’Hermite he wrote that the Rule serves “both for your own sanctification and for the salvation of souls which it is your mission to convert” [47]. And in one of his circular letters, he wrote: “There lies the secret of your sanctification: these Rules contain everything which should lead us to God. Adorn your souls with the finest virtues; heap up your merits; ensure your own perseverance. Read, meditate and observe your Rules and you will become genuine saints; you will build up the Church […].” [48]

Indeed, as Father Yvon Beaudoin has pointed out, the Rule written by the Founder contains more rules on holiness than on the end of the Institute, the ministry and means of saving souls. He was convinced that “the most effective means of evangelization is the example of a holy life”. [49]

The Oblate tradition


After the Founder’s death, the Oblate tradition had a tendency to formulate the distinction between missionary activity and the life of perfection in an academic and abstract way. The basis for this distinction is found in the first two parts of the Rule: the end of the Institute and religious life. Certain Oblate values are grouped around the theme of mission and others around religious life. Issues of holiness are often placed in the context of religious life.

For example, we can read concise phrases such as the following: “As religious, it is our duty to strive for holiness; this was clearly established by our Founder. We are religious to become saints” [50]. Or yet again statements that are deliberately couched in very strong language: “In the name of God, of his Vicar on earth and of our venerated Founder, we declare that in our Congregation we are religious before being missionaries; we are religious in order to be supernatural missionaries, religious to persevere unto death in the labors of the apostolate”. [51]

In this counter positioning, the link between holiness and mission remains stable with a clear subordination: to be an authentic missionary one has to be a saint and one is a saint in the measure that one lives in harmony with one’s religious vocation. The sequence is quite clear: religious life – holiness – mission.

It was Father Joseph Fabre, Bishop de Mazenod’s immediate successor, in particular who established this vision of things, a vision which predominated until the second half of this century. In his second circular letter, he wrote: “To what are we called, my dear brothers? To become saints, to be able to work effectively for the sanctification of the souls of the most abandoned. There lies our vocation. […] We must work energetically, generously for our own sanctification, that is, we must meditate every day in the most serious, profound manner on our duties of state to acquire an ever deeper knowledge of the virtues that God expects of our souls in order that, through an ever more religious conduct it may attain to the practice of our holy obligations. […] To work at sanctifying others through the exercise of the ministry in the world is a very fine mission, but it is only one part of our holy vocation. It presupposes the first part as its principle and the source of its fruitfulness. Indeed, can we collaborate effectively and in a supernatural manner with the grace of ministry to souls if we have not already achieved a clear understanding, a profound grasp of the need of our own sanctification?” [52] For the Oblate, any laxity in striving for sanctity causes his ministry to suffer: “Our negligence in cutting ourselves off from fervor and holiness would deny these souls the fruit and reward due this fervor and holiness”. [53]

In his reflection, Father Fabre quoted here articles 288 and 289 which divide the Oblate’s life into two portions: one devoted to prayer and silence and spent within the community and the other dedicated to preaching and other activities of the apostolate. It is especially during this first phase, that of silence and interior recollection, that the individual works at this sanctification. In the second phase, the phase of evangelization, one makes use of the holiness one has acquired living in the religious house. “Tireless apostle during that period of time devoted to evangelical labors, the Oblate of Mary worthy of this name returns to his cell happy to live there as a perfect religious and to contribute according to his strengths and talents and continue to uphold in his community the life of perfection which is its distinctive character”. [54]

He also quotes another text which is fundamental in the Oblate’s journey to holiness, article 426 of the Rule: “The whole life of the members of our Society ought to be a life of continual recollection”. He combines this with the following articles on the style of life to be maintained in a religious house. In this part of the Rule entitled: Of silence, recollection, prayer and other religious exercises; also of penances and community conferences there resurface all the means recommended as means of sanctification for the Oblate: silence, interior recollection, exercises of piety, the practice of mortification, penance… The judgment that Father Fabre makes of the Congregation based on these article reveals the importance which he attributes to this part of the Rule: “[The Oblates] were fervent as long as they loved solitude, their cells and silence; laxity became evident the day they found solitude too demanding, their cell too boring and silence too hard to endure, […] Let us have a love of silence and of our cells […]”. [55]

The Oblate tradition followed faithfully the teachings of Father Fabre. The means of sanctification indicated above are often referred to in the circular letters of the Superiors General as fundamental traits of the striving for perfection. In his report presented at the beginning of each General Chapter, one part was devoted to the state of the interior life of the Congregation and the way of measuring this is how effectively these means were used. In like manner, when a call is made for a more intense spiritual life, it is to these means that one appeals above all. Stress is also put upon exercise of the presence of God and ejaculatory prayers, Eucharistic worship, the rosary, examination of conscience, confession, the chapter of faults, retreats, Scripture reading, spiritual reading, solitude, silence, etc. [56]

Commenting on the Preface, Father Fabre stressed, in addition, the virtues characteristic of the Oblate life of holiness. Generosity, self-denial, mortification, humility, obedience, poverty, purity, zeal… All essential virtues for the missionary: “We are sent to convert and sanctify souls: above all, let us offer them a living example of the virtues we have preached to them. […] Happy the missionary who leaves in his wake the perfume of his virtues, the moving memory of his holiness!” [57] Among the virtues, fraternal charity and love for souls hold pride of place. Charity is “the virtue which should be characteristic of the Oblate of Mary Immaculate […]: that is our special virtue”. [58]

To corroborate the close relationship which tradition sees between holiness and mission and, as a result, the absolute necessity of striving for holiness according to our specific vocation, one need only quote from an important General Chapter, that of 1926. One hundred years after the approbation of the Rule, it deliberately chose to make its main focus the holiness of its members and their fidelity to the ministry of evangelization. In the chapter acts, the readers are reminded that the Founder put holiness in the very first place in the program laid out in the Preface of the Rule. He stressed “Zeal was something he favored without a doubt. He knows that he is training missionaries, apostles. And the apostle’s virtue is zeal. But he also knows that there exist two kinds of zeal. First of all, the one which has nothing in common with zeal except the name, which is only a natural urge, a need for activity and movement. This zeal is not good. Genuine, effective zeal, zeal that reaches souls, touches them, converts them, that is the zeal that flows from holiness: it is a result; it is a consequence of holiness. As a foundation of our spiritual structure, our Founder laid the cornerstone of holiness […] And as its crowning feature, as a consequence, as a fruit of holiness, zeal […]” [59]

One of the Superiors General who, following the example of Father Fabre, has written the most on Oblate spirituality and indicated definite paths to follow in our journeying toward holiness, was Father Leo Deschâtelets. Among his many writings, his circular letter of August 15, 1951 on the subject remains one of the most developed texts in Oblate literature. The document’s teaching contains nothing original, but it makes an excellent synthesis of the entire Oblate tradition. His presentation of “the Oblate style of the spiritual life” is based explicitly on his reading of the Rule where Father Deschâtelets finds everything required to lead one to holiness. [60]

He summarizes Oblate identity in four words: priest, religious, missionary, Oblate. To these, he adds four characteristics. [61] What is noteworthy as well is the fact that he exploits in depth the content of these four Oblate characteristics. He shows how the Oblate is called to live “even more”, we could say, each of these aspects. Concerning the priesthood for example, he says that “we cannot be satisfied with an ordinary priesthood” [62]. One characteristic of the Oblate priesthood is “his fervor, his zeal for the conversion of all souls”. “The Oblate cannot be like other priests; he must be a model for others” [63]. We are likewise called “to be better religious than all others, since, according to the Founder’s bold way of thinking, we are a kind of quintessential perfection of all the Orders and Institutes for whose absence he would like to compensate” [64]. As for our missionary life: “Let there be no limit to our zeal either” [65]. In the final analysis, our oblation consists in “a kind of superior degree of our commitment to the service of God and of souls, a reckless gift of ourselves to the service of God, to his glory to his love and his infinite mercy; […] an unconditional oblation of ourselves which brings it about that we cannot define ourselves other than by stating: ‘These men are Oblates par excellence’. Every religious Institute, no doubt, has the same desire to attain perfection in the gift of self. Nonetheless, in the measure that a sustained striving for perfection in all areas and with every fiber of our being, heart and soul, constitutes a special vocation, that is our vocation” [66]. He sees that bound up with the spirit of oblation there is intrinsically a whole series of elements which make up the ascetical aspect of our spiritual life: the life of oraison, recollection and silence, abnegation of self, mortification, perfect obedience, poverty, humility, simplicity, purity of intention, heartfelt charity”. [67]

Father Deschâtelets also returns to treat the Mazenodian theme of conformity to Christ by developing it in such a way as to highlight the contemplative dimension of our vocation – something that has happened only rarely in Oblate history. “Our ideal is a totally unreserved and enthusiastic commitment, a complete availability to God and to souls for God, derived from contemplation, in internal union with God […]. The Oblate who lives his Rule […] will experience all the graces and gifts of the mystical life […]. Come on, fathers and brothers, “usque ad apicem perfectionis”, to the very summit of charity”. [68]

The main topic treated in this circular letter is the Marian aspect. Here, it returns to the traditional axiom which it takes to the limit. For the Oblate, the way to holiness passes through Mary. As the Immaculate One, she is the model of every virtue, the model of holiness. She was “redeemed in all perfection” [69], and she is the “perfect model after which God intends to mold each one of us” [70]. However, she is not a model that one contemplates from the outside. The grace of our vocation leads us to re-create it in ourselves: “We are Oblates of Mary Immaculate. This is not merely a label. […] It is a case of some kind of identification with Mary Immaculate; it is a case of a gift of ourselves to God through her and like her, a gift which plumbs the depths of our Christian, religious, missionary and priestly life” [71]. Once we have identified with her, we will be able to live her virginal holiness, her self-effacement as humble servant, her hidden life of poverty, the sacrificing of herself with her Son and her love that is as much like Christ’s as is possible”. [72]

In his teaching, Father Deschâtelets constantly reaffirmed this ideal of holiness. “How can we claim to be dispensatores mysteriorum Dei”, he wrote in 1959, “if we have not learned from personal experience who the Trinity is for us, how he dwells in souls, who Christ and the Blessed Virgin are?” [73] Again, at the end of his term as Superior General, in the wake of the Council, he said: “We must be more spiritual, more then ever men of the interior life! […] To take on the work of the ministry, apostolate among the masses, especially among the poorest of the poor, among all those classes of people, we must first of all be filled with God; we must first and foremost live God […].” [74]


With the advent of the review Etudes oblates, the study of spirituality took on more intensity and became more systematic. A perusal of the articles published from 1940 to 1960 gives the impression that a unifying element is becoming evident: the centrality of Christ in our spiritual life. The program outlined for holiness ends up being that set forth by the Founder. Less dominated by the preoccupation of stating concrete norms of life, of curbing abuses, of urging observance of the Rule than was the case for the Superiors General, these authors focused directly on the essence of the road of perfection followed by Eugene de Mazenod. One of the review’s first collaborators, Henri Gratton, put his finger on the essential trait of Oblate spirituality: “To live Christ crucified, redeemer, savior, in his oblation for the glory of God, for the salvation of the most abandoned souls and the benefit of the Church, there you have the characteristic ideal which makes our Founder stand out among many saints, his confreres” [75]. And shortly after that, Father Germain Lesage wrote: “The imitation of our divine Savior, in my opinion, constitutes the essential quality of a life ostensibly oriented toward so many varied goals, so disposed as to illustrate the key idea of the works and the spirit of the missionary of the poor”. [76]

The imitation of Christ always orients itself toward the mystery of Christ, the Savior; that is why the path of holiness as identification with Christ never stands separated from apostolic action. We are called to relive Christ in our work of evangelization. By following Christ, the Oblate finds himself, like Christ, immersed in humankind, ready to offer his life for those to whom he is sent. “[…] The modern Oblate sees himself officially enrolled in the school of the Incarnate Word, the Word seen in his specific role of Savior. […] Friend of the poor, the outcasts, apostle of the masses, preceding the Oblate by a long way and by right of an infinitely superior claim, the Redeemer realized it in every fiber of his being. The missionary of the poor need only follow in his footsteps in order to realize it in turn”. [77]

In this sense, oblation, the characteristic element of our vocation takes on a purely apostolic coloring. Through it, we offer ourselves to God in order to be offered entirely with Christ to humanity, dedicated unconditionally to the salvation of souls: “We are men of action. It follows that we must sanctify ourselves in and through action. We must have a spirituality that leads to action. Now, “the dominant feature of the spirituality of oblation is to be eminently dynamic, active, practical; it is a wonderful springboard for action” [78]. Consequently, the path to holiness leads through service to the Church, especially in the domain of evangelization of the poor and the most abandoned.

Throughout the years, a good deal of emphasis has been placed on another element of Oblate spirituality, the Marian character of Oblate life. Literature in this area has abounded, especially during the 1950’s. In the survey on Oblate spirituality conducted in 1950 by Etudes oblates, “the majority of responses were in consensus with regard to expressing the unity of our spiritual life through this motto: “To Christ Redeemer through Mary Immaculate, Co-Redemptrix”, or more succinctly: “Ad Jesum per Mariam Immaculatam”, or simply: “To lead souls to the Mother of Mercy”, or finally: “To reproduce the image of Christ in his oblation to the Father and to souls through Mary Immaculate” [79]. Mary emerges as the model of holiness that the Oblate is called to follow through his total oblation to God the Son’s work of redemption. With him and in him, the Oblate can achieve the full living of his own specific vocation. [80]

With the Second Vatican Council, a new breath of the Spirit was felt throughout the Congregation. The most obvious manifestation of this was the 1966 Constitutions and Rules. Not only does this text concentrate on the apostolic man and apostolic community, but more especially – and to me that seems to be a new phenomenon in our spirituality – it is acknowledged that “[…] the apostolate is not an obstacle to prayer but rather a nourishment for prayer and interior life […]”. [81] This would be an answer to a great need. Already in 1950, for example, Father Maurice Dugal was asking the question as to whether the Oblate’s journey should not lead through the apostolate rather than through silence, recollection and the cell. He wrote: “The apostolic man must learn how his work can be for him a genuine source of sanctification and recollection”. In his reading of article 246 of the Rule, he pointed out how the emphasis is not on “continual recollection of spirit”, but rather on “the whole life of the members”. “Continual recollection” embraces both the times of solitude within the community as well as the time of working at preaching missions outside the community. Father Dugal’s conclusion seems to be that the path to holiness leads through the life of prayer as well as through the apostolate. In fact, the case is that of one and the same life lived by the same person. [82]

From 1966 on, the review Etudes oblates which in 1973 changed its title to Vie Oblate Life, would continue to reflect the thinking going on within the Congregation. [83]


“Holy priests, this is our wealth!” [84] These words of Eugene de Mazenod give recognition to the fact that in the Oblate congregation holiness is not simply an ideal or a topic for spiritual writings. Thank God, holiness is a lived reality for many of its members. In the Founder’s way of thinking, it was a normal thing to consider that in our society “all members work to become saints in the exercise of the same ministry and the exact practice of the same Rule” [85]. The holy death of Oblates was for him a confirmation that his life ideal could be truly lived. On the occasion of the death of Father Victor Arnoux in 1828, writing with reference to four of the original Oblates who had, in his words, left for “our mother house”, he stated: “Their holy death is, in my opinion, a great sanctioning of our Rules; they have received thereby a new seal of divine approbation. The gate of Heaven is at the end of the path along which we walk” [86]. On other occasions, a reflective consideration of his Oblates led him to write: “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”. [87]

The same observations surface in the writings of other Superiors General. For example, we read in one of Father Cassian Augier’s circular letters: “It is a pleasure for us to become aware of the fact that among our ranks we find some model religious. They love and practice the Rule with a fidelity that is all-embracing and constant. Concerned above all for their personal sanctification, they delight in poverty, humility, mortification, obedience. Their life exudes the very perfume of the life of Our Lord and as they pass by, people hail their presence with one acclaim: “There goes a saint!” [88] The beatification of Father Joseph Gerard, the already large number of those acclaimed as venerable and servants of God, and the countless number of Oblates, some well known, some not, who “at the end of the path we tread” have found “the gate of Heaven” confirms us in this conviction. The example of these Oblates maintains throughout the Congregation the desire for holiness and the enthusiasm to attain it. On the occasion of the Congregation’s first centenary, Bishop Augustine Dontenwill wrote: “Noblesse oblige, as sons and brothers of saints, we must work at becoming saints ourselves”. [89]

As a result, we realize the importance of maintaining, keeping alive and developing the memory of the Congregation’s history. From this point on, the study of the many Oblate biographies we have will be of enormous help in achieving an understanding of how to live the Oblate charism and how to become saints. [90]

Among this multitude of saints, Saint Eugene de Mazenod holds a most special place. If “our spiritual life keeps his flame burning among us”, it is, as Father Deschâtelets wrote, because of the fact that “we lit our torch at the flaming heart of Bishop de Mazenod” [91]. Not only did the Spirit mediate a charism through him to the Oblates and the Church, it also led him to live this charism to the full, making of him a model of holiness. After having taken note of the fact that “the Founder left no stone unturned, tried every means to lead us to become saints and apostles in season and out of season”, we should make our own the words of Father Deschâtelets: “let us put our trust in him, believe in him, take him as our guide; let us be eager to garner the tiniest ones of his words, teachings and instructions distilled into our holy Rule”. [92]

In the letter which he wrote on the occasion of the canonization of the Founder, Father Marcello Zago stated the following: “Every Oblate derives from the Founder the spirit that gives him life, finds in him a model for life. […] That is why I invite all of you to fix your gaze upon the Founder, considering him as a saint to be imitated, a founder to be followed, a master to be heeded, a father to be loved, an intercessor we can call upon. In his wake and under his guidance we will be able to renew ourselves in the charism that the Spirit has mediated to the Church through him”. [93]

The Constitutions and Rules

Oblate tradition, like the Founder himself, has seen in the observance of the Rule the best road to holiness. A reading of circular letters 11, 14, 15, 20, 26 and 42 of the Superiors General would suffice to convince us of this. Bishop Dontenwill declared: “These Rules […] what a phalanx of Oblates have they not helped lead to holiness!” [94] And the 1926 General Chapter on the occasion of the Congregation’s centenary of the approbation of the Rules made this appeal to the members: “Let us observe them; they are holy and they will sanctify us”. [95]

It is the Rule as a whole which dictates the Oblate’s lifestyle. Nevertheless, as we have seen, the part of the Rule which has the most to say about holiness is the part entitled: Of the other principal observances. It has been dubbed “the heart of our spirituality” [96]. In his own comments on the Rule, Bishop de Mazenod pointed to it as the best deion of his life project: “Everything is contained right there”, he exclaimed [97]. Indeed in this passage the Oblate vocation is presented as a life spent in following Christ, imitating him, being transformed into him: “In everything the missionaries must imitate the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, […] they will make it their endeavor to become other Jesus Christs”. It is only at this juncture that they will be able to fulfill their role as missionaries, a role which consists in spreading “far and wide the good odor of his [Christ’s] gracious virtues”. Moreover, they are invited to be “all united by the closest bonds of charity and in perfect submission to superiors […].” [98]

Taking my starting point from this text of the 1818 Rule, I would like to focus on three specific aspects of the Oblate’s path to sanctity which we have already seen in the writings of the Founder: conformity to Christ, mission, life shared as brothers. I will then treat the same theme in the present Rule which wisely found a way of integrating the Founder’s thinking into the contemporary scene.

In the Constitutions and Rules of 1982, the word holiness is not used except for some places where it is referred to in passing: “We bear witness to God’s holiness and justice” (C 9). But the reality underlying the words is obviously holiness, a holiness set forth for us especially where it is a case of leaving everything to follow Christ (see C 2), of achieving the unity of our lives in Jesus Christ (see C 31), of forming Christ in us through the work of the Spirit (see C 45). And again we read, in the measure that our communion of heart and spirit grows, Jesus dwells in our midst, Jesus who communicates to us his holiness and is the source of our unity as he sends us out to proclaim his Kingdom (see C 37).


At the heart and centre of the path to holiness the relationship with Christ the Savior figures prominently. The centrality of Christ in Oblate life, a position strongly reaffirmed by the Constitutions and Rules of 1982 gives holiness its ontological substance in its fullness. Before being a desire, a task or an asceticism, holiness is a participation in the holiness of Christ himself. We are holy in the measure that, responding to the call of Christ the Savior, we follow him, live his life and he leads us into the life of the Trinity.

We read in the Constitutions and Rules that the Oblates are set apart (C 2), called to follow Christ (C 1, 2, 19, 24), to become fully his disciples (C 50). They follow him and participate in his mission (C 1), cooperating with him and imitating his example in a radical way (C 1, 12). In virtue of their calling, they should live in the strictest communion with him (C 20), develop the habit of listening to him (C 56), in order to effectively get to know him (C 33), to let themselves be molded by him in such a way that they find in him the inspiration of their conduct (C 33), and that they grow in his friendship (C 56), to the point of intimacy (C 36, R 65) [R 67a in CCRR 2000]. This is how the Oblates will achieve “the unity of their life only in Jesus Christ and through him” (C 31).

The road to holiness to which the Oblates tend consists in this identification with Christ the Savior. The Oblate is no longer his own; he belongs totally to Christ and his work. Each day, he dies to himself to allow himself to be taken over by Christ to the point of thinking like Christ. He sees everything with the eyes of Christ. The poor appear to him as being “the poor of Jesus Christ” according to the expression used by Eugene de Mazenod in the Church of the Madeleine in 1813. The Church appears to him as “the beloved Spouse of the Son of God”, “born from the blood of a God who died on a cross”. Being missionary consists in being “cooperators with Christ the Savior”. Eugene de Mazenod’s progressive identification with Christ, Christ crucified remains a typical example of the Oblate’s path to holiness. This path leads to transformation into a new being, to the point of being clothed in the apostolic personality of Jesus Christ.

Oblation is the act that expresses most profoundly our identification with Christ. Indeed, it is a response of total love born of the awareness of being loved in an absolute way.

Our name expresses what this holiness entails: Oblates, that is people who make the total gift of themselves unconditionally and irrevocably to this God to whom we already belong and the fruit of whose eternal love we recognize ourselves to be as his creatures. Oblates, transformed into holocausts, implying the immolation of our whole being to this God who gave himself entirely to us in his Son. Oblates, because we have understood the logic dictated by the fact that we have understood who God is and for having seen how he has made himself present and entirely ours and how he has intervened in the history of our salvation. Oblates, in a love-for-love response to the love of Jesus Christ who loved us and gave himself up for us (see Galatians 2:20). [99]

Through oblation, we are one with Christ in the gift of himself to his Father. This oblation associates itself to the priestly offering of Christ to the Father. Writing to religious, Pope Paul VI said: “At the moment of your religious profession, you were offered to God through the Church in an intimate union with the Eucharistic sacrifice. Day after day, this offering of yourselves must become a reality which is renewed continually and concretely” (Evangelica Testificatio, 47). We are immersed in the mystery proclaimed by Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:19-20). It is a case of dying with him so as to exist in him, to lose our life in order to find it in him (see Mark 8:35), renewed and in its fullness.

We generally stress the ascetical aspect of oblation in our awareness of having to die to ourselves to let Christ live in us. Nevertheless, we must point out its mystical dimension: a total following of Christ by submitting ourselves unreservedly to the guidance of the Spirit. Some unknown Oblate left us these words of wisdom: “The soul that is dead to itself, and firmly decided to die for ever, will allow itself to be docilely guided by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. Its union with Christ the Savior will become passive. The Holy Spirit will enlighten it with an interior light, will kindle it with zeal, will guide it in the choices to be made of the most effective apostolic means and sometimes will even consume it as a victim for the salvation of souls. Its intellect will be habitually engaged in contemplating the mystery of Jesus Christ, Redeemer, and it will burn with an unquenchable apostolic fire”. [100]

Immersed in the fruitful death of Christ, we can hope to become his genuine cooperators in the paschal mystery. Just as the offering that Jesus makes of himself to the Father is the road to salvation – the road to new life and the unity of the human race – so too our oblation fused to his and drawing from it its worth will in like manner become the secret of our apostolic fruitfulness. It is in this theological holiness that the mission of “proclaiming the Kingdom of God and to seek it before anything else” (see Matthew 6:3) (C 11) takes its meaning. Because our mission stands in the context of continuing the mission of Christ (“As the Father has sent me, so I send you”), the ideal of the apostolic man and of apostolic community as conceived by Eugene de Mazenod contains as an inherent element a calling to holiness – that is, to the transforming communion with Christ in his Spirit. In order to pursue the work of Christ, every Oblate must be another Christ and the community must be permeated by his presence and that of his Spirit. The evangelization project typical of the Oblate charism necessarily embraces that of holiness of life. As a result, the Oblates will be witnesses “to God’s holiness and justice” (C 9).


Another dimension of the Oblate path to holiness is mission. As we have pointed out, in the past reflection on holiness focused especially on religious life and considered mission rather as a result of personal holiness. The practice was to highlight the impact holiness of life had on the mission. Less attention was paid to the idea that mission itself contributes to the holiness of Oblates and not exclusively the reverse. In the 1982 Constitutions and Rules, if it is true that “our apostolic zeal is sustained by the unreserved gift we make of ourselves in our oblation”, it is no less true that we, in turn, are “constantly renewed by the challenges of our mission” (C 2).

For the Oblate, holiness is constructed in the constant gift of self that the mission demands, in the love and concrete service to the people to whom he is sent. The gift of self to God, oblation, is mediated by the gift of self to the men and women of our times. Such was the oblation of the Son of Man who came to give his life to redeem his brothers. It is in giving his life for his friends that he gave the greatest proof of his love.

In the footsteps of Christ who came to serve, of Paul who defines himself as a servant of Jesus Christ, and of Peter who identified himself as a servant and apostle of Christ, Eugene de Mazenod could write: “Charity for our neighbour is again an essential part of our spirit. We practice it first amongst us by loving each other as brothers […] 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, in the midst of tribulations, of persecutions of every kind, without claiming any reward other than that which the Lord has promised to faithful servants who have worthily fulfilled their mission”. [101] In this regard, Father Fernand Jetté wrote: “This is not the spirituality of a spouse, but rather of the faithful servant, the faithful servant who gives his all without expecting any return in terms of wonderful experiences, consolations, mystical graces other than the privilege of pleasing Jesus Christ for whom he works”. [102]

Oblation is not only a gift of self to God; it is also the gift of self to the Church and to humanity, an unconditional gift of self to the evangelization of the most poor. Christ has given us the measuring stick for true love: to give to the point of giving one’s life. It follows that his mission led to the cross. He was to die “to gather together in unity the scattered children of God” (John 11:52). To draw all men to himself he was to be “lifted from the earth” (John 12:32-33). That is the logical dynamic of the grain of wheat that because it dies “bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

All those who, with him and like him, want to work for the building up of the Kingdom of God and to gather mankind into the family of the children of God are called to travel this same path. Also for us Oblates, “the cross of Jesus Christ is central to our mission” (C 4). If we wish to be genuine cooperators with Christ, we too, are called to the mystery of his crucified love. “The Oblate cross which we receive at perpetual profession is a constant reminder of the love of the Saviour who wishes to draw all hearts to himself and sends us out as his co-workers” (C 63). To participate in the process of Christ, who draws people to himself, we have to become a part of his own mystery.

Our death, our “oblation”, just like that of Jesus takes place mainly in the apostolate. The penance we do, the fasting we perform, the vigils we keep are not as characteristic of us as they would be of someone in the monastic life. It is especially in evangelization that we discover the path of asceticism in giving ourselves to others, following the example of Christ whose death flowed from the fact that he gave his life for those he loved. Evangelization means to place all our gifts, our time and talents at the service of the people God has put into our care – without ever holding back. Our oblation becomes real through this concrete practice of the gift of love and of self in the work of evangelization.

Even the Oblate’s “night of the senses” and the “night of the spirit” will bear the imprint of the apostolate. His trials could have their origin in the sense of failure, the awareness of his ineffectiveness, the lack of self-assurance and weariness. Faced with the new challenges of evangelization, he can feel inadequate, helpless, ill-equipped. He can see his projects, built with such enthusiasm, crumble; he can see the people who used to follow him desert him, fail in their duty. An unexpected obedience could remove him from a field where he was working effectively and with love. He could feel discounted, be tempted to rebel because the good of the souls which had been confided to him seems to come in conflict with this new manifestation of the will of God… He reaches a certain age when he perceives that his strength is diminishing and he can no longer work as hard as he had done up until then…. He becomes aware that “we are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). “For it is when I am weak that I am strong”, says St. Paul (2 Corinthians 12:10). And yet again: “It is for this I struggle wearily on, helped only by his power driving me irresistibly” (Colossians 1:29). “There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). Apostolic work purifies itself of all human influence and shows forth the work of God in full transparency.

All that can become the concrete way of cooperating in Christ’s mission to the point of realizing in one’s flesh “all that still has to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church” (Colossians 1:24). Conformity with Christ, and consequently sanctification, find their fulfillment in our mission: to reach out to the people to whom we are sent and to love them to the point of giving our lives for them and by so doing to contribute to the building up of the body of Christ, the Church.


Returning to the thought of the Founder, the Constitutions and Rules of 1982 highlight another characteristic trait of Oblate holiness: its communitarian dimension. The key text for this is Constitution 37. Commenting upon this article, which presents the community of the Apostles gathered around Jesus as the model, Father Zago wrote: “In this case, the model is not exclusively exterior; it is also the realization of the model itself and even if this realization is only analogous, it is nevertheless very real. Christ calls us; he gathers us and is present among us. We follow him and become his co-workers in the community and through the community because he makes himself present to the community: “For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them” (Matthew 18:20). If holiness and mission are mediated by community, the reason is not because it is the instrument that effectively executes this process, but rather because Christ is present in and through the community. Certainly, this presence is not realized through a sacramental formula like it is in the Eucharist. It takes place through our living of the Christian life. Constitution 37 gives us the theological reason and indicates to us the way of going about forming a community in order to render Christ present and to create a missionary community”. [103]

The community takes on the role of providing a context for mystical experiences. Jesus lives among his own and imbues them all with his presence. As a result, holiness is safeguarded from false pseudo-introspection, pseudo-intimacy or individualism. It becomes once again the road shared in common by the people of God.

After having considered the community as a context for sanctification (the mystical dimension of fraternal living), the Constitutions and Rules present it as a place of mutual support for the purpose of spiritual growth (the pedagogical dimension). If, as we read in Constitution 39, we share “what we are and what we have with one another”, this sharing “enriches our spiritual life, our intellectual development and our apostolic activity”. Moreover, community life renders us responsible for each other (C 39) through “a mutual evangelization” where “we call each other to an ever deeper commitment” (C 48) which leads us to “a deeply shared love of Christ” (C 73) [C 71 in CCRR 2000]and to “sharing of life, prayer, mission” (C 87) [C 91 in CCRR 2000]. The Rule also stresses means of growth in fraternal communion: a common project (C 38), common sharing of goods, mutual aid, fraternal correction (C 39) prayer in common (C 40), etc.

Oblation is not only a gift of self to God or to those to whom we are sent; it is also a total gift of ourselves to our confreres in community.

The document entitled The Contemplative Dimension of Religious Life, issued by the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes offers us a synthesis which can help us to understand this two-fold orientation of the Constitutions and Rules. At the outset, it states that “the religious community is, in itself, a theological reality, an object of contemplation: as “a family gathered in Christ’s name” (PC 15). It then draws the following conclusion: if it is a place where God is present “it is, by nature, the place where the experience of God must, in a special way, be capable of attaining its fullness and communicate itself to others. Mutual fraternal welcoming in charity helps ‘to establish a milieu conducive to the spiritual progress of each one of its members’ (ET 39)”. [104]

In this light, community life appears to be an authentic road to holiness, a help “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]. In the same way, the Oblates “strive together to bring the grace of our Baptism to its fullness” (C 12). Because Jesus himself is present among them the members of the community can, by living their mutual love, achieve sanctity.

In the final analysis, the community’s striving for holiness reflects the life of the Trinity. To all intents and purposes, to be one in heart and soul means to share in the koinonia of the Trinity and to be a living icon of it. Finally, our holiness is Trinitarian: “[…] the one and undivided Trinity, which in Christ and through Christ is the source and origin of all holiness” (LG 47).


In the last analysis, the present Constitutions and Rules present the dynamism of holiness. We read that the unconditional gift of our oblation must be ceaselessly renewed (see C 2); Oblates are called to grow “in faith, hope and love” (C 11); “we are pilgrims, walking with Jesus in faith, hope and love” (C 31).

Formation is seen in the light of this dynamic. Indeed, “the goal of the formation process is that each of us become [de faire grandir ] an apostolic man” (C 46) in such a way as to attain “maturity in faith based on a personal decision for Christ” (R 52) [R 65a in CCRR 2000]. “Jesus calls to total [devenir pleinement] discipleship” (C 50). Constitution 47 speaks in the same vein, expressing itself with equal clarity: “Formation is a process which aims at the integral growth of a person and lasts a lifetime. It enables us to accept ourselves as we are and develop into the persons we are called to be. Formation involves us in an ever-renewed conversion to the Gospel and a readiness to learn and to change in response to new demands”.

This dynamism, constantly demanded of the spiritual life, has serious consequences, even on the apostolic life since it is called to a sustained renewal. “Faithfulness to our Oblate vocation must guide us […] in establishing […] priorities and in determining which ministries to accept. […] The same concern will also serve as a criterion in the periodic re-evaluation of our apostolic commitments” (R 4) [R 7d in CCRR 2000]. The requirement is for a “creative and ongoing fidelity” (C 46). “We are instruments of that Word. We have thus to be open and flexible, learning how to find answers to new questions” (C 68). Interior renewal leads to an ever-renewed creativity and, in turn, apostolic challenges contribute to the sustained internal renewal and to sanctification.

The building up of the interior man in us is a never-ending task. Its goal is to reach the adult stature of Christ, a journeying which will continue “until the day of the Lord comes”. The Spirit alone is capable of bringing this work to completion. He alone can bring about that our being, our time, our work and our love can be interiorly molded by Christ and turned toward him. Eugene de Mazenod wrote: “It is that divine Spirit which must henceforth be absolute master of my soul, the only mover of my thoughts, desires, affections my whole entire will”. [105] Sanctification is the work of the Spirit who, by his nature, is always creative and always offers an open invitation to march resolutely forward on the road of life. Armed with this knowledge, every Oblate is “[…] throughout life’s various stages […] called to respond generously to the promptings of the Spirit” (C 49).

On the journey of holiness, the Oblates look upon Mary Immaculate as their model. “Mary Immaculate, in her faith response and total openness to the call of the Spirit is the model and guardian of our consecrated life” (C 13). She was the first to consecrate herself totally to God to the point of being entirely at the service of the Son and his mission. “Open to the Spirit, she consecrated herself totally as lowly handmaid to the person and work of the Saviour” (C 10). Her virginity expresses in a wonderful way the meaning of oblation when, having reached the culminating point of her total divesting of self at the foot of the cross, she shares the kenosis of her Son. Mary’s oblation mirrors fully that of Jesus. And just as Jesus generated the new humanity by his oblation, in the same way Mary in total union with his offering became Mother of the Church.

Oblates of Mary Immaculate, we are, like her, in her image, offered by her, in her, united in the same will to the offering of Christ. She teaches us how to live the death of Jesus, how to unite ourselves to him in his paschal mystery, how to become his co-workers, how, through the mystery of the cross, to become fathers and mothers of souls to the point of generating the Church. “Inspired by the example of Mary”, […] we can place ourselves totally at the service of “the Church and God’s Kingdom” (C 46).


The goal of sanctity remains a challenge for the Congregation today as well. In order to become aware of this, we have only to read what Fathers Jetté and Zago have written.

“The first prophetism of a religious family, no matter how missionary it might be, will always be the quality of its being and the holiness of its members. The Church needs our activity; she needs our holiness even more”. [106]

In the letter he wrote in 1991 to the Oblates of Europe, Father Zago stated: “Today more than ever the Lord questions us about who we are and not only about what we are doing. People’s need for salvation today not only addresses new missionary challenges to us but also requires of us holiness and a new personal and community lifestyle. An Oblate, dying from cancer, wrote me that “the real challenge for Oblates today is not evangelization but holiness”. In today’s reality of the secularized world, it is the quality of our personal being that enables us to be authentic missionaries and makes us witnesses to the Transcendent, and spiritual guides”. [107]