1. The Holy Spirit in the writings of Eugene de Mazenod
  2. The Holy Spirit and the Constitutions and Rules of 1982
  3. Renewal of the Oblate spirit and charism

The Holy Spirit in the writings of Eugene de Mazenod

One should not expect to find a systematic presentation of the theology of the Holy Spirit in the writings of Eugene de Mazenod. The Founder of the Oblates is not a theoretician of the spiritual life; he is fundamentally a man of action, a person passionately committed to Jesus Christ, committed with all his being to the mission of spreading the Kingdom of God and to the evangelization of the world.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that he had a profound living relationship with the Holy Spirit which he saw as being present and active in the heart of the Church, in the sacraments, in mission, in his own life and that of others. He occasionally speaks of this in his retreat notes, his correspondence, his personal diary and his pastoral letters. His expression is that of a man who prays, of a committed spiritual individual, and it reflects the theological teaching of his own century.

In a study published in Vie Oblate Life in 1982, Father Irénée Tourigny developed the theme of the Holy Spirit in Eugene’s writings using the historical approach – that is, according to the various stages of Bishop de Mazenod’s life. [1] In the present work we will use the thematic approach to try to reconstruct Bishop de Mazenod’s basic thinking on this subject, in as much as it is possible from the texts we have concerning the Holy Spirit. This endeavor entails certain risks – such as that of projecting certain associations on to the author being studied of which he himself was not aware – but it is worth trying. It will be important for us to remember that we do not possess everything Eugene could have possibly written on the Holy Spirit and that the texts handed down to us were all written for certain events or in very concrete, limited circumstances. It will also be necessary to read the texts on the Holy Spirit in constant relation to the body of his teaching and his way of speaking, for example, of God the Father, of Jesus Christ the Savior, of the Church, of the sacraments, of mission, and of the Virgin Mary.


According to Eugene de Mazenod, the Holy Spirit, third Person of the Holy Trinity, was sent from on high to each Christian by the Word who had promised to do so. Just as he descended on the Apostles and Mary on the day of Pentecost, so today he descends anew on his Church. He communicates his presence through the sacraments, prayer and other means such as the assistance and example of other Christians, spiritual reading, religious profession.

He seeks to establish his dwelling with power in the heart of the believer and he even finds his “delight […] to rest in it”. [2] “[…] The Holy Spirit ever fecund and infinitely multiplying his benefactions, comes down anew today as then, accompanied by all his gifts, into souls so fortunate as to be busy preparing him a dwelling.” [3] In his fullness he inhabits the soul as well as the body. He fills the person with his power, covers him and sometimes enfolds him “as in a cloak”. [4]

According to the expression of the prophet Isaiah, the Spirit of God “rests” on the believer to fill him with the love of the Savior and to send him to evangelize the poor. [5]

The Spirit is not satisfied with inhabiting hearts, he wants to reign there as “absolute master” and he acts by pouring forth his blessings and working marvels. His action in generous people takes on very rich and varied forms.

Here are a few examples of this action of the Holy Spirit, examples gleaned from here and there in the Founder’s writings.

The Spirit renews the human person by creating a new world, a world of light, of truth and unity. At the time of the Apostles, he renewed the face of the earth and he “performs a type of new creation here below”. [6] His transforming action infuses life into the person, regenerates and sanctifies him. “[…] When the Spirit of God blows, he enables one to travel far in a short space of time […]”. [7]

Time and again, the Founder recalls the fact that the Spirit of the Lord inspires us. He inspires the Church as a whole and each of the faithful. He especially inspires the decisions of the Pope, whom he himself has chosen as the successor of Peter. All the impulses of the heart of the Virgin Mary are inspired by the Holy Spirit since he rests upon her and fills her with his graces. Sometimes the Founder wrote to his correspondents in the following terms: ” […] it is the Holy Spirit who has inspired you to say to me what you say, which is so true […]”. [8] “Follow God’s inspiration and show that it really comes from him by living a truly edifying life”. [9]

As for himself – as his retreat notes especially show – he is very conscious of being the recipient of inspirations from God and desires fervently to be faithful to them always.

The Holy Spirit inspires the impulses of the heart, the thoughts, the words, the decisions, the means to be taken to carry out certain projects, and the resolutions. One day, the Founder confided to Father Mouchette: “You can easily see that during retreats it is the Holy Spirit who inspires resolutions and he it is who brings about success in the projects he himself prompted”. [10]

The missionaries’ preaching should be inspired by the Spirit: “[…] You will convert them with sermons that are simple, not affected and inspired only by the Spirit of the Lord who does not work through the well-rounded phrases and the fine language of orators”. [11]

We mention a few other signs of the Spirit’s action. He is a spirit of truth; he constantly sheds his light and illumines those who ask for his help. He enkindles with the fire of his love those upon whom he descends and fills them with the love of the Savior Jesus Christ. He comes into their hearts to pray “in a way that can never be put into words“, according to Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans. [12] At certain times he “lifts up” with power that which has fallen. And finally- we will return to this later on – the Spirit propels towards the mission of spreading the Kingdom of God in imitation of Jesus Christ.


When the Holy Spirit comes upon a person – most especially in the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders – he always comes with his gifts. Eugene was very knowledgeable in the theology of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as it was taught in his day. On a few occasions in his writings he manifests the concrete impact of these gifts in his own life and in the life of Christians and the Oblate missionaries.

Already in 1811, during his seminary studies at Saint Sulpice, he had given a conference in the Major Catechism course on the gift of fear of God. He did not speak of “servile fear” but “[…] of that filial fear, precious gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift you received from his liberal hand, and which leaves you with the task of cultivating it carefully in your souls”. [13] It is a constant disposition which allows a person to stand before the Majesty of God with respect, in submission to his will and remaining at a distance from anything that might displease him. Eugene continues by describing the effects of this gift, which he considers to be the foundation of all the others.

The gift of fortitude is bestowed at the moment of Confirmation, but it is given in an even more outstanding way in the various stages of Holy Orders: sub-diaconate, diaconate, priesthood, episcopacy. The power that comes from the Spirit is indispensable in dealing with difficulties in the ministry.

In one of the Founder’s letters to Father Francis Le Bihan, a missionary in South Africa, we find another example of the gifts of the Spirit which become operative in missionary activity: “I admit that it must not be easy to learn the African language, but you know that missionaries always share a little in the miracle of Pentecost. Invoke the Holy Spirit, then, that he may bring to completion the gifts you did not fully receive on the day of your Confirmation. You received then the germ of knowledge which must now develop in you for the service of God and the salvation of souls.” [14]

The gift of piety is mentioned in a letter to Father J. B. Molinari at Ajaccio. He wrote: “[…] Ask God urgently for the gift of piety which is lacking in you. Pietas ad omnis utilis est; with piety you will acquire all the rest […]”. [15] Finally, the gift of wisdom is mentioned along with fortitude in a pastoral letter dated March 20, 1848. [16]


Based on the various expressions used by the Founder, it is possible to deduce how he perceives the Spirit’s manner of acting.

The Spirit intervenes gently and smoothly; his inspirations and messages come with peace and gentleness. He is truly the Paraclete, the Consoler. For example, he knows how to speak gently to the heart of priests that he calls aside to the solitude of a retreat. [17] It sometimes happened that Eugene felt these communications in tangibly, such as during his ordination to the episcopacy [18] or, sometimes, while he was administering the Sacrament of Confirmation. [19]

The above in no way hinders the Spirit from acting with power and strength. His interventions are always effective and, at certain times, there is no way to escape his inspirations.

Abundance and fullness are characteristics of his action as well. [20] As an inexhaustible source, he pours out his blessings without limit.

The action of the Spirit is entirely free and without charge: “[…] Spiritus ubi vult spirat.” [21]He chooses to pour his gifts upon whomever he wishes and to make him a means of his grace.


As we know, love and service of the Church played a primary role in the spiritual experience of Eugene de Mazenod. It was the vision of the evils inflicted on the Church, “that glorious inheritance purchased by Christ the Saviour at the cost of his own blood” [22] which impelled him to follow Christ and to gather companions to work to rebuild the Church, laid waste by the Revolution and its aftermath. One need not be surprised, then, to see him forge a fundamental and vital link between the Spirit and the Church.

In his wonderful pastoral letter on the Church, published in 1860, he states that the Holy Spirit promised by the Savior is the soul of the Church and it is he who unites the Church-Spouse to Jesus Christ. “Then, too, it was with her [the Church] that the Holy Spirit promised by our divine Savior came to bind in order never to separate from her in the future, to be, as it were, her soul, her inspiration, to enlighten, direct, sustain and work in her the great things of God. Magnalia Dei (Acts 2:11).” [23] “This holy and immaculate Spouse indissolubly linked to Jesus Christ by the price of his blood and by the Holy Spirit bears in her womb a host of children […].” [24]

Already when he was teaching catechism toward the end of his seminary studies in Paris, Eugene used to say that among the faithful in the Church there existed “[…] such a union that they form one single body of which the Holy Spirit is the soul”. [25] In the course of his trip to Algiers in 1842, he wrote in his diary: “It is during these occasions that one begins to appreciate the value of belonging to the same family inspired by the Holy Spirit, who communicates his divine action to all the members of the body of which Jesus Christ is the head”. [26]

Christians who have been baptized in the same Spirit become members of the Body of Christ and experience in their persons the action of the Spirit in order to live in a great unity of faith and charity.

The Spirit gives life to the whole Church: he inspires, enlightens, prays in her, directs and works the marvels of God in her. He is present in the sacraments of the Church, in its liturgy, its feasts and, of course, in her mission.


It has been said of Eugene de Mazenod that he was a man of the Pope and of the bishops. That is quite understandable in the light of his convictions concerning the action of the Spirit in the person of the Roman Pontiff and the bishops.

On the occasion of the election of Pius IX, Eugene made reference to the Consoler Spirit who came to “make his choice” of a new Pope, to the surprise of the “Catholic world”. [27] This same Spirit inspires the successor of Peter and guides him in his decisions, especially when it is the case of an infallible dogmatic declaration. Foreseeing the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, the Bishop of Marseilles writes to the Holy Father, speaking to him of “the decision that the Holy Spirit will place upon your sacred lips”. [28] Moved by the Holy Spirit, the Pope consulted the entire episcopacy and it is to him now that the same Holy Spirit will inspire the definitive judgment. In his deion of the ceremony of the declaration of the dogma on December 8, 1854, Bishop de Mazenod records in his diary: “Then, the sovereign Pontiff, in reality, the Summus Pontifex, afflante Spirito Sancto, rose and proclaimed the infallible decree […] at the very moment when he pronounced the infallible words which the Holy Spirit had put upon his lips”. [29]

As for the bishops, they have received their authority from the Holy Spirit himself and have been installed in office by the same Spirit to govern the Church. This deep conviction was founded on a text of Saint Paul taken from the Acts of the Apostles 20:28: “Be on your guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you the overseers, to feed the Church of God which he bought with his own blood”. [30] He is referring to this passage from the Acts in a speech he gave at the closure of a provincial council on September 23, 1850. [31] He alludes to it again in the promulgation of the synodal decrees of 1854: “It will always be better understood by everyone that this authority is the very authority of the Holy Spirit who established the Bishops in their office to govern the Church of God […]”. [32]

Eugene firmly believes that the Holy Spirit has inspired the decisions of the councils of the universal Church and that he is also present and active in the provincial councils. [33]

These reflections and these few quotes enable us to better understand the profound esteem and respect Eugene de Mazenod always felt for the Church, the spouse of Jesus Christ animated by the Spirit, and for the person of the Pope and his co-workers, the bishops, successors of the Apostles.


The sacraments of the Church are an especially blessed point of access to the Holy Spirit, though not an exclusive one. It was with reference to the sacraments, especially the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders, that Eugene spoke with the most profusion about the Holy Spirit. The most lengthy text in which he treats of the Holy Spirit is found in his retreat in preparation for his episcopal ordination, [34] while he was preparing himself to receive a new anointing from the Holy Spirit.

a. Confirmation

The young Eugene received Confirmation when he was nine years old in Turin in 1792 at the hands of Cardinal Costa. His biographers report an event which took place in the period between his first Holy Communion and his Confirmation, that is, from Holy Thursday to Trinity Sunday. His parents had made the decision to have him undergo a surgical operation for the removal of a wen which had begun to grow in the corner of his left eye. When he saw all the surgical instruments for the operation laid out before him, Eugene’s courage failed and he left. “In a state of conflicting emotions, Eugene regained his room and, under an impulse of fervor, cast himself upon his knees to call upon our Lord Jesus Christ to whom he had, it seems, not prayed beforehand. We heard him tell how he turned to the Holy Spirit with great confidence. This fervent prayer was pleasing to the Lord, for the child immediately arose filled with new courage and went back to the room of the Father Rector. He asked that the doctor be recalled, so resolved was he to undergo the operation no matter how painful it might prove to be. […] The supernatural strength that Eugene had obtained from the Holy Spirit through his prayer was manifested, not only in his decision to undergo the operation, but in the courage with which he sustained the whole operation. He made no outcry and voiced no expression of pain.” [35]

We notice that from his youth, from the time just before his Confirmation, Eugene was aware of the Spirit’s activities and prayed to him with confidence to obtain strength and courage in a very concrete situation.

Once he became a bishop, the Founder would take most seriously his mission of “conferring the Spirit” to the faithful through the Sacrament of Confirmation. In the wake of the Revolution, a large number of Christians of all ages had not received this sacrament. In his pastoral letter of 1844, he wrote: “[…] We made it a point of going on every occasion to confer the Spirit on those among them who, until that point, had neglected to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation […]”. [36] His diary tells us that on certain days he confirmed a great number of people, up to sixteen hundred on May 27, 1858, hardly three years before his death. [37] On Mondays, he provided time for Confirmations in his private chapel but, in fact, he was called upon to administer this sacrament practically every day. [38]

It even seems, however, that this was no burden for him, but rather a joy: “[…] What happiness I would feel to be able to give the Holy Spirit to so many poor souls who have the duty and the need to receive him”. [39]

Sometimes, Bishop de Mazenod experienced in a tangible way the sweetness of the Holy Spirit’s presence at the time of Confirmation. He notes in his diary of February 28, 1844: “What need has one of tongues of fire to see, in some way, the presence of the Holy Spirit? On these occasions, his presence for me is palpable and I am so imbued with the Spirit that I cannot hide my emotion. I have to do violence to myself not to shed tears of joy, and, in spite of my efforts, often tears I cannot withhold betray the sentiment which animates me and fills me to overflowing in the full sense of the word!” [40]

At 76 years of age, in 1858, he still lives intensely the celebrations of Confirmation: “It is, in fact, the grace that God grants me when I am called to confer the Holy Spirit. I consider myself some kind of a wonder worker who, in virtue of the omnipotence of God, works as many miracles as I confirm children. That is what sustains my attention and the fervor of my soul during the hours on end this delightful ceremony of general Confirmation lasts. The whole thing started anew the same day when I confirmed nine hundred girls in the afternoon. A thousand million acts of thanksgiving be rendered to the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, author of all these marvels, and to the Holy Spirit, who communicates himself in this way to souls for their greater sanctification.” [41]

He never tires of teaching those who come to receive this sacrament the beauty and the efficacy of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that they are receiving.

It cannot be doubted that the frequent – often daily – administration of this sacrament which he considers an act of love of the Spirit, had its impact on the spiritual life of the Bishop of Marseilles.

b. Holy Orders

In the writings of the Founder we find a very close link between the sacrament of orders and the coming of the Holy Spirit with his gifts.

On the eve of his reception of minor orders, he wrote to his mother: “By the order of lector, one is empowered to read Holy Scripture and other ecclesiastical books in the Church, and receives the grace of the Holy Spirit to do it well”. [42]

In a conference given the day of his ordination to the sub-diaconate, he states that the newly ordained “[…] were flooded by the heavenly dew of the most abundant gifts of the sanctifying Spirit […]”. [43]

Eugene often associates the diaconate and the Spirit of Fortitude. On March 2, 1811, he wrote his mother: “You know what St. Paul said about Christians and himself, that they have not received a spirit of fear, on the contrary, when we received the diaconate the Spirit was given us ad robur, namely, to armour-plate us against every kind of fear and weakness. It is a tonic liqueur that was poured at the time into our souls and, provided we raise no obstacles by our sins, it must produce its effect, for it is not in vain that the Holy Spirit came down upon us.” [44]

In April of 1824 he wrote congratulating the scholastic, Barthélemy Bernard on his ordination to the diaconate and he continued: “Zeal is the distinctive characteristic of the deacon, for he has received the spirit of strength, firstly for himself and his own sanctification and perfection of soul, and then to combat the enemies of God and to repulse the demon with that supernatural strength that comes from on high”. [45]

Ordination to the priesthood confers a certain fullness of the Holy Spirit and demands a great fidelity to the least impulse of this Spirit. Here is how Eugene expresses himself at the beginning of his retreat in preparation for priestly ordination: “I pray that I may profit from the grace I am privileged to receive, and use it to purify my soul and rid my heart completely of creatures, so that the Holy Spirit when it no longer encounters obstacles to its divine operations, may come to rest on me in all its fullness, filling everything within me with the love of Jesus Christ, my Saviour, in such a way that I live and breathe no longer but in him, consume myself in his love, serving him and spreading the news of how lovable he is […].” [46]

Bishop de Mazenod ordained to the priesthood a large number of Oblates and diocesan priests. For him the imposition of hands created a bond of spiritual paternity with the newly ordained through the communication of the Holy Spirit. In his diary of March 25, 1837, he speaks of the first time he ordained someone to the priesthood: “How can I recall without deep feeling that the first fruits of my episcopal fecundity was this worthy Father Casimir Aubert, the first upon whom I imposed my hands […] It seemed to me that my own spirit was communicated to him, that my soul expanded in an effusion of charity, a supernatural love which produced something beyond the human in turn. It seems to me that, like our divine Master, I could say that I felt power flow from me […] This miracle takes place at every ordination I perform […].” [47]

There can be no doubt that his ordination to the episcopacy was the peak experience for the Founder of his relationship with the Holy Spirit. His retreat notes in preparation for receiving the episcopacy clearly demonstrate this. First of all, he meditates on his response to the way the Holy Spirit has led him since his ordination. Then, he expresses his unlimited confidence in God’s mercy in his hope that the life-giving Spirit that he will receive will lead him to perfection, in order, as he says: “[…] for me to become truly his right-hand man, the Elijah of the Church, the anointed of the Lord, the priest according to Melchisedech who has nothing else in view but to please God by fulfilling all the duties of my ministry for the building up of the Church, the salvation of souls and my own sanctification.” [48]

Then, he lingers for a considerable amount of time over the words of the Pontifical: Accipe Spiritum Sanctum. He writes: “[…] meditate on these words and try to understand as perfectly as you can what they mean. It is not like the first time in the diaconate simply ad robur, nor is it again simply as in the priesthood for the remission of sins or their retention […] That was already a lot, too much. But this time it is to be raised to the order of bishops […] to be anointed and consecrated in ordine Pontificali, to enter into participation in the solicitude for all the Churches, to pass on in my turn the Holy Spirit to work towards the perpetuation of the priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ, to judge, interpret, conserve, ordain, offer, baptize, and confirm […].” [49]

“That the sacred anointing spreads over all his person […] That he be filled internally with the virtue of the Holy Spirit, that he be in some manner as it were clothed again and enfolded in it as in a cloak”. [50]

“Sit sermo ejus, et praedicatio, non in persuasibilibus humanae sapientiae verbis, sed in ostensione Spiritus et virtutis. An admirable lesson that I love to find again here after meditating on it in St. Paul and set down in another book dear to me under a variety of titles.” [51] This is a very clear allusion to a familiar conviction that he had written into the first Rule of the Missionaries of Provence in 1818: to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified, not with human eloquence, but in the power of the Spirit at work in our weakness. [52]

The new bishop emerged from this retreat and his episcopal consecration with an acute consciousness “that, through God’s mercy, I have completely changed. I have a clearer knowledge of my duties and I think I have obtained, with the Holy Spirit, the resolve to discharge them faithfully. To offer offense to God – but what am I saying, the very thought of consciously saddening the Holy Spirit seems to me a monstrosity henceforth impossible.” [53] These unambiguous words express the importance of this experience for the Founder and the very personal link that he had forged with the Holy Spirit.

c. The other sacraments

The texts on the presence of the Spirit in the other sacraments are understandably not as numerous.

Baptism is a renewal in water and the Spirit, an indispensable means to be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. “In the one Spirit we were all baptized. (1 Corinthians 12:13) We are all one with him only to the extent that we members of his body.” [54] “The entire mystery of man’s regeneration by water and the Spirit (John 3:5), this mystery which is that of spiritual resurrection by baptism is gloriously represented in the prayers and rites of this ceremony.” [55]

We find at least one reference to the role of the Holy Spirit in marriage [56] and one on his presence in the Sacrament of the Sick which Eugene calls “the anointing of the Holy Spirit”. [57]


The Spirit is also at the origin and heart of the mission of the Church. This was a conviction very dear to the heart of the Founder whose charism is essentially apostolic and missionary. Without working out a whole synthesis of this theme, he still made frequent references to it in his writings, either in speaking of himself or in describing the activities of the missionaries.

The process of gathering up all these short passages enables us to grasp the great importance for Eugene of the Spirit in mission. From this we could even deduce some very fruitful spiritual principles for a consistent teaching on a truly spiritual action in the life of a missionary Oblate.

On a number of occasions, the Founder referred to the miraculous descent of the Spirit on the Apostles at Pentecost to set them afire with his love and to propel them on to the conquest of the world. He does not hesitate to state that Pentecost with all its marvels sees its continuation in the work of today’s missionaries. He entertained a sure conviction that this was so from his seminary days on and held to it until the end. In a conference presented in 1811, he referred to “[…] the miraculous descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles assembled with Mary and the other disciples in the Cenacle. You must have felt that it was not just a question of celebrating the memory of a glorious moment of the past, for you certainly shared in the very same favours that were poured out on the assembled disciples […].” [58]

In 1817, the Founder wrote to Father Henry Tempier about the new novices: “They ought not to forget […] that all their actions ought to be done with the dispositions in which the apostles were when they were in the Cenacle waiting for the Holy Spirit to come and enflame them with his love and give them the signal to go forth swiftly and conquer the world, etc. “. [59]

Later on, as he became aware of the wonders worked by the missionaries in North America, Ceylon, Africa and elsewhere, he wrote to Father Le Bihan: “[…] you know that missionaries always share a little in the miracles of Pentecost”. [60]

The Founder encouraged Father Pascal Ricard whom he had assigned to the missions of Oregon: “I say nothing of how magnificent in the eyes of Faith is the ministry you are going to fulfill. One must go back to the birth of Christianity to find anything comparable. It is an apostle with whom you are associated (Bishop Blanchet) and the same marvels that were wrought by the first disciples of Jesus Christ will be renewed in our days by you, my dear children, whom Providence has chosen amongst so many others to announce the Good News […] This is verily the real apostolate which is renewed in our times.” [61]

He stands in admiration before the apostolate of Father Henry Faraud of Red River: “But, also, what a reward you will have beyond this world, when one thinks of the wonders that have been brought about by the power of your ministry. One has to go back to the first preaching of Saint Peter to find anything similar. An apostle like him, sent to proclaim the Good News to those savage nations, the first man to speak to them of God, to bring them to knowledge of Jesus the Savior, to show them the way that leads to salvation, to give them rebirth in the holy waters of baptism – one can only prostrate oneself before you, so privileged are you among your brothers in the Church of God by reason of the choice that he has made of you to work these miracles.” [62]

The Spirit who descended on Saint Peter and the Apostles, at the inception of the Church to propel them forth to the conquest of the world, continues to fill the hearts of Oblates with love and zeal to proclaim the Gospel and perform miracles today. Pentecost is continued every day in the ministry of the missionaries. They make their contribution to bring about the new creation of the Spirit who renews the face of the earth.

These reflections touch on one of the key ideas of the Founder, namely, that the Oblates are “apostolic men” who follow in the footsteps of the Apostles, their first fathers. [63] “In the footsteps of the Apostles”: that means to imitate them in their virtues, but also, like them, to receive the Spirit of Pentecost. “They have to realize that their ministry is the continuation of the apostolic ministry, and that it is a question of going to the length of performing miracles.” [64] In 1819, the Founder wrote to the young priest, Father Joseph Augustine Viguier, to invite him to join the Missionaries of Provence: “The missionary, being specifically called to the apostolic ministry, should aim at perfection. The Lord destines him to show forth anew, amongst those of his own time, the marvelous things that were done of old by the first preachers of the Gospel. He ought then to walk in their footsteps while being firmly persuaded that the miracles he must do are not the effect of his eloquence but of the grace of the Almighty who will communicate himself through him […]”. [65]

He exhorted the missionaries of the Vicariate of Colombo who were faced with the difficulties of their ministry: “Your destiny is to be apostles, and so tend within your hearts the sacred fire that the Holy Spirit lights there”. [66]

Now let us examine more in detail the way the Spirit is active in the ministry of Eugene and the Oblates.

The call to the apostolic vocation is a free choice which has its origins in the mercy of God and nothing else. Sometimes Eugene makes the association between this call and the Holy Spirit. Writing from Saint Sulpice seminary, he explains to his mother that he is “strongly moved by God’s Spirit to imitate Jesus Christ in his active life of teaching his divine doctrine to peoples […]”. [67] In the course of a retreat in May of 1824, he records the impact the reading of the life of Blessed Leonard of Port-Maurice had on him eight or nine years earlier. He wrote: “[…] the same reading […] perhaps passed on to me without my perceiving it, the spirit that drew me on shortly afterwards, that is about three years, to follow the same career […]”. [68]

When the Spirit calls a person to the apostolic life, he supplies him with everything he needs. The Founder reassures Father Stephen Semeria: “It is not you who have called yourself; God will give you all that you need to bring your ship safely to harbour. Trust in his goodness and his promises, pray to him unceasingly for the lights of his Holy Spirit and walk without fear in the name of the Lord”. [69]

The person becomes suffused by the Spirit who fills him with the gifts he needs for ministry, clothes him in love and fortitude to enable him to surmount all obstacles. Bishop de Mazenod’s episcopal consecration is a fine example of this being suffused by the Spirit. During his retreat in preparation for his episcopal consecration, the future bishop awaited the life-giving Spirit who would “bring him to perfection” and cause him to become truly prophet, king and pontiff. [70] As he wrote in his retreat notes, the Spirit opened his heart even more to the universal dimension, communicating to him the spirit of the Divine Pastor. “[…] anointed and consecrated […] to enter into participation in the solicitude for all the Churches […].” [71]

It is the Spirit who sends the person on his mission like the Apostles issuing from the Cenacle. We read in Instruction pastorale sur les missions of 1844 these words that suggest Bishop de Mazenod’s motto and that of the Oblates: “[…] one senses that the Spirit of God has come to rest on them to bring them to evangelize the poor (Isaiah 61:1) […]”. [72] The Spirit that builds the Church sends forth the Apostles to proclaim the Good News and serve the People of God.

In the light of these considerations, it would be interesting to reread a key paragraph from the Preface of the Constitutions: “How, indeed, did our Lord Jesus Christ proceed when he undertook to convert the world? He chose a number of apostles and disciples whom he himself trained in piety, and he filled them with his Spirit. These men he sent forth, once they had been schooled in his teaching, to conquer the world […].” [73] It is possible that when the Founder wrote these words he perceived the link that existed between “the spirit of Jesus Christ” – that is, his way of thinking, loving and acting- and the Holy Spirit, sent by the Savior upon his disciples after his Resurrection. [74]

The power of the Spirit remains present throughout ministry and in its various activities. The Spirit urges priests to proclaim the Word with power, to break the spiritual bread in the very role of Jesus Christ, to make known how worthy of love is the Savior, to speak unceasingly the Word which is spirit and life and capable of bringing to life those who welcome it. [75]

The Spirit inspires and guides in all instances: in the administration of baptism and of the other sacraments, in the various battles of daily life, in all facets of the ministry.

It is to him we must attribute the fruitfulness of the missionary life. The power of the Spirit, the Sanctifier, “had obviously associated himself to the ministry of these men given the task of carrying out a great work of mercy” [76] and that is what explains the fruitfulness of their work and the marvels they work.

In his youth, Eugene de Mazenod was able to benefit from the spiritual ministry of a genuine apostle during his stay in Venice. In his memoirs about his family, he wrote: “Shall I ever be able to sufficiently thank the God of infinite goodness for having provided me with such help precisely at the most difficult period of life, a decisive time for me. when that man of God – with a skillful hand and the grace of the Holy Spirit whose instrument he was – laid in my soul the foundations of religion and piety upon which the mercy of God built the edifice of my spiritual life […].” [77]

The presence of the Spirit in his life invites the apostolic man to act as much as possible under the guidance of the Spirit and to maintain by prayer and constant fidelity the sacred fire which burns in him.


In a conference presented in Paris in 1811, Eugene spoke of “[…] the memorial of the miraculous descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles assembled with Mary and the other disciples in the Cenacle”. [78] He then adds that the same Spirit descends anew today on those who are willing to receive him, and we can add: following the example of Mary and the Apostles.

When he became a bishop he described what he experienced during the first ordination he performed on the feast of the Annunciation, 1837. It was the ordination of Father Casimir Aubert: “It seemed to me that with the Holy Spirit that was descending upon him and with the power of the Most High which was about to clothe his whole being – for in describing this divine action which in some way transforms the soul of the new priest in making it fruitful, one can use the words of the angel to the Mother of God – it seemed to me that my own spirit was being communicated to him […]”. [79]

On the occasion of the unveiling of the monument in honor of the Immaculate Conception at Marseilles in 1857, he spoke of “the glorious image of Mary Immaculate, holding in her hand the symbol of her original innocence, while the Holy Spirit rested on her heart to fill it with his graces and be the inspiration for its every movement”. [80] The Spirit of God rests on Mary’s heart, fills it with his graces and is the inspiration of its every movement.

Once again it was the Spirit that inspired the Church and the Pope to proclaim the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, a proclamation very dear to the heart of Bishop de Mazenod: “[…]when the Holy Spirit not only prays in her as he always does with indescribable groaning, but even more inspiring her and making her act with an unparalleled solemnity, grants her the privilege of awarding the Holy Virgin a glorious and imperishable crown […]”. [81] In the same pastoral letter, the Bishop of Marseilles states that the Spirit of God dwells in “those who have their hearts set on divine things […] reveals to them the meaning of it, the understand the immense cost of everything that is dear to piety [namely, here, the Immaculate Conception][…]”. [82] He sees the Pope’s infallible words during this proclamation as “a spark […] or rather a ray of the Holy Spirit, who, by shining down from heaven on the Holy See, would have instantly spread its light, reaching us to stir up all hearts”. [83]


The Second Vatican Council highlighted the role of the Holy Spirit with relation to the charisms, and, among others, the charisms of founders and religious communities. One should not expect to find these expressions in Eugene de Mazenod’s nineteenth century vocabulary. But there can be no doubt whatever that he attributes the founding of his community to an action of the Holy Spirit.

We have seen how the Holy Spirit called him to the apostolic life and prepared him for his role as Founder. He attributes the founding of the community of the Missionaries of Provence to a “strong impulse from outside”. [84] The word “Spirit” as such does not appear in this expression, but it is clear that it is a case of a special inspiration of the Holy Spirit. [85]

He also attributes the writing of the Rules to the work of the Holy Spirit; seeing his own role in this as being that of a simple instrument. That is what he was to say in his letter from Rome to Father Tempier the day after Pope Leo XII gave the Institute his approbation: “The Pope, by approving them [the Rules], has become their guarantor. He whom God has used to draw them up disappears; it is certain today that he was merely the mechanical instrument which the Spirit of God put into play in order to show the path he wanted to be followed by those whom he had predestined and preordained for the work of his mercy, in calling them to form and maintain our poor, little and modest Society.” [86]

With reference to the pontifical approbation of this community, Eugene did not hesitate to say that it was the Spirit which inspired the Head of the Church. In this affair upon which hung the “[…] salvation of an infinity of souls”, [87] the Holy Spirit took action: “[…] this resolution was put in his head by no one; I err, for the Holy Spirit who assisted him was alone able to cause it to spring up in his soul and direct his will so that he insisted on it to the end […]”. [88]

Subsequently, the Spirit continued to inspire the decisions of the Superior General for the good of the Congregation. The superiors are invited to “[…] act under the impulse of the Holy Spirit in God’s presence […]”9 [89] and to maintain among Oblates “unity in the Holy Spirit in the bonds of peace […]”. [90]

The taking of religious vows is a privileged moment for receiving the Spirit. In a letter to Bishop Ignatius Bourget of Montreal, the Founder alludes to Father Claude Leonard’s oblation ceremony: “It seems that the Holy Spirit poured out copiously on the new Oblate the unction of his sweetest communications”. [91] On another occasion, he wrote to Father Semeria: “[…] you are filled with the religious spirit which was poured into your soul on the day of your profession and has been developed by the grace of God and the communication of the Holy Spirit throughout the course of your religious life”. [92]

We can see that in the eyes of the Founder, the Spirit is everywhere present in the life of the Congregation, even if it is not something mentioned in explicit fashion.

Bishop de Mazenod rather regularly used expressions such as “the spirit that is proper to our Congregation”, [93] “the spirit of our Rules”, [94] “that interior spirit which is so necessary for evangelical workers”, [95] or yet again, “the spirit of Jesus Christ”. [96] It really seems that one should interpret the word “spirit” in these expressions in the sense of the totality of dispositions, the ideas, sentiments which characterize the way of being and acting of a person or group. [97] That does not mean that one should exclude all reference to the person of the Holy Spirit in these texts. The link between “spirit” and “Spirit”, third person of the Blessed Trinity is present explicitly in the Bishop of Marseilles speech at the closing of the 1850 provincial council: “In no other place than in France were the reforms of the Council of Trent more perfectly realized. The spirit, in particular, of that holy assembly is fully alive in our clergy. It is the spirit of God himself who worked powerfully to sanctify the elect, for the work of the holy ministry and for the building up of the body of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:12).” [98]

Finally, what Bishop de Mazenod said of the action of the Spirit in all Christians and in every apostle applies to the Oblates as well, including the exhortations to call upon the Spirit and to remain faithful to him. We will now speak of this.


Eugene is profoundly convinced of the necessity of often calling upon the Holy Spirit. This is something he himself does faithfully and a practice he recommends to others.

We know that he often prayed to the Holy Spirit – more explicitly at the time of his Confirmation in Turin, before the reception of Holy Orders, when preaching missions and before he himself conferred the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders. He loved the liturgical feast of Pentecost and sought to prepare himself for it by more fervent prayer. No doubt he put into practice what he advised others, namely, to unceasingly ask the Holy Spirit for his light. [99] His “devotion” to the Holy Spirit took concrete form and expressed itself in practices such as the recitation of the Veni Creator Spiritus, the Veni Sancte Spiritus and the celebration of the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit. Through these prayer forms, he expressed the awareness of his weakness and his need of radical assistance from the Spirit. It is important to note that on the eve of his death, which occurred May 21, 1861, he asked Father Anthony Mouchette to recite the Veni Creator and the sequence from Pentecost whose octave they were celebrating. [100]

Time and again, Father de Mazenod encouraged others to call upon the Holy Spirit with confidence and perseverance.

He asked the members of the Association of Christian Youth of Aix to pray to the Holy Spirit at the opening of their meetings, before doing their spiritual reading and on the occasion of elections.

He often invited the Oblates to implore the Holy Spirit’s help in their own special needs, when launching a mission, during chapters and elections, in preparation for great liturgical feasts and throughout their lives. The Directory for Novices, probably drawn up between 1831 and 1835 – a work certainly approved and encouraged by the Founder – describes the “devotion to the Holy Spirit” that was presented to the novices: “Among the persons of the Trinity, worthy of all adoration, they will make it their special concern to develop a particular devotion to the Holy Spirit; that is one of the devotions dearest to interior souls and quite rightly so. For how can one take even one step in the ways of God, how can one understand anything of the secrets of the spiritual life, if one is not introduced to it by this divine spirit whose special quality is to sanctify souls and who is not only the source of all graces, but even grace itself. It is not by his own lights that the spirit of man can be enlightened concerning the truths of Faith, it is only by the pure flames of his love that he can extinguish the fire of concupiscence. But it is especially when one wants to enter into the interior life, which should be our only life, that one has need of special assistance from the Holy Spirit, for he alone can lead us there, since this life is only the perfect establishment of his reign over a soul. Purity of heart, the spirit of oraison, recollection, fidelity to grace, what are they, if not various actions of the Holy Spirit who has taken hold of our soul. The novices will, therefore, seek to quicken their spiritual life through a great devotion to this adorable person of the Most Holy Trinity. They will intensely desire that he come to establish his dwelling in their heart. They will call upon him with frequent yearning and will dedicate themselves faithfully to following all his inspirations, upbraiding themselves for the least failure of this kind as a grave fault. They will love to be led in all matters by his various attractions and will always make their own inclinations and their natural dislikes give way to the movements of divine grace.”

“As for external practices in his honor, they will take care to recite very devotedly the Veni Sancte Spiritus, etc., at the beginning of all their endeavors.”

“It would be beneficial if they could memorize that beautiful and touching composition from the Pentecost liturgy: Veni Sancte Spiritus, et emitte caelitus, etc. They could say a few verses during the day in the form of ejaculatory prayers and according to their varied states of soul; in sadness, they will cry out with the author: Consolator optime, etc.; to obtain some light in a period of doubt and darkness: O Lux beatissima, etc.; and so on for all the verses.”

“The novices will celebrate the feasts associated with Pentecost with special devotion. They will prepare for them by a special effort, and during the entire octave, a special exercise will take place in their oratory to give honor to the Holy Spirit, offer fervent prayers to him and ask him for the special graces according to their needs.” [101]

Bishop de Mazenod and the first Oblates used to pray to the Holy Spirit every day in the liturgy and their exercises of piety. Trinitarian formulas abound in the celebration of the Eucharist, in the baptismal formulas, the sacrament of reconciliation and in blessings. The Founder wanted to leave as a heritage to his Oblates the morning prayer that he himself used during his seminary days in Paris. This prayer, composed by Mr. Olier, is essentially Trinitarian. It addresses itself successively to the Eternal Father, the Word, Son of God and the Holy Spirit.

Finally, in his pastoral letters and letters for the Lenten season, the Bishop of Marseilles reminded the clergy and faithful of the need to call upon the light and assistance of the Holy Spirit through Votive Masses, prayers, the recitation of the Veni Creator, especially on the occasions of special celebrations, gatherings, synods, and celebrations of Confirmation.


The richness of the gift of the Spirit he received stirred up in Eugene’s heart the desire to be faithful to the inspirations of this same Spirit. On a number of occasions he invited other people to be faithful to the Spirit and to always act under his “impulse”. [102] But it was especially his own desire to work in harmony with the Spirit which shows in his writings, especially on the occasion of his retreats.

The Spirit wants to be absolute master over everything. That is why one must not oppose him or impede his activity in any way. One must avoid “grieving the Holy Spirit”, [103] and being unfaithful to him by refusing to respond to what he wants.

With his acute sense of personal sin, Eugene mourned over his own infidelities to the action of the Spirit in his life. On the other hand, he acknowledged that he had cooperated with the inspirations of the Spirit and expressed an ardent desire of continuing to do it even more. So as to leave the Spirit free to act in his life he wanted to be faithful to the least prompting of the Spirit and, in order to do that, he was ready to constantly purify his heart of all self-seeking outside of God’s will. Here is what he wrote during his retreat of 1818: “Have I not saddened the Holy Spirit hitherto by not responding to what he wished of me? May it be so no longer: speak Lord, your servant listens: show me, I beg you, the way that I should go, enlighten me with your light, give me the understanding to know your will and walk in the ways of your commandments.” [104]

During the course of his retreat in preparation for the episcopacy in 1832, he made a careful self-examination on his response to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit: “[…] It will be advantageous to examine attentively the Holy Spirit’s way of acting towards me both at the time of my ordination and during the course of my priestly ministry, and my cooperation on the one hand and my infidelities on the other hand, with the abundant communications of his grace. Thus I will ascertain the loss attributable to my fault, shed bitter tears before God, and full of trust in his mercy, I will dare to hope that this living Spirit who is to come down into my soul will restore all I have let deteriorate, strengthen, consolidate, bring to perfection everything in me […].” [105]

Tangibly inspired in the course of his retreat in preparation for the taking possession of the See of Marseilles, he expressed his generous abandonment to the action of the Holy Spirit in this way: “So it means descending into one’s interior to purify it of every imperfection and remove all that could constitute an obstacle to the working of the Holy Spirit. 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. I must be attentive to all its inspirations, listen to them first in the silence of prayer, follow them then and obey them in the line of action they lay down. Avoid with care all that could sadden it and weaken the influence of its power in me.” [106]


Among the sources for Eugene de Mazenod’s teaching on the Spirit, one must mention first of all the Sacred Scriptures. Eugene knew the Word of God well, a word he had studied and prayed over a great deal; he was profoundly convinced that it was the Spirit of God who was speaking to him through the Scriptures. He quoted several passages concerning the Holy Spirit, passages taken especially from the letters of Saint Paul (Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians), the Gospel of John and the Acts of the Apostles (mainly about the Pentecost event). In addition to explicit quotes, we can point to several implicit references to passages of Sacred Scripture.

The liturgy constitutes another important source, especially texts from the Pontifical for Confirmation and Sacred Orders, the Mass of Pentecost and hymns to the Spirit which sustained the Founder’s prayer life to the very end.

It was inevitable that Father de Mazenod’s thinking should be influenced by the theological and spiritual writers of his day. A cursory glance at the theology manual of Canon Louis Bailly, used as a textbook at Saint Sulpice seminary during Eugene’s formation years there, reveals many similarities with the vocabulary and thought of the latter. [107] It is interesting as well to note the similarities between the teaching found in the Catéchisme du diocèse de Marseille, and that of the one who promulgated it in 1849. [108]

Let us also not forget the influence of the French School of Spirituality, notably, the adoption of the Trinitarian prayers of M. Olier.

Finally, among the sources for Eugene de Mazenod’s teaching on the Spirit, one must not forget to mention the experience of the Spirit in his own life and in the lives of others. His personal relationship with the Holy Spirit and what he observed in the lives of Oblates and other Christians [109] led him to attribute a more profound and deeper meaning to the formulas he inherited from his milieu. We can, no doubt, apply here what Jean Leflon said about Eugene’s studies: “There was nothing of the speculative in Eugene de Mazenod and he remained a practical man throughout his entire life. […] With Eugene, it was not a case of proceeding from the doctrinal to the practical; much to the contrary, it was through the practical that he came to know the doctrinal, and his only use of the doctrinal was to make it serve the practical.” [110]


The Founder has relatively little to say about the Spirit, but there can be no doubt that his relationship with the Spirit is real and important, without, for all that, being “extraordinary” or unusual. The Holy Spirit gave life to his Christian life, his life as a priest, a missionary and bishop. The Spirit was often in his thoughts.

Eugene views the Spirit as the one who descends upon the Apostles on the feast of Pentecost and who continues to pour life into the Church and its members. It is the Spirit’s pleasure to dwell in the hearts of Christians and he works powerfully in their lives. He transforms people and pours out his gifts abundantly through the sacraments – especially Confirmation and Orders – and many other ways as well. He is the love and internal fire at the source of all missionary activity. He is the one at the origin of the founding of the Missionaries of Provence. Eugene encourages others to call upon the Spirit frequently and calls for a generous fidelity to his inspirations.

To describe his experience of the Spirit, the Bishop of Marseilles borrowed concepts and expressions bound to a particular period in religious history, but the reality beyond this terminology is an essential value which belongs to the very nature of the Christian and religious life.

The Holy Spirit and the Constitutions and Rules of 1982

The Constitutions and Rules of 1982 are a good reflection of the new sensitivity to the action of the Spirit specific to our times. In the Constitutions and Rules we find fifteen explicit references to the Spirit in the life of the individual Oblate. [111] Moreover, several other texts can be read and studied in depth under the aspect of the Holy Spirit, as for example, the matter of discernment, availability, charism.

Previous editions of the Constitutions used to say very little about the Holy Spirit. In the Rule drawn up by the Founder in 1818, we find only the words: “whom he filled with his spirit” in the well known Nota bene of chapter one of the first part, [112] and the directives concerning the celebration of the Mass of the Holy Spirit and the recitation of the Veni Creator at the opening of General Chapters and missions. [113]

In the presentation of the Constitutions of 1928, Pope Pius XI wrote; “[…] while all the ages run, the loving kindness of God – in order to meet the special needs of times and peoples – never fails to raise up, to invigorate, and to make fruitful, apostolic companies of men who, following in the footsteps of the first preachers of the Gospel and kindled with a zeal [spirit] like unto theirs, go forth into the most distant regions […]”. [114] In the text of the Constitutions themselves,we hardly find anything more on the Spirit than what is contained in the first Rule written by the Founder. [115]

The Constitutions of 1966, profoundly influenced by the Second Vatican Council, marked an important turning point with regard to the present texts on the Holy Spirit. Ten very clear passages on the Spirit cast a whole new light on the text as a whole. [116] This change in the manner of presenting the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Oblate was pointed out by Father Maurice Gilbert in an article published in Etudes oblates in 1967 [117] and by the authors of the commentary on the Constitutions entitled: The Congregation Renewed. [118]


At the very outset, the foreword of the Constitutions of 1982 launches us into the heart of our Oblate charism: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, when the appointed time came, was sent by the Father and filled with the Spirit ‘to bring the good news to the poor […]’ (Luke 4:18-19). […] Blessed Eugene de Mazenod heard that call. Burning with love for Jesus and his Church, he suffered deeply on seeing how God’s people were abandoned.” [119] To carry out his mission to the poor, Jesus Christ was sent by the Father and filled with the Spirit. The disciples of Jesus Christ – starting with his Apostles and continuing with many other Christians, among whom we count Eugene de Mazenod and his Oblates – were also called by the Father and clothed in the Spirit of Pentecost to be sent, in turn, to the mission to the poor.


Oblates set off following the Twelve, united around the Lord to “[…] create anew in our own lives the Apostles’ unity with him and their common mission in his Spirit.” (C 3) The mission of the Oblates is the work of the Spirit; it comes from him; it lives in and with him.

The first chapter, on the mission of the Congregation, concludes with an article on Mary Immaculate, patroness of the Congregation. (C 10) It is the first of three passages which show the link which exists between the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit and the Oblate. It is said here that she is “open to the Spirit” and that leads her to consecrate herself totally to the person and work of the Savior. In her, the Oblates “recognize the model of the Church’s faith and of our own”. Consequently, they are invited to follow Mary in her openness to the Holy Spirit and her consecration to the Savior.

Rule 9 presents a concrete example of mission lived in the Spirit: “Responding to the call of the Spirit, some Oblates identify themselves with the poor, sharing their life and commitment to justice; others are present where decisions affecting the future of the poor are being made. In each case, a serious discernment in the light of ecclesiastical directives will be made and the Oblates concerned will receive their mission for this ministry from their Superiors.” The Spirit guides the Oblates and inspires them in their mission, something which presupposes an ongoing discernment attentive to his calls.


The second chapter of the Constitutions treats of the apostolic religious life. We are reminded that the Oblates “choose the way of the evangelical counsels”. (C 12) Immediately after, we are presented with “the model and guardian of our consecrated life”: Mary Immaculate. How is she a model? “[…] in her faith response and total openness to the call of the Spirit […]”. The Oblates can thus benefit from contemplating Mary’s faithful response to the Spirit’s call, a response which is expressed in their way of living their commitment of chastity, poverty and obedience.

The link between the Spirit and the evangelical counsels becomes even more explicit in the articles on poverty, obedience and perseverance (Constitutions 21, 25, and 29).

Poverty (C 21): “The Spirit prompted the first Christians to share everything. Under the influence of that same Spirit we hold all things in common”. The Spirit of the Resurrected Jesus received at Pentecost was the source of inspiration for the first Christians and urged them on to share their possessions. The same Spirit still moves the Oblates and invites them as well, to put everything in common in the context of a simple life style, offering in this way “collective witness to evangelical detachment”.

Obedience (C 25): “Our life is governed by the demands of our apostolic mission and by the calls of the Spirit already dwelling in those to whom we are sent”. This article reminds us that the Spirit is already present and active in the persons to whom the Oblates are sent. Consequently, it is not a case of bringing them the Spirit of Christ that they have not yet received, but rather to reveal to them the fullness of this presence. The Oblates’ obedience which is a response to the Spirit implies an attentive listening to the calls of the Spirit through persons and events. This invitation calls to mind the attitude of the Founder who perceived the call of God through the needs of the Church of his time.

Perseverance (C 29): “Jesus ‘always loved those who were his own in the world’, and to the very end ‘he showed how perfect his love was’ (John 13:1). His Spirit inspires all Christians to constancy in their love. The same Spirit develops in us a close attachment to the Congregation. Our perseverance is thus a sign of Christ’s fidelity to the Father.” Inspired by the Spirit, Jesus loved his own to the end and gave his life for the salvation of the world. The same Spirit of love poured out into the hearts of Christians and the Oblates seeks to reproduce in them what he accomplished in Jesus. He gives them fortitude and constancy in love. He impels the Oblates to bind themselves in perpetuity to the Congregation by the vow of perseverance, so as to express the firmness of the love he put into their hearts.

The Spirit is present as well in the prayer of the Oblate. We take up once again here a basic theme of the theology of the Spirit, namely, that it is the Spirit who comes to create prayer in the hearts of the children of God. [120] In Constitution 32, we read: “It is as missionaries that we worship, in the various ways the Spirit suggests to us […]”. The Spirit makes praise flow from the heart of the missionary Oblates just like he did for Jesus. In Saint Luke’s Gospel, in chapter 10, verse 21, we read: “It was then that, filled with the Holy Spirit, he said, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and clever and revealing them to mere children’.” The inspirations of the Spirit are manifold and various just like the missionary situations lived by the Oblates.

In Constitution 36 the intimate link between Mary, and the Spirit who guides us, and the Oblates, appears for the third time: “With Mary Immaculate, the faithful handmaid of the Lord, and under the guidance of the Spirit, we enter into closer union with Jesus Christ. We will contemplate with her the mysteries of the Incarnate Word, especially in praying the rosary.” The Spirit inevitably leads one to the Lord Jesus Christ from whom he issued; he makes us penetrate the depth of the mystery of Christ and the intimacy of his friendship. Because the Virgin Mary is totally given over to the Spirit, who covered her with his shadow, she entered into the intimacy of a relationship with her son Jesus, more deeply than any other human being. In union with Mary, the Oblate is invited to allow himself to be taken over and guided by the Spirit in order to gain a more in-depth knowledge of this intimacy with the Savior. In particular, he is exhorted to contemplate with her the mysteries of the Word Incarnate.


The second part of the Constitutions treats of formation and contains a number of very rich texts on the role of the Spirit in first and ongoing formation. Firstly, article one, Constitution 45: “Jesus personally formed the disciples he had chosen, initiating them into ‘the mystery of the Kingdom of God’ (Mark 4:11). As a preparation for their mission he had them share in his ministry; to confirm their zeal he sent them his Spirit. This same Spirit forms Christ in those who endeavour to follow in the Apostles’ footsteps. As they enter more deeply into the mystery of the Saviour and his Church, he moves them to dedicate themselves to the evangelization of the poor.”

First of all, we are reminded that Jesus personally formed his disciples, initiating them into the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, associating them to his ministry and, finally, he sent them his Spirit – the power from on high, to confirm their zeal. This passage sounds like an echo of the words of the Preface: “How, indeed, did our Lord Jesus Christ proceed […]?”

The article then describes the action of the Spirit in those “who endeavour to follow in the Apostles’ footsteps”. He “forms Christ” in them, since it is a case of formation; he leads them to a deeper understanding of the mystery of Christ, the Savior as only he can do. He introduces them to the mystery of the Church, “the beloved spouse of God’s only-begotten Son” [121] whose soul and principle of growth he is. And, to the extent that he introduces them to the mystery of the Savior and his Church, he encourages the Oblates to consecrate themselves to the evangelization of the poor. In this way, he brings to realization the motto of the Oblates and gives concrete life to the main elements of the charism: the relationship to Christ the Savior and the Church, mission, evangelization of the poor.

In order to achieve a full understanding of the impact of this article, it is important to see Oblate life and formation as a gift to be received, a response to a call. God calls by his Spirit and it is the Spirit who forms the candidate according to his will. [122]

It goes without saying that the Oblate should strive to achieve faithful collaboration with the Spirit, to allow himself to be led by the Spirit who dwells in his heart. This truth is highlighted in Constitution 49: “[…] Each of us, however, is the principal agent of his own development; throughout life’s various stages, we are called to respond generously to the promptings of the Spirit”. The attitude of openness to welcome the inspirations of the Spirit must become evident more and more in each stage of the life of the Oblate, whether he is in first formation, in full missionary activity, or in the last years of his life.

Constitution 56 is a marvelous synthesis of the role of the Spirit in the life of the novice, and even, of every Oblate. The Spirit lives in the heart of the novice and guides him little by little in his spiritual and Oblate journey. He causes him to grow in friendship with Christ and to enter gradually ino the mystery of salvation through prayer and the liturgy. He it is again who gives the ability to hear the Lord speaking in the Scriptures, to meet Jesus in the Eucharist, and, in this way, of discovering him in persons and events. Finally, the Spirit helps the novice to recognize his presence and his action in the charism lived by the Founder and transmitted, in turn, to his disciples in the course of the history of the Congregation.

Constitution 68 reminds us that the Spirit is ever at work in the world and that he renews the face of the earth: “God is ever at work in the world; his life-giving Word seeks to transform mankind to build his People. We are instruments of that Word. We must, therefore, be open and flexible, learning how to respond better to new needs, how to find answers to new questions, discerning all the while the movements of the Spirit who renews the face of the earth (cf. Psalm 104:30).”

The Spirit acts, not only in the persons to whom the Oblates are sent, [123] but in the whole universe to foster the coming of the Kingdom of God, that new world born of the resurrection. [124] Oblates must learn to constantly discern this action of the Spirit, that is, to acknowledge the signs of his presence in the world. That presupposes much flexibility and openness on their part.

The discernment in question here is mentioned eighteen times in the Constitutions of 1982. [125] This is something new with regard to preceding editions, except for the 1966 edition where the word is found seven times. [126]

This frequent call to discern the promptings of the Spirit reminds Oblates that a continual conversion of the heart is called for because discernment is never automatic. It is an art that is learned little by little through experiencing the action of God; It is also, and especially, a gift one must ceaselessly beg from God. In his commentary on this constitution in O.M.I. The Apostolic Man, Father Fernand Jetté has given a good deion of the spiritual attitude required to live discernment. [127]


The third part of the Constitutions concerns “organization of the Congregation”. From the very beginning the spirit that must reign in Oblate government is described. Among other things, in Constitution 72, we read: “All of us are co-responsible 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.”

This is a case of communitarian discernment: “As a body”, Oblates discern the call of the Spirit. It is a whole way of being, of living, of governing that is set forth here. Discernment, personally lived by each Oblate, culminates in communitarian discernment or a common search for the directions which will bring the fruits of the Spirit.

The last sentence of this article stresses one of the essential attitudes for communitarian discernment: “a climate of mutual confidence”.

The last explicit reference to the Spirit is found in the section dealing with the General Administration. Constitution 111 makes the following recommendation to the members of the General Administration: “Their first concern is our fidelity as a Congregation to the missionary thrust which is our Spirit-given heritage from the Founder”. It is both a recognition of the essential apostolic charism of Eugene de Mazenod and an exhortation to remain faithful to the missionary thrust that the Founder left as “our Spirit-given heritage” to the Congregation.


The Constitutions and Rules of 1982 do not give us a systematic theology of the Spirit: that was not their purpose. They do remind us, however, that the Spirit is present in Jesus Christ, in Mary, in the Apostles, with Bishop de Mazenod and his disciples, in the persons to whom the Oblates are sent and in the whole universe. This Spirit of love is ever active, guiding the world toward its Fullness. He causes the Oblates to enter deeply into the intimate workings of the mystery of Christ the Savior and of his Church. It invites them to live the evangelical counsels in depth. It gives a new power to their missionary activity and leads them to praise God in their hearts as a result of this activity. The Oblates are invited to discern the promptings and inspirations of the Spirit and to remain faithful to them, imitating the example of Mary, and in so doing, to live their missionary commitment in continual docility to this same Spirit.

It is clear that the brief, but relevant, references to the Holy Spirit in the Constitutions of 1982 are like yeast, or yet again, like a new “breath”, capable of bringing life into the whole book of the Constitutions. When they are put into practice, these passages contain the dynamism necessary to renew not only the Constitutions, but also and especially the life and mission of all the Oblates who continue the missionary charism of Bishop de Mazenod in the contemporary context of today’s world.

Renewal of the Oblate spirit and charism


In an explicit way, our century has given more importance to the key role of the Holy Spirit in theology and Christian living. There has even been talk of the “reappearance of the Spirit” or “renewal of the Spirit.” Launched at the end of the last century by Leo XIII’s encyclical Divinum illud munus, [128] the renewal of the Spirit became enriched through the various renewal movements (biblical, liturgical, patristic, theological) in the Church and the influence of the theology of the Eastern Church. The Second Vatican Council acknowledged this movement by its profound renewal of theology of the Spirit. In the second half of the twentieth century, the books written about the Spirit and the studies published on the Spirit increased, and a large number of Christians rediscovered and benefited from the activity of the Spirit in their prayer and in their daily life.

It seems to us that, for the contemporary Oblate, fidelity to the Founder’s charism implies a desire to live a profound experience of the Spirit. While doing this according to his specific grace, in the footsteps of Eugene de Mazenod, he must know how to take advantage of the great richness that the present renewal of the Spirit offers.

Without wanting to present a complete theology of the Spirit here, we would like to briefly recall certain points of view that seem to us to be especially fruitful so as to better live the Oblate and Christian life according to the Spirit of God today.

Today, terminology regarding the Spirit has drawn closer to biblical language. The Spirit is seen as the breath of God through whom God creates the universe and human beings, like water that purifies, a fire that burns and gives warmth and light, like the life, power and love of God at work in the world. The New Testament, the culmination of God’s revelation about the Spirit, shows us how the Spirit of the Father is present in Jesus Christ and in the heart of the life of Christians.

The conception of Jesus is the work of the Spirit who covers the Virgin Mary with his shadow and makes her fruitful. At the moment of his baptism in the Jordan, he receives the fullness of the Spirit from the Father. He is anointed, consecrated and sent on this mission to proclaim the good news to the poor. He allows himself to be guided by the Spirit into the desert, to the synagogue and in his ministry to the point of freely offering his life for the salvation of the world. Through his resurrection, the work par excellence of the Spirit of the Father, he himself becomes a living spirit and source of the Spirit for all who believe in him.

Pentecost heralded the dawn of the outpouring of the Spirit on the entire Church. It is the Spirit of God who builds up and gives life to the Church, who gives holiness and communion in love to the disciples of Jesus. He dwells in the heart of Christians, intercedes for them to the Father and grants each one the power of discovering that he is the beloved son of God, crying out: “Abba, Father!” He causes him to enter more deeply into the depth and richness of the mystery of Jesus, the Lord. Author of the new world, born of the resurrection, he becomes a source of new life for the children of God and a pledge of the future resurrection following the pattern of Jesus.

The missionary dynamism of the Church finds its origin in the Spirit of Pentecost. [129] Father F. X. Durrwell wrote: “The apostolic charism is not added as something extraneous to the Christian grace; it is immanent in it. The vocation of apostle finds itself contained in the call to communion with the Son, (1 Corinthians 1:9) a call which is specific to the Christian.” [130]

The sacraments are the privileged place of activity for the Spirit. Through baptism, a person is called to be reborn “by water and the Spirit”; with Confirmation he receives a fullness of the Spirit; in the Eucharist, the celebrant calls down the transforming presence of the Spirit at the moment of the epiclesis; in the sacrament of Orders, a Christian is transformed by the power of the Spirit’s love in view of ministerial service ordained in the Church; the anointing of the Spirit acts for the good of people who are ill.

The power of the Spirit is evident in the hierarchy of the Church, but in its whole charismatic dimension as well. It raises up in abundance the most varied of charisms in view of the common good and gives assistance in living these charisms. Among these, the charism of founders of religious communities and those who follow them has a special place. Religious life is born from the wind of Pentecost; it springs up in the heart of certain people docile to the Holy Spirit. That is why the Spirit alone can bring life to religious life and constantly renew it in depth.


It would be possible to review all the elements of the Oblate life and charism in order to highlight their strict relationship with the Spirit.

It is the Holy Spirit, author of the Oblate charism, who sows in the heart of a Christian a strong desire to be an Oblate and to follow the call to share community life. He watches over his formation and progressive growth in the charism inherited from Bishop de Mazenod. It keeps him centered on Jesus Christ, his sonship with the Father, the cross and resurrection. It brings about the desire to follow Christ like the Apostles followed him, consecrated by the Spirit to announce the good news to the poor. He enriches their missionary activity with the abundance of the fruits of the Spirit.

He opens the heart of the Oblate to the needs of the entire world, just like he did for the Founder. He grants him the power of wisely reading the “signs of the times”, of discerning the most urgent needs of the present time and to recognize the action of the Spirit, not only in the heart of every human being, but also in human history, in cultures and religions. [131]

It is the Spirit again who creates the communion of persons and makes possible the witness of a united and dynamic apostolic community.

In communicating this charism to an Oblate, the Spirit takes possession of his person and of his innermost processes, setting him to follow resolutely in the footsteps of Christ and giving him the power to live the evangelical counsels joyfully – in this way making him more available for the service of the mission. It is once again the Spirit of Pentecost that inspires the Oblate’s apostolic prayer and his liturgical celebrations and enables him to uncover the beauty and depth inherent in his life as an apostolic man.

Finally, the Spirit that plumbs the very depths of God opens the Oblate’s eyes and heart to the mystery of the Virgin Mary. He enables him to see in her a model of docility to the actions and inspirations of the Spirit and of openness to receive the Savior and his works. It also enables him to consider the Virgin Mary as his Mother, always tenderly present in the Oblate’s life with its missionary sufferings and joys.

The Spirit who laid hold of Eugene de Mazenod to raise up in the Church a new missionary charism continues today to set aflame the hearts of the heirs of his charism in an ever renewed Pentecost.