The Oblates of Mary Immaculate are missionaries of a religious order in the Catholic Church. Founded in 1816 by St. Eugene de Mazenod to minister to parishes left without clergy after the French revolution. After six Oblates went to Canada in 1841 the community grew and went on to establish Catholic missions in over seventy countries.
The Oblates are a community of brothers and priests and their principal work is ministering to those who are abandoned by the church and society. They do so by preaching the gospel and forming Christian communities that can sustain themselves in faith and action and lead others to experience the risen Jesus in their midst.
Oblates are to be men of daring, creativity and perseverance in their commitment to serve the abandoned and to preserve their own religious community. They do all this out of their love for the crucified Christ. Love for Jesus Christ crucified, abandoned and reviled drives us to seek him in the poor of today’s world. Oblates make vows of chastity, poverty, obedience and perseverance for life.
As a young man Eugene de Mazenod was deeply affected during the liturgy of Good Friday. His experience of Jesus as abandoned by his own disciples, even by the Father and crushed by the weight of sin moved Eugene to give himself totally to God as a priest and missionary for the poor. In his own way he was responding to the abandoned Christ in the lost sheep of the Church of France.
After the extreme violence of the French revolution subsided what few priests remained were found mostly in the large churches of the cities. The parishes of the countryside were left without evangelization and sacraments. Eugene gathered a small group of zealous priests who would conduct parish missions to revive the faith and practice of these small rural parishes.
After 25 years of continuous revolution, death and a sterile secularity France experienced a restoration of Catholic faith. Many new religious orders arose to meet the social and spiritual needs of the poor especially. The Oblates were among them and their method was to minister to those groups of people who were abandoned by the Church and society: laborers, servants, the poor and destitute, youth, prisoners and the condemned.
The Oblates preached in a rough dialect called Provencal and were compassionate ministers of reconciliation when some clergy would delay absolving penitents’ sins. The Oblates and Eugene went into filthy hovels, jails and gallows to be close to the poor in their need. The poor rewarded them with their admiration and respect.
Likewise Oblates throughout these last three hundred years have made their preference to be with those people who are not being reached by the Church and whose lives call out for mercy, solidarity and justice. Oblates tend to be informal in their manner and dress. But they have a passion and a genius for putting the power and splendor of the Gospel into the ordinary language of people.
Poverty, chastity, and obedience become Christian values as they are understood and lived by following Jesus Christ who lived these virtues each day of his life. By publicly professing these values religious men and women make them into vows. Our vows do not make us the elite in the Church; rather they liberate us for service and love in the pilgrimage of faith we share with the rest of the human family.
History and experience teach us that there are two forms of poverty: destructive poverty, which afflicts the majority of the world’s population and the poverty that frees our lives for love and service. By sharing life and goods in common and living in a simple manner that is in keeping with our mission we enter into a closer communion with Jesus and with the poor. We proclaim the coming of a new world freed from selfishness and committed to sharing.
The vow of consecrated celibacy calls us to develop the riches of the heart. It is truly a calling and not one that can be lived by all. It is an affirmation of life and love that challenges the tendency to possess and use others for selfish purposes. Our celibacy allows us to be present where the need is greatest, to give powerful witness to Christ’s love for us and our enduring love for God.
Obedience means to have an open ear and to pay attention. Through the vow of obedience Oblates commit themselves to listen to the voice of the Father and to faithfully follow the Son. Our life is governed by the demands of the mission and the promptings of the Spirit already present in those to whom we are sent. Our ministry makes us dependent on others; it requires real detachment from our own will and a deep sense of the Church. Obedience challenges us to be accountable and responsible; it also calls us to take initiative and be ready to give of our talents and our lives to the service of the Gospel. Oblate obedience is not about passivity but an expression of gospel freedom.
The Holy Spirit inspires all Christians to constancy in their love. The same Spirit develops in Oblates a close attachment to the Congregation. Although fidelity is implicit in the three vows above the Oblates add a fourth vow; perseverance. In this vow we publicly emphasize our attachment to the Oblate family and our commitment to its mission.
Like St Eugene de Mazenod Oblates gather around the person of Jesus Christ to become a single heart that can be food for the life of the world. We acknowledge the limits of the individual and the value of community. By choosing to live together as Brothers and Priests we are continually evangelized as a community and bear witness to the Kingdom of God.
According to each one’s personal call from Christ members choose to live out this commitment as Brothers or Priests. Each has complimentary responsibilities and shares in the same mission of co-operating with Christ to keep hope alive in the midst of life’s difficulties.
Brothers: Lived out in a great variety of services throughout the congregation the vocation of the Brother reminds all Oblates of our common consecration as religious. Through a life of professional activity he is clearly involved in the world. He participates fully in evangelization, which leads to and finds fulfillment in the Church’s celebration of the sacraments. The Brother has a special identity and stands on his own two feet as a religious; he is not defined in function of the priest’s ministry. Moreover the presence of Brothers enriches our community life keeping us all close to the life of the people.
From Evangelizing the Poor at the Dawn of the Third Millennium
Priests: The missionary [Oblate] priest is first of all motivated by a vision: he sees the world as being sustained and inhabited by God the Emmanuel who pitched his tent among us for all time. Instead of grieving over what isn’t working well the priest is able to see the Spirit at work in all that is true and honorable, that is just and pure, that is pleasing and commendable, as Paul says in his letter to the Philippians (4:8). The missionary priest loves the world and humanity with the eyes and heart of God… The missionary priest is a spiritual man, a man of the Spirit, who presides over the sacramentality of life in all its forms and various dimensions.
From A Missionary Approach to Priestly Ministry, Fr. Luc Tardif OMI