Connecting Faith with Life
Two comments I hear off-and-on from lay people who had Oblates minister among them over the years are: “The Oblates are close to the people” and “Oblates are down to earth.”
These comments first and foremost apply to our founder, St. Eugene de Mazenod, who was close to the poor, spoke Provençal, visited with the fishermen and women of his day, and who sought to connect faith in God’s love for them with the ordinary lives of the poor through the missions he and his band of missionaries conducted.
I find that a ministry of conducting missions, workshops and retreats is a continuation of that charism, especially as one ends up creating an atmosphere where participants feel free to share.
Recently, during a Lenten Mission in one community, an 83-year old woman shared with me she had been sexually abused by an uncle when she was 14, and has been living ever since then with that shame coupled with some guilt about how happy she felt when he died. I was shocked when she added she had never told anyone about this before! Somehow a mention in the session on Good Friday, of sexual abuse possibly happening to Jesus during his passion, connected with her secret pain and unlocked a door.
Last year, I was invited to conduct a workshop based on my new book Still Green and Growing, in Deliné, a Slavey community of about 800 in the Sahtu Region of the NWT. About 45 people attended, about 20 of them elders, so everything had to be translated. I was hoping the closing sharing circle would be accomplished in about an hour. It actually lasted three hours and forty-five minutes, delaying the Eucharist and supper by about two hours. What surprised me was no one was impatient, no one left and every person except one shared what they had to share.
At one point, after all the elders had shared, the translator reminded people to be brief, as we had a schedule to keep. The next person to speak was a young woman who said she had never shared her feelings in public before, and then went on to share for about ten minutes. As almost all the sharing was in Slavey, I felt some impatience myself, until I asked the translator what one elder, who spoke for twenty minutes, was saying. When she informed me that he was connecting the contents of the workshop with the teachings of four revered elders known as prophets in that community, I realized the process was working and settled down for the duration. In the end, I could only feel gratitude for this time of healing in this special community.
I also felt gratitude for the wonderful charism St. Eugene left us, of being close to the people, down to earth, and missioned to connect faith in Jesus with our daily lives.
By Bishop Sylvain Lavoie, OMI