Do this and you shall live
After the profession of the first religious vows, the Superior of the community gives each new Oblate a copy of the Constitutions and Rules, saying as he hands it over: “Do this and you shall live.” Over almost 30 years of my religious life, I’ve learned that once I publicly professed my vows, they have to be chosen as a way of life every single day. The Constitutions and Rules have formed me and continue to do so, in ministry, lifestyle and simply being an Oblate. Like in any vocational way of life, it’s an ongoing process.
It is so important to make an effort to learn about the social and cultural background of the people we are supposed to serve. “In his relationships, he will keep in mind the customs of the country and the sensitivities of the people among whom he lives and works.” R. 18b When I was assigned with another Oblate to the inner-city parish, we certainly didn’t have much knowledge and understanding of the reality of this ministry. So, we researched the studies that had been done about our neighbourhood. We also invited the author of the study called: “Code Red” to lead a workshop with our pastoral leadership team, to share with us deep insights about the reality of life in our neighbourhood from the perspective of homelessness, health care, education, mental illness etc. It became clear that despite many social agencies in the city, there were some gaps where people became marginalized and abandoned. We didn’t want to repeat a service that was already being offered, but rather to go into places of abandonment. That’s how De Mazenod Door Outreach was born.
It’s also important to communicate and listen to those we serve. They will open the eyes to needs that sometimes can be missed, if we look only from our own perspective. “When faced with the demands of our mission and the needs to be met, we may feel weak and helpless. It is then that we can learn from the poor, especially making our own their patience, hope and solidarity.” C. 20 In the beginning we had a big problem with panhandling on the church property. When we asked why they were doing it, the answer was, “because we are hungry”. We began feeding our outreach guests daily. Every Friday we offered a BBQ; just to do something ‘special’ for the poor and homeless. When the weather started changing into Canadian Fall and Winter, we asked our guests how long we should continue this practice. The answer was, “the weather doesn’t change the fact that we are hungry”. So, Friday BBQ has been continued rain or shine, a heat wave, a winter storm or freezing cold.
From the perspective of my more than 10-year ministry in Hamilton, it has become clear to me that this inner-city parish is meant for the Oblate ministry; where St. Eugene’s charism becomes an answer to the experienced reality of life. “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.” C. 25
I’m currently also involved in the vocation ministry. It is a challenge since our province doesn’t have anybody in formation, nor have we had a vocation to the religious life for years. However, I still believe that “Jesus never ceases to call people to follow him and to proclaim the Kingdom.” C. 52 I’m not sure what that means exactly for our part of the world. Will vocations to religious live miraculously renew in the coming years? Or maybe we will see significant involvement of laity, including our Mazenodian family, in the life and mission of the Church? Nevertheless, we all can take responsibility in creating vocation culture and witnessing to the Oblate charism in our daily lives. “The apostolate of vocations concerns all Oblates individually and as a group.” R. 53a I strongly believe that if we authentically live charismatic Oblate identity in our attitude, lifestyle and mission; it will attract others to follow, to answer the call as an Oblate priest, brother or associate. Being charismatic about our way of life, can be contagious in the most positive meaning of that word.
In the end and in essence, our Oblate attitude and lifestyle, formed according to the Constitutions and Rules, comes from our total oblation. “By this option we consecrate ourselves to the Lord and at the same time, give ourselves to the people we serve; we thereby free ourselves for a love which reaches out to everyone and challenges the tendency to possess and use others for selfish purposes.” C. 15 It is a journey of a lifestyle and identity: “Do this and you shall live.”
By Jarek Pachocki, OMI