“You are very Welcome.”

Welcome . . .

Over my years of working with the Oblates, it has been a real pleasure and privilege to be invited into their various communities. Whether it was Oblate houses in Aix-en-Province, Rome, Ireland, San Antonio, or the various Canadian and US Oblate retreat centres, the Oblates have always been warm and gracious. As the Oblate director of the Anglo-Irish retreat centre said to a group of us, “You are very, very welcome here,” and we truly felt that we were.
Oblates are noted for their hospitality. It’s an integral aspect of their charism: they seek to ‘draw near’ to those among whom they minister. Their Founder, Eugene de Mazenod, even as Archbishop of a major diocese, maintained regular pastoral visits to the sick in the backstreet slums of Marseilles, joked with the fish wives in the open air markets, and held open office hours every morning in his offices. Forgoing the upper-class diction of the rich, he spoke in the patois of the common people, scandalizing his family and the Church hierarchy, but endearing himself to the people.

Today, the Oblates are still to be found among the people. Their mandate is to go where the church has not yet been ‘planted’ or, where it is present, to serve those whom the Church touches least. Thus you can find them establishing churches in mission countries, working with First Nations people in remote Northern missions, reaching out to people in inner city parishes, and ministering to HIV and AIDS sufferers, among other things. Their ministries are as diverse as the people who need them, and wherever they are, they will be saying, “You are very welcome here.” And they mean it.

It’s a very special thing to find a real welcome in this world of ours. Mother Teresa once said “We’ve forgotten we belong to each other.” Oblate hospitality helps us remember.
Sandra Prather, HOMI

The Main Question

For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self… God alone possesses the secret of my identity, he alone can make me who I am or rather, He alone can make me who I will be when I at last fully begin to be… The secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God… The only One Who can teach me to find God, is God, Himself, Alone. Thomas Merton

St Eugene de Mazenod spent much of the first 20 years of his life searching in vain for his place; for his purpose in life.  Then one Good Friday, while praying before the crucifix, Eugene became aware of God’s deep love for him in spite of his sin. This experience transformed him, and he knew that no matter what, he was called to serve God as a priest to serve the poor.

How is God calling me to spend my life? What state of life will best allow me use the gifts God has given to me? Which career path will bring me true happiness and joy? Is there someone out there for me, or could it be that God is calling me to celibacy? These are the questions of discernment, and they are helpful questions that every Christian would do well to ask themselves, and yet, these are not the primary questions of vocation, because vocation starts in another place.  The Christian journey, as revealed in all of Scripture, and in the lives of the saints, is not about the call of the individual Christian, but rather about the One who calls! And once we move our focus from what is God’s plan for me to who is the God of the plan, the question of my place in God’s plan often takes care of itself.

Fr Ken Thorson OMI

The Gift in the Silence

Let the silence speak

Last night was our Oblate Associates meeting and we ended it as we always do – with Oraison. This method of prayer was one of Oblate Founder Eugene de Mazenod’s favorite ways of praying. It is basically evening adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, and Eugene experienced the time as a loving, personal conversation with Christ. Eugene would mentally bring the entire Oblate community into his prayer so it was also, for him, a time of profound communion with his beloved brothers, far-flung around the world.
Last night, I experienced something of this same mystery of communion. The group sat in silence, Associates and Oblates together. Flickering blue and red vigil candles illuminated the Blessed Sacrament placed reverently on the small altar. The silence grew among us as we entered more deeply into it until it carried its own weight and became almost palpable.
Our evening together had been rich. A visiting Oblate missionary spoke to us about the Canadian supported Oblate mission in Kenya. His vibrant photos and lively story-telling brought the people of that country and the Oblates among them vividly alive. One of our Oblate Associates, a part-time prison chaplain, brought in a print of a wall mural that has been installed in the new remand centre in our area. The individual tiles of the mural were created by inmates at the centre. A professional artist arranged them into a composite picture of a person standing on a winding road, moving from darkness into light. It was a powerful message of spiritual hunger, coming from our incarcerated brothers and sisters.
Thus the presence of the world and the concerns of its people were present to all of us in that darkened room. Each carried their own inner prayers; together we carried each other’s and the world’s. Words were not necessary, needed or even wanted. Instead the silence itself carried our prayer. The sense of intimacy of being united with each other and Christ as He is found in the Blessed Sacrament grew as the silence lengthened. It said more than words could ever say.
Mystic Meister Ekhart wrote that there is nothing so like God in this world as silence. Last night, in the presence of my Oblate brothers and sisters, I experienced that deep communion, and I am profoundly grateful for it.
Sandra Prather, HOMI

A bishop for our times?

It’s hard not to have a little hope. There’s quite a few ‘signs’ if you are looking for them. There’s the more visible and immediate ones: eschewing much of the pomp and ceremony of the position, the fancy capes, red shoes and elaborate pectoral crosses. His now renowned simplicity of life: riding the bus to work back home; refusing to live in the palatial papal apartments in favor or a room in the guest house. He has the common touch: phoning the newsstand guy back home to explain why he wouldn’t be getting the paper anymore; paying his own hotel bill. He likes to wade into crowds, talk to ordinary people, often departs from his scripted remarks, has simplified the sometimes extravagant rituals of Roman liturgy. What’s not to like about Pope Francis?
There’s the deeper sensitivities too: an appealing humility when he asks people to pray for him; his gentle washing of the feet of the young offenders, including, shockingly for many, the feet of women and Muslims; his respectful acknowledgement at a meeting of journalists that he realized many of them were not Christians so his blessing would be in silence; his regard for inter-faith leaders as he made quick connections with many of them, including the chief Rabbi I Rome.
But most of all, there are his consistent messages: we must be a church for the poor and of the poor. The Church’s consistent social justice message must become not only a preached reality but a lived one. Internal squabbles about protocol, prestige and position are destructive to our Christian witness. The Church of Christ must be a welcoming church, a church that reaches out in service to the poor, the disenfranchised and the oppressed.
Pope Francis reminds me a little of Bishop Eugene de Mazenod. Although Eugene’s background was the aristocracy, he had a heart for the poor. His ministry was to those to whom the ‘official’ Church paid the least attention: the artisans, peasants and workers, the youth, the prisoners, and the rural parishioners. As bishop, his main floor office in Marseille was open to anyone who wanted to come and see him. He was familiar with both the backstreet slums and the fish markets and their denizens. He was often taken to task by the ‘officials’ of the church for his fervor, willingness to reach out to people and his impatience with any protocol that blocked peoples’ access to God.
Eugene was a bishop for the people and he was well loved for it. Might Francis be a Pope cut from the same cloth? We can hope. . .
Sandra Prather HOMI

Will You Remain?

Good Friday approaches and the cross of Christ looms large over the world. It looms large in our hearts too: witness young Eugene on his knees before it. Bitter are his tears as he realizes that it is love which is pinning Christ to that cross. Arms outstretched, hands and feet nailed firmly in place, the innocent Jesus suffers the darkest and starkest experiences of human existence. Victim of our sin, subject to all our weakness, he enters and undergoes the darkness of abandonment and death.

The abandonment begins early: in the garden, while Jesus is at prayer, drowsing disciples are oblivious to the plight of their master. “Could you not stay awake even one hour with me?” Betrayal in the form of a kiss comes from one of his inner circle. He is arrested and imprisoned, as his companions flee and he faces his future alone. A few faithful women remain, but even they are at a distance. Jesus’ loneliness culminates on the cross, as he ‘takes on the sin of the world’ and experiences the deepest abandonment of all: “My God, my God why have YOU abandoned me?”

Isolation, doubt, fear and pain: they are the outer boundaries of human experience and Jesus undergoes them and surrenders himself to them. “Into your hands, Father, I commit my spirit.” Into the abyss of death, the unknown darkness, the terror of the night, he lets himself fall. Into the silence and the depths, he entrusts himself to his father’s love.

It pierces Eugene to the heart, this realization of what Christ has endured for his sake. He feels the darkness, senses the depths into which Christ must plunge. At first, he is stricken with guilt, but, gracefully, gradually, as he gazes upon the pierced Body, it is replaced by gratitude. It floods in as Eugene realizes that God has undergone this for HIM, out of love for him, in order to pierce the darkness that surrounds his soul, in order to break the boundary of death that touches his life and all human life.

For Jesus’ trust is not misplaced. As he lets himself go into the hands of God, the heavens seem closed. Three days pass by. Suddenly, shockingly, the silence of the tomb is shattered: resurrection. An atomic blast of love rolls away the stone. God’s response to the Son’s abandonment is new life – eternal life, transformed life. The temple veil, the barrier between heaven and earth, death and life, is torn in two and nothing is the same anymore. Death itself has died.

The cross becomes Eugene’s centre. He feels himself embraced by love, bound no more by the burdens that weigh him down. Saved! Redeemed! Free! The words sing in his heart and he is impelled into a new fervor of faith and new mission. He simply must ‘go and tell the others’ – all the others – the Good News of Jesus Christ. His life’s desire is to witness to the Love expressedon that Cross – Love’s Depths, Love’s Power and Love’s Victory.

Eugene remains before the cross; he will not pass by. The question is, will we?

Sandra Prather HOMI

Ashes…

Lent this year begins exactly one month after Epiphany Sunday. The ashes of Lent have gifts differing than gold, frankincense and myrrh but no less important. In the Prophet Isaiah there is a compelling expression that can enliven our consideration of the Lenten journey which is a call to our true vocation:

I will give you the treasures of darkness
And riches hidden in secret places. Isaiah 45.3

St. John of the Cross once spoke of spiritual transformation as a descent into a darkness of the senses, the affections and the mind. In other words when our mind, emotions and bodily thinking calm down and become still and at peace in the sensory deprivation. In that deprivation the shallower parts of ourselves get desperate and panicky.

But if we can trust this stillness we will experience a deeper form of peace than comes when we are filled with ordinary light. We begin Lent reading that we are to fast, pray and give alms. That we are to go to our room and shut the door and pray to our Father who sees in secret and our Father who sees in secret will reward us. Fasting brings a darkness to the manifold craving of our appetite. Almsgiving brings a darkness to our desire for power and for more and better things. And prayer brings a darkness to the selfish part of ourselves that craves attention for itself. Prayer surrenders the attention, control and craving to God.

The truth is that this is what we most truly desire. In this darkness there are treasures beyond our thinking, feeling and wanting which is why they are like secrets: they cannot really be told or explained only known. But they are very real and they come to those who trust God to be in the darkness and who are willing to feel their way through the emptiness to a new form of abundance. Dear Friends, trust the way of the ashes this Lent, let them help you to find your own soul treasures, treasures that will never fade away.

Peace, Fr. Mark

Sent to Bring Good News – Today!

Father Lacombe OMI: The Man with the Good Heart

 

 

If it’s February 17th while you are reading this: Happy Feast Day! It’s perhaps not a day most people would recognize as a day to celebrate but for Oblates and Associates it’s a biggie. On this day in 1826, Pope Leo XII officially recognized the Oblates of Mary Immaculate as a religious congregation. To the young Eugene de Mazenod it was a dream come true. His tiny band of missionary priests was now recognized as a religious order within the Church, with an approved Rule and canonical status. Their motto, ‘He sent me to bring Good News to the poor,’ and the zeal with which they were carrying it out in rural France, led Pope Leo to declare that the Oblates were specialists in the most difficult missions.’ They are still responding to that mandate today.

I recall with great affection one of the great specialists of the missions, Canadian Oblate Father Albert Lacombe [1827-1916]. He stands as not only a great missionary but a great Canadian. His achievements are well documented in Canada’s history, but it is his Oblate heart that I find most impressive. Whether you encounter Father Lacombe through his writings or in biographies about him, you cannot help but be impressed by that heart. The Cree people named him Ka-miyo-atchakwe, the Man of the Beautiful Soul and the Blackfoot, Arsous-kitsi-rarpi – Man-with-the-Good Heart.

It was his willingness to draw near to the people among whom he ministered that reveals his heart the most. Called to the uncharted and unchurched West, Lacombe was closest to the Metis and First Nations people of Canada. He entered into their lives, sharing everything with them. Traveling with the various tribes, going on hunts with them, he at times starved with them and at others times nursed them. One story tells of his ministering to the sick and dying among the Blackfoot when a scarlet fever epidemic struck. Seeing Lacombe risk death was a turning point for the Blackfoot. While they did not necessarily accept Lacombe’s message, they accepted the man.

Other stories tell of Lacombe waving a white flag with a red cross and venturing out in front of armed warriors as he pleads for peace during an attack on a Blackfoot camp. Another speaks of when he offered his food to a starving family whom he encountered on the trail and nearly starving to death himself. In his willingness to be all for his people, his prayer becomes, “Lord, let me die for these people.” It is a true Oblate heart.

On February 17, 1826, as the new Oblate congregation was approved, Eugene de Mazenod could not possibly have known the extent of God’s plan. But the Oblate presence has flourished for over one hundred and eighty years and still does so today, with over 4,400 Oblates and uncounted Associates answering God’s call and ministering in five continents. Among them, Father Lacombe OMI stands as an example of what it means to take to heart the Oblate motto: “He sent me to bring Good News to the poor.” Are you willing to heed that call? Happy Feast Day!
Sandra Prather, HOMI

An anchor of the soul

Anchors are to keep boats from moving. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of an anchor of the soul. Instead of an anchor that goes down and stops us from moving the anchor of hope goes up and keeps us moving heavenward. In discernment we need freedom and we need stability. Sometimes we stop moving though because we are thinking and worrying too much. Doubt can become an anchor that keeps us from moving toward our true calling.

True Christian hope means that our deepest desires for fulfillment will only be satisfied in God. Most hoping in this world, however, is based on the fear that our desires will not be satisfied. Christian hope is “sure as it is firm, reaching right through and beyond the veil where Jesus has entered…” Hb 6: 19. In discernment of a vocation we stand on the earthly side of the veil but we are being pulled through it by life. In fact there are many veils that we pass through before the final one. What keeps us moving heavenward is letting hope grow in us. This means giving it space and belief. St. John of the Cross said the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity are like a trinity and when one grows stronger so do the others. The way that we strengthen these virtues is by practicing them.

So in discernment to move forward we need to be making acts of faith and charity that correspond to our hopes. As we do this that sure and firm hope grows in us and speaks to us with an intelligence that our own heart will understand. Discernment then leads to choice and commitment and we are one step closer to our fulfilling our hearts deepest desires.

Peace, Fr. Mark

An Anchor of the Soul

Anchors are to keep boats from moving. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of an anchor of the soul. Instead of an anchor that goes down and stops us from moving the anchor of hope goes up and keeps us moving heavenward.

In discernment we need freedom and we need stability. Sometimes we stop moving though because we are thinking and worrying too much. Doubt can become an anchor that keeps us from moving toward our true calling. True Christian hope means that our deepest desires for fulfillment will only be satisfied in God. Most hoping in this world, however, is based on the fear that our desires will not be satisfied. Christian hope is “sure as it is firm, reaching right through and beyond the veil where Jesus has entered…” Hb 6: 19. In discernment of a vocation we stand on the earthly side of the veil but we are being pulled through it by life. In fact there are many veils that we pass through before the final one.

What keeps us moving heavenward is letting hope grow in us. This means giving it space and belief. St. John of the Cross said the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity are like a trinity and when one grows stronger so do the others. The way that we strengthen these virtues is by practicing them. So in discernment to move forward we need to be making acts of faith and charity that correspond to our hopes. As we do this that sure and firm hope grows in us and speaks to us with an intelligence that our own heart will understand. Discernment then leads to choice and commitment and we are one step closer to our fulfilling our hearts deepest desires.

Peace, Fr. Mark

Eyes Wide Open. Seeing Nothing

What can you see?

Sometimes, it’s a question of what we can see – and, maybe,  more to the point, what we can’t see.   Seeing is so much more than physical sight.  Corrective lenses can often fix our eyesight,  but spiritual seeing as a bit more complicated.

We’d like to see clearly – in all ways.  Especially, we like to be clear about the way  we should go and what’s coming up next.  Especially
as we consider our future and the choices we might make, it would be nice if we  understood, could SEE, what God wanted for us.   We’d all like a little like clarity of vision so that we could know and choose the right path.

But there’s a lovely little phrase in Scripture that gives us a hint about the spiritual life and our ‘seeing’ the future.  It’s from the conversion story of St. Paul  [Acts 9:1-22].  After being knocked to  the ground and hearing Jesus speak to him, Paul gets up and, Scripture tells  us, eyes wide open, he can see nothing.

Sometimes that’s where we are on our journey: eyes wide open, seeing nothing.  We don’t understand what’s happening; we’re not sure what God wants us to do; we can’t
see where we are to go.  We are like Paul, lost and blind about our next moves.

Paul is led by the hand into Damascus.  He ends up waiting there, rather attentively
one has to think, because he doesn’t eat or drink for three days.  He’s waiting for what’s coming next.  Finally, God sends Ananais from the community to help Paul see what he needs to see.  What Paul needs to see is who Jesus really is.   And the rest of Paul’s story is history for us – literally as he becomes the great apostle on fire with Christ.

There are some lessons in that story.  Paul, roadside and knocked off balance, asks
a simple question, “Lord what should I do?”   That’s always a good question to ask.
It’s part of our seeking and discernment.  But note that Paul’s not given an answer
right away.  Instead, he has to go through that period of time when, indeed, he doesn’t see.  Eyes wide open, seeing nothing, he was to wait patiently or even impatiently for the answers to be given, for his sight  to be restored, and wait he does.

Help does come though, as it does to us.  And it comes from an interesting source –
from the Christian community.  Discernment, seeking and understanding, are not meant to be solitary tasks.  On our own, we can too easily fall prey to our own needs and pathologies.   It’s the wisdom inherent in the community that’s going to help us see where we are to go.

So, not sure where you are going?  Can’t see what’s ahead?  Maybe your eyes are wide open but you see nothing?  Relax, you are in good company.  Take a lesson from Paul: ask God what you should do and then, attentively, patiently, in connection with the
community, wait for God’s answer to unfold.

Sandra Prather, HOMI