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Discerning new Directions in Ministry
21/02/2012 Address of Father General to the OMI Lacombe Province Convocation

Excerpts from this talk given by the Superior General at on November 16, 2011.

Part I

I am very happy to be here among you at the OMI Lacombe Canada Convocation: Fanning the Flame: Discerning New Directions in Ministry. Thank you, Father John Malazdrewich, Provincial and Ms. Sandy Prather, Convocation Chair, for inviting me. I come to this great Province which has its origin in many former Oblate Provinces, each of which contributed significantly to the history and development of the Congregation and of Canada through more than 150 years of intense missionary activity. It is a great honor for me to be here with you and I am very grateful for this opportunity.

I have been asked to speak on our sense of Oblate mission and the Call to Conversion in the context of your theme: Fanning the Flame: Discerning New Directions in Ministry. I believe that all of us are growing into understanding and participating in what the Spirit is asking of us in this Call to Conversion from our last General Chapter.

I would like to speak about the Call to Conversion as the dynamic process by which we strive to participate in God’s mission. This process makes it possible for OMI Lacombe Canada to discern new directions in ministry, participating as a community of consecrated men and Associates in God’s mission.

I understand the Call to Conversion made by the General Chapter of 2010 as nothing less than the very call to embrace anew the Gospel itself. The Gospel of Mark begins immediately with John the Baptist preaching a change of heart and then Jesus himself arrives, calling us to repent and believe the Good News (Mark 1:115). The 35th General Chapter has invited us to accept the same Gospel invitation to repentance, to open wide the doors of our lives to receive the Good News, Jesus Christ, to receive one another and the poor and marginalized. This Call is prophetic (Mt 16:2123) and we realize it may take us where we might not want to go (Jn 21:1519). It may be the call to go from an area of sinfulness in our lives to a life more open to grace. This Call to Conversion also may be the call to go from a good life to a holy life. In some way, all of us are challenged by the Call to Conversion. If we dare respond to this Call, and the very Gospel, Saint Eugene and the General Chapter demand it of us, our participation in God’s mission will be full of power and our lives will truly be at the service of the Gospel, of the Church and of the poor.

How is the Call to Conversion a real part of our lives at the service of God’s mission? There seems to be a fourfold movement through which we move many times in our life, deeper and deeper into the mystery of grace. These four movements are: (I) Repentance; (II) Meeting Jesus; (III) Deciding; and (IV) Crossing borders.

I First of all, conversion involves repentance. Conversion, this grace from God, brings us to recognize where we are bound by weakness and sin in our lives and stirs us up to desire to be changed and renewed. Repentance leads to growth in the freedom necessary to follow Jesus and live the Gospel. We must take a hard look at our way of living and our ministry in light of the Gospel, our CC & RR, and most recently, the General Chapter’s Calls to Conversion in the various dimensions of our lives: mission, community life, ongoing formation, leadership and the use of finances… In these areas we find so much that needs growth, change and repentance in our lives.

I will mention three particular areas for us to consider in this area of repentance: first, we need inner freedom to do God’s will; second, we must live for God alone; third, we are called to create, nourish and deepen communion among us.

A – FREEDOM

We are here together as missionaries to speak of God’s mission and our place in that mission. We must ask ourselves whether or not we are free for God’s mission. A theologian in Brazil once reflected with those in formation about the vow of obedience and freedom. He said we are capable of doing God’s will only when we are interiorly free. He went on to explain that only a free person can be obedient in the fullest sense. Religious who lack inner freedom cannot be obedient because when they obey it is mere conformity to directives.

Jesus points to radical inner freedom in his teachings. He teaches that we must lose our life to save it. Can I let go of my life? He told us that if we are forced to walk a mile, freely go more: go two! If we are hit on one side of the face, we should offer the other side. If our overcoat is taken by force, generously we offer our suit coat, sweater, etc. Jesus’ radical freedom is most strongly expressed when he says: “The Father loves me for this: that I lay down my life to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down freely” (John 10:1718). (Recall the gesture of the Bishop in Les Miserables when the police brought in the man who had taken the silverware.)

We have come together as a Province to discern how best we might participate in God’s mission. It is essential that we be on the road to freedom to be able to enter this conversation. We have come together as an apostolic community asking the Holy Spirit how we can be at the service of God’s mission. This is a gracefilled search to do God’s will. To pray, to listen to God’s Word in one another, in the Scriptures, in the Church and in the poor, and to come to decisions demands great interior liberty, integrity and honesty with oneself and with others.

I believe this is an area of repentance we need to consider. Our lack of inner freedom and not being aware of that lack of freedom can make our discernment less than it should be. We are called to conversion from individualism to the communion of Oblates seeking God’s Will. To come together to ask God “What should our priorities be?” and to discern in freedom how we should respond to God’s invitation to mission is a tremendous grace of the Spirit. You have chosen well to do this. 

Questions:
  • How free am I; are we?
  • Have I come with my plans, my attachments and my nonnegotiables?
  • Am I free to listen to God’s voice speaking in many ways?
  • Am I capable of communion, respecting, listening to and accepting the other?

Certainly we come with passion and convictions about where and how we, as Oblates, should serve the poor today. It is important that we share our convictions with the group as part of the discernment. There is a difference between sharing openly and honestly our convictions and passions on one hand and stubborn insistence on getting our way on the other hand.

Gospel freedom is required to participate in the discernment with trust and openness and then when a decision is made, to lay down my life and be available for what has been decided.

To be continued…