declared. The French Oblate made the comment in his homily at the 1st Eucharistic assembly of the Congress and I wondered what it meant.”
“. It is common enough to hear now, but back in 1996, only one year after Eugene had been declared a saint, it was a new idea for me.
What does it mean to say that a religious congregation’s ‘charism’ belongs to the Church? We were to discover, over the course of the 4-day Congress, what it meant to the Oblates!
Again, it was Father General Zago who unpacked the idea for us. He noted, quoting Witnessing as Apostolic Community #40, that, ‘lay people are knocking at our doors, asking to share the charism,’ and that the Oblates were happy to do so. Tracing the growth in understanding of Oblate participation and collaboration with the laity between the 1980/82 Rules and the 1992 Chapter, he drew on two Chapter documents in particular, Missionaries in Today’s World 1986 and Witnessing as Apostolic Community 1992. Both significantly addressed the role of the laity, leading him to assert that Association is a ‘sign of the times’ for the Oblates, one which he hoped would bring new life and energy to the mission.
In this idea of sharing the charism, he was, once again, ‘thinking like the Church.’ Pope John Paul II wrote to the religious institutes in Vita Consecrata , describing how, after the Second Vatican Council, many religious congregations saw the possibility of sharing the charism of their Founder or Foundress with laity. He noted, “When we truly understand the Church as a communion, we see that the gifts given to some are meant for the benefit of all. Such cooperation and exchange of gifts allows for a more effective participation in the Church’s mission. Such sharing with the lay faithful can occur at the level of both spirituality and the apostolate [mission]. Where it happens, it is a source of life for both. [John Paul II, “Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata,” 1996 # 54, 55, 56].
Zago’s understanding of this sharing of the charism between Oblates and laity can be found in a series of speeches he gave throughout the congregation in the years prior to the Congress. In part, he will say it is a movement whereby Oblate and laity move from being cooperators to being fellow disciples of Christ Jesus in the spirit of de Mazenod. It involves a transition from dependency on the part of the laity to true sharing; from laity being the objects of mission to being the subjects of mission; from partial to full cooperation between Oblates and laity; from a cooperation in ‘doing’ to a communion in ‘being’; from separation to a sharing which is differentiated and mutual. Marcello Zago. . . “Oblates and Laity Can Cooperate in the Light of the Charism” [Vie Oblate Life, April 1995, Marcello Zago].
Laity, Zago told us, are coming from all over the globe asking to share in the Oblate’s ministry and charism, not just in work that is performed. They are asking, he noted, for an actual sharing in the charism and the mission of the Oblates.
It is a major shift that I understood this way: we all know the scientific principle of osmosis: what you get close to gets inside you. Much sharing of the Oblate spirit, I think, was accomplished this way. Oblates always work closely with the people, so work alongside an Oblate long enough and something will rub off! Many, many of the baptized have become close friends and collaborators of the Oblates in this way.
But this is something different. Recognizing that the Spirit has set Eugene’s charism free in the Church, there is the following corollary that lay people will be gifted with it and Oblates are called to share it. It is more than an accidental ‘picking up’ of what the Oblates are about. It is a dream about a deliberate, conscious sharing of Oblate charism and ministry. “We are not the owners of our charism,” the Oblates state, “it belongs to the Church. And so we are happy to see that lay persons who are called by God want to share it.” [Witnessing as Apostolic Community #40]
The Congress was to ‘give skin’ to what that sharing would look like.
Sandra Prather, HOMI