This was the theme and focus of our annual Oblate retreat this year. It was held at the beautiful Manresa Spiritual Renewal Centre in Pickering, Ontario run by the Jesuits. Spending time together like this is a welcome break from the ongoing busyness of daily life.
There were some 29 Oblates, associates and affiliates present from the Ontario District of OMI Lacombe Canada. The three and a half day retreat was led by Fr. Bonga Majola, OMI. Originally from South Africa, Fr. Bonga, of Zulu heritage, is currently attached to the Aix-en-Provence Prayer House in France. His ministry includes the De Mazenod Experience and renewal of the Oblate charism through focus on the life of our Order’s founder St. Eugene de Mazenod.
“The world needs the Oblate charism more than ever.”
Fr. Bonga Majola, OMI
In a series of masterful reflections interwoven with writings of St. Eugene, scripture references, quotes from Pope’s Francis and JPII, relevant constitutional and other important Oblate texts, a centering focus on Jesus Christ, silence during the mornings and a call to action from the 36th General Chapter, we were engaged from start to finish in an intensely personal experience.
We started with the Parable of the Sower of seeds from MT 13:1-23. Those who hear God’s word but do not understand it are like seeds sown along the path that are snatched away by the birds. Those who receive the seed on rocky soil receive it with joy but they quickly fall away when trouble or persecution begins. Those who receive the seed in thorny soil are distracted by life’s worries and wealth, so that God’s spirit in them is choked out. Those who receive the seed on good soil, produce a good crop that yields many many times what was sown.
We explored St. Eugene’s pain of a broken family and his aimless life until he has that encounter with the crucified Christ on that Good Friday in 1806. He realizes in all his brokenness that he is loved unconditionally by God and has been redeemed by the blood of Christ. He starts to heal, is completely transformed and decides to devote his life to the glorification of God and the salvation of souls with a preferential option for the poor. The seed of the charism given to St. Eugene by God is reaching out to the poor. Due to the lack of family stability in his childhood, Eugene had a strong need for loving family relations which led him to establish the community of the Oblates. A community that would:
“Help people to be human beings, then to be Christians, then to be holy and finally to become Saints”
Along the way, St. Eugene had to carry many crosses – his impulsive strong personality, his need to be loved, jealousy he sometimes aroused in others, personal rejection and powerlessness. What are the crosses I must bear? If Christ went through such immense suffering on the cross – so can I!
I realize Eugene’s life is a template for my own – broken, in need of healing, an encounter with Jesus Christ, healing, a desire to know God, to seek holiness and even a striving to become a saint. If Christ is not at the centre of my life, why not? We discussed the importance of community and our need for love and support to help each other in our journey from brokeness to sainthood. We acknowledged that problems exist in Oblate community life much like problems exist in other communities and among married couples. We need to first recognize our own brokenness and seek healing before we can reach out and help others in their brokenness. We must ponder the meaning of scripture before we can be credible witnesses and affirm others.
As members of the Mazenodian Family our call to action are the priorities expressed at the 36th General Chapter in 2016, namely:
- Mission and the new faces of the poor
- Mission with youth
- Formation for mission
- Mission and interculturality
- Mission and social media
- Mission and finance
I left with a feeling of peace, gratitude and greater acceptance of myself and others. I feel renewed having realized again that Jesus really does love me. I felt more capable than ever of passing his love on others in my life and of being more accepting of others’ differences. Much gratitude and appreciation was expressed by all to Fr. Bonga for his youthful witness, for his joy and for his skillful guiding of us on this intensely personal renewal experience. The charism of St Eugene lives on in each of us by dwelling on the seed of life, the water of baptism and the softening of our hearts through love of the cross.
Thank you Fr. Bonga, St. Eugene and all my Mazenodian family brothers and sisters for this wonderful renewal experience. I can hardly wait until next year’s retreat.
I would like to thank my wife Marie for journeying with me and helping me find the right words to capture this Oblate retreat experience.