Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 17, 2003
Oblate family changes, survives, thrives
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
On Dec. 8 2003, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate of Canada will experience a major shift. Members of five of Canada's eight Oblate provinces will join a new province with its headquarters in Ottawa.
The new province whose name will be OMI Lacombe Province will number about 350 priests and brothers and it will virtually serve in most provinces and territories of Canada.
Besides Lacombe Province two other Oblate provinces will continue to function: Assumption Province administering mainly to Polish immigrants whose headquarters are in Toronto. Also St. Joseph's Province in Montreal and Notre Dame du Rosaire in Quebec City will soon join to form the new Notre-Dame du Cap Province with headquarters in Montreal.
A five-day gathering of most of the members of the new Lacombe Province took place in Calgary May 29-June 2 of this year to launch the new province. About 175 members attended. The men responded positively to plans for a new administration and embraced a bold new future with faith and hope mixed in with pain and regrets.
Thirty years ago the Oblates in Canada numbered over 2,000 men. Today we number about 700. Our world has changed: vocations have dipped to very few. The years of hard labour took its toll and many have left us for a better world.
I joined the Oblates some 43 years ago by going to the novitiate. Over 30 novices joined the order that year. At the Oblate seminary in Ottawa there were over 200 Oblate seminarians and another 60 in Lebret, Sask. while St. Peter's Province in Ottawa had another 50 candidates.
Today we have few vocations. It seems that we're in a time of transition. The energy is low. We're carrying the heavy cross of the Indian residential schools issue that is draining our resources, both human and financial. We are at a turning point. Turning points are not a pleasant place to be, but they can provide opportunities for renewal and new life.
I believe that presently the Oblates are with their patron saint, Blessed Mary, at the foot of the cross witnessing the end of a dream, the end of an era. What did Mary do? She stood faithfully at the foot of the cross witnessing the death of her son. And she pondered all these things in her heart.
Not knowing what's up in a year, even in a week from now, yet believing that the sun will still rise, that hurts do heal and that new beginnings are possible. This attitude of pondering in hope is required from all of us who at sometime in life encounter a wall which may seem insuperable. With patience nourished by hope, one can go on and give a chance to the Spirit and to the life in us to create anew and to be ready to welcome fresh opportunities.
Another biblical reality that is timely in moments of crisis, decline or change, comes to us through the prophet Ezekiel (chapter 37) who writes about his vision of God setting the prophet down in the middle of a valley full of bones that are dried up.
God asked him: "Son of man, can these bones live?" "You know, Lord Yahweh." He said: "Prophecy over these bones. The Lord Yahweh says this to these bones: I am now going to make my breath enter you and you will live. I shall put sinews on you, I shall make flesh grow on you, I shall cover you with skin and give you breath and you will live and you will learn that I am Yahweh.'"
While the prophet prophesied he heard a clattering sound as the bones joined together. Then he saw sinews and flesh grow on them and skin covering them. But there was no breath in them. So he was ordered to prophecy again and he ordered breath to come from the four winds. The breath entered them and they came to life and stood on their feet, a great and immense army.
God revealed to the prophet that these bones are the house of Israel. "I mean to raise you from your graves, my people and bring you back to your land," says the Lord.
The Church in its 2,000 years of existence has needed a fresh input of God's breath many times in order to help her pick herself up and continue her journey in history. We too as individuals and as families (including the Oblate family) need to have faith and to take heart and be receptive to the life-giving breath of the Spirit who's sent by God as a total gift "to renew the face of the earth."
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