Last July, I took part in the Congress on the Charism in Context as both a celebration of the heritage of our Oblate family and as a commitment to renew ourselves as a Congregation in the dynamics of the Oblate charism, such as the Spirit is inviting us to do today. The essential role of first and ongoing formation within this dynamic of renewal was strongly emphasized throughout the Congress.
Constitution 46 rightly reminds us the “goal of the formation process is that each of us become an apostolic man, capable of living the Oblate charism.” Therefore, formation promotes the growth of these Oblate values which those in charge of formation have discovered in the candidate through accompaniment and discernment in prayer. The first stages of the formation journey allow for the discovery of and the first steps in nourishing and watching over the growth of the Oblate missionary spirituality of the candidate.
Obviously, formation after the novitiate, the longest stage of initial formation in most cases, and that which accompanies the preparation for perpetual oblation, have a fundamental role in this process of growth and assimilation of Oblate values. During this stage, the life choice that the young man has made and deepened during his vocational journey, the pre-novitiate and novitiate, is strengthened, becomes more stable and more in tune with the charism of the Congregation today. The sense of belonging as a member of the Institute is reinforced. It is a period that prepares the young Oblate to say a definitive yes to God’s call to become an apostolic man, animated by the Oblate charism. To become an Oblate, to become an apostolic man, animated by the Oblate spirit, is a process that is gradual and continues throughout life. This is why formation after the novitiate, lived in a formation community, remains a required course for each Oblate, whether a candidate for priesthood or the vocation of a Brother.
Constitution 46 describes this apostolic man as a person who “inspired by the example of Mary”, lives “in creative and ongoing fidelity our personal commitment to Jesus Christ, while serving the Church and God’s Kingdom.” This definition of the apostolic man animated by the Oblate charism constitutes an essential pillar of the formation program after the novitiate. It is a period during which the formandi will “live out their consecration in such a way that it permeates all aspects and activities of their daily life.” (C 65)
The Marian dimension Oblate formation is expressed through the invitation to follow the example of Mary in one’s oblation, one’s faith response and willingness to consecrate oneself to the work of Christ. Mary is the model of our oblation and formandi learn to look to her, to pray to her and to imitate her.
The commitment to follow Jesus Christ means putting him at the center of our lives and living a truly personal encounter with him. This is realized in a life of prayer and devotion to Christ. “This ever creative fidelity is fidelity that is renewed every morning and which finds, in everyone and everywhere, new ways to get in touch with Christ and give him to others.” (Fernand JETTÉ, OMI The Apostolic Man, Commentary on the Oblate Constitutions and Rules 1982, p. 265).
In general, our Congregation can be proud of good formation after the novitiate, which is lived in community, around the person of Christ, with teams of formators who are dedicated and well committed to their mission. In addition to the five Oblate institutes of higher learning that offer good philosophical, theological and other formation, most of our formandi study at universities, theological institutes and major seminaries where they receive a solid intellectual and doctrinal formation. But because of an academic program that is often very busy, it is tempting to leave to these institutes all responsibility for forming our candidates after the novitiate. But the deepening of the Oblate charism and our missionary spirituality must continue during formation after the novitiate. Oblate formation must always consider the spiritual, human, intellectual and missionary dimensions of the apostolic man. The development of a strong formation program in each house of formation after the novitiate helps to maintain this harmony. And to do that, the formators themselves must constantly renew themselves.
Putting oneself totally at the service of the Church and the Kingdom is the result of a generous and joyful response to God’s call. It is the orientation of a life seized by Christ who gives himself totally to the poor. Formation after the novitiate allows young Oblates to grow in a total and free oblation of their being for the proclamation of the Gospel to all peoples, especially the poorest. This proclamation is made as Church, as community and through community. In an ever creative fidelity.
Cornelius Ngoka, OMI, Assistant General
(OMI Information No. 559, October 2015)