Fr. Paolo Archiati, OMI, Vicar General
The celebration of St. Joseph’s feast is an occasion for reflection on this person whom we honor as patron and protector of the whole Congregation and, in particular, of our Brothers. I would like to share a couple of thoughts on this theme.
My first thought comes from a conversation I had a few weeks ago with one of my brothers while I was taking a few days of relaxation in his family. I do not remember how, but at a certain point, my brother began to remember some Oblate Brothers whom he had had the occasion to meet during his visits to me in the last two communities in which I lived: at Vermicino and at Via Aurelia. Recalling specific Brothers and some of their particular characteristics, this brother of mine, Domenico, used an expression that really struck me. I don’t remember exactly how he put it, but I am going to report it in quotation marks because I want to highlight it, hoping to retain its substance. This is what he told me: “These Brothers are, in my opinion, the example of what a priest should be.” I don’t know if this expression hit me because if was coming from a lay person, from someone who, by current and perhaps hasty criteria, sees things “from outside.” The fact is that I was impressed and still today I think of it often.
“These Brothers are, in my opinion, the example of what a priest should be.” When I think about it, I tell myself that he has probably grasped an important reality. Beyond various considerations and beyond spiritual and theological reflections that we could have about the vocation to ordained ministry, to religious consecration and that special consecration of the religious brother, what struck my brother in his visits to my communities, especially regarding these Brothers, was, on the one hand, their ease at entering into relationships, their simplicity, their ability to be welcoming. On the other hand, he noticed the seriousness with which they lived their work; their profession of any kind, whether greeting people in their service at the porter’s desk or their ability to make things work in a multifaceted house such as a scholasticate or a provincial house or the General House, through services such as carpentry, plumbing, etc.
But beyond this, what endures in that estimation of a layman is something we can retain as a valuable suggestion: in a Congregation where we live together, Fathers and Brothers, the Brother offers the Father some valuable guidance on how he can exercise his ministry. It may seem paradoxical, maybe it is, but despite this, I remain convinced that that statement contains something not only important but true. It made me think of Pope Francis, who, from the beginning of his pontificate, never ceases to remind us that authority is service; that “real power is in service;” that it is not from the perspective of power that we are called to live our priestly vocation but from the perspective of service to our brothers and to the community.
The second reflection that I would like to share has to do with the Committee of Oblate Brothers. As we know, this committee was desired by the General Chapter of 2004 in order to promote this specific vocation within our religious family. The current Superior General together with his Council has decided to keep it because they consider the committee to be important for the life of the family. This committee is being renewed in its membership and it recently began to work on redefining its nature and goals. I believe it is important for the whole family of Saint Eugene, not only to acknowledge its existence but also to contribute to its work in various ways, for the good of the family itself.
In the Oblate world of today, this specific vocation is undoubtedly going through a difficult moment; it is suffering, not only because of a numerical reduction of candidates for this vocation, but also because of the variety of experiences, of traditions, of ways of living it which at times make it difficult to coordinate them. In some Oblate Units, there have been no Oblate Brothers for years, even for decades in some of them. It is question of a social and ecclesial phenomenon, tied in part to the times in which we live, a phenomenon which should be seriously analyzed for what it is, but also for what it means within consecrated life in the Church and in the world.
Personally, I am convinced that it is not necessarily the number which is important, but that the presence of Brothers in our family is still fundamental, I would say essential, not only for their direct witnessing to the Kingdom of God, but also because their life and their presence show us priests who we need to be for the People of God. They tell us that our priestly activity is not limited to the administration of the sacraments, but that our likeness to Jesus the Priest is shown in thousands of other ways, which, by their lives, the Brothers show us. Together with them, we are disciples of the same Master; as sons of the one Father, we are all brothers. The differences in living our service of fraternal charity are secondary. It will be a slow task that requires a change of mentality that should engage everyone. Thanks, dear Oblate Brothers, for what you are in our midst, for what you are for the entire family, for your witness. Happy feast!
(OMI Information No. 553, March 2015)