Provincial Reflection on Transition as End of Term Nears

U.S. Oblate Provincial Administration

From Fr. Louis Studer, OMI

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Fr. Studer’s second term as U.S. Provincial Superior officially ends with the installation of the new Provincial on October 23, 2023. His successor has not yet been appointed)

Dear Oblates and All Who Share Our Charism,

Fr. Louis Studer, OMI

Transitions often invite serious, prolonged reflection about what has been and what could have been. So it is in these thoughts that I find myself these days.

Undoubtedly, I remember most clearly the negative: a suicide, the covid pandemic, confrontations, and misunderstandings. They often overwhelm to the point of blocking the positive: setting ministry priorities, the generosity of Oblates, celebrating our 200th anniversary as a Congregation, “right sizing the province”. 13 Oblates from foreign lands have come to the U.S. to minister here.

Most of all, though, I find myself often re-living the 10 days of unplanned, unexpected time in Canada upon finding out I tested positive for covid while at a CROCUS meeting in Vancouver. A covid test was required for me to return to the States. Not believing the results of the first test, I was determined to take a second, more invasive test the following day, supposedly more reliable: positive again. I have written to you about those days previously, but they have continued to be a significant point of reflection for me and meaningful part of my prayer. So I share these days with you, hoping you can benefit some from my experience.

Luckily, I was able to quarantine at an Oblate parish in Vancouver, St. Augustine’s, where food was brought, comfortable quarters provided, complete with private bedroom, bath, kitchen, and dining room.

Ten days of quarantine required before I could return to the United States! No way out of it!

Despite the fact that I never had any symptoms of the virus, my first four days found me enveloped in anger, frustration and resentment. Not once in those four days was I able to express any gratitude for not experiencing any symptoms. The lack of symptoms even seemed to make the anger and frustration worse. It made no sense that I was not allowed to travel! Not once did I think that my mixing with others might infect them. I was preoccupied with my own anger at having to spend 10 days in this country and parish, where Oblates were  very hospitable and friendly and sensitive to my situation.

On the morning of the fifth day, I woke up early and realized I had no food. Not a problem to walk to a nearby sandwich shop and order something “to go”.

As I walked, a quiet, subtle feeling took over my consciousness, and remained with me a long while. That feeling seemed to capture both my heart and mind at the same time: a gentle, quiet, suggestion for me to accept my situation, my surroundings, the beauty of early winter, the cold, crisp air. The word “surrender” took over my being; “accept this quiet time; use it well; discover some purpose, a plan for yourself these days.”

With that unity of mind and heart, the same message got stronger, more intense throughout the following four days.

Surrender became the spiritual theme of those days. God’s plan, God’s purpose in this in what you must discover and accept, welcome and hold on to. That thought, that feeling will help the days pass more quickly and profitably, I was able to realize.

Upon returning home, I have been blessed to reflect often on the Good Friday experience of St. Eugene before the crucifix. It was his surrendering to God’s plan, as Jesus did on that cross, that changed Eugene, gave new direction and purpose to his life. And then surrendering again and again afterwards, throughout his life.

It seems to me that no one of  us is ever in the place we want to be spiritually.  There is always a further road to take, and surrendering is part and parcel of that road. Surrendering is quite different in youth than it is in both middle and old age, but it is nevertheless a surrendering of one kind or another. A1nd that constant surrendering is the primary way to advance in the spiritual life and in following Jesus.

Countless occasions in Scripture we see Jesus surrendering, giving of Himself over to others, to that final surrender on the cross when He gives over His very self.

With all that has happened these past 12 years in leadership, with the accomplishments and disappointments, with the celebrations and struggles, the blessings, and failures, my unplanned, unexpected, required days of retreat have had the deepest, most intense impact, particularly in my prayer.

I am more grateful than ever for my vocation to the Oblates, most of all because that theme of surrender had such a central place and thrust in Eugene’s life, both in his prayer and ministry. Eugene gave over everything, “leaving nothing undared,” because he discovered on that Good Friday afternoon that Jesus had done the same. Eugene was determined, from that moment on, to do all he could to ensure his missionaries would do likewise.

I thank God for each one of your vocations. May you remain faithful to the holy calling you have received  and continue to commit yourself ever more intensely to a life of surrender to Jesus Christ    I feel privileged to have visited many ministries in the province and throughout the Congregation these past 12 years. Early on in these visits, I was often pre-occupied with the idea of “being close to the people we serve.” We like to  use that phrase about ourselves. What precisely does that mean in practice?

Time and again, as I visited our ministries, I saw that most often Oblates are respectful, grateful, not threatened by, the folks with whom they minister. Oblates are accepting of folks who have particular gifts and special talents in ministry and can contribute in important ways to enhancing Oblate ministries.

Oblates often seek out these folks, encourage them to use their talents to allow the ministry, the outreach, the plans and programs, to progress and enhance the lives of  all  the people they serve. This way of ministering  should make all of us proud! For me this is the synodal church that Pope Francis is calling for. This is the church of our future. This is a great blessing, resulting from the formation we have received, and it marks us as a synodal Congregation. I am thus convinced that we have a significant and vital contribution to continue to offer our Church and our world as Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate!

                                                                                      Louis Studer, O.M.I.