The sight of the cross… one Good Friday
Retreat Journal, December 1814, O.W. XV n.130
The Emperor Constantine, who had a devotion to the Roman goddess of Victory, changed his focus before an important battle when he had a vision of the cross and the words “In this sign you will conquer.” It became the point of focus for his armies and a much-quoted expression over the centuries as some aspects of Christianity were misused at the service of power.
In a positive way, Eugene’s sight of the cross became a life-long focus: “In this sign you will conquer.” In this sign the struggle against the power of evil would be undertaken. Writing about the missionary vision of the Oblates:
And thus, filled with unbounded confidence in God, they are ready to enter the combat, to fight, even unto death, for the greater glory of his most holy and sublime Name…
Thus, it is supremely important, it is urgently imperative, that we lead the multitude of lost sheep back to the fold, that we teach these degenerate Christians who Jesus Christ is, that we rescue them from Satan’s power and show them the way to eternal life. We must spare no effort to extend the Savior’s empire and to destroy the dominion of hell. We must check the manifold evils of sin and establish the honoured observance of every virtue
Here is the reason why Eugene insisted that the Oblate cross be our only distinctive sign as missionaries.
“Love, not anger, brought Jesus to the cross. Golgotha came as a result of God’s great desire to forgive, not his reluctance. Jesus knew that by his vicarious suffering he could actually absorb all the evil of humanity and so heal it, forgive it, redeem it.” Richard J. Foster,
There is a part of me this morning that struggles with the ‘language’, the sense of military, war, conquering – it is all quite foreign and repugnant to me this morning. I am unable to identify with the wording and not entirely sure I want to. Remembering that Eugene wrote this in another time and place does not seem to help and I idly wonder what I might be trying to run from this morning, what I might want to avoid inside of myself. It seems that when I struggle like this with a desire to walk away and come back another day there is something else going on.
Even as I write these words I realise that ‘I am empty’, with no beautiful thoughts and words to offer, no lovely insights save to say that I feel empty and devoid of much of anything save the desire to pick up my cross and hold onto it quite tightly. A thought comes to me that this Cross is the only sign I wear of what was, is and will be in my life today.
The battle that I do today seems mostly to be with myself. So I stand, firmly planted grasping my Cross, my only sign of my salvation.
When I was in formation in the U.S. I used to hear Oblates say, “The Oblate cross is our only distinctive sign.” Yet, they failed to realize several things: 1) It is not the ONLY sign St. Eugene directed his Oblates to carry/wear. For example, the General Chapter of 1837 decreed: “On Oblation day, each will receive with the cross, which is the authentic sign of our mission, the scapular of the Immaculate Conception, which should be worn under our clothing.” On August 18, 1843 the Founder wrote to Father Honorat: This Scapular “will serve as a uniform which distinguishes us.”
2) The small replica of the Oblate cross they were referring to while saying this is not the Oblate Cross St. Eugene was talking about or the one blessed on Profession day that the celebrant takes gives to the perpetually professed saying: Receive THIS cross, a symbol of Christ’s suffering and death. May IT be a sign of hope and salvation to you AND TO ALL THE PEOPLE WHOM YOU WILL EVANGELIZE. (emphasis added).
It seems quite obvious that the Oblates in the U.S. (and around the world) who say this so as to support their belief that Oblates should not wear a roman collar or their Oblate cross and cassock for fear of “separating themselves from those whom they serve” or for any other reason are certainly not living up to the spirituality of St. Eugene expressed in his own words and in the rule: “The Oblate habit is the same as the clerical dress of the diocese in which we live” (not the habit of the community which so often neglects to wear a roman collar)…this is after all the original reason for the Oblate Cross…so that it would distinguish the Oblates from the diocesan clergy. Next it says, “When we wear a cassock, our only distinctive sign is the Oblate cross” (when not if). – Oblate Constitutions and Rules #’s 63 & 64)
So, if you are an Oblate or an Oblate Associate please do not use this quote from St. Eugene out of context or ignore his spirit and words which so beautifully express the depth of his devotion to THE Oblate Cross received at perpetual profession. I personally don’t believe he would have ever accepted a replica of the Oblate cross to be worn in its place of the original no matter how “inconvenient” or “impersonal” or “distracting” or “excessive” or “elitist” or “insensitive” or “politically incorrect” or “not inclusive enough” or any other excuse you can think of that rationalizes its discontinued use…#BringBackTheOriginal Thank you.
After re-reading my post this morning, I would like to apologize for sounding harsh or judgmental of those who disagree with me…it was not my intention. I am forever indebted to the Oblate community in the U.S. and abroad for helping form and mentor me through a critical time of discernment. I pass no judgement on Oblate priests who don’t wear a roman collar…many of them are my friends and mentors and I respect them whole-heartedly. I was simply stating my past frustrations with what I believe to be an often mis-quoted text from St. Eugene. As for my comments on bringing back the original Oblate Cross….well I guess you can say it’s just that important….a powerful sign and symbol of the Oblate charism and constant reminder of those who’ve heroically witnessed to its powerful effect in the world. Does it posses some miraculous power that the smaller replica doesn’t…of course not but what if the Staue of Liberty were removed, put into storage and replaced with a much smaller replica how would that play out in the hearts of past and present immigrants to this great land who’ve always seen in it a symbol of the great freedoms we enjoy? What we have here is much greater than the Statue of Liberty. Thank you.