A unique element of the religious life and spirituality of the Oblates of St. Joseph is the way we live together as a community. It is not that living in community is itself unique–religious orders and congregations throughout history have been doing this in innumerably different ways since Jesus began his preaching. Rather, it is the way the Oblates live in community that makes their community life a particularly important part of their charism.
The common life of the Oblates is patterned after the Holy Family of Nazareth. The first lesson we learn from the Holy Family is that Jesus was always at the center of their life. Although Mary is the pinnacle of God’s creation, and Joseph received singular graces to enable him to be the earthly father of Jesus, their life together was never about them; their own greatness was never the center of attention, because they had Jesus always with them to be adored. And so we too as Oblates must never focus on our own unique and important gifts we bring to the community, but instead always look to Jesus to be the bond that unites us together as brothers.
Another thing we learn from the Holy Family is that their life together was not simple a contractual obligation or necessary burden in order to fulfill their vocation. Rather, they understood that their common life together with Jesus was itself a gift and part of salvation history. That is, they weren’t being called to simply endure each other for the purpose of getting to heaven: they were called to love each other, to respect each other, to support each other in order that their journey might be that much more joyful. The Oblates see their community life in the same way: it must be not only a means of sanctification and enduring difficulties (which nevertheless is part of community life, as any married couple would admit!), but also an an opportunity to support and be supported, to assist and be assisted, and to share the joys and struggles that come on the way to the Christian goal. Therefore, community life as Oblates is not only to love one other, but to work to enjoy each other’s company and contribution to the community.
This spirit also extends to our ministries and apostolates. As Oblates we avoid individual assignments or projects which might lead to isolation and separation from community. We always strive to live in communities of at least three confreres in order to foster an environment of collaboration and mutual support. To be an Oblate, therefore, means to live our community life with a family spirit of mutual respect, support, and encouragement, always willing to place the needs of the community before one’s own interests or endeavors.