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Francis Ebner's Oblate Charism: Life, Community, and Faith

Benjamin Lyle Berger
Research Associate, Provincial Museum of Alberta

Pas disponible in Francais.

We are men "set apart for the Gospel" (Rom 1:1), men ready to leave everything to be disciples of Jesus. The desire to co-operate with him draws us to know him more deeply, to identify with him, to let him live in us.

We strive to reproduce in ourselves the pattern of his life. Thus, we give ourselves to the Father in obedience even unto death and dedicate ourselves to God's people in unselfish love. Our apostolic zeal is sustained by the unreserved gift we make of ourselves in our oblation, an offering constantly renewed by the challenges of our mission. (Constitutions and Rules, 1:2)1

I was introduced to the Oblate world through my work at the Provincial Museum of Alberta.2 It is a world to which my Jewish heritage had offered little exposure and about which I possessed only impressions and shadows of truths. This changed as Father Francis Ebner initiated me into the Oblate culture. Through my relationship with him, I have gained an appreciation of the Roman Catholic faith and the Oblate congregation.3 The time I have spent with Father Ebner has also introduced me to an exceptional disposition, the charism, possessed by some individuals.4 Many of the Oblate missionaries with whom I have spoken are endowed with this disposition, but Father Ebner particularly exemplifies its presence. Fundamental to the missionary vision of the Oblates is a deep regard for life, community, and faith. These facets of the charism originate in childhood formation, are synthesized in priestly vocation, and are manifested in the meaning-laden life of the Oblate.

I have spent much time enjoying stories of Father Ebner's childhood. From his birth in the train station in Nickerson, Minnesota,5 to the selection of a vocation in the Oblate congregation, nature is a fundamental and compelling theme that runs as a current through his life. It is impossible not to be struck by its importance in Father Ebner'sworld. Nickerson Train StationAs a youngster immersed in the rich natural world of rural Minnesota, Father Ebner cherished the time he could spend in the woods surrounding his home. Work was to be done quickly so that he could have time for nature's pleasures. Father Ebner told me that at the end of the school day, he and his friends would eagerly rush home and out into the woods. Yet, this is not to say that nature and work were divided in any absolute or definitive way. Hunting and trapping was not only for sport, but also for food. The trees were beautiful, but they also provided wood for burning. Nature is not to be exploited, nor is it independent from human existence. Father Ebner was raised with an understanding of the intrinsically powerful, awe inspiring, and nourishing qualities of nature. The synthesis does not, however, end at this level. These are also the qualities of creation and, insofar as creation is the energy of God, its qualities are representative of God's glory. As such, Father Ebner's formation in the natural world cultivated in him a love for life while establishing a deep regard for the transcendent features of existence illuminated by all creation.


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