Oblate Motto: Tenui nec Dimittam

This week's reflection is written by
Very Rev. Lewis S. Fiorelli, OSFS

The motto for our Oblate Congregation comes from Chapter 3, verse 4 of the Song of Songs: tenui nec dimittam: “I have hold of you and I will not let you go!”

The Song of Songs, one of the shortest books in the Bible, was one of Francis de Sales’s favorites. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has reminded us, scripture scholars believe that before it became sacred scripture, this short work was initially a series of love songs that were sung at Jewish weddings.

Most of us are familiar with the story. Two lovers get separated in a crowded Jewish bazar. They search frantically for one another, asking everybody they meet if they have seen their beloved. “He looks like this. She looks like that.”

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Finally, nearly exhausted, they see each other from a distance; they run toward one another and when they meet, they embrace and they kiss. It is then that they utter these words of incredible joy: “I have at last found you and I will never again let you go!” A beautiful love story and a happy ending.

But for Francis de Sales it is much more than that. This simple and beautiful love story is also the story of salvation history. In the beginning, God and the human family became separated from one another. We call that moment of sad separation the Fall. Following the Fall, the Bible recounts the story of salvation history as God’s searching love for us and our searching love for God.

For Francis, the Incarnation is the moment when the human family and God find one another at last. In Jesus, God and the human family meet, embrace, and kiss. This is why Francis does not hesitate to describe the Incarnation as God’s kiss to creation. At the meeting of the human and divine in the Incarnation, each says to the other: “tenui nec dimittam”: “I have at last found you, and I will never again let you go!”

Francis wants you and me to hear those very words from God and to speak those same words to him. But he wants more. In the last Book of the Treatise on the Love of God, chapter 12, he insists that each of us must understand and accept the mysteries of salvation and our faith in a very personal and life-altering manner. From all eternity and especially from the moment of the Fall, then, God has been searching tireless for you and for me! Yes, for you and for me—even by first and last name, as Francis insists in that same chapter 12 of Book 12 of the Treatise!

At some moment in our life the search for God ended for each of us. We had finally found the One we had been searching for. And at that very moment, faith was transformed from something that we had believed with our head into a truth that we knew with all our heart. Thus, that moment was, for each of us, the turning point in our life. We had found —at last—our heart’s desire.

But we must never take that moment for granted. Rather, let us say to Jesus over and over again throughout the course of our lives, with its joys and its sorrows, its ups and its downs: “Tenui nec dimittam: I have at last found you, and I will never – ever – let you go again.” These words express the tenacity, the strength of love. Let us listen as Jesus says those very same words to each of us: Tenui nec dimittam! Those words, heard, said and believed over and over again throughout the course of lives make of each of us who we are truly called to be: one who loves, follows, and lives Jesus!