Letter to a Novice Oblate (III)

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S Benedetto Monaci a tavola.jpg

Here, in a fresco at Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Giovanni Antonio Bazzi depicts Saint Benedict dining with his monks. I am fond of this particular fresco because it shows so well the humanity of Benedictine life, marked by moderation and discretion. Take note of the dog and the cat at the end of the table: happy little members of any Benedictine community.

My very dear Novice Oblate,

Getting to Know Your Monastery

Before beginning your noviceship as an Oblate, you will have spent some time getting to know your monastery, either through visits or through correspondence. Generally, it is during this period of coming to know the monastery and its particular charism, that one begins to sense inwardly a desire to pursue the path of Oblation.

Married Couples

I recommend that before asking to be received as a Novice Oblate, married men and women ask the blessing of their spouses. Sometimes it happens that both a husband and wife together will want to follow Our Lord more closely as Oblates. At other times, a husband alone, or a wife alone may discern Our Lord's call to follow Him in this way. In our present group of Oblates we have all three situations represented: couples, husbands alone, and wives alone. It is worth noting that the patroness of the Benedictine Oblateship, Saint Francesca of Rome (1384-1440) was an Oblate, while her cherished husband, Lorenzo Ponziani, was not.

Diocesan Priests

Similarly, I recommend that diocesan priests, who desire to become Oblates, ask the blessing of their Bishop before beginning the noviceship. The way of Oblation is, for many priests, a powerful incentive to pursue a singlehearted holiness while labouring in the vineyard of the Lord. Benedictine Oblate priests often develop an outstanding zeal for the beauty and dignity of the Sacred Liturgy. Being an Oblate supports a diocesan priest in holding to a personal discipline of life that, apart from an attentive celebration of the Divine Office, includes daily lectio divina, an hour of adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and the humble but powerful prayer of the Rosary.

Each Monastery: A Unique Family

The primary motive behind one's request to pursue the Oblate vocation in relationship to the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle will be a spiritual affinity with the particular way in which we seek to live out the Benedictine vocation in our monastic family. Normally, each Benedictine monastery is autonomous; it constitutes a unique family with its own characteristics, customs, and understanding of the Rule of the Saint Benedict. While most monasteries, today, have grouped themselves into federations or so-called "congregations," these groupings do not affect the principle of the autonomy of each house, which, among Benedictines, remains guarded as a fundamental principle. The Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle is not, at the moment, incorporated into any federation of monasteries, although we are actively pursuing such an incorporation, and hope to bring it to completion before very long.

The Benedictine Order

Unlike the Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Jesuits, Passionists, Salesians, and nearly every other Order or Congregation in the Church, apart from the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri, the Benedictines do not constitute a centrally administrated monolithic body, governed by a Superior General. When a man or woman becomes a Benedictine, he or she does not enter the "Benedictine Order" per se; he or she enters a particular monastery in which the order of life, or the particular way of going to God is determined by the Rule of Saint Benedict.

An Ordered Way of Life

The "Order of Saint Benedict" (O.S.B.), therefore, is not so much a world-wide organization with a governing bureaucracy; it is an order, that is, an ordered way of life, that the Rule of Saint Benedict transmits from generation to generation in the Church. Abbot Guéranger (1805-1875), the restorer of Solesmes and founder of the Benedictine Congregation of Solesmes, was a diocesan priest with no previous monastic experience. When his critics challenged him about his use of the designation "Benedictine," he replied, "It is by following the Rule of Saint Benedict, that we shall be Benedictines." Well said!

The Noviceship

Once I, acting as Prior, have accepted an individual's request to become an Oblate, there follows a full year of noviceship during which one applies oneself to seeking God under the guidance of the Rule (RB 58:12). The noviceship begins with a ceremony during which I (personally, or through a priest delegate) present the novice with a copy of the Rule of Saint Benedict, clothe him or her in the Benedictine scapular, and give him or her the name of a new patron saint.

Getting to Know the Rule of Saint Benedict

As a novice Oblate, endeavour to read a short portion -- even a few verses -- of the Rule of Saint Benedict daily. You need to become familiar with Saint Benedict's teachings if you are to apply them in your life (cf. RB Pro:1-2).

I recommend that novice Oblates raising young families obtain and read The Rule of Saint Benedict for Family Life Today by Dom Massimo Lapponi, O.S.B. (If you can't find it, I can send you a pdf of the text.) I also recommend Father Dwight Longenecker's two books: Listen My Son, Saint Benedict for Fathers, and Saint Benedict and Saint Thérèse, the Little Rule and the Little Way.

I am also writing these letters to you, and publishing them on Vultus Christi, so as to provide you with a kind of ongoing spiritual accompaniment, and with practical counsels for integrating the wisdom of the Rule of Saint Benedict into your state in life.

A Daily Rhythm of Prayer

Please think about some daily rhythm of prayer compatible with your state of life, and when you are ready, write a brief outline of it and send it to me. I will give it my attention, pray over it, and respond to you with my comments and with my blessing.

This daily rhythm of prayer, adapted to your circumstances, health, and state of life, will include some form of the Divine Office. This may be very simple and brief. In the cases of some Oblates, whose state of life precludes anything else, it may be no more than a few verses from a psalm, followed by an Our Father and a Hail Mary. Other Oblates may be able to follow the full round of the Divine Office as carried out in the monastery. Most Oblates, however, will do something falling somewhere in between. Eucharistic adoration, lectio divina, and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary will also find expression in your life as an Oblate. Concerning these things, be sure to read my last letter.

Looking Toward Oblation

Three months before the end of your noviceship, you will write to me, asking to make your Oblation. This will be the subject of one of my next letters to you. In the meantime, I send you my affection and my blessing.

In lumine vultu Iesu,

Father Prior

1 Comments

Benedictine monastaries remind me of Eastern Catholic/Orthodox monasteries. Each adapts their founder's rule to their present circumstances. I think in this we see how much St. Benedict learned from Eastern monasticism, no?

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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