Become Like a Consuming Fire

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The First Benedictine Oblates

In the Benedictine tradition, January 15th is the feast of the young disciples of Our Father Saint Benedict, Maur and Placid. Who are Maur and Placid and how do we know them? Saint Gregory the Great introduces them in his Life of Saint Benedict. He explains that after the holy Benedict had established his twelve monasteries at Subiaco, noble Christians came from Rome, presenting their sons to be raised and educated among the monks. These boys, offered by their parents to God, were the first "Oblates." Among them were Maur, an adolescent, the son of Euthicus, and Placid -- practically a toddler -- son of the patrician Tertullus. Maur quickly became Abbot Benedict's helper whereas Saint Gregory specifies that Placid was in "early childhood."

A Little Hand Wrapped in the Corporal

Picture for a moment the rite of their Oblation. It is intimately tied into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We know exactly what was done from Chapter 59 of the Rule.

If it happens that a nobleman offers his son to God as a monk, and the child is still of tender age, the parents should make out the petition. . . . They should wrap this petition and the boy's hand together with the Mass offering in the altar cloth (the corporal) and offer him in that way" (RB 59:1).

I see Maur, a serious lad, conscious of what is happening when his hand is wrapped together with the offerings of bread and wine in the altar cloth. And I see, little Placid; his father probably had to lift him up in his arms to reach the altar. The poor little fellow must have been in awe of the solemn fuss being made of him.

A Eucharistic Vocation

The vocation of the Benedictine Oblate is essentially Eucharistic. The very word "oblate" is used to refer to the bread and wine placed upon the altar, the oblata, as well as to those who are ritually identified with the offering, the Oblates themselves. The Benedictine Oblate lives from the altar, and returns to the altar. Like the bread and wine destined to become the Body and Blood of Christ, the Oblate is offered at the altar and then given from the altar to live out his mystical identification with Christ, the hostia perpetua, by a life of conversion and obedience.

When Saint Benedict Prayed By Night

Saint Benedict obviously recognized the potential in Placid and Maur. Saint Gregory tells us that he chose the boy Placid to accompany him in a long nocturnal prayer on the mountain. "Accompanied by the little Placid," he says, "Benedict climbed the mountain. Once at the summit, he prayed for a long time." The solitary prayer of Saint Benedict imitates that of Jesus. "Jesus, rising early before dawn, went off to a deserted place where he prayed" (Mk 1:35). It is worth pondering how Placid's experience of seeing Saint Benedict pray by night must have marked him for life. Little boys are sensitive to such things.

Placid Rescued From the Water

The most famous story of Maur and Placid has to do with the little fellow going to fetch water in the lake. He falls into the water. Saint Benedict is made aware of the situation by a kind of charismatic clairvoyance. He sends Brother Maur to rescue the child Placid. Maur, having received his abbot's blessing, runs over the surface of the water, grabs Placid by the hair, pulls him out, and then runs back over the water to dry land, carrying the little one in his arms. Saint Benedict attributes the miracle to Maur's obedience. Maur says it was due to the virtue of Saint Benedict. Then the little Placid pipes up and settles the debate. "When you pulled me out of the water, he says, I saw over my head Father Abbot's hood, and I saw that it was he who pulled me from the water."

They Persevered

What is most significant, I think, in the story of Maur and Placid is that these two lads persevered in seeking God. If Maur and Placid persevered over a lifetime in seeking God, they surely suffered temptation and darkness, never despairing of the mercy of God. Maur and Placid, tested by suffering, became able to help those who are being tested. Perhaps this is why they became patrons of Benedictine novitiates everywhere.

Two Wise Old Nonni

The sign of the mature monk -- the nonnus, to use Saint Benedict's word for a senior in the monastery -- or of the mature nun -- the nonna -- is in their capacity for compassion, in their ability to identify with weakness, to sympathize with suffering, and above all in their refusal to judge.

We know nothing of the old age of Saints Maur and Placid but I see them as two wise old nonni. I see their youthful faces grown wrinkled and their beards white but in their eyes dances the flame of their first love, the interior fire kindled from the altar, set ablaze by the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist on the day of their Oblation. It is the fire of the Eucharist that, burning in us, will consume all that is harsh, unbending, and ready to judge, leaving only the pure flame of a mercy that gives warmth and light. The Eucharistic vocation of Saints Placid and Maur bears witness to what Abba Joseph said to Abba Lot: "You cannot be a monk unless you become like a consuming fire."

2 Comments

"When you pulled me out of the water, he says, I saw over my head Father Abbot's hood, and I saw that it was he who pulled me from the water."

Indeed, he has.

Thank you Father Prior.

~ Br. Melchesidech

Although I am not an Oblate with the Benedictine Order, I am an Oblate with the Community of St John, I enjoyed this very much and find it very helpful as a continuation of my own oblature and gift of self to Jesus. I will be picking up that book on the Psalms tomorrow! It looks fantastic! Thanks again for these posts! God bless you and your brothers! :)

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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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