Oblates: January 2012 Archives

Letter to a Novice Oblate (II)

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My dear daughter in Christ,

Praying at Home

Recently, you asked me how you, as wife and mother, with children to look after from morning 'til night seven days a week, can enter into our monastery's charism of adoration and reparation. It will be many years, I think, before you will have the freedom to spend any significant amount of time in adoration before the Tabernacle, or before the Most Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance.

Your Divine Office

Your duty now, and the expression of your love for God, is to be fully present to your family. Your "Divine Office" is to cook, and clean, and change dirty diapers, and run errands, and keep the littlest ones amused, and find time to listen to the older children, and to bandage cuts, and look after bruises, and welcome guests -- and every now and then -- to steal a moment or two alone with your husband. Is this incompatible with your desire as an Oblate of our monastery to offer yourself to Our Lord in adoration, in reparation, and in supplication for the holiness of priests?

Think of Me and I Will Think of You

Mother Mectilde de Bar gives a helpful teaching in a conference she pronounced in 1694 for the feast of the Epiphany. This is what the great Benedictine mystic says:

To adore continually it is not necessary to be saying, "My God, I adore You." It is enough to tend inwardly to God who is present, to maintain a profound respect out of reverence for His greatness, believing that He is in us, even as He truly is. In fact, the Most Holy Trinity abides in us. The Father acts and operates in us by His power, the Son by His wisdom; and the Holy Spirit by His goodness. It is therefore in the most intimate part of your soul, where this God of majesty resides, that you must adore Him continually.
Every now and again place your hand on your heart saying to yourself: --God is in me. And He is there, not only to sustain my physical life, as He does in irrational creatures, but He is there acting and operating, so as to raise me to the highest perfection, if I put no obstacle in the way of His grace.
Imagine that He is saying to you interiorly: -- I am always in you; you remain always in Me. Think of Me, and I will think of you, and I will take care of all the rest. Be wholly at My disposal, as I am at yours. Live not apart from Me. As Scripture says: "One who eats Me will live by Me; he will abide in Me, and I in him" (John 6:58; 6:57).

God Awaits Us in the Real

One does not become a perpetual adorer by forcing oneself to say certain prayers until one gets a headache trying to fit them all in, or by closing one's eyes on the world and pretending to be alone. God awaits us in the real, not in some unattainable ideal. He is always present in us, present to us, present for us. He is not in some remote place light years away. Make a habit of adoring the Three Divine Persons living in the secret sanctuary of your soul, and in the souls of your little ones. Many years ago, when my brother Terence (now the father of three children) was a tiny newly-baptized infant, I would steal into his room at odd moments, place my head on his little chest, and adore the Most Holy Trinity present in him, as truly as in heaven.

Shooting Arrow-Like Prayers

Another thing you can do, from time to time -- taking care not to force yourself or strain your mind -- is to lift your heart and mind to God in swift arrow-like prayers shot straight into the Heart of Jesus. "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be to me a Jesus!" "My God and my all!" "To be near Thee, O God, is my happiness." "Jesus, King of Love, I place my trust in Thy merciful goodness." You will find that verses of the psalms will emerge from your memory bank: just the right word at the right time. "Save me, O God, for the waters have risen to my neck!" "My God, my mercy!"

Strings of Hail Marys

You can also, here and there, say strings of Hail Marys without keeping count, giving them to Our Blessed Mother to sort out and organize into something resembling a proper Rosary. This is a practice pleasing to her Maternal Heart.

The Hour of Adoration at Home and at Work

I would recommend another little practice as well. You may find that in the course of the day you do, in fact, have one or two minutes of quiet, sometimes at the same hour each day. It may be during the childrens' nap time or playtime. You can use these few minutes to set in motion a full hour of adoration and reparation that will not, in any way, distract you from your duties or keep you from attending to whatever surprises may come your way. This is, in fact, the method of the "Guard of Honour" that was promoted with great success in France during the first half of the last century. The "Guard of Honour" motivated ordinary people to consecrate one hour of their ordinary day to adoration of Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love, without stopping what they were doing, and without going off to church.

A 40 Second Prayer

Here is a prayer that I wrote for this purpose. It takes exactly 40 seconds to say. Over time, it can be memorized. Use it to mark the beginning of your hour of adoration and reparation and, then, go about your business, trusting that Our Lord has heard your prayer and received it into His Heart.

Lord Jesus Christ, although I cannot, during this hour, approach Thee physically in the Sacrament of Thy Love, I would approach Thee by desire and by faith.
Transport me, I beseech Thee, by the lifting up of my mind and heart, to that tabernacle in the world where Thou art, at this hour, most forsaken, utterly forgotten, and without human company.
Let the radiance of Thy Eucharistic Face so penetrate my soul that by offering Thee adoration and reparation, even as I am busy doing ordinary things in an ordinary way, I may obtain from Thy Sacred Heart the return of at least one priest to the Tabernacle where Thou waitest for him today. Amen.

Pray Always and Never Lose Heart

I wrote this prayer for my Oblate sons and daughters, but anyone can say it at any time. I would be happy to see it spread to many Catholic homes, to places of work and business, to hospitals, nursing homes, schools, prisons, and waiting rooms.

This letter is, I fear, already too long. It presents you, nonetheless, with a few practices by which the spirit of our little monastery can find expression in your life just as it is. "Pray always," then, "and never lose heart" (Luke 18:1).

With my affection and my blessing,
In lumine vultu Iesu,

Father Prior

Letter to a Novice Oblate (I)

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This is the first of a series of letters that I will be writing to the Oblates of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle. I decided to address myself in these letters to each Oblate individually as well as to the entire growing Oblate family. The aim of these letters is to answer various questions that have arisen, and to offer something in the way of ghostly counsel to those who have a right to expect it from me.


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In the Church of San Severo in Perugia: a fresco by Raffaello (1505) depicting the Most Holy Trinity with Saints Maurus, Placid, and Benedict. Sadly, over time, the image of the Eternal Father has disappeared from the fresco.

Oblatus est quia ipse voluit.
"He was offered because it was his own will." Isaiah 53:7


My very dear Novice Oblate,

Turning and Returning to God

As your father in Christ, I am bound to offer you something in the way of instruction and guidance as you undertake the Benedictine journey of return to God. I'm writing to you today on the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul: a feast of turning, and returning to God in Christ, that effectively sums up the vocation of the monk and of the Oblate.

Becoming an Oblate

I wish that I could write to each one of you individually. Please accept instead, from time to time, my reflections on what it means to become -- and to be -- an Oblate of our monastery. I will often allude to the text of the Holy Rule in these reflections. Take the time to open your copy of the Rule and to read the references that I will provide.

Your Oblation

The word Oblate means someone or something offered irrevocably to God. An Oblation is the solemn making-over to God of a person or thing, in such wise that the person or thing, once offered, belongs to God alone. By becoming an Oblation, such a person or thing has passed out of what is ephemeral and corruptible into the heavenly sanctuary beyond the veil "where the forerunner Jesus is entered for us, made a high priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech."(Hebrews 6:19)

A Little Hand on the Altar

When Roman parents would bring their sons to Saint Benedict, offering them to God, as the child Samuel was offered to the priest Heli for a life of Divine Service in the Temple (cf. 1 Kings3:1-10), they participated in a sacred rite of Oblation at the monastery. The rite took place during Holy Mass. Saint Benedict would wrap the hand of the child being offered in the altar cloth upon which the Body of Christ would rest, signifying the child's identification with Christ Jesus in His perpetual offering to the Father.

An Offering to the Father

In later centuries, when adult Christians began offering themselves to God in a similar way, by attaching themselves to the altar of a particular monastery, the underlying significance of the Oblation remained. Your vocation as an Oblate makes you -- and your entire life -- an offering to the Father in communion with the offering that rises daily from the altar of your monastery: that of Christ, and that of your monastic family.

Your Spiritual Worship

The Benedictine tradition sees Oblation as an act intimately tied to the altar of the monastery and to the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist (cf. RB 58:20-21; 59: 1-2). Oblation is, then, a free act of self-offering to God, patterned after the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim, from the altar of the Cross. One of the key texts for understanding your vocation as an Oblate is what Saint Paul wrote to the Romans: "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1).

For the Body of Christ, the Church

The Holy Ghost has, in some way -- through a series of events, personal encounters, and circumstances -- drawn you to the altar of our humble little monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle to make the offering of yourself with Christ. As an Oblate you will begin to live from the altar, in communion with those of us who remain within the monastic enclosure, not for yourself alone in any narrow way, but, rather, for the sake of the whole Body of Christ, that is the Church. "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you," says Saint Paul, "and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the Church " (Colossians 1:24).

Near and Far

The Church will recognize your Oblation as a special bond between you and our monastery (cf. CCL, can. 303; can. 677 §2). Being primarily spiritual, this bond is not dependent upon geographic proximity. Anyone who has discerned a spiritual affinity with the Rule of Saint Benedict and with our monastery's particular charism of Eucharistic adoration, reparation, and supplication for the sanctification of priests can ask to become an Oblate.

The Holy Rule

Begin looking to the Rule of Saint Benedict to guide you in "truly seeking God" (cf. RB 58:7). Saint Benedict will teach you, gently but firmly to "prefer nothing to the love of Christ" (RB 4: 21). He will encourage you to "take your part in the sufferings of Christ through patience, so as to share also in his kingdom" (RB Pro: 50).

From Every Walk of Life

Oblates come from every walk of life: single and married and widowed, young and old. Some are the mothers and fathers of large families of little ones and not-so-little ones. There are farmers and cattle ranchers, housekeepers and cooks, teachers, doctors, lawyers, artists nurses, and photographers. What do you all have in common? You desire, while continuing in your own unique own state in life, to enroll yourself in the "school of the Lord's service" (RB Pro: 45) established 1500 years ago by Saint Benedict, our father and teacher. You desire to "persevere with one mind in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus" (Acts 1:14). You are drawn to the adoration of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, shining more brightly than the sun from the tabernacles of the Church, in this world's dark night of faith.

Diocesan Priests

There will be diocesan priests, deacons, and seminarians among the Oblates of our monastery. Many priests have found in Saint Benedict's "little Rule written for beginners" (RB 73:8) and in our monastery's charism of Eucharistic adoration a strong support for living boldly in the midst of the world as "ministers of Christ and dispensers of the mysteries of God" (1 Corinthians 4:1).

Be Informed, Reformed, and Transformed

Seek to grow into the full stature of your Baptismal consecration by drawing all of the little things that make up daily life into the upward movement of your Oblation to the Father. Every little thing has Eucharistic potential. There is no thing that cannot be brought to the altar and given back to God. Go forward humbly but confidently, letting the Rule of Saint Benedict inform you, reform you, and transform you. The Holy Rule is a humble handbook to holy living, one that the Holy Ghost has used through the ages to form saints ablaze with the love of Christ.

In Spirit and in Truth

In the months that lie ahead I will encourage you to become familiar with some of these saints, and to walk in their company. In the final analysis, there is no saint who was not, in all truth, an Oblate, for an Oblate is one who longs to say with Saint Paul, "I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me. And the life that I live now in the flesh: I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20). Just as Christ Jesus gave Himself up to the Father for you, give yourself up to Him, that in His priestly hands you may become an Oblation "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23).

With my affection and my blessing,
In lumine vultu Iesu,

Father Prior

Reception of Oblate Novices

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Today, on the Second Sunday after Epiphany, and the feast of Saints Maurus and Placid, I received three men and four women into the year of noviceship that will prepare them to become Oblates of our monastery. Two other men and one other woman will also be received in February. Investiture in the black Benedictine scapular and the imposition of a new name, placing the novice under the protection of a particular saint, mark the beginning of the noviceship. Following the lesson from Ecclesiasticus 2:1-21, I addressed them in these words:

Newness of Life

My dear sons and daughters, a novice is one who is embarking on newness of life. My first word to you today, then, is an invitation to throw yourselves into the embrace of the One who says, "Behold, I make all things new" (Ap 21:5), our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the Likeness of the Son

One comes to the monastic life, be it as a monk or as an Oblate living in the world, in order to be refashioned in the likeness of the Beloved Son in whose image we were created. "But we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor 3:18).

Spiritual Childhood

One comes to the monastic life, be it as a monk or as an Oblate living in the world, to be made new again in the newness of the grace of Baptism; one comes to recover the innocence lost by sin, and to take one's first steps in the path of spiritual childhood, mindful of the word of the Lord: "Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 18:3).

Leaving Former Things Behind

One comes to the monastic life, be it as a monk or as an Oblate living in the world, desiring to leave behind those former things that made our lives burdensome to ourselves and to others, the things that clouded our spiritual vision, stopped up the ears of our hearts, and so congested our spiritual nostrils that we could barely, if at all, catch a whiff of what Saint Paul calls "the good fragrance of Christ unto God" (1 Cor 2:15).

A New Heart and a New Spirit

One comes to the monastic life, be it as a monk or as an Oblate living in the world, because one has grown weary of what is old, and stale, and lifeless, and because one believes in the promise of Him who says, through the mouth of His prophet, "And I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh" (Ex 36:26).

The Sweet Yoke of Christ

One comes to the monastic life, be it as a monk or as an Oblate living the world, because one has heard the invitation of the Heart of Jesus, "Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light" (Mt 11:28-30).

Christ's Oblation to the Father

One comes to the monastic life, be it as a monk or as an Oblate living the world, because Jesus has drawn one's soul into the upward movement of His oblation to the Father. "And I," says Our Lord, "if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself" (Jn 12:32). Magnetized by the Cross and by the altar, one is compelled by the Holy Ghost to enter into the immolation of the Lamb. "Christ our Pasch is sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the feast" (1 Cor 5:6-7) by presenting "our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, our reasonable service" (Rom 12:1), that is, our mystic liturgy patterned after what God has revealed through His Word, our "adoration in spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:23).

In All of Life

The immolation of the Benedictine monk or Oblate, his participation in the victimhood of the Lamb, begins at the altar and returns to the altar, but it is played out in the most ordinary circumstances of daily life. For a monk, this encompasses his relationship to the Father of the monastery and to his brethren. For an Oblate, it encompasses one's relationship to one's spouse, one's children, one's grandchildren, and one's neighbours. It encompasses one's relationship to the guest who arrives announced or unannounced; one's relationship to the sick, the weak, and those in need of consolation, to little children to the elderly, the lonely and the poor. Finally, it encompasses the context of one's profession, employment, or state of life.

Never Despairing of the Mercy of God

There is nothing that cannot be brought to the altar. There is nothing that cannot be united to Christ's oblation. There are no circumstances in which we, monks and Oblates, are dispensed from owning our weaknesses, being humbled by our frailty, and uniting our wounds to the wounds, the weakness, and the frailty of the immolated Lamb -- and all of this, while never despairing of the mercy of God. This goes to the heart of what it means to be a Benedictine Oblate.

To be sure, one will also want to pray, insofar as possible, some parts of the Divine Office, the Opus Dei in communion with the choral prayer of the monks. One will want to open the ear of one's heart to the Word of God in lectio divina. One will want to adore the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, concealed and revealed in the Sacrament of His Love. One will want to cultivate a knowledge and holy enthusiasm for the Sacred Liturgy of the Church, for her Chant, her rites, her feasts, her fasts, and her seasons. In a word, one will want to submit to gentle yoke of the Rule of Saint Benedict, by receiving its wisdom, and by allowing it to shape the way one journeys through life, seeking God.

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Left to right: Reverend Deacon Greg Stice, received as Br Stephen (St Stephen, Protomartyr); Dee Schneider, received as Sr Francesca (St Francesca of Rome); Neal Harton, received as Br Michael (St Michael the Archangel); Father Prior; Muffie Harton, received as Sr Joanna (St John Evangelist); Marion Williams, received as Sr Gertrud (St Gertrude the Great); Glenna Craig, received as Sr Placida (St Placid, Disciple of St Benedict).


A Plan for the Noviceship

With all of this in mind, I am proposing a plan of study, reflection, and prayer in twelve points that will guide you through this year of your noviceship, and prepare you, by God's grace, for your Oblation in a year's time. Each of the twelve points corresponds to a month of your noviceship.

1. Listening With the Ear of the Heart

The first point has to do with learning to listen to the voice of God, to the gentle murmurings of the Holy Ghost, with the ear of your heart. Read and meditate the Prologue of the Holy Rule. In Luke 1:26-38 contemplate the Blessed Virgin Mary, the model of all fruitful listening. So well did Our Lady listen to the Word of God, that she conceived the Word in her virginal womb, and offered Him to the Father, and to us.

2. Obedience

The second point has to do with the practice of obedience, with learning to say "Yes" to God in all the circumstances of life, and with learning to say "No" to those things that pollute our minds, chill our hearts, and turn us aside from the royal way of the Cross, taken by Jesus before us. Read and meditate Philippians 2:5-15 and Chapter 5 of the Holy Rule.

3. Silence

The third point has to do with cultivating in us and around us the spirit of silence. It has to do with fasting from every form of speech that is self-serving, insincere, unkind, untrue, or lacking in mercy. It has to do with knowing how to abide in silence for God's sake, content to listen, to say nothing, to seek Him in faith, to desire Him with an irrepressible hope, and to cleave to Him in love. It has to do with moderation in the use of the tools of social communication, lest one become dependent on sounds and sights that distract us from The One Thing Necessary. For this you will want to meditate on Luke 10:38-42 and Chapter 6 of the Holy Rule.

4. Humility

The fourth point has to do with the practice of humility, with acknowledging and owning one's weaknesses, one's failures, and one's sins. It has to do with a willingness to learn from others who are wiser than ourselves, especially from the teachings of the Church, the writings of the saints, and from the whole monastic tradition. For this you will want to meditate Ecclesiasticus 2, Hebrews 11 and Chapter 7 of the Holy Rule.

5. The Divine Office

The fifth point has to do with the Divine Office and the Sacred Liturgy as a whole. You will apply yourself, before all else, to a sapiential knowledge of the Psalms. You will learn to find in them the very prayer inspired by the Holy Ghost and entrusted to Israel in view of the day when it would become the prayer of Jesus to the Father, the prayer that He bequeathed to His Bride, the Church. You will want meditate Christ in the Psalms by Father Patrick Reardon (Conciliar Press), The Spirit of the Liturgy by Pope Benedict XVI, and Chapters 19 and 20 of the Holy Rule.

6. Discipline and Penitence

The sixth point has to do with understanding the value of discipline and penitence, not as ends in themselves, still less as punitive practices, but as a means of growing in freedom of heart, and as the application of tried and tested spiritual remedies to the sin-sick soul. For this you will want to read the Seven Penitential Psalms (6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129 and 142) and Chapters 23 through 30 of the Holy Rule.

7. Created Things

The seventh point has to do the practice of a responsible stewardship of material things. It has to so also with reverence for the good things created by God, seeing in all things matter with Eucharistic potential, matter to be lifted up and returned to the Father of lights from all good gifts descend. For this you will want to meditate Chapters 31 through 34 of the Holy Rule.

8. Hospitality

The eighth point has to do with gentleness, compassion and mercy, and with the recognition of the Face of Christ in the sick, in the old, in children, and in guests. It has to do also with the Benedictine tradition of hospitality by which all guests are welcomed as Christ Himself. For this you will want to meditate Chapters 36, 37, and 53 of the Holy Rule.

9. The Communion of the Saints

The ninth point has to do with the friendship of the saints who surround us like "a great cloud of witnesses over our head" (Heb 12:1), and who intercede for us in the glory of heaven. Consider Chapter 14 of the Holy Rule. Acquaint yourselves with the lives of Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica, Saint Henry the Emperor and Saint Francesca of Rome, Saint Gertrude, Mother Mectilde de Bar, Blessed Columba Marmion, your patron saints as Oblates, and the other saints of our Benedictine family.

10. The Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar

The tenth point has to do with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, for this is the distinctive charism of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle. It has to do with the quality and generosity of your response to Our Lord who waits for you in the Sacrament of His Love, who offers you His friendship, and who invites you to make reparation for those who do not believe in Him, do not hope in Him, do not love Him, and for those who have grown cold and indifferent to the mystery of His real presence in the tabernacles of our churches. For this you will want to meditate the teachings of Blessed John Paul II in Ecclesia de Eucharistia and in Mane Nobiscum Domine, the translated texts of Mother Mectilde de Bar, my own conference on Eucharistic Adoration given at Adoratio 2011 in Rome, and Chapter 52 of the Holy Rule.

11. The Instruments of Good Works

The eleventh point will be a summary of all the rest. You will meditate Chapter 4 of the Holy Rule, the Instruments of Good Works, dwelling on the most important one of all: Never to despair of God's Mercy.

12. A Benedictine Ethos in All of Life

The twelfth and last point will be the ethos of Benedictine life that you, as Oblates, will want to bring into every area of your lives. For this you will want to meditate Chapters 72 and 73 of the Holy Rule.

The Bond of the Oblation

I have spoken to you today, my dear sons and daughters, as a father who loves you in Christ and who desires, above all else, that you may, as Saint Benedict says, "run, with expanded hearts in the way of God's commandments, with an unspeakable sweetness of love." The bond that your Oblation will establish between yourselves and us will be, I am certain, a consolation here on earth, and a cause of thanksgiving and praise forever in heaven.

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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