Oblates: February 2012 Archives

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Not a Pious Pastime

Saint Benedict treats of the daily Lenten reading in Chapter 48 of the Holy Rule, "On the Daily Manual Labour." For Saint Benedict, reading is a labour, not a pious pastime. It requires a resolute application of the mind and engagement of the heart. The word received in reading becomes the word repeated and savoured. The word repeated and savoured becomes the word sent back to God as the expression of one's prayer. God responds to that prayer, born of hearing and repetition, with the grace of a quiet and loving adhesion to His indwelling presence.

From Chapter 48 of the Holy Rule
During Lent, let them apply themselves to reading from morning until the end of the third hour, and then, until the end of the tenth, labour at whatever is enjoined them. And in these days of Lent let each one receive a book from the library, and read it all through in order. These books are to be given out at the beginning of Lent.
Above all, let one or two seniors be appointed to go round the Monastery, at the hours when the brethren are engaged in reading, and see that there be no slothful brother giving himself to idleness or to foolish talk, and not applying himself to his reading, so that he is thus not only useless to himself, but a distraction to others.

Lenten Book Recommendation for 2012

Given that we are in the midst of moving, and that I am writing quickly, and in a less than optimal environment --see packing boxes and stacks of unsorted things all about me -- I will recommend but a single book this year to our Oblates and the men in vocational discernment with our monastery.

Oblates and men in discernment with us, this is my Lenten recommendation for 2012. It is available either from the publisher, New City Press, or from Amazon.


15 Days of Prayer with Saint Benedict

by Dom André Gozier
New City Press, Hyde Park, New York, 2008

I should be very happy to receive from you echoes of your response to this excellent introduction to Saint Benedict and to his "school of the service of the Lord." I bless each one of you as you set about your Lenten reading, asking Our Lord to illumine your minds and warm your hearts with the light of His Face.

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Whoever, therefore, thou art that hasteneth to thy heavenly country, fulfil by the help of Christ this least of Rules which we have written for beginners; and then at length thou shalt arrive, under God's protection, at the lofty summits of doctrine and virtue of which we have spoken above. (Chapter 73, Rule of Saint Benedict)

In Pursuit of Holiness

My last two posts addressed the particular needs of Oblates who are married men and women, fathers and mothers. There are still other souls who find themselves drawn to the Oblateship; among these are widows; young single men and women; people living alone; retired people; the elderly; and those living with infirmities, or with a chronic illness. People in all these conditions and states of life can find in the Oblateship a stimulus and a support in the pursuit of the holiness that God wills for them.

Widows

The widow becomes an Oblate in order to embrace the hard and sweet grace of solitude. The Oblateship encourages and assists her to order her life according to a rhythm of prayer that will fill her days and her nights with the presence of Christ.

Young People

The young single man or woman becomes an Oblate in order to train his or her energies in the straight way of sacrificial love; in order to open his or her heart to the love of Christ and to the joy that comes from the Holy Ghost; and in order to discover the delights and the discipline of liturgical prayer.

Single Adults

One living alone becomes an Oblate because one longs to live at every moment in the company of Christ, seeking His Face and contemplating it; tending the ear of the heart to the sound of His voice, and hearing His Word.

Retired and Elderly Men and People

Retired and older people become Oblates because Benedictine life is the best practice on earth for what we will all do, please God, eternally in heaven. There we will bless God and praise Him; there we will love Him who first loved us. There we will enjoy the companionship of the saints and angels.

The Sick

People who suffer, especially those living with a chronic illness become Oblates because they want, through Saint Benedict's Twelve Steps of Humility, to arrive at the perfect charity that casts out fear; because they want to be identified with Christ, Priest and Victim, in offering themselves and in being offered, with the absolute assurance that not a drop of their suffering will be wasted, and not a single tear forgotten in the kingdom.

Schooling in the Christian Life

One becomes an Oblate because one recognizes in one's own life the need for a continuous schooling in the Christian life. Saint Benedict, in writing his "little Rule for beginners" intended to establish a school for the service of the Lord. The Rule is this school's text book.

Becoming Familiar with the Rule

One must learn, nonetheless, to read it, to ponder it, to search it out patiently, perseveringly, one little bit at a time. The Oblate who tries to read and take in the Rule all at once will suffer a very unbenedictine case of spiritual indigestion. The monastic tradition is to read a page of the Rule each day according to a calendar that allows the entire Rule to be read through three times in the course of one year.

The Rule does not reveal its secrets easily. One must learn to meditate the Rule, searching for the words, the phrases, or the expressions that light up the page. These are the great overarching principles of the Rule, and they are applicable in every state of life.

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This painting of Saint Francesca Romana dates from the 17th century, and is the work of Giovanni Antonio Galli, called lo Spadarino.

Wives and Mothers

There is much in the Rule of Saint Benedict that might motivate a wife and mother to become an Oblate. The patron saint of Benedictine Oblates, Saint Francesca of Rome, portrayed in the painting above, is a shining example of what can happen when a wife and mother offers herself to God in communion of mind and heart with a monastic community. Read what I wrote about her here. An Oblate's marriage and her family life are richly blessed, for the Rule of Saint Benedict is, from beginning to end, a pattern of family life according to the Gospel and a school of the service of the Lord.

Like the Cellarer of the Monastery

If I were to select one chapter from the Holy Rule that is particularly applicable to the life of the wife and mother, it would be Chapter 31, "On What Kind of Man the Cellarer of the Monastery Is to Be."

Let there be chosen out of the community, as Cellarer of the Monastery, a man wise and of mature character, temperate, not a great eater, not haughty, nor headstrong, nor arrogant, not slothful, nor wasteful, but a God-fearing man, who may be like a father to the whole community. Let him have the care of everything, but do nothing without leave of the Abbot. Let him take heed to what is commanded him, and not sadden his brethren. If a brother ask him for anything unreasonably, let him not treat him with contempt and so grieve him, but reasonably and with all humility refuse what he asks for amiss. Let him be watchful over his own soul, remembering always that saying of the Apostle, that "he that hath ministered well, purchaseth to himself a good degree." Let him have especial care of the sick, of the children, of guests and of the poor, knowing without doubt that he will have to render an account of all these on the Day of Judgment. Let him look upon all the vessels and goods of the Monastery as though they were the consecrated vessels of the altar. Let him not think that he may neglect anything: let him not be given to covetousness, nor wasteful, nor a squanderer of the goods of the Monastery; but do all things in proper measure, and according to the bidding of his Abbot.

The Rule for You

What might this same text look like, adapted for Oblates who are wives and mothers? Perhaps it might read like this:

The Oblate who is a wife and mother must be a wise woman, and of mature character, temperate, not a great eater, not haughty, nor headstrong, nor arrogant, not slothful, nor wasteful, but a God-fearing woman, who may be a mother not only to her own family but also to the wider community.

Let her have the care of everything, but do nothing without her husband's support. Let her take heed to what he expects of her, and not sadden the children. If one of her children asks her for anything unreasonably, let her not treat the child with contempt and so grieve him, but reasonably and with all humility refuse what he asks for amiss.

Let her be watchful over her own soul, remembering always that saying of the Apostle, that "he that hath ministered well, purchaseth to himself a good degree." Let her have especial care of the sick, of the children, of guests and of the poor, knowing without doubt that she will have to render an account of all these on the Day of Judgment.

Let her look upon all the vessels and goods of the household as though they were the consecrated vessels of the altar. Let her not think that she may neglect anything: let her not be given to covetousness, nor wasteful, nor a squanderer of the goods of the household; but do all things in proper measure, and in communion of mind and heart with her husband.

A Good Word, the Best Gift

Saint Benedict goes on to say:

Let him above all things have humility; and to him on whom he hath nothing else to bestow, let him give at least a kind answer, as it is written: "A good word is above the best gift." Let him have under his care all that the Abbot may enjoin him, and presume not to meddle with what is forbidden him. Let him distribute to the brethren their appointed allowance of food, without arrogance* or delay, that they be not scandalised: mindful of what the Word of God declareth him to deserve, who "shall scandalise one of these little ones" namely, "that a millstone be hanged about his neck and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea." If the community be large, let helpers be given to him, by whose aid he may with peace of mind discharge the office committed to him. Let such things as are necessary be given and asked for at befitting times, that no one may be troubled nor grieved in the house of God.

Again, adapted for the Oblate who is a wife and mother, the text might read like this:

Let her above all things have humility; and to anyone in the family on whom she hath nothing else to bestow, let her give at least a kind answer, as it is written: "A good word is above the best gift."

Let her have under her care all that her husband may enjoin her, and presume not to meddle with what is none of her concern. Let her distribute to the family their appointed allowance of food, without arrogance or delay, that they be not scandalised*: mindful of what the Word of God declareth him to deserve, who "shall scandalise one of these little ones" namely, "that a millstone be hanged about his neck and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea."

*Scandal here refers to a stumbling block place in another's path: something that it is difficult to "get over" or "overlook."

If the family be large, let helpers be given to her, by whose aid she may with peace of mind discharge the office committed to her. Let such things as are necessary be given and asked for at befitting times, that no one may be troubled nor grieved in the household of God.

All the Hard and Rugged Ways

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This is the first part of the conference I gave yesterday, on Sexagesima Sunday, at the clothing of nine Novice Oblates in the Benedictine scapular. The rest of the conference will follow as I find time to sit at my desk and reconstruct it.

A senior shall be assigned to them who is skilled in winning souls, to watch over them with the utmost care. Let him examine whether the novice is truly seeking God, and whether he is zealous for the Work of God, for obedience and for humiliations. Let the novice be told of all the hard and rugged ways by which the journey to God is made. (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 58, On the Manner of Receiving Brethren)

The Journey to God

One becomes a Benedictine Oblate, not because one yearns to escape from the challenging demands of one's state in life, but because one desires to embrace them, knowing, as Saint Benedict says, that it is by all these "hard and rugged ways" that one makes the journey to God. Is this not the teaching of our Lord Jesus Himself? "And he said to all: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23).

A School for the Service of the Lord

Saint Benedict wrote his Rule for Monasteries in order to offer souls the opportunity to enroll for life in a school for the service of the Lord. In the Prologue he explains:

And so we are going to establish a school for the service of the Lord. In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome. But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation, whose entrance cannot be but narrow. For as we advance in conversion and in faith, our hearts expanded and we run the way of God's commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love.
Thus, never departing from His school, but persevering in the monastery (the Oblateship) according to His teaching until death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ and deserve to have a share also in His kingdom.

Communion

Unlike the monk, who is bound by enclosure in the monastery, and whose life is so arranged that he leaves the enclosure as infrequently as possible, an Oblate, while remaining spiritually anchored to his monastery, lives outside its walls, sometimes at a great distance from the monastery to which he belongs. An Oblate is not dependent upon his monastery in the way a parishioner, for instance, would be upon his parish. Geographical proximity can be a great advantage, but it is not indispensable. There is a communion of mind and heart that, effectively, transcends distances and flourishes more in silence than in frequent verbal or written exchanges.

An Oblate is a true member of the extended monastic family: a family whose members can be scattered over the globe. Wherever an Oblate lives, he finds in the grace of his Oblation a stimulus to persevere in prayer, to learn humility, to love chastity, to obey, to practice works of mercy, and to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

To Become a Saint

One's Oblation is a public decision -- expressed in the offering of oneself with Christ to the Father, and supported by a particular monastery -- to become a saint. There is but one tragedy in a human life, and that is, not to have become a saint. The Oblate subordinates everything else in his life to the pursuit of holiness. This pursuit gives meaning to ordinary daily life, and transforms it.

Husbands and Fathers

The husband and father becomes an Oblate in order to be a better husband and father. He will study the Rule of Saint Benedict with an eye to all that the Holy Patriarch says concerning the abbot of the monastery. The husband and father is the head of his household: the domestic abbot. Nearly everything that Saint Benedict says concerning the abbot can be applied to the father of a family.

Let him study rather to be loved than to be feared. Let him not be excitable and worried, nor exacting and headstrong, nor jealous and over-suspicious; for then he is never at rest. In his commands let him be prudent and considerate; and whether the work which he enjoins concerns God or the world, let him be discrete and moderate bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, who said, "If I cause my flocks to be overdriven, they will all die in one day. Taking this, then, and other examples of discretion, the mother of virtues, let him so temper all things that the strong may have something to strive after, and the weak may not fall back in dismay. (Chapter 64, On Constituting an Abbot)

The father of a family needs to develop and practice the same manly virtues that Saint Benedict recommends to the abbot of the monastery. Chapters 2 and 64 of the Rule, as well as the chapters dealing with the correction of faults (23-30) are particularly suitable for fathers of families.

To be continued.

Newly Received Oblate Novices

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Sexagesima Sunday, 12 January 2012

Newly received Novice Oblates are (left to right): Katie Kane, received as Sister Columba (Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion); Alexander Carroll, received as Brother Oliver (Saint Oliver Plunkett); Laura Reilly, received as Sister Scholastica (Saint Scholastica); Paula Cole, received as Sister Lioba (Saint Lioba); Father Prior; Sandy Pickett, received as Sister Julian (Saint Peter Julian Eymard); Rosie Klassen, received as Sister Bethany (Saints Mary and Martha of Bethany); Dan Pickett, received as Brother Ephrem (Saint Ephrem the Syrian, Deacon); Joseph Klassen, received as Brother Moses (Saint Moses the Lawgiver); Peggy, received as Sister Luca (Saint Luke Evangelist), and in Sister Luca's arms, her grandson Raymond Klassen.

Letter to a Novice Oblate (VI)

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On this day before the feast of Saint Scholastica, I thought it appropriate to post this detail of an altarpiece painting of Saint Scholastica in prayer together with her brother, Saint Benedict. It is the work of one Lorenzo Monaco (+1423 or 1424), and can be found in The National Gallery, London.

My very dear Novice Oblate,

A Cycle of Prayer

Benedictine life is a marked by a daily, weekly, and yearly cycle of prayer. Saint Benedict urges that we "give ourselves frequently to prayer" (RB 4:56). He calls the corporate prayer of the monks "the Work of God" (Opus Dei), to which "nothing is to be preferred" (RB 43:3). A primary reason for becoming a Benedictine Oblate is the desire to deepen, strengthen and intensify a life of liturgical prayer.

Enter, then, wholeheartedly into the Liturgical Year, allowing your daily life to be colored by the Church's ceaseless round of sacred seasons, fasts and festivals. Learn to esteem the Church's sacramentals and manifold blessings.

Lent

Saint Benedict urges his monks to "keep the days of Lent with a special purity of life and also at this holy season to make reparation for the failings of other times" (RB 49: 2-3). "Reading, compunction of heart, and abstinence" (RB 49:4) will prepare you to enter through the Cross of Christ into the joy of His resurrection. Spontaneously in the joy of the Holy Spirit, you will offer God during Lent some "reduction of food and drink for the body, or of sleep, or of talkativeness or looseness in speech, and so with the joy of spiritual desire look forward to holy Pascha" (RB 49:6-7).

The Paschal Triduum

The heart of the Liturgical Year pulsates in the Three Days that commemorate Our Lord's death, burial, and rising from the dead: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Holy Pascha, the Sunday of the Lord's Resurrection. Make every effort to participate in the liturgical celebrations of the Paschal Triduum in your parish church or, when opportune, in a Benedictine monastery where the liturgy is carried out with fitting solemnity and with a beauty worthy of the holy mysteries.

Thursday: A Weekly Corpus Christi

Each Thursday, renew the mystery of the first Holy Thursday of the Supper of the Lord, and of the feast of Corpus Christi; enter into the Cenacle where Our Lord instituted the Sacraments of the Priesthood and of His Body and Blood. Read and meditate the discourse He pronounced in the Cenacle: John 13:1-17: 26.

Take time, in particular, to linger over Our Lord's High Priestly Prayer, John 17:1-26; it is an inexhaustible source of charity, light, and unity. You will find it especially helpful, in this regard, to study the Holy Father's discourse at the General Audience of Wednesday, 25 January 2012. You will find it here.

Keeping Festival

Celebrate with special joy the solemnities of Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, and of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Friday that falls eight days after it. The octave of Corpus Christi is, for our monastic family, a prolonged festival of more intense and generous Eucharistic adoration. During these blessed days, you will want to spend as much time before the Most Blessed Sacrament as your state in life allows.

Our Blessed Lady

Enter into the graces that come with each of the feasts of the Holy Mother of God; prepare for them and "keep in your heart" the liturgical texts proper to her feasts. The feast of Our Lady of the Cenacle is kept on the Saturday after Ascension Thursday. Throughout the year, every Saturday is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, becoming a privileged occasion for drawing closer to her Maternal Heart.

The Saints

The solemnity of Our Father Saint Benedict on July 11th, the feast of his Transitus (Holy Death) on March 21st, the feasts of Saint Scholastica on February 10th, Saint Francesca of Rome (patroness of Oblates) on March 9th, Saint Henry (patron of Oblates) on July 13th, Blessed Columba Marmion on October 3rd, Saint Gertrude the Great on November 16th, as well as the other feasts of the Benedictine calendar will be for you an opportunity to learn from the example of "so great a cloud of witnesses" (Hb 12:1) and to seek their intercession.

Nourished from the Wellspring

Nourish your prayer from the wellspring opened for you by the Church: the Word of God, the Sacred Liturgy and the sacraments. In assiduous lectio divina and Eucharistic adoration, seek the adorable Face of Christ. In frequent recourse to the Sacrament of Penance, receive the forgiveness of your sins and experience the healing power of the Most Precious Blood.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the sun that illumines and warms the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle, even as it illumines and warms the whole Church "gathered together from the ends of the earth" (Didache, Chapter 9). In the Ordinary (unchanging parts) and Proper (changing parts) of the Mass you will find the primary and indispensable source of your meditation (meditatio) and prayer (oratio). Become familiar with the Roman Missal and with the lectionary (Lessons, Epistles, and Gospels) of the Mass. Whenever you are able to do so, attend Holy Mass and receive Holy Communion during the week, especially on the more important feastdays. If, however, your duties are such that they preclude attendance at Holy Mass during the week, try, at least, to read the Gospel of the day, and make a Spiritual Communion.

In Truth, An Oblate

Through your full, conscious, and inward adhesion to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, you will become, in all truth, an Oblate, that is to say, one offered with Jesus and by Jesus to the Father, in the Holy Spirit. Your frequent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament will prolong the mystery of Holy Mass and infuse your life with a supernatural fecundity that will benefit the whole Body of Christ, His Church.

With my affection and my blessing.
In lumine vultus Iesu,

Father Prior

Letter to a Novice Oblate (V)

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My very dear Novice Oblate,

The Rule Is Supple

I am taking a few moments out of a very busy day to write something about your way of life as an Oblate of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle. In reading this series of letters, keep in mind that the great over-arching principle of application inscribed by Saint Benedict into the Holy Rule itself, is one of a flexible adaptation to your circumstances, your infirmities, your age, and your state in life.

For the Strong and the Weak

In the Prologue of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict says, "We are going to establish a school for the service of the Lord. In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome." In Chapter 2 he says that the abbot, "must adjust and adapt himself to all in such a way that he may not only suffer no loss in the flock committed to his care, but may even rejoice in the increase of a good flock." In Chapter 64, again speaking of the abbot, Saint Benedict says, "Let him so temper all things that the strong may have something to strive after, and the weak may not fall back in dismay."

Rest for the Restless Heart

If you are becoming an Oblate, it is because your heart's deepest desire is to respond to the call of the Lord who "seeking his labourer in the multitude" (RB Pro: 14), has looked upon you and loved you. Through your contact with our Monastery, you have heard the universal call to union with God, that is, to holiness. You have felt the stirrings of an inner restlessness of soul, and you realize now that you will remain restless until your heart comes to rest in God. In Chapter 1 of his Confessions, Saint Augustine writes "Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."

The Face of Christ

You are resolved to "seek God truly" (RB 57:7) by focusing the eyes of your heart on the Face of Christ in Sacred Scripture and in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Contemplation of the Face of Christ shining through every page of the Word of God, and mysteriously radiant in the Blessed Sacrament, will make you more and more capable of recognizing that same Holy Face in the people around you; in your family; in the sick, the aged, and the poor; and in those to whom you open your home.

Benedictines

We who live within the enclosure of the Monastery, and you, our extended family "outside the walls," are Benedictines because we look to the Rule of Saint Benedict to guide us (RB 3:7), to Saint Benedict himself as to our father, and to the whole Benedictine tradition as our "school in the service of the Lord." In the Benedictine tradition you will encounter an immense circle of friends: the countless saints in heaven who followed the Rule of Saint Benedict during their life on earth.

The Eucharistic Face of Jesus

We are called of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus because in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar we have recognized the Face of Jesus, hidden and yet wondrously radiant. We have heard Jesus' call to offer Him adoration, reparation, thanksgiving, and supplication in the Sacrament of His Love. This we do, in a special way, for the sanctification of all priests. As you tarry in the radiance of His Eucharistic Face, Our Lord will give you a heart like unto His own pierced Heart full of compassion for priests wounded in spiritual combat, or humiliated by weaknesses, or crushed beneath a burden of sin.

Obedience

Following the teaching of Saint Benedict, we monks in the enclosure, and you our extended family living in the midst of the world, seek to "return to God through the toil of obedience" (RB Pro: 2). Blessed John Paul II called obedience the listening to God that changes our lives. Obedience is a readiness to hear what God has to say and, then, by His grace, to adjust our attitudes and our actions to what we have heard.

Zeal for the Work of God

No less than monks living in the monastery, you, as an Oblate living in the world, are called to a serene and joyful zeal for the Sacred Liturgy and, in particular for the Divine Office, the Work of God (RB 58:7). You may recall what Pope Benedict XVI said at the conclusion of his General Weekly Audience on 16 November 2011:

Dear friends, in these recent catecheses I wanted to present to you certain Psalms, precious prayers that we find in the Bible and that reflect the various situations of life and the various states of mind that we may have with regard to God. I would then like to renew to you all the invitation to pray with the Psalms, even becoming accustomed to using the Liturgy of the Hours of the Church, Lauds in the morning, Vespers in the evening, and Compline before retiring.

Conversion of Manners

You will commit yourself to a real conversion of manners, that is, to a radical change in the way you view, and respond to, and care for people and things. Benedictine conversion of manners is a ratification of your baptismal consecration, a way of engaging heart and soul in the Baptismal Promises that you renew every year during the solemn Paschal Vigil. By entering Saint Benedict's "school of the Lord's service" (RB Pro: 45), you have chosen nurture the seed of new life planted deep within your soul at Baptism.

New Life in Christ

Mother Mectilde de Bar (1614-1698) says:

What happens is similar to the grain of wheat: having fallen into the earth, it dies, it is consumed. But, invisibly and deep down, there remains a kernel of life in the soul, and this, not by the soul's own strength or capacity, but by the pure mercy of God. This seed of life, this deposit of life, is Christ Jesus.

In Christ, the Life of the Soul, Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion (1858-1923) writes:

Holiness then, is a mystery of Divine life communicated and received: communicated in God, from the Father to the Son by an ineffable generation; communicated by the Son to humanity, which He personally unites to Himself in the Incarnation; then restored to souls by this humanity, and received by each of them in the measure of the gift of Christ, so that Christ is truly the life of the soul because He is the source and giver of life.

This is my prayer for you: that Christ may be the life of your soul, and that you may grow, through your communion with our Monastery, into being able to say with Saint Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20).

With my paternal affection and my blessing.
In lumine vultus Iesu,

Father Prior

Letter to a Novice Oblate (IV)

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This fresco in Monte Oliveto Maggiore depicts a youthful Saint Benedict receiving the monastic habit from the monk Romanus.

My very dear Novice Oblate,

Questions and Answers

I am writing to you again. You have a lot of questions, all of them interesting and good. I will do my best to provide you with satisfactory answers.

After Your Year of Noviceship

At the end of your year of noviceship, you may ask to be allowed to make your Oblation at the Monastery or, if this is not possible -- given the distance that may separate us -- in another church, during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I, as your Father Prior, or a priest whom I have delegated to represent me will preside at the Oblation.

The Rite of Oblation

The text for the rite and the form of Oblation is in the Ritual for Oblates that the Monastery will provide. The rite of Oblation mirrors that of monastic profession (RB 58:17). It takes place before the altar of the monastery, or of another church, and the relics of the saints (cf. RB 57:17-20). It includes a promise of conversion of manners according to the Rule of Saint Benedict and one's state of life, and, with uplifted hands, the moving chant of the Suscipe (Ps 118:116): "Receive me, O Lord, according to thy word and I shall live, let me not be disappointed in my hope." Beforehand, you will write out a Chart of Oblation and, then, sign it. Your Chart of Oblation will be preserved in the monastery's archive.

Some Conditions

In order to make a valid Oblation, one must be at least eighteen years old, and may not be a member of a Third Order nor of an ecclesial movement or other association whose spiritual thrust is not in harmony with the means proposed by the Rule of Saint Benedict and by the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle.

Light from the East

It is normally assumed that Oblates will be Roman Catholics who have received the sacrament of Confirmation. Nevertheless, at the discretion of the Father Prior, members of the venerable Eastern Orthodox Churches may also be received as Oblates; this, because monasticism is a treasure, originating in the East, that belongs to the Undivided Church.

In the Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen (2 May 1995) Blessed John Paul II wrote:

Monasticism has always been the very soul of the Eastern Churches: the first Christian monks were born in the East and the monastic life was an integral part of the Eastern lumen passed on to the West by the great Fathers of the undivided Church.
The strong common traits uniting the monastic experience of the East and the West make it a wonderful bridge of fellowship, where unity as it is lived shines even more brightly than may appear in the dialogue between the Churches.

Wholehearted and Firm

The act of Oblation is a wholehearted and firm promise to God, although it is not in the nature of a vow. It is not intended to be a burdensome obligation, but rather a stimulus and a help to the Oblate in "reaching that charity of God which, being perfect, drives out all fear" (RB 7:67).

Reciprocal Bonds

The act of Oblation establishes reciprocal bonds between the Oblate and the Monastery. For sufficiently grave reasons, an Oblate can sever these bonds by requesting in writing to withdraw from the Oblateship. Also, for sufficiently grave reasons, the Prior can dismiss one from the Oblateship, should an Oblate persistently, and in defiance of repeated invitations to conversion of heart, give evidence of having forsaken the inward spirit of Oblation and its outward obligations.

Sickness and Health

Should it happen that for reasons of health or other particular circumstances an Oblate becomes unable to carry out the practices and disciplines recommended for Oblates, so long as the desire for conversion of life and communion with the Monastery remains, the Oblation can still be fulfilled by "never despairing of the mercy of God" (RB 4:74).

Oblates suffering from chronic illness or another infirmity are truly offerings, worthy of being presented to the praise of the Father's glory, in the hands of Jesus Christ, our Eternal High Priest. The Oblate marked by suffering "makes up in his own flesh those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of His Body, which is the Church" (Colossians 1:24).

The Oblate who accepts, and then offers his weakness, incapacities, or limitations for priests in need, can obtain many graces for them. By uniting his offering to that of Our Lord, renewed in every Mass, the Oblate can obtain strength for priests discouraged by their weaknesses; humility and courage for priests who are incapacitated; and an increase of charity and of zeal for priests grown lukewarm.

Stability

Benedictines take a vow of stability or, if you will, of lifetime belonging to a particular monastic family. In the same spirit, the bond of Oblation anchors the Oblate spiritually to one particular monastery. If for good reason an Oblate wishes to transfer his Oblation to another Benedictine monastery, it is not necessary to make a new act of Oblation. With the consent of the Father Prior and the Abbot of the receiving monastery, the name of the Oblate can be removed from the register of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle and inscribed in that of another monastery.

Similarly, if for a good reason an Oblate attached to another Benedictine community wishes to transfer his Oblation to the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle, this can be done with the consent of the Abbot of the Oblate's original community and of the Father Prior.

Oblation is made with the intention that it should be for life. Consequently, it is made once and for all. Nevertheless, Oblates can express their "perseverance in stability" (RB 58:9) by renewing their Oblation in their hearts, especially on the anniversary date of one's Oblation.

I will write again soon. In the meantime, I send you my affection and my blessing.

In lumine vultu Iesu,

Father Prior

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

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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