As some of you may know, I will be formally accepted as an Oblate of Mt. St. Scholastica Benedictine Monastery in Atchison, KS on April 23. Michael thought I should tell you about it.
An Oblate is an individual who has associated him or herself with a Benedictine community. Although some Oblates are ordained, most are lay people. We live in our families or alone, not in a monastery or convent. We are not nuns or monks, we do not take vows. We make “promises.”
The reason for this association is to enrich our Christian way of life. Oblates strive to shape our lives by living the wisdom of Christ as interpreted by St. Benedict of Nursia in the “Rule” he wrote. As Oblates, we seek God in our chosen way of life, by integrating prayer and work, thus manifesting Christ’s presence in society.
The word Oblate comes from the word oblation, which means offer. I offer my life to God, wholly and completely. From the very beginning, Benedictine monasteries and convents received children who were “offered” to them by their parents for religious training and education. These children lived in the community, shared its daily round of religious activities and became known as Oblates. Think of Maria in the Sound of Music.
Over many years, lay people asked to be associated with the work of the monks and nuns without leaving their homes, families and occupations. These too were received, as they offered themselves to God, promising to regulate their lives according to the spirit of the Rule of St. Benedict. They applied the teaching of the Rule to their lives in the world, to their family life and to their civic and social activities.
The basic promise I will make at my Oblation is to dedicate myself to the service of God and humanity according to the Rule of St. Benedict in so far as my state in life permits. To fulfill this promise, I commit to:
- Pray daily the Liturgy of the Hours, both morning and evening prayer.
- Read from the Rule of St. Benedict daily.
- Practice lectio divina daily. This meditative reading from Scripture expands an Oblate’s love, knowledge and appreciation of God and God’s call in daily life.
- Participate in the sacramental life of the church – Oblates who are not Catholic are expected to be faithful to their denominational beliefs of church and prayer.
- Be attentive to God’s presence in ordinary life.
The Rule, which I read and contemplate and try to live by daily, is a book, written by St. Benedict based on other similar “Rules” of the time, between 530 and 560. It has a prologue and 73 chapters and was developed as a guideline for monastics. It covers nearly every aspect of community life, including meals, clothing, speaking, relationships within the monastery, humility, obedience, leadership, work and prayer, especially work and prayer. Nuns, monks and oblates read a chapter or part of a chapter each day.
At Mt. St. Scholastica, the designated chapter (or part of a chapter) is read aloud during the evening meal. We read the rule through 3 times a year. I read a commentary along with the chapter that helps me to live out the reading in my everyday life. For example, the reading for today, April 5, is chapter 53, on the reception of guests. This is important because Benedict emphasizes that all guests are to be responded to as if it were Christ himself coming to the monastery. So I consider how I treat guests to come to the door of Old First, or how I treat others on the streets of Philadelphia, in the train and at home. Do I give them the respect and honor I would give Christ, or do I disregard them, treat them curtly or disrespectfully?
You might wonder why I am promising to maintain a close relationship with a bunch of nuns in Kansas when I live in suburban Philadelphia. The reason is my long association with the Sisters of Benedict who formerly lived in Piedmont, Oklahoma. They were very close to me when I lived there, and served as spiritual mothers, teachers and mentors during my 20’s and early 30’s. Five years ago, they closed their monastery in Oklahoma and moved to Kansas to join the larger monastery in Atchison. There is an excellent nursing home there where several of the Oklahoma sisters lived out their final years.
I’ve continued to keep in touch with the Piedmont sisters ever since we left Oklahoma, and when they moved to Kansas, I went there to visit and felt the presence of God there in a particular way. I wanted once again to live the Rule, to pray with the sisters and draw closer to God with them, as I had when I lived in Oklahoma. I was accepted as an Oblate candidate over a year ago and now embark on a new phase of my journey.
In January, when I was last there, I asked how this relationship would change, since I’ve been endeavoring to live the Benedictine life in earnest for the past 2 years. Sr. Benedicta, my spiritual director for the past 30 years, said to me that the difference would be that, “now the Sisters would be standing with me in this life,” I would not be trying to follow God alone. That “standing with,” is a great feeling, having a whole community to celebrate with, to support me in my struggles, and comfort me in my sorrow.
I will continue to live here, flying out to Atchison several times a year, communicating on the phone and through email. And I now I will have a large new family, 100 sisters, and several hundred other oblates with whom I share this life as a Benedictine.
Teresa (in the office)