Tag Archives: Benedictine Oblate

The Call of the Benedictine Oblate

Whenever we try to rigidly define an experience or a call we often come up short. Words fail and sometimes a little confusion enters into our awareness. These days I am reading in the School of Community (the weekly catechesis of Communion and Liberation) Luigi Giussani’s Generating Traces in the History of the World (2010) and there he writes of Baptism’s character: the birth of a new creature. This particular section is quite good and hopeful. Giussani reminds us that beginning with Christ we have baptism leading to a companionship. Noting what Paul VI said (realize that Paul was formerly Giussani’s bishop in Milan) that with Baptism we become a “People that make history” and in another place he says we are a “new people who make history…” The event of Baptism “implies the participation of my person in the Mystery of Christ’s person –my person is incorporated into the Mystery of Christ’s person.”

Coupled with St John Henry Newman’s teaching that each of us given a mission, a work that is non-transferable and unique to each person, I was thinking of the Oblate vocation and the following  paragraph came to mind on place of oblates in the witness of the Benedictine monastery. Several years ago, the English Benedictines formed their thinking of how to understand the vocation of the laity in relation to monastic way of life.

“Lay oblates are a particular way in which a monastic community is able to share the fraternal communion of its life with lay people who seek to leaven the dough of their ordinary lives and their service of the mission of the local church with the yeast of Benedictine wisdom. They have responded to a call, been through a process of discernment and formation, and have made a promise to witness to Benedictine life in their homes, at work and in the local church. The part that oblates play in the individual communities where they make their oblation varies, but the mutual witness of prayer and the sharing of the testimony of lives that look to the Rule to support them is an encouragement to the monastic communities, and is a sign of the vitality of Benedictine life in the local churches.”

Excerpt from TO PREFER NOTHING TO CHRIST, paragraph 116
The Monastic Mission of the English Benedictine Congregation
The Catholic Truth Society, Publishers to the Holy See, London 2015

St Frances of Rome and her Oblates

Today is the liturgical commemoration of Saint Frances of Rome, patron saint of the Oblates who live the Rule of Saint Benedict and who strive to serve. She died in 1440.

Along with Frances, we have King Saint Henry, as co-patron saints of the Benedictine oblates. Frances is also revered as the patron saint of motorists and motorcyclists because her path was always lit by her holy guardian angel. Some monasteries have their cars blessed today in memory of Saint Frances of Rome.

In Frances’ time in Italy is similar to ours today in that the monasteries are in decline: men and women are not seeking God through the monastic profession and the communal life. Her innovation was to gather women to serve the poor informed and formed by Benedictine spirituality. The Olivetan monks in Rome were helpful.

At first the women continued to live in their homes, but eventually found a house where they could gather and live in community without having to profess monastic vows. The oblate group that Frances for was seen as a hybrid, transforming the medieval practice of children’s oblate in monasteries, combining features of monastic life with secular life. At the same time similar groups surfaced and thrived in various places in Europe that became known as tertiaries. In some ways you can see the form of life that Frances had in the ecclesial movements of today, namely, Communion and Liberation and the Manquehue Apostolic Movement.

Frances therefore, created a new way of Benedictine life that was the union of the laity with Benedictine spirituality, grafting into the lives of the secular the call for this vocation in Benedictine life. A spiritual secularity is a gift of God to society and the Church. Unfortunately, what Frances did for the laity of the time didn’t gain widespread traction —at least not yet.

Who is interested in this form of life?

In everything may God be glorified.

NY Oblates’ Retreat 2019

Labor Day weekend (2019) had 25 of the NY Oblates of St. Meinrad’s Archabbey attended their annual retreat in Ossining, NY. We welcomed several new people. We were blessed, once again to have Fr. Mateo Zamora, OSB was our retreat master, with a series of conferences “A Careful Watch: Vigilance in the Rule of St. Benedict.”

Vigilance is a looking forward to something. It is sober, thoughtful, careful. We care for another; we anticipate something/someone for the future; we are ready to serve. One good example of being vigilant is the Vigil for the Sick and Dying. In context is a team effort (a communal effort) with the person in question. We bear witness to the Hope of being in Christ even when the sorrow is shared. The waiting is for Christ’s coming (the beginning) not for death (the end). Vigilance, therefore, is attitudinal, as we do this because of our relationship with God.

St. Benedict dedicates four chapters of his Rule to keeping the prayer vigil (RB, ch. 8-11). In this case, Benedict teaches that keeping vigil is an ascetical practice of sacrifice. In a world where sacrifice is not a well-accepted idea, the sacrifice of sleep in the Rule is real commitment to something more important: prayer.

In A Not-So-Unexciting Life Essays on Benedictine History and Spirituality in Honor of Michael Casey, OCSO (2017) we are reminded that “The practice of keeping vigil is part of our conversatio. … [the Office of Vigils, for example] actually symbolizes: our heart’s being awake so that we can enter into the mystery, being awake when Christ comes.” In another place, it was said, “This idea of keeping watch is present in the parable of the ten virgins (Matt 25:1-13), and it is very much part of the celibate life.” However, we need to remember that keeping is Christian regardless of marital status.

Keeping with the theme, we started and ended the conferences with Luke 12:35-48:

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks…”

When we are vigilant or keep a vigil, there is much waiting. Waiting is more than just biding time, it is an attitude – vigilance requires us to look inward as we look forward… being ready for what is coming. It requires trust, hope, a readiness to serve and a willingness to sacrifice. Regardless of the length of the wait, the waiting/vigil is a difficult sacrifice. We don’t “keep vigil”, the vigil keeps us, it forms us.

We only wait for people and things that we care about, those that matter most to us. We wait out of love.

In each conference Fr. Mateo challenged us to reflect on the following questions, as they related to the many types of vigils we keep:

    • How long did you wait?
    • What did you waiting for?
    • Why did you wait?
    • How did you wait?

We are always waiting for something or someone… we wait in line, we wait our turn, we wait for death, but we keep on living. If we know how long the wait will be, it seems like time is running out, there is not enough time. And yet, if we do not know the hour or the day, time is infinite, there is too much time. Having a sense of deadline makes us more diligent and organized, we take it more seriously, we are less likely to procrastinate.

Thankfully, we don’t often wait alone. When we share our waiting with others, the joys are multiplied and the sorrows are divided. In the waiting room of hospitals, it helps to have some to share the news you are waiting for – both good and bad.

Fr. Mateo also challenged us to be mindful of our words and actions, as we considered how Silence is vigilance over our words – restraint of speech. Silence is Wisdom’s first response (Euripides). This is especially challenging when we are easy with our words without considering how they function in person or on social media (in particular, the media). Our job is to first listen—be present, actively and attentively listening. Be especially careful with other people’s stories. Words have a sacred quality to them. Our words/speech should not be done at expense of the other (RB 6:8). Words should adore the other, make the other more beautiful. This is true because it is the Incarnate WORD of God –Jesus– who sanctifies, redeems and restores us. Read in the Rule 6: Restraint of Speech: good words are sometimes left unsaid for the esteem of silence

Humility is vigilance over our actions and Simplicity is vigilance over our possessions. Watch also what you do to yourself and others, as well as what you have. Humility is our acknowledgement of our lowliness and it is our acknowledgment of our gratitude. Humility is not just about our limitations but also what we can do –how we use our gifts. The converse is pride which is taking credit and it is using the self as the standard. Humility is Christ as the standard.

Culture encourages hoarding and consuming. Our possessions can possess us – they distract us. When we realize we can live without something, we start to let go, detach, so that we can be more attached to God. (MD/PAZ)

Lectio divina –being familiar with Christ

The following is something I curated and posted on the Benedictine Oblate Facebook group today.

In a recent newsletter from Fr. James Flint, OSB of St Procopius Abbey (Lisle, IL) he writes about his abbot asking the monks to say something about lectio and what was gleaned is “Give me a word” —some thoughts on lectio divina. See https://www.procopius.org/lectio-divina

As you know, the practice of prayerfully reading sacred Scripture is a key part of being a Christian, indeed, a Benedictine Oblate. Some Oblate formation programs stress lectio divina more than others. From experience, this is true for the Oblates of St Meinrad Archabbey. Whatever the case may be, lectio is rather crucial if you are truly seeking God —having familiarity with Jesus Christ.

Give me a word

~Words about the time and place for lectio divina. Most importantly, find the time to do it. Find a time of day that works for you. It can help to use the same time each day. Keep the amount of time short at first – you can build up to longer times eventually. Have a quiet place, away from normal affairs, to pray lectio divina. Don’t allow distractions. Find a sacred place.

~Words about picking a passage to do lectio divina with. At first, take just a few verses of Scripture. Use the readings for Mass, since you’ll hear them again when you go to Mass.

~Words about the “method” of praying lectio divina. Don’t get caught up with following a “method” or “technique,” but rather the important thing is to spend time with God through Scripture. Don’t over-think or over-analyze – eventually the Scripture takes the lead in the dance. Do lectio divina regularly, in a way that works best for you. Work on being quiet and do not focus on what you are doing. Don’t get discouraged and give up, if you don’t seem to be getting something out of it – keep to it! Lectio divina is a prayerful, patient pondering of a biblical text. Steps for lectio divina give your prayer purpose and direction.

~Words about how to read the biblical passage. Read over the passage repeatedly and slowly. Remember that through Scripture God is speaking to you. Be mindful of God’s presence. It can help to use a printed text, rather than a digital one on your phone or computer.

~Words about how to meditate on the passage. Meditate on the text in order to understand it. Think about how the words apply to you and to others. Ponder yourself in the biblical story or in the original audience of the text.

~Words about how to offer prayer in lectio divina. See your prayer as a relationship. Transitioning from meditation to prayer is important, for it helps to apply the text and opens you to what God wants to give you in this prayertime. The reading of Scripture must be applied to my life.

Lectio requires an altogether different approach, one that opens us to God’s agenda. The purpose is not to read a chapter of Scripture a day, to “get through” the Bible in a year, or anything of the sort. The purpose is to listen to God’s message to me, here and now, today. The quantity of material “covered” is irrelevant, and it could be counter-productive even to think in such terms. The material it should be that sets the agenda. Once we understand and apply that, we are engaged in lectio divina.

St. Procopius, pray for us.

Benedictine Oblates at the time of Church crisis

The St. Meinrad Oblates from the greater NYC area gathered as you know, for the 78th annual retreat this past weekend. As part of our Spiritual Exercises we have a Eucharistic Holy Hour. This year we prayed during this time for the Church which is currently in crisis as the consequence of clergy sexual abuse and cover-up, for the victims and victimizers.

Some of the Litany of the Sacred Heart that stand out:

Heart of Jesus, source of justice and love
Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love
Heart of Jesus, well-spring of all virtue
Heart of Jesus, worthy of all praise
Heart of Jesus, king and center of all hearts

Employing the intercession of the Blessed Mother, St. Benedict and all Benedictine saints and blesseds, we asked for a renewal of the Church: laity and clergy alike.

This is a time of prayer, penance and works of charity.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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