July 11, 2012

St. Benedict and Me

Today is the feast of Holy Father Benedict. No, not Pope Benedict, but St. Benedict of Nursia, the sixth century saint who is considered the founder of Western monasticism.  Today is also a feast day for me because I am an Oblate of St. Benedict.

When I tell people I am an Oblate, their first question is, "What's an Oblate." Their second question is, "Why?" Some people wonder if I really wanted to be a nun. Others think I'm just the crazy church lady. Some are very curious, ask a lot of questions and seem genuinely interested. The real reason is that, for me, it is a path to holiness. The link above explains what an Oblate is, but why did I decide to make my oblation is a very good question.

I first read the Holy Rule of St. Benedict many, many years ago. I picked it up while visiting the Weston Priory in Vermont which was one of my favorite places to visit with a group from my parish. I understood it as a good rule for life but never took it any further by applying it to my own life. Years later I read The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris and realised that the Rule can apply to our ordinary lives and didn't require living in a monestary or abbey. I began to see how living the Rule made a lot of sense in this crazy world of ours. It was, in a sense, a call to go back to basics, not so much in an ascetical sense but in getting back to spiritual basics and living a simple and happy life in the here and now.

The next expereince that drew me closer to a Benedictine spirituality was when I began my liturgical studies at the University of Notre Dame. I learned that the Benedictines and liturgy just go together like paper and glue. They were known througout the centuries to be the center of liturgical reform and the Pontifical Liturgical Institiute located at Sant'Anselmo in Rome is run by the Benedictines.  The more I studied the more I came to undertand why I love liturgy so much. I met quite a number of Benedictine religious and oblates during my time at Notre Dame and had the opportunity to see how Benedictine spirituality affected their lives.

In discerning how I could deepen my relationship with God, it was suggested to me that I look into a third order or affiliate myself with a religious community. After much prayer, a search into the charisms of different orders and communities, and reflection on where God may be calling me, I kept coming back to the Benedictines.  I re-read the Rule and did a search on Monestaries or Abbeys near where I lived. The closest was St. Walburga Monestary in Elizabeth, NJ. If I was going to make an oblation with a community, I wanted it to be one where I would be able to travel to easily.

I began to attend Oblate meetings and after a year of discernment decided to enter formation for my oblation. I made my final oblation a year later. Being an Oblate has had such a positive affect on my life. I have learned to live a simplier life, to appreciate people and things more. I have learned that humility and obedience are not "dirty words" and that in living these virtues I am a much happier person. I have come to realize the beauty of the Divine Office and look forward to praying the psalms every day, several times a day. But most of all my relationship with God has grown deeper.

Reading the Rule every day has shown me that the wisdom of St. Benedict does not lose anything 1500 years later. It is a relevant today as it was in the sixth century.  Today as we celebrate our Holy Father Benedict's feast I can't help but call to mind a quote from the Holy Rule, one that is on the stained glass window at our monestary and taped to my computer at work: "Prefer nothing to the Love of Christ."

Happy feast day. PAX

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