Wednesday, June 4, 2008

It's Not About Me

“And the monk understands, by the terms in which his vows are made, that his gift of himself to God will consist chiefly in a gift of himself to his abbot and his brothers. He will no longer live for himself but for the monastic family to which he has been admitted. He will prove his love for God and glorify him by the simplicity and love with which he obeys his abbot and his brothers, and dedicates his body and soul to the praises of God and to the round of labor and reading and meditation laid down in the Rule.”[1]

With the growing interest in Benedictine spirituality by lay-seculars living in the world, the nature of this practical spirituality was addressed by a group of Directors of Oblates and formulated in a document, Guidelines For Oblates Of St. Benedict, first published in 1973. These guidelines clarify and restate the Statutes and Declarations contained in an earlier manual[2] that drew upon the Statues and Rules of the Secular Oblates of St. Benedict officially approved by the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars in 1904 after the canonical status of Oblates was established by Pope Leo XIII in 1898.[3] This helps me to see the importance placed on Oblate life by the Church and our Directors in these recent modern times.

This practical Benedictine spirituality is not a step in the right direction. It is a giant leap that catapults one from their comfortable preferential ideals. It launches one into a complicated gut wrenching dialogue with one’s self, with God, and with others that often care little about carrying on this deeply intimate conversation – others that often lash out with those proverbial whips and blades when their own preferential comfort zones are challenged. Practical spirituality is not convenient. It is, however, expedient.

We are told that as Oblates we are to live by the spirit of the Rule as best as our state of life will allow. It’s often been said that as Oblates our cloister is the world. Both of these are accurate but broad, general statements. They are good statements. They can, however, also be used as scapegoats to justify a lack of commitment to an active role in the Church’s mission to the world.[4]

The eighth step of humility[5] directs us toward a deeper, more surrendered, obedience. When I read the Rule, as an Oblate of St. Benedict, I need to also be mindful of the wisdom of the Directors who have been given the responsibility to guide me as I endeavor to live out the spirit of the Rule in my day to day life in the world. “Just in case I am becoming complacent as a result of these earlier steps, Benedict floors me with a thoroughly down to earth demand in this step. He tells me to stay in line, keep a low profile, not draw attention to myself. This must mean in my situation, outside a community, that I should be willing to be guided by others, to remain in the mainstream, and not become a law to myself.”[6]

In refusing to become a law to myself, by obedient submission to the Rule of St. Benedict and careful spiritual directors, I begin to realize my role as part of the spiritual arm of the Benedictine community. “Oblates are a “spiritual arm” of the Benedictine community, reaching out into all areas of life, seeking to share with others what they themselves gain as Oblates of St. Benedict. Their affiliation with a community of monks or nuns is not therefore for their own personal good alone. It is chiefly by their Christian example, even by their presence among others, that they hope to bring St. Benedict’s ideal of service to God and man into the world where they live and work.”[7]

[1] Thomas Merton, The Waters of Siloe, p. 18
[2] Manual For Oblates, St. John’s Abbey Press, 1955
[3] ibid
[4] Preamble, Guidelines For Oblates of St. Benedict, 1973
[5] RB 7:55
[6] Esther de Waal, A Life Giving Way, p. 66
[7] Guidelines For Oblates Of St. Benedict, Constitution, 1c