It’s an awful long way to the monastery from where I live. A solid half day’s drive each way. It’s a distance that prohibits frequent visits for me.
There is a small group of Oblates that meet together once a month about an hour from here. The group is part of the fruit of the faithful long-term labors of a Benedictine priest that has recently been transferred to another mission church at the other end of the state.
The basic format for the monthly meeting is saying Vespers before gathering in the church hall for some snacks. For a long time I was quite faithful to attend, I’ve not been to one of the Sunday afternoon meetings in several months. Simply because it’s hard to get there on a Sunday afternoon when there are so many things close to home that call for personal attention.
St. Lawrence is a beautiful and thriving Catholic church. Well over 1200 families. Daily weekday morning and evening Masses. Three Masses on Sunday. A multitude of societies, programs, and activities. There is also a group of Secular Franciscans, one Secular Carmelite, one Sister of St. Joseph, and one Oblate of St. Benedict - me.
There are now around 8,000 Benedictine monks living in monasteries and 25,000 Oblates living around the world. That may sound like impressive numbers. But it really isn’t. I’ve not done the math but the reality of it would reveal just how small and insignificant our percentage relationship is with the population of the world.
As far as that goes, where percentages are concerned, we represent a very small percentage of the Church.
In my own church community I’m only 1 person in about 4,000 people. I’ve done that math. I am .00025 percent of my home church population. Not much of a presence, an important presence nonetheless, though not one that’s taken seriously by the greater popular majority. Outwardly, there’s nothing that really distinguishes me from the rest of the crowd.
In the context formed by these realities, becoming an Oblate of St. Benedict, stepping onto and walking along this primitive pathway, although personally positive in its every aspect, is also a sure step toward isolation and obscurity.
Isolation and obscurity are not my enemies. Far from it. They happen to be right and left shoes that fit my feet well. They don’t pinch. And they don’t rub blisters. They wear with quite a nice fit, considering my personal disposition at this stage in my life.
However, the isolation and obscurity in my own world of oblation do very little when it comes to forming and maintaining genuine, successful community – something that depends upon ongoing, collective, and responsible accountability in the cenobitical traditions set forth by our Sainted Founder. Benedict well understood the necessity of one’s maturity in community before thinking of or daring to embark on an adventure with eremitical characteristics.
It’s kind of obvious though that many of us on the Oblate pathway are left to fend for our selves. It’s a long way to the monastery for many of us. Oblate Chapters are few and far between. Oblates are, for that matter, few and far between in the Church world. Many of us, for all practical purposes, by-pass cenobitical nurturing and go straight to plowing solo in a terribly hard and stony field.
It makes me wonder how many Oblates start this journey with a solemn promise only to throw up their hands and give up because of the lack of dynamics that come only in close community.