I almost didn’t go. Mostly because of the anxiety generated by vehicle problems and family concerns. There was something of a mean mental thing going on that insisted that I needed to stay home. But, at the same time, there was something deeper and compelling whispering in my spirit - a voice that’s easily overlooked or ignored. I yielded to the whisper and made the 300 mile trip to the Abbey for our Annual Oblate Retreat.
Expectations? Of course. How could there not be? But too many expectations can ruin spontaneity and surprise so I’ve learned to be cautious with them. Suffice it to say that I’m always deeply blessed through spending time with my monastic family. Praying the offices in choir. Listening to the conferences presented by the conference leader. Being in community for a few days with monks and other Oblates. Listening, as St. Benedict says, with the ear of the heart.
I also anticipated the opportunity to visit the grave of Father Thomas O’Connor, something that I’ve not been able to do since he died. I became an Oblate through Father Thomas in the late latter years of his life. He was quite an example of faith to all that knew him.
Father Bede Marcy OSB, our newly appointed Director of Oblates, served as our retreat conference leader. Unlike Father Thomas, whose life and ministry as a priest was near its end, Father Bede is much younger and recently ordained to the priesthood.
It wouldn’t be appropriate to compare their dynamics, to hold one man up against the other. It is, however, of interest to note that Father Thomas was reaching the end of his priestly road when I came along knocking at the door of the monastery. Father Bede is beginning his. These particular points in life’s journey present their own valid individual sets of dynamics, dynamics that are never out of place or out of time in God’s greater plan.
There are differences in these sets of dynamics and we need the differences to be whole and complete as a community. We need the elderly grandfatherly wisdom and presence of those who have long walked the way of St. Benedict. And we need the youthful vigor and vitality of our brothers and priests who are stepping in behind them to not only keep the Benedictine fires burning inside the monastery but to also hopefully kindle these fires in the hearts of a younger on-looking generation.
We had five conferences over the course of our retreat weekend. The themes of the conferences were 1. Wasting Time With God, 2. Waiting For Christ To Burst Forth, 3, Watching For Providence, 4. Wanting To Love, 5. Walking In Faith.
Father didn’t speak with lofty high in the sky platitudes. There was no hardcore academia that could possibly pass over anyone’s head. There was only direct but gentle “toward the heart” spiritual direction making practical and usable application of Scripture and the Rule. Father Bede’s conferences dealt with the heart of what it means to be Benedictine and what it means to live in the world as the Benedictine face of the monastic community.
Hopefulness. I think this is one of the words that best defines the sense of being that I came away from the retreat with; a renewed sense of hopefulness and an even firmer resolve toward my vocation as an Oblate of St. Benedict. The other word is purposefulness, a renewed sense of purpose, that my life as an Oblate of St. Benedict has personal and collective definition and purpose within the Benedictine community that I'm part of and in the world where I live outside the cloister.