Becoming a Benedictine Oblate
The color of the field may change, but it is still the same path
A Benedictine oblate is a man or women from any Christian background who makes a promise to a monastery to live a spiritual life patterned after the Rule of St. Benedict. Male monasteries often have men and women oblates.
Oblates do not live at the monastery. Oblates wear regular clothes, and often have a spouse and a job. Some people think if they become oblates their spouse will be required to take a vow of silence, but this is not the case.
Benedictine oblates do not take any vows. An oblate makes a promise, not a vow. Vows are made by those who become monks (brothers) or sisters (and nuns).
Oblates are "admitted into spiritual union and affiliation with a Benedictine community of monks or sisters, so that they may share in the spiritual life, prayers, and good works of the community." The quote is from, and for an in-depth description see: "Guidelines For Oblates Of St. Benedict," 1971, Prepared by Benedictine Oblate Directors.
Typically, to become an oblate you:
Step 1. SENSE THAT YOU ARE DRAWN BY GOD. You know/feel that you are drawn to a deeper spirituality of prayer, meditation, and silence.
Step 2. WANT A MONASTIC PATH. Many lifestyles and practices can lead to a closer relationship with God. One way is to live a life inspired by the ancient monastic traditions. You find that you are drawn by the Spirit to a monastic path, even though you continue to live in the wider world.
Step 3. LEARN ABOUT OBLATE MONASTICISM. You learn about and enjoy meditation and silent contemplation because it brings you closer to God. You enjoy praying the Divine Office (also called the Liturgy of the Hours or Opus Dei — Work of God) at a monastery or in your home or with a group at a Benedictine gathering of oblates at someone's home.
Step 4. FIND A MONASTERY. If you haven't done so previously, you find and learn about a monastery that has an oblate program. You communicate with and attend usually monthly oblate meetings at the monastery and you may be assigned a Spiritual Director to help you decide if you should become an oblate.
Find a monastery or Benedictine or monastic group:
Step 5. PARTICIPATE IN THE OBLATE NOVICE CEREMONY. You decide that you want to be an oblate and upon approval by the monastery (typically by a Director of Oblates) you participate in an initial brief ceremony to become an oblate novice. During the ceremony you make an initial promise, receive a blessed medal of St. Benedict, and the Rule of St. Benedict.
Step 6. CONTINUE IN A YEAR OR TWO IN DISCERNMENT. During the next one to two years, you continue to do engage in all the practices of living a life inspired by the Rule of St. Benedict -- ie, praying the Divine Office and quiet meditation, attending the monthly oblate meetings, and participating in one or more spiritual retreats which you rank as some of the best times in your life.
Step 7. PARTICIPATE IN THE FINAL OBLATION CEREMONY. In a brief ceremony similar to the novice ceremony, you make a final oblation (promise) to serve God and be guided by the Rule of St. Benedict in your life. You sign the final oblation form and leave it on the altar or table.
There is perhaps nothing an oblate novice or oblate does that you cannot also do without becoming an oblate novice or oblate. And oblates and oblate novices both "do" the same thing.
It is not so much that oblates gain any knowledge (as in receiving a diploma) or engage in spiritual practices reserved only for the initiated — there is none of that.
You become an oblate by oblation — the offering or gift of yourself to God in a life guided by the ancient Rule of St. Benedict.
Because there is no set course of study to master and no spiritual practices reserved for a special group, and because monastic lifestyles and traditions have 1,800 years of continuous recorded history, and because major elements monastic practices — daily praying the Psalms — has a history of 3,000 years, you can find a monastic tradition that has developed in the past that will fit your spirit today.
The variations in Benedictine practices are many even while they all remain true to ancient monastic practices. Moreover, Benedictine spiritual life has many characteristics that can be found in other traditions.
With the above explanations in mind, the following are items that characterize the typical Benedictine oblate, if there is such a person. But, for oblates, we do the best we can and follow these practices as our circumstance permit. As an oblate you have responsibilities that monks and sisters do not have, a child or spouse to care for, bills to pay.
gentle on yourself as you
1. PRAY THE DIVINE OFFICE — LITURGY OF THE HOURS.
Growing out of the desire to pray without ceasing and to have the love for God always flowing from our hearts, Benedictine oblates pray (and many sing) some form of the Divine Office (also known as the Liturgy of the Hours, or Opus Dei — Work of God) when the visit a monastery or at their home or in a Benedictine gathering with other people.
The Divine Office is prayed between one and seven times a day: at Vigils (after midnight), Lauds (morning), Terce (midmorning), Sext (noon), None (midafternoon), Vespers (evening), and Compline (night, last prayer of the day). Example of a Divine Office reading for Morning Prayer, Laud an Oblate might pray at home.
Read my wife's favorite lectio divina article HERE.
3. KEEP AN AMPLE SUPPLY OF SILENCE.
Oblates tend to enjoy silence in their lives and seek it out. Silent contemplation is often a result of praying the Divine Office. Read more at the World Community for Christian Meditation web site.
This is as varied as the spirit of each oblate, but in general oblates seek to "unify one's life around the primacy of God." Quote from Pope John Paul II, 7 July 1999 see EWTN Library.
For more information on conversatio morum, which is the most enigmatic Benedictine concept, read a list of quotes from several authors, and learn how this obscure Latin phrase remained unknown to the Benedictine world until it was "rediscovered" by Cuthbert Butler in 1912: Examples of Definitions of Conversatio Morum.
5. ATTEND REGULAR OBLATE MEETINGS.
Monasteries which permit oblates will typically have regular meetings. Well worth the time and often the long drive. Consider staying the night in the monastery's guest house.
Read an example of an Oblate Newsletter at the web site for Saint John's Abbey, in Collegeville, Minnesota, USA.
Read an extensive and well organized Oblate Manual prepared by Monastery of the Ascension in Jerome, Idaho, USA
6. ATTEND GROUP AND PRIVATE RETREATS.
Most oblate programs state that oblates should attend at least one retreat per year.
My suggestion is go to as many as you can, including private ones you plan just for yourself and spouse. Oblate retreats are usually sources of close connection with God. A safe conclusion is that the Holy Spirit also looks forward to oblate retreats.
Find a monastery with a retreat center near you! There are many convenient locations to serve you better, and if you call in the next 30 minutes you will receive a free set of Ginsu Knives ... oops, some old TV signals just appeared, OK, back to our regular programming... Find a monastic retreat at the OSB.org web site.
7. READ THE ANCIENT MONASTIC AUTHORS.
When your current reading list does not contain any books written after 1700 AD, you will have caught the desire that fills many oblates. But, of course, there are many excellent modern authors and you will read them too — perhaps giving first place to those modern authors who write about the ancient ones.
Read an introduction to these ancient authors at the web site of the Monastery of the Ascension in Jerome, Idaho, USA:
8. READ FROM THE RULE OF ST. BENEDICT.
When St. Benedict was compiling his Rule, Bible quotes and allusions were his vocabulary, few other works integrate Biblical references more than the Rule of St. Benedict.
The Rule is a guide to how monks should live together and worship God. In other words, the Rule uses Biblical principles to describe the full Christian life devoted to God. The Rule's application is universal and timeless.
I suggest you think about and get a translation and font size that is easy to read. An important task is selecting the version of the Rule of St. Benedict that you like the best.
Consider the beautifully produced and easy to read:
Also you will want to read commentaries on the Rule of St. Benedict. There are plenty. My advice is the same as the signs along the roads near Plant City, FL, which is the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World: this is a "U Pic" opportunity.
Some books containing the Rule of St. Benedict have the 73 chapters marked with days of the year so that if you read a section each day, you will read the Rule three times in a year.
Many monasteries have a reading from the Rule as a part of their Liturgy of the Hours each day.
For oblates, we do the best we can and read from the Rule as our circumstance permit. As an oblate you have responsibilities that monks do not have, a child or spouse to care for, bills to pay.
Be gentle on yourself as you follow your own monastic path. You will learn of that Benedictine balance for your life, a freedom, a quiet rest in God's love.
Brother Jerome's Daily
However, on many oblates' must-read list is the unique commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict by Brother Jerome.
Brother Jerome is a monk at St. Mary's Monastery in Petersham, Massachusetts, USA, and he has written a commentary on the Rule and put the commentary online in daily segments. His commentary comes in the form of a daily e-mail along with a prayer list.
It is easy to join Brother Jerome's free mailing list and have each day's section of the Rule of St. Benedict and Brother Jerome's commentary e-mailed to you.
Brother Jerome's writing is clear, inspirational, sometimes humorous, always insightful, and very Benedictine. Two thumbs up.
Putting the Rule in its
The fountain is flowing from the Rule of St. Benedict. Its 73 chapters are as relevant today as when they were compiled about 530 AD during the final disintegration of the Roman Empire. It has been said that the Rule of St. Benedict — after the Bible — is the most important book to the Western world.
Among the Rule's 1,500 years of accomplishments is its balance and simplicity which, in the hearts and hands of Benedictine monks, preserved Western civilization.