By Saint Andrew's Abbey
By Fr. Simon O’Donnell, O.S.B.
This Article first appeared in the Valyermo Chronicle, No. 182, Summer, 1998
THE ROOTS of monastic identity are found in a good theology of baptism, baptism which not only marks a person as a son or daughter of God, but a baptism which gives a special orientation of the person to Jesus Christ. This orientation, from a monastic perspective, is truly a desire to seek God in an absolute and exclusive way. It seeks to identify with that Christ who was often found at prayer with His Father, prayer apart from the world under the direction of the Holy Spirit – prayer that is truly an interior communion with God Himself.
The interior communion with God seeks to unfold a bold knowledge and experience that God is both the origin and goal of human life. God has fashioned the core of the human person to be a seeker after happiness, joy, and peace. Every human effort and desire translates ultimately into a search for God Himself. The creature is created for the Creator. In addition to this human desiring is the baptismal orientation of the person to become more like Him Whom the Father sees and always loves, Jesus Christ, the Beloved. His belovedness is a constant readiness to listen to the Father and to do and become what the Father asks, a companion in divine life. The pattern of communion Christ unfolds for us is one of self-giving and not of self-serving; of emptying self in service and love in order to become filled with the fullness of God.
A Spiritual Intuition
IN SOME persons God’s grace works in such fashion as to place within the person a sense that, though the world and its affairs are important, there is something about the perfection of a person that will only be uncovered in some intensely spiritual and religious seeking of God. This intuition, in a monastic life, is like a beacon that both calls from without and speaks from within. It is a call from God, but often God speaks in the depths of our hearts. The Oblate, as the monk, seeks to respond to this call in a concrete way. The intuition is a demand to adopt a way of life that takes very seriously this search for God.
The search for God demands that a person look for the most significant of human values and spiritual realities. In the end this is nothing else than living in the presence of God. Life’s journey is marked by this awareness that God sees us and is truly interested in us and wants to be a constant companion in life’s pilgrimage, our returning to Him.
A Transformation of Life
THE CONCRETE response to this intuition often means that the person must adopt a new life style; one that takes this search seriously both in the inner life of prayer and in the way in which one speaks and acts. This transformation demands a determination and willingness to change one’s manner of life. The monastic transformation of life centers on St. Benedict’s triad of virtues: silence, obedience, and humility. These virtues are meant to give birth to the gift of love, love of God and neighbor. St. Benedict’s hope is that living silently, obediently, and humbly the monk (oblate) will soon come to that perfect love of God that casts out all fear and that the monk (oblate) will begin to do naturally what was formerly most difficult.
THIS transformation is possible only through prayer.
A Life of Prayer in the Church
ONE OF the characteristics of monastic prayer is that it is always from within the heart of the Church. In the Rule of St. Benedict prayer is communal and takes its breath and words from the psalms of Scripture. More than that, it is prayer that seeks to introduce into one’s life an external rhythm almost in harmony with the setting and the rising of the sun, with night and day. It seeks a way to live always in the presence of God, turning over and over in one’s heart that God truly sees us and is present in us.
This prayer is in, through, and with Christ. Such prayer is nourished by lectio divina in all its stages-attentive, meditative reading of Scripture and prayerful, active response to the gospel. In this way the monk (oblate) seeks to provide on earth testimony of heavenly realities: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
A Life Different of the World’s
THE MONASTIC manner of life involves a personal reformation of characteristic ways of behaving including even the manner of speaking, the manner of listening, the manner of acting and reacting. It is a reformation that involves a movement from noise to silence, from speech to listening, from manipulating to beholding, from pride to humility. For the oblate there is a kinship with the values and virtues of the Rule of St. Benedict. This kinship issues in a desire to adopt the ways and manner of the monk. The Rule encourages simplicity of life-style, an oblation of self, a high regard for every individual, not seeking what is of benefit to self, but what benefits another. This manner of life demands a new way of looking at the world of things: gifts from God demanding good stewardship; at the world of persons: others to be loved with tender regard and great compassion; and at self: a gift to be spent on behalf of others.
A Need for Stability and Community
THE OBLATE is a person who has also established a particular relationship to a particular monastery. That is, the oblate feels a real sense of being at home in a particular monastery. This is a very important part of being an oblate-this association with a concrete monastery. The Rule of St. Benedict is never lived in splendid idealistic ways; it is always lived in a particular fashion, in a particular place, by particular people. The oblate recognizes this and finds it helpful to belong to one monastery and not to another. This gives a rootedness and vividness to the way of living for the oblate. He or she comes to identify with this monastic expression as lived at Valyermo. They find therein real support and help as they seek to progress in their spiritual life. Most importantly the faithful oblate truly becomes a part of the monastic community and looks for the day when we are called to share fully in the glory of Christ under whom the monk and the oblate serve.
The oblate is like Naaman the Syrian who, cured of his leprosy in Israel, carried off some soil of Israel to his own land so that, thus rooted, he might always pray to the Living God. The oblate carries off some of the monastic life into his or her own home so that they might always share the monastic identity, living as best they can a monastic manner of life.
In this way the monk and the oblate together seek to incarnate in viable ways that they are truly living now in and for Christ, in the profound hope that all that now seems distant and removed will one day be ours to hold and have for all eternity.