January 24, 2014
Poverty, chastity, and obedience are called the three evangelical counsels, the counsels Jesus recommends in the Gospel for those who desire to do more than the minimum to get to heaven, and to aim at Christian perfection (Mt. 19:16-22). By Christian perfection we mean that extremely elusive condition of perfect charity, love of God and love of neighbor, that we will enjoy for all eternity and which we seek, by the grace of God, to reach in this life, sinners that we are. In fact, if we don’t work at it consistently and generously in this life, God will have a lot of polishing to do on us before He admits us to heaven when we die.
The vast majority of religious communities of priests, brothers, and nuns take these three as vows when they make their commitment to belong to their community forever. Through practicing these vows they witness to the world a higher reality. They declare through all of what the counsels imply that there is indeed something more enduring than this world. As laity, we can practice these counsels according to our state in life, too. The more we desire to reach Christian perfection out of love of Jesus, the more we can look to these three counsels to guide us in our daily choices.
The Benedictine difference
St. Benedict did something different in his Holy Rule, though, that expresses the evangelical counsels in a different way. Benedictines are known for their charism of work and prayer (sacred liturgy), of hospitality, of peace, and of keeping in mind “that in all things God may be glorified”. What most people don’t know unless they have looked into it is that Benedictines don’t take vows of poverty and chastity, although much of the rule makes specific demands for a life of poverty. The Benedictine professes instead the vows of stability, reformation of life (conversion of morals), and obedience. Poverty, chastity and more are implied in these vows.
The layperson who is attracted to Benedictine spirituality as I am, finds great peace in these three vows. Stability is what keeps us from constantly falling for the temptation to fantasize that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence in every aspect of our lives – marriage, our commitment to the Church, the living of our Baptismal promises, the spiritual life, our focus on Jesus. Regarding our Oblation to a particular monastery, we are “adopted” into that particular family of monks. We share in their spiritual benefits and they in ours. We do not wander around joining other religious orders as Tertiaries, although we may find much value and fruitfulness in our spiritual lives by applying certain of their charisms to ourselves. In fact, we cannot be both Oblates of a Benedictine monastery and Tertiaries of another religious family such as the Franciscans, Dominicans, etc. The other orders have similar rules. This stability allows us to focus on living the Rule without distraction, and it is why a person who desires to be an Oblate must complete a certain amount of time as a novice before making a formal oblation to a particular monastery. The monks have to agree to accept us into their monastic family as someone committed to living our lives in accordance with the Rule and doing what we can for the benefit of the house.
Conversion of morals (I really like that phrase – it makes me think hard about what I’m doing, activities I engage in) or reformation of life is a beautiful way to describe how we daily come closer to Christ. Jesus is the center of our life, the predominant figure by which we measure our actions. G.A. Simon writes:
The one who tends to perfection, indeed, renounces all that is not God; all of that is to be dead for him; at least, he must strive to make it so. He mortifies the flesh, the love of pleasures, the love of riches, the love of honors, the attachment to his own will – that the Lord Jesus may be the sole Master in him. Is not that, moreover, what our Savior has demanded of us: “Let him who will be My disciple carry his cross and follow Me”? St. Benedict wanted only to implement the Gospel; and by following in the footsteps of the holy Patriarch we are but following Christ with him, carrying our cross.
The Oblate profession
The world has always been topsy-turvy, at enmity with God. It seems, though, that today’s world has removed all bars to every manner of depravity and evil. Lies, subterfuges, and attacks on the Body of Christ seem more venomous than ever before and affect everyone on the planet. Shame no longer deters what others want to parade in front of us, whether it be evil deeds against a neighbor or self-indulgence of all kinds. I, for one, need the stability of the Benedictine Rule, the constant reminder of conversion of morals and of obedience to the will of God. I need that sense of belonging to the monastery family, knowing that I am part of something bigger than I am that glorifies God.
The day we become Oblates we have taken a huge step forward in our quest for holiness. We have pledged ourselves to pursue Christian perfection in the company of our monastic family using the efficacious means the Church provides us. First and foremost is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and all the other sacraments. Then we have the Divine Office and Lectio Divina. We have the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that we perform out of the love of God. We have numerous approved devotions designed to develop our relationship with our Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and all the saints and angels populating heaven.
The day we turn away from these means is the day we cease to advance and begin to go backwards. We turn away from God and turn back to creatures who can give us nothing of lasting value. But in professing our oblation we pray in full confidence that this will not happen:
Uphold me, O Lord, according to Thy word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my hope (derived from Ps. 118:116).
G.A. Simon writes this about the Oblate profession:
By our Oblation, indeed, we give ourselves to God, we give Him the whole nothing that we are. Suscipe me Domine [Uphold me, O Lord]…. We give ourselves to Him with complete confidence…non confundas me [let me not be confounded, that is, let me not end up in hell]. For He has made promises to us…secundum eloquium tuum [according to Thy word]. In return He will give us His life, et vivam; His life, that is to say His grace, that is to say finally Himself living in us. May we never recant, never take ourselves back. We should then lose all, we should lose ourselves and we should lose the Infinite; we should lose God.
Anyone who wishes to do that “something more” that the young man in the Gospel sought and then turned away from because he was too attached to earthly things, can find it through associating with one of the religious communities of the Church. Through discernment God will lead you to the place that’s right for you.
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R. Now and forever!
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