My Oblate Story, Part 1
oA Benedictine Oblate is a lay person, who lives according to the Rule of St. Benedict in so far as their station in life will allow in some sort of formal association with a particular monastery. My first exposure to the Rule of St. Benedict was during a class at Augie about community as part of the honors sequence. It was a decent class, and the study of the Rule culminated in a two-day trip to New Melleray Abbey, in Iowa. I was struck by something there, but I wasn’t sure what.
And the Lord, seeking his laborer in the multitude to whom He thus cries out, says again, “Who is the one who will have life, and desires to see good days” (Ps. 33:13)? And if, hearing Him, you answer, “I am the one,” God says to you, “If you will have true and everlasting life, keep your tongue from evil and your lips that they speak no guile. Turn away from evil and do good; seek after peace and pursue it” (Ps. 33:14-15). And when you have done these things, My eyes shall be upon you and My ears open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say to you, ‘Behold, here I am'” (Ps. 33:16; Is. 65:24; 58:9).
What can be sweeter to us, dear ones, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold, in His loving kindness the Lord shows us the way of life. (Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue.)
It wasn’t until I’d made the acquaintance of the new Catholic chaplain at Augie, a Benedictine nun, that I learned of Oblates and that there was a group who met nearby. I attended their monthly meetings regularly, and it felt like a dream that there were people like me, who were living the kind of life I thought was closed off. Finally the summer before I was to go to California, I was to be enrolled as a novice, a year before one makes a final commitment as an Oblate.
I’ve never publicly told this part of the story before, and I owe the sisters an explanation. It’s hard writing this, and a part of me thinks that I’m making it up. Perhaps it’s time that I admit that this demon has no power over me, metaphorically speaking, or perhaps it still has some hold. I was to spend some time with the community I was to become an Oblate with during an intensive silent retreat. It sounded like heaven, with plenty of time for meditation and silence. When I told my family about it, they didn’t take it well, to put it mildly. They were convinced I was joining a cult and absolutely forbade me to go.
There were hours of interrogation about my motives, and that summer I was virtually imprisoned. I had no way of getting there–I didn’t have a car, and there wasn’t any transportation between cities in that part of the state. There were other threats about psychiatrists, since they thought my personality had changed (maybe it had and they weren’t listening.) When interrogation didn’t break me, then there was open scorn and teasing about my becoming an Oblate. What I was called doesn’t bear repeating, namely because it’s also an insult to the many religious I know.
I’m sure if you ask my family, they’d have an entirely different version of this story. That’s how their types keep power. I didn’t have much time to myself for prayer that summer. I memorized many of the psalms, so that if my books I used to cobble together a version of the Divine Office were taken away from me that I could still pray some of it. I had a copy of the Rule of St. Benedict hidden–the small $3 version–on me at all times. I’d do lectio divina late at night, when my family was asleep, and I learned about walking meditation on my own. The summer previously I’d obtained a medal of St. Benedict, which that summer I wore under my clothes constantly. I knew I had to keep my head down, convince my family of my normalcy, so that I could make it to California, where I eventually moved. I haven’t been back much, and that summer marked the first real break with my family. (I have limited to no contact with them now.)
(I promise, this story gets happier. Sorry to end on such a downer, but I need to get up in a few hours for work.)