Friday, October 31, 2008

Oblate Sunday. A Benedictine oblate blog

This Sunday my wife and I will drive to the abbey for oblate Sunday. This is the first oblate meeting after our oblate retreat weekend — the peaceful spirit from that retreat is still a light in our hearts.

We have so much to be thankful for from that retreat, the abbey monks who welcomed all the oblates into their home for the weekend, the deep spirituality of the conferences we attended — all led by the wonderful abbot, the other oblates (defined) whose interest in oblate monasticism is like our own, and OK, I will also add — the great food we had all weekend.

My sense is that lectio divina should occupy much of tomorrow and serve as preparation for oblate Sunday (example of the schedule from a previous oblate Sunday).

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The prison is that way. A Benedictine oblate blog

Before I became an oblate (defined), I had only vague ideas about monastic life — most of those ideas were incorrect. I had thought that the significant fact to know about monasteries(1) is that they were places secluded from the surrounding population. As in: prisons do for criminals what monasteries do for monks and nuns.

But I was wrong.

A more accurate view is that monasteries interact with the surrounding population in many intended ways.

Monasteries are part of a community just like the local fair grounds or the blacksmith.

Monasteries organize the lives of their members in particular ways, but those organizational forms are also particular ways of becoming part of the surrounding community.

And that is exactly how our local monastery affects my life. The monastery is not a prison that locks life away, the monastery is the freedom of a life in God. For prison, you will need to look elsewhere.

(1) A monastery is where monks or nuns live in community, under guidance of a leader sometimes called an abbot or abbess, and under a set of rules or principles, sometimes called a Rule, such as the Rule of St. Benedict.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What oblates do. A Benedictine oblate blog

Dom David Knowles wrote the following summary of Benedictine life:

“THE LIFE which Saint Benedict wished his monks to lead was one in which full scope was to be given to the growth of supernatural motives and supernatural virtues. It was a life to be passed in the presence of God, with every action and activity directed towards Him. It was, therefore, to be a life without distractions, a life of prayer. In this life there were three chief instruments, liturgical prayer, reading, and work.”

Knowles moves from the detachment principles I wrote about in a prior post to the three activities that ground the Benedictine life in the real world. Those three main Benedictine activities are:

1) liturgical prayer (the divine office — an example here);
2) reading (discussed here in the second post of this blog); and
3) work (illustrated by the picture).

As an oblate (defined), those are also good instruments for a life lived in the presence of God.



Quote from:

"The Benedictines," A Digest for Moderns
By Dom David Knowles, page 8
Monk of Downside Abbey
Introduction by Marion R. Bowman, O.S.B.
Abbot of Saint Leo Abbey
The Abbey Press
Saint Leo, Florida
Here is an incomplete, online version of this classic work.

The Picture:

I received the picture from the young daughter of a friend who lives in Germany. Work is a large part of the Benedictine life and perhaps is never better than when it is creative and expresses the beauty of God’s creation.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Seclusion is seclusion, right? A Benedictine oblate blog

The video shows the ancient practices of Benedictine monks. From the video, some people may think that these secluded Benedictine monks have little influence on the “real” world going on outside. But like many things Benedictine, there is often another truth working — even in that seclusion — as this recent quote from Father Benedict Groeschel shows:

“The Benedictines go back to be beginning of the Dark Ages. They have a beautiful, beautiful tradition.

“St. Benedict who was a Roman nobleman started this in the midst of the chaos of the barbarian invasions; and he started monasteries: Subiaco, Monte Cassino.

“Ferdinand Lot in a great historical study of the end of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages said the monasteries of the Benedictine Order shown like islands of light in a sea of darkness. The only place that a sensitive and intelligent person could go.

“It is recognized by all that the monks and nuns of the Benedictine Order and in the East of the Eastern Studite Order — they preserved not only religion, but culture for the whole world. And God knows the way we are going right now, we may need it again.”(1)



(1) The entire quote is from Father Benedict Groeschel on “Sunday Night Live with Father Benedict Groeschel, on EWTN Television, Sunday, October 26, 2008.

In the episode Father Benedict Groeschel had a conversation with Prioress, Mother Dolores Hart, O.S.B., (Her story) of the Abbey of Regina Laudis. (Queen of Praise) Dolores Hart was a well-known actress of stage and film who became a nun. Her Internet Movie Database information is at IMDb.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

1,500 years together — Attachment and Detachment. A Benedictine oblate blog

Benedictine monastic practices help me unify two concepts that I had thought were in conflict. The concepts are the sense of “otherworldliness and detachment” on one hand and “this-worldliness and attachment” on the other.(1)

The monastic desire for God drives detachment. That seems easy to see.

For me, it was less apparent how my necessary attachment to this world, to family, and to work can also propel me to God.

The answer for me was found in two things I learned because I became an oblate. Many people have come to these truths without Benedictine monasticism, but for me, that’s where the light became visible.

First, is the desire for God. The Christian’s desire for God expands through time here in this world. Through the time and trials in this world, my desire and love for God increases because I become more open to God’s unending grace in every detail of my life, the good and the bad.

Suffering and joy are reconciled in the growing desire for God. “Love gives unity to all and resolves all contradictions.”(2)

Second, the monastic life expresses that desire for God in the ancient practice of the divine office. The divine office gives a “this-world” structure and manner of moving through my busy day — always grounded on that constant desire for God — and helping to unify the attachment I have to this world with the detachment that draws me beyond.


Footnotes and references

(1) "The Benedictines," A Digest for Moderns
By Dom David Knowles, page 41.
Monk of Downside Abbey
Introduction by Marion R. Bowman, O.S.B.
Abbot of Saint Leo Abbey
The Abbey Press
Saint Leo, Florida
Here is an incomplete, online version of this classic work.

(2) "The Love of Learning and the Desire for God," by Jean Leclercq, OSB. Fordham University Press, New York, 2001, page 31.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Change what you don’t like. A Benedictine oblate blog

After my morning divine office, I read the day’s section of the Rule of St. Benedict. Many versions of the Rule divide the text into sections for reading each day so that during the calendar year you will read through the Rule three times. Today I read part of chapter 18 — “In What Order the Psalms Are to Be Said” which states:

“We strongly recommend, however,
that if this distribution of the Psalms is displeasing to anyone,
he or she should arrange them otherwise,
in whatever way he or she considers better,
but taking care in any case
that the Psalter with its full number of 150 Psalms
be chanted every week
and begun again every Sunday at the Night Office.”

St. Benedict (summary of his spirituality and life) illustrates one of the strengths of his Rule in the passage quoted above. He gives an instruction, but also allows for modifications. This shows great trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of those who, understanding the principle behind a particular instruction in the Rule, should be free to apply that principle to a particular setting in the future.

I try to apply that Benedictine principle in my life as an oblate. What is the principle to be applied?

There is much freedom in the Benedictine way, but note that along with that freedom there is actually more responsibility — mindlessly following a set of rules misses the deeper point of the wisdom. I must understand the living principle not the dry rule. Very Benedictine.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

It’s life, not knowledge. A Benedictine oblate blog

Peace is at the heart of monastic culture. In "The Love of Learning and the Desire for God," by Jean Leclercq, OSB. I read today:

“The whole organization of monastic life is dominated by the solicitude for safeguarding a certain spiritual leisure, a certain freedom in the interests of prayer in all its forms, and above all, authentic contemplative peace.”

This might be thought of as somewhat paradoxical because the monastic life is so filled with books, reading, study — I might even say learning — but it is learning of a different sort.

Jean Leclercq provides the insight:

“As can be seen, this fundamental activity of monastic life is based on literature. For monks in general, the foremost aid to good works is a text which makes possible the meditated reading of the word of God. This will greatly affect the domain of monastic exegesis, entirely oriented toward life, and not toward abstract knowledge.”

So, a monastic’s reading is directed toward life in constant communion with God — in contemplative peace.

This fundamental redirection of the monastic life can be seen in the first sentence of the Rule of St. Benedict:

“Listen, my son, to your master's precepts, and incline the ear of your heart.” The first step into monastic culture.


"The Love of Learning and the Desire for God," by Jean Leclercq, OSB. Fordham University Press, New York, 2001.

Monastic Culture. A Benedictine oblate blog

I began reading "The Love of Learning and the Desire for God," by Jean Leclercq, OSB. The book is a series of lectures given to monks at the Institute of Monastic Studies at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, Italy, in 1955.

The subtitle really tells what the book is about: “A Study of Monastic Culture.” I am interested in monastic culture because it has made such a great expansion and fulfillment of my own spiritual life — and I am an oblate (defined here).

I liked one part of the preface, the author described the scope of his lectures and wrote that virtually all citations would be to books written before the beginning of the 1400s. My kind of books!



"The Love of Learning and the Desire for God," by Jean Leclercq, OSB. Fordham University Press, New York, 2001. (At Amazon)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What’s So Special About Ordinary? A Benedictine oblate blog

Yes, the peace from our retreat still fills our hearts. And this blog is an extension of how that happens. My wife and I are ordinary folks like everyone else — jobs, house payment, extended family, community activities, and hobbies.

But keeping our hearts fixed on God’s sovereignty and love is what forms our busy lives. That means that God does not merely share a place in our lives along with our interests — we do not think, “OK, now let’s make time for God.” We want all God all the time. We do not want a compartmentalized God or a compartmentalized Christian life, we want to live God’s will in everything.

And all of the above leads to the 1,500-year-old Benedictine monastic tradition. Being a Benedictine oblate (defined here) best creates a total life in God for us.

The gift of St. Benedict was that he showed how the ordinary monk or nun could live a life of “praying without ceasing.” It is a life centered and filled with God.

David Knowles, a monk of Downside Abbey in England (1896-1974) wrote in “The Benedictines” that novelists who wrote about the monastic life “could imagine an angelic monk and a diabolical monk, but they never seriously attempted to imagine an ordinary human monk.”

But it is precisely the great strength of the Rule of St. Benedict that it is to be taken up and lived by the ordinary person, whether monk or oblate.

And our hearts were filled with that spirit of the ordinary monastic life during our remarkable weekend retreat at St. Leo Abbey in Florida. That is one of the reasons we have continued as though we were still there — finding God in every ordinary part of our lives.



"The Benedictines," A Digest for Moderns
By Dom David Knowles
Monk of Downside Abbey
Introduction by Marion R. Bowman, O.S.B.
Abbot of Saint Leo Abbey
The Abbey Press
Saint Leo, Florida
Here is an incomplete version of this classic work.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lectio Divina. A Benedictine oblate blog

Video Divina

[Sacred Viewing]

The Catholic Synod of Bishops currently meeting in Rome has also given a prominent place to lectio divina (defined/how to) as this Zenit article on Lectio Divina describes and which I highly recommend to those interested in deeper spirituality.

If you have read about my spiritual journey, you would know that for most of my life I would never have urged people to read anything Catholic. I feel like putting a label of “humor” on this blog, not because there is anything funny about the Synod or lectio divina, but because of my own non-Catholic background and now I find it very natural to write, “oh, are you interested in deep spirituality? OK, read what the Catholic Bishops say about lectio divina.”

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Our Retreat, Part 4. A Benedictine Oblate blog

My wife and I returned from our weekend oblate retreat at St. Leo Abbey in the state of Florida, USA, about two weeks ago. We had spent about a month at home preparing for the retreat by spending more time in contemplation and I focused on beauty as well.

Since returning home from the weekend retreat at the monastery we have had a cloak of spiritual peace.

From the time we arrived at the retreat on the Friday and began seeing the other oblates, we felt a closeness and unity with them. The 30+ oblates who attended are far more diverse than most church groups I know. But those differences are not barriers. The oblates were all of one spirit. A remarkable event in our lives.

It’s at times like this that I wonder how many other people are like my wife and I were in 2006 — just one monastery visit away from the deepest spirituality and peace we have known — and we had practiced silence, contemplation, and what we now know is lectio divina for many years.

Monday, October 13, 2008

In a Spiritual Space, Part 3. A Benedictine Oblate blog

This is part 3 of my report on our time at the annual oblate weekend retreat at St. Leo Abbey in the state of Florida, USA.

My wife and I are still in the spiritual peace we entered during the weekend retreat at St. Leo Abbey. We have each taken more time to be by ourselves for contemplation. For me the overall theme of the weekend retreat was unselfish love — maybe I am still within that gift from our weekend with the abbot, monks, and oblates. Thank you all.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Retreat Part 2, Overall Schedule. A Benedictine oblate blog

St. Leo Abbey, Florida, USA

[Click picture to enlarge]

The schedule for the weekend retreat was as follows — beginning with registration Friday after work and extending until Sunday just after lunch so people had enough time to drive back home. Some oblates drove many hours to attend the retreat.

Friday evening:

Opening Conference
Conversation/Quiet Time
Grand Silence/Retire


Morning Conference
Bead Workshop

Group Picture
Private time
Lector Workshop (optional) (Lectors read portions of the Bible during Mass)
Chaplet of Divine Mercy
Afternoon Conference

Sacrament of Anointing
Evening Conference
Grand Silence/Retire


Morning Conference
Novice Meeting

Picture of all Oblates
Pack and Leave


The above was the official schedule. As I wrote in the previous blog, my wife and I arrived at the abbey about 11:30 am on Friday for Mass and we stayed later on Sunday until the end of vespers.

During the weekend, we missed a couple of activities so we could take a nap, but regretted our decision to miss anything. The solution is to go to sleep soon after the start of the Grand Silence instead of staying up and talking in our room. But each day’s schedule was so interesting we wanted to go over each detail again.

As can be seen from the schedule, a main characteristic of a retreat is to follow the daily divine offices with the monks of the abbey. I cannot over emphasize the significance of this feature. The divine offices hold the day together. The divine offices lead us through the day. All retreat activities during the weekend are illuminated by the light from the divine offices.

It was a wonderful retreat.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Our Oblate Retreat, Part 1. A Benedictine oblate blog.

"Peace I leave with you"

[Click picture to enlarge]

We are back home from the oblate retreat, but our hearts are still at the peaceful monastery.

The oblate weekend retreat my wife and I attended was a spiritual blessing.

We had prepared for the retreat for about a month — I focused on beauty and wrote about my preparation in several prior blogs. All of the preparation was worth it, we loved every minute.

Unselfish love was a major theme of the retreat sessions.

I also learned about forgiveness, and I went from head knowledge to heart knowledge — as they say. I could have correctly answered a Bible test on forgiveness before, but there are parts of forgiveness that I now understand more deeply or in a better relationship to other Truth. I think I have gained one step in my walk as an oblate.

The retreat began Friday at 7:00 pm registration and went until Sunday at 1:00 pm just after lunch. My wife and I arrived on Friday at 11:35 am just in time for 11:45 am Mass and we stayed until the end of vespers on Sunday at 5:30 pm.

I have a picture in my mind of Mass on Friday beginning two and half days of deep spiritual peace and learning. The end of our retreat is also clear in my memory, we watched the backs of the monks in their flowing black robes processing out of the church in two columns at the end of vespers Sunday evening. The organ was playing so beautifully, it was an emotional moment. As we walked out after the monks left, a big part of me stayed there in the quiet old abbey church.

In upcoming blogs, I will give the schedule of the retreat so you will know the structure of how the oblate retreat was organized.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Listening with the ear of my heart. A Benedictine oblate blog

I listened to a music program, “Claudio Monteverdi: Vespers of the Blessed Virgin” on EWTN. I listened as part of my preparation for an oblate retreat — the retreat where beauty is the theme of my preparation (not the theme of the retreat). I have not watched many EWTN music programs, but when I heard “Vespers,” I thought I would listen in — and it was beautiful.

My leaning toward beauty has caused me to wonder where such an inclination came from. And that question once again brought to my mind a frequent question I have: what is it about Benedictine spirituality that causes a deepening of my life?

The answer I like so far is:

1. Everything about Benedictine spirituality is part of what makes it “work.” It is all regular and well-known elements, put together in an ancient form which has stood the test of time.

2. Benedictine practices increase the spiritual porosity of my life. There is less and less distinction between the spiritual parts of my life and those activities I used to consider secular or related to worldly matters.

Maybe Benedictine spirituality helps me hear all of the music.


Additional Information

1. Summary of this music. "Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers are rightly considered to be one of the greatest monuments of Baroque church music." Source.

2. General Description of the work:

"In 1610 Monteverdi published one of his finest works, the Vespers, comprising a Mass, 2 Magnificats, 11 "motets," and an orchestral sonata. In it he combines solos, ensembles, choral writing for one and two choirs of up to five voices each, orchestral ritornelli (some in six real parts), in addition to a sonata, and obbligati for various instruments. The style ranges from the old to the new, from richly imitative seven-part polyphony to highly affective monody, from rhythmically clear-cut, ear-catching melodies to complex highly virtuosic melismas. As Denis Arnold (1963) said, "Passion and magnificence - these two are inseparable words when describing this volume."" Source

3. A CD of the music at Amazon