As the current Oblate Director for my community, I always am amazed when I interview someone desiring to become a Benedictine Oblate. Usually the person already has read the Rule of St. Benedict, prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, practiced lectio divina, and participated in service ministries in his/her church and workplace. These individuals come with a seeker’s heart, desiring to be affiliated with our monastic community in sacred relationship.
Benedictine Oblates are Christian men and women who yearn for a spiritual life deeply rooted in God. The ongoing study of The Rule of St. Benedict enables one to find balance and fulfillment in life by incorporating its values and the teachings of the Gospel to everyday life. Oblates affiliate with a particular monastery and share a spiritual union with the monastic community, bonded in prayer and commitment as permitted by their state in life. The word oblate is derived from the Latin word, oblatus, meaning someone who is offered up or dedicated to something. Benedictine Oblates are persons whose lives become a generous offering of self to God, as described in St. Benedict’s Rule. They truly seek God, have a reverence for prayer (both private and daily praying of the Liturgy of the Hours), a love of holy reading, an experience of labor as holy, and an attitude of silence. The Oblate strives wholeheartedly to be attentive to God’s presence in ordinary, daily life.
All Benedictines are encouraged by the Rule to be in sacred relationship with one another, guests, the Church, and the world. Through a spirit of hospitality, it is our hope that others will be drawn to join us in this endeavor, either within the monastery walls or out in the world. As the number of monastic vocations diminishes worldwide, the number of Benedictine Oblates is on the rise, indicating that true God-seekers remain in the world today! Globally there are over 24,000 Benedictine Oblates.
Sacred Heart Monastery has 68 active Oblates from several surrounding states. The first Oblates to be affiliated with our community made their oblation in 1980. The monastery continues to be gifted with new Oblates each year. Our Oblates meet annually for a retreat together and often make individual visits to the monastery throughout the year. Several Oblates have formed area groups for study and prayer together.
The service that each one engages in varies widely. One Oblate directs an after-school children’s program in the inner city of New Orleans while another provides prayer sessions through Zoom during the pandemic. One volunteers for a women’s shelter in Birmingham, several are active in their churches, and several others volunteer with monastery and Retreat Center activities.
At the 2017 International Benedictine Oblate Congress in Rome, Abbot Primate Gregory Polan, OSB shared the following:
“As Oblates, you create a living friendship with a monastic community; what makes it a living relationship is the fact that you receive from the community something of importance in your own life, and you then wish to give something back to this community or person from whom you have received this special, sacred, intimate, and truly living gift. I like to think that our Oblates who have a relationship with a monastic community or one of its members create a sacred triangle with God at the top, and with the Oblate and their monastic community at the other two points. The relationship between the individual Oblate and the community is connected with this lower segment, and both have lines leading to God. Through the sacred friendship created between an Oblate and his or her monastic community, both the Oblate and the community are drawn to God. Truly, the relationship between the Oblate and the monastic community is a two-way street, and I tell you this from experience. When a monk or nun is in communion with an Oblate, both the individual monk or nun and their community receive abundant blessings. You as Oblates are not just recipients of such grace; rather, by your faith, your goodness, your prayer, your kindness, your loyalty, your fidelity, and your witness, you inspire us who are members of the monastic community. You also lead us to God. And it is by this two-way street between the Oblate and the monastic community that all of us are connected more deeply, more profoundly, more joyfully to God. Thus, this union becomes a three-fold communion among the Oblate, the monastic community, and God.”
Our Oblates are special to us. We love them, and they love us! We are on this journey together, passing on the charism of St. Benedict in a world much needing to know God’s “inexpressible delight of love” (RB Prologue 49). To learn more about our Oblate program follow this link.
By Sister Priscilla Cohen, OSB