Saturday, November 23, 2019

FAQ on My Benedictine Oblate Journey and Oblates in General

Holding my blessed Benedictine Oblate scapular, right after the novitiate ceremony.
Yesterday, I mentioned my goal of learning the Final Act of Oblation entirely in Latin in preparation for the event next summer, via Twitter. That set off a bunch of questions about my journey as an Oblate and what a Benedictine Oblate is in the first place. This was not the first time I've gotten these kinds of questions, either. It seems a lot of people are interested in knowing either what it means to be an Oblate (as it's not as popular as being a third-order Carmelite or Dominican) and/or my journey so here is a short FAQ that I hope will answer some of the most common questions I get.

  • 1. Why did you want to become an Oblate?
This is a really, really long story that I've already written about here. The gist of it is that I felt called to become a lay member of a religious order. If I couldn't be a nun (which I had wanted), I could still be a lay member. It's something that had been on my heart for several years. For years I went between the Carmelites and Dominicans. Then three things happened within a relatively short span of time. The 2016 Norcia earthquake decimated the town, including the basilica built over St. Benedict's birthplace/home. Never had any news felt so personal to me than that. I ended up donating novel royalties to help them rebuild their community because it felt like my own home was impacted. Then I read The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher. Yes, the book is "controversial" but it sparked my curiosity about the Benedictine order and the Rule. I read The Rule and it just clicked for me; it fit my temperament and how I envisioned living my life to best serve God. Then my best friend sent me a book on the Oblate life and it sealed it for me.

  • 2. Where are you an Oblate novice? Which monastery?
I am an Oblate novice with the Monks of Norcia in Norcia, Italy. Yes, the same community whose home was destroyed in the earthquake. They are actually still rebuilding their community, 3+ years after the earthquake. If you feel so inclined, please donate here. The Italian government decided not to give them the basilica to rebuild again so they headed up the mountains. I'm not a happy camper about the decision made by the government but my beloved community has made the most of it and they're doing such a great job starting (basically) from scratch.

  • 3. How did you choose the monastery you attached yourself to?
First, I looked at all of my options. I looked at the local Benedictine monasteries, meaning St. Andrew's Abbey in Valyermo (within the Los Angeles Archdiocese) and those in California. I also looked into Benedictine monasteries that took in distance oblates. My current spiritual advisor suggested I stick to a traditional community since I attend the Latin Mass solely and am "trad" minded. It ended up coming down to Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma and Norcia in Italy. In the end, Norcia won for several different reasons, beginning with the fact that it's felt like home since I first learned about its existence. They're also a musically-inclined community (their Benedicta: Marian Chant album is excellent; you can watch a video on it here) which was perfect for this music nerd. Once I met our Oblate master, I knew it was the perfect fit for me. I love the entire community; the monks and my fellow Oblates. When they all rallied behind me when I got sick at the retreat, despite not knowing me, I knew it was just the kind of family I needed. Norcia is my home -- my spiritual home -- and I could not have picked a better place for myself. I hope to visit it as soon as health and finances allow it.

  • 4. When will you become a full-fledged Oblate?
God willing, next summer. The novitiate period is usually no less than a year and a day for most Oblates. It might be slightly shortened for me because our annual retreat might happen before the year mark of the beginning of my novitiate (June 30, 2019). I'm going to wait to see how it all plays out -- if they're going to change the location or dates. I definitely intend to make it to the annual retreat next summer, wherever and whenever it's held.

  • 5. Are you getting an Oblate name? Did you get to pick it?
I did ask for an Oblate name at the retreat this past summer so, yes, I will be getting one. However, I won't know what the name will actually be until right before I make my Final Act of Oblation. Most monasteries allow Oblates to choose their names but, at our particular monastery, the prior chooses them for us. I was going to choose "Francesca" in honor of St. Frances of Rome (patroness of Benedictine Oblates and fellow "God, I won't want to do this, but I'll do it because you want me to" kindred spirit) and my best girlfriend, Francesca, who has continuously challenged me to become the best and holiest version of myself over the years. My Oblate master warned us not to say which names we wanted because it was almost guaranteed that we wouldn't get it so... totally don't want "Francesca" or any of the other 2 names I'm hoping for! lol.

  • 6. So, what is an Oblate? Is it like a third-order made up of lay members?
This one is a little complicated so I'll try to explain it as plainly as I can. It's not a third-order like the lay Carmelites or Dominicans. We don't attach ourselves to local "chapters"; we attach ourselves to specific monasteries and are then considered as part of that specific community. That means that I'm now a member of my community -- one of their newest "little sisters" -- but not a member of any other Benedictine community/monastery. Also, not all of us are "secular Oblates." Yes, most of us are but not all. Just in my own community alone, we have a couple of diocesan priests who have attached themselves to the monastery. Yes, it's allowed as long as you're not a part of any other religious order.

  • 7. What is asked of Benedictine Oblates?
This answer varies from monastery to monastery but, basically, there a few things in common. First, the motto "Ora et labor" tells you everything. Work and prayer are part of our daily routine, as is Lectio Divina (the study part that isn't part of the motto). For me, in particular, I pray as many of the Hours as possible. That means praying the Little Benedictine Office, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the Monastic Diurnal. That part, at least for my community, is up to us. We also have to adapt the Rule of St. Benedict to fit our specific lives, in whichever season of life we are. As a single woman, I have more time for prayer and Lectio Divina right now. As someone recovering from illness, work means freelance articles when my fatigue and eyesight allow it. It also means my "ministry" is evangelization via social media (particular through my articles for Epic Pew, this blog, Twitter, and Instagram). My hospitality is confined to what I can do when we have visitors over at our apartment. In the future, it might be the reverse; more work, less prayer, and ministry and hospitality outside the home.

  • 8. You mentioned wanting to be buried in a Benedictine habit when you die, in a tweet. Is this allowed? 
Yes, it is. I've heard some places will allow you to wear habits as a secular Oblate, with special permission, but I believe it's extremely rare. It's more likely allowed upon death. I don't know if this varies from monastery to monastery but I believe my community does allow us to be buried in Benedictine habits. So, yes, I want this to happen when my time comes.

  • 9. I'm interested in becoming an Oblate. How can I make this happen?
First, read the Rule of St. Benedict. If the Benedictine spirituality is something that speaks to you and you become even more curious about becoming an Oblate, I'd recommend speaking to your spiritual advisor/director about it. My former SD urged me to wait until I was done with school and had more time to focus on the discernment when life was less crazy because it does take time to discern. After I finished school, I was able to discern which religious order and spirituality I felt called to incorporate into my life. Remember, I was discerning between two completely different orders and the Benedictines ended up winning. Speak to other Oblates, read books on life as on Oblate, and go from there. 

Anyway, I hope this helps some of y'all out. I'm in no way an expert so I answered based on my own experience what I've learned over the last 2-3 years.

Please keep me in your prayers as I continue my journey and try to fine-tune some areas of the Oblate life that I haven't had much of a chance to work on with my illnesses and limitations.  

As always, thanks for reading and God bless!

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