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Being Benedictine

Begin everything in prayer

Pilgrimage Day for the World Congress of Benedictine Oblates, Part 4

Hearing from speakers, having small group discussions, sharing meals and worshipping in daily prayers and Mass were on the agenda for 5 out of the 6 days of the conference. The exception, Wednesday, November 8, was a special day for the participants of the 4th World Congress of Benedictine Oblates.

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Our morning started with attending the General Audience of Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square. We were delighted to be seated on the platform, very near where the Holy Father was also seated. His message on the Eucharist was followed with a welcome for visiting groups with a special mention of Benedictine Oblates. For many oblates, this was one of the most magical moments of the week.

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Tre Fontane Abbey, which includes three churches, was the next stop on our pilgrimage. The Church of St. Paul of Three Fountains is the spot where St. Paul was jailed and then beheaded. Legend states when severed from Paul’s body, his head bounced and struck the earth in three different places, from which fountains sprang up. These fountains still flow and are located in the sanctuary. I particularly liked the church and monastery dedicated to Saints Vincent and Anastasius built by Pope Honorius I in 626 and given to the Benedictines.

Sant Anselmo was our final destination where we were greeted by Prior Father Mauritius Wilde, formerly Prior of Christ the King Priory in Schuyler, Nebraska, the monastery of my oblation. Sant Anselmo is the home of the Abbot Primate and eighty monks from over thirty countries from around the world. It was Pope Leo XIII, Fr. Mauritius shared, who said, “You Benedictines need a place in Rome. He saw two things: he certainly saw it was difficult for him to control us Benedictines, so he wanted to have a representative in Rome and he created the office of the Abbott Primate, the highest representative of all Benedictines.” We joined the monks in Vespers, praying in Latin as the common language of prayer. It was a moving experience to sit in the monk’s choir with a dozen other oblates for prayers. We were invited to a lovely tapas dinner and wine, an enjoyable evening wandering the monastery grounds, visiting with oblates and shopping in the gift shop. For Steve Meysing, also an Oblate from Christ the King Priory, and myself, seeing where our former Prior prays and works was another highlight of our trip to Rome.

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The final day of the congress was spent responding to the question, “Where are we going?” and developing a vision statement to guide our prayer and work in the future. After gathering feedback from each of the small groups, the following statements were created:

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Statement 1—The Rule as Our Living Tradition. We desire to live the values and virtues (moderation, humility, service and hospitality) of the Rule in today’s context—diversity, ecology and equality.

Statement 2—Listening through Prayer and Contemplation. We commit to hearing the Word of Christ, that prayer give structure and rhythm to our Oblate life, and silence to listen with the ear of our heart.

Statement 3—Oblate formation to ensure the future. Oblates need to be well grounded in the Rule and in the Tradition with ongoing conversatio (conversion of life) and continuous formation, and as oblates serving as mentors to others.

Statement 4—The Oblate as the Good Steward. The oblate is committed to the care of the planet at the personal, local, regional and international levels as skills allow, that oblates use their spiritual and material gifts responsibly, and take action in the society they live in.

Statement 5—Oblates are networked working towards improved communication among themselves and their monasteries and using websites, links, contacts, future congresses and regional meetings to stay connected.

These statements will be shared with our oblate groups for further refining.

There is no doubt that each person that attended the congress left with their own personal experience that will be integrated into their spirituality and shared with their monastery and fellow oblates. I welcome you to share your experience for a future blog post by sending an email HERE

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4th World Congress of Benedictine Oblates, part 3 {Benedictine Oblates stand at a crossroads in monastic history}

Attending the 4th World Congress of Benedictine Oblates was an opportunity to experience a sense of community with and to learn from our oblate family around the world.

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An important component of the Congress was meeting in small groups during the six-day event. We discussed the values embraced in Benedictine spirituality, addressed obstacles we face, including program formation, diminishing monasteries, and promotion of the oblate way of life, and brainstormed a vision for the future.

Our conversations touched on a number of challenging questions: What does it mean to be an oblate? As an oblate, how can I change my way of life to be a good example? What can our oblate groups do locally, regionally or internationally to ensure the future of Benedictine spirituality? What personal skills or abilities can I offer my oblate program?

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My small group ~ Bottom right: Judith Valente. Excerpts from her article, “Benedictine Oblates stand at a crossroads in monastic history”  are shared in this post.

“Benedictine Oblates — people like me who vow to live the monastic values of listening, community, hospitality, humility and daily prayer in our secular lives — stand at an important crossroads in history”, writes Judith Valente.  She continues:

“Oblates, or secular associates of monasteries, currently outnumber monks and sisters living within a monastery’s walls. This development marks both a historic opportunity and a significant challenge. If the nearly 1,600-year-old Benedictine tradition of ora et labora — work and prayer, contemplation and action — is to survive, lay associates of monasteries will need to play an increasingly critical role in transmitting that tradition.

That challenge emerged as the central theme of the Nov. 4-10 Fourth International Oblate Congress, which drew 260 people from six continents to Rome. The conference explored the role of Benedictine lay associates in the past and worked to develop a way forward in an uncertain future for monastic life.

Oblates come from all walks of life. They are men and women, married and single, laypeople and vowed religious, working and not, Catholic and not. Though they live in the secular world, Oblates form strong bonds with particular monasteries. Similar to Third Order Franciscans or Secular Carmelites, Oblates have been described as “co-workers,” “partners” and “friends” of the Benedictine order. Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day and novelist Walker Percy were both Oblates.

There are currently an estimated 25,000 Oblates worldwide compared to 21,000 Benedictine monks and sisters. In his opening remarks at the Rome congress, Abbot Primate Gregory Polan said it is time to “give wings” to the Oblate community. He described Oblates as part of a “sacred triangle” that includes “God at the top, the Oblates in one corner and the monastic community in the other.”

In her keynote address, Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister was even more emphatic about the unfolding role of Oblates. “You are not meant to simply be consumers of the Benedictine tradition. You are meant to be carriers of the tradition,” she told the gathering. “You are the future of the order.”

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Such an honor and thrill to meet Sr. Joan Chittister!

The decline in vocations and the advanced age of a majority of monks and sisters pose a particular challenge for Oblates in the United States and Europe who draw spiritual sustenance and direction from the vowed religious in their monastic communities. As one Oblate from the Netherlands said of his monastery, “It is sometimes a burden to feel the lack of vitality and new life, to be continuously faced with old age, illness, death and the shortage of vocations.”  

The first international Oblate Congress took place 16 years ago in Rome. As former Abbot Primate Notker Wolf noted in his homilies at this year’s gathering, Oblates have moved in less than two decades from a kind of spiritual childhood to the portal of adulthood.

Indeed, Oblate life in the past largely centered on following the rituals of the monastery itself and deepening one’s personal spiritualty under the direction of monks and sisters. Now, Wolf said, Oblates are required to become not only witnesses to the values espoused in the Rule of St. Benedict, but to be the active bearers of those values. We who are Oblates must now become spiritual directors to the world at large.

“We can no longer hide in our spiritual Jacuzzis, our comfortable contemplative spas,” Chittister told the group.

The vision statement reaffirmed our dedication to the Rule of St. Benedict as a “living tradition” in which we seek to model the Benedictine values of community, consensus, peace, balance, hospitality, humility, simplicity and care of the planet in our daily lives.

We recommitted ourselves to cultivating these Benedictine virtues by listening to the word of God through regular prayer, sacred reading, silence, and the daily rhythms of monastic life.

We recognized the need for ongoing formation for Oblates rooted in the Rule of St. Benedict, which Dutch Oblate Charles Van Leeuwen beautifully described as “a spirituality of the heart rather than the head.”

We committed ourselves to being good stewards of the planet, using both our spiritual and material gifts on a local, regional and global level to carry out the vision set down by Pope Francis in “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.” It was heartening to see the urgency with which Oblates from other parts of the world view climate change and other environmental risks. It is all the more disturbing that the U.S. government is trying to roll back environmental safeguards.

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Lastly, we recognized the need for better networking among Oblates and between Oblates and their monastic communities through social media and other technology. Oblates from monasteries like my own in the Midwest are already making plans to create a common Facebook page and meet again a year from now to compare notes on how well we are making our Benedictine values visible and vocal in the world.

[Judith Valente is the author of How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning, and Community and the senior correspondent at GLT Radio, an NPR affiliate in Illinois.]

You can read Judith’s complete article at Global Sisters Report, a project of National Catholic Reporter.

Read previous posts on the 4th World Congress on Being Benedictine:

4th World Congress of Benedictine Oblates, part 1

4th World Congress of Benedictine Oblates, part 2

 

4th World Congress of Benedictine Oblates, part 2

The 4th World Congress of Benedictine Oblates continued with Mass celebrated by Emeritus Abbot Primate Notker Wolf, OSB.  Originally from the Benedictine Archabbey of St. Ottilien, Wolf served as the ninth Abbot Primate from 2000-2016 and was the initiator of the World Oblate Congresses. He has written many books, speaks a number of languages and is a well-known musician, playing everything from classical to jazz. He graced us with a beautiful thank you gift by playing his flute at a special luncheon in his honor.

I was blessed to meet Abbot Notker at Christ the King Priory in Schuyler just a few months ago. Upon his retirement, he was gifted with a trip around the world to visit monasteries that had supported his ministries through the years. I was struck by how friendly and joy-filled he is. When we met again at the Congress, his hands were full so he said, “I cannot hug you, but I give you a kiss instead.” And he kissed my cheek. A very kind man, indeed, with a heart for oblates.IMG_7911

“Friendship is at the heart of the relationship with the monastery.” –Charles Van Leeuwen, Oblate of Monastère Saint-André de Clerlande, Belgium

In panel discussions and poster sharing, we hear from oblates around the world including the Netherlands, South Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, the Ivory Coast in Africa and from Illinois and Pennsylvania in the United States. Prayer and work are the touchstones of these monasteries—a devotion to praying the Psalms, listening, practicing simplicity, humility, stability, and balance while remaining committed to conversatio morum,  building community and helping those in need including the homeless, prisoners, abused, mentally ill and the poor.

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A highlight of the conference was hearing Keynote Speaker, Joan Chittister, who believes that oblates are the future of the Benedictine order. Nuggets of wisdom throughout her speech included: Continue reading “4th World Congress of Benedictine Oblates, part 2”

4th World Congress of Benedictine Oblates, part 1

Greetings from the 4th World Congress of Benedictine Oblates at Fraterna Domus in Rome, Italy!

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Benedictine Oblates from every continent, 36 countries in all, have gathered in the Eternal City to consider the Congress theme: “A Way Forward—The Benedictine Community in Movement.”  The conference started on Saturday, November 4 with a welcome from Fr. Edward Linton, Director of International Benedictine Formation and a monk from St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana. The first day we enjoy good food, Benedictine hospitality, time to connect with those we know and those we hope to know better and, of course, prayer.

On Sunday, November 5, our second day, we consider the topic, “Where are we now?” with an address led by Oblate Thomas Brunnhuber of the United Kingdom. We consider where we are individually, within our monastery, in our home country, within the context of the first three Congresses (2005-2017), and finally, as we consider our future and the way forward as a Benedictine community in movement.

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St. Benedict states in his Rule, “If we wish to dwell in the tent of the kingdom, we must run to it by good deeds…” (RB Prologue: 22) and “We shall run on the path of God’s commandments…” (RB Prologue: 49). St. Benedict appreciates MOVEMENT!! With movement we risk the unfamiliar; with change, we risk experiencing chaos. This can be an exciting opportunity for growth, but there is a tension between moving forward and acknowledging the fixed point of the Gospel through the Rule of St. Benedict, who desires for us both movement, conversatio morum, and stability. This movement flows from our mind, body and heart. We desire to understand and learn more (the mind) which leads to visible action (the body), motivated by the seat of our conscience and governed by the laws of our spirituality (our heart). Continue reading “4th World Congress of Benedictine Oblates, part 1”

Spiritual Lessons from The Little Prince

If you haven’t started The Little Prince podcast series with Fr. Mauritius Wilde, you must. The third in the series was just released and it packs a punch.

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If you haven’t read The Little Prince, no worries. It’s helpful, but not at all necessary to benefit from the lessons of the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry classic. You can find the book and chapter summaries HERE.
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The author points to “sicknesses of our times.  Jesus said it was not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick,” Fr. Mauritius points out. We do not always achieve the ideal in our lives, but we take comfort that Jesus still meets us where we are. It is Jesus that went to the margins–to the broken people, the lepers, the Pharisees. It is the Little Prince who invites us in a compassionate way to welcome our “oddness”, to accept that all people have limitations.

We all experience feelings of judgment, shame, fear, and expectations. “Everybody has spots in their life that they are ashamed of.  And that’s okay. This is the place where Jesus goes. He is so merciful, so tender. He never tried to shame people. Never. He knew they were struggling enough already with their shame,” Fr. Mauritius shares.

Fr. Mauritius’ message, through the story of The Little Prince, meets us right where we are with our inadequacies and imperfections, the expectations that we put on ourselves and others, and our heartfelt desire for authenticity.

The Little Prince, the movie, is also worth an evening on the couch with popcorn. More information about the 2015 animated movie HERE.

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Rome: Confessions, Truths and Carpe Diem!

Confession: I feel a little guilty for taking nine days off during the school year.

Truth: But not enough that I wouldn’t seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Rome.

It’s unheard of for a teacher to take off two weeks during the school year. First, we only get eleven days off for sick or vacations days per school year. Second and more importantly, it’s a lot of work to be gone, planning what students will do, securing a trusted substitute teacher to deliver curriculum, and “letting go” of controlling my classroom. (Perhaps this has something to do with being a bit of a perfectionist, control-freak, as I’m learning about Enneagram, Type One.)  Usually, teachers take time off for a wedding or funeral, a child starting college, an important doctor’s appointment, but a two-week long trip? Nope.

After reviewing my teaching contract, I knew I didn’t need formal permission to take the nine days off in a row, but it was important to me that I have my principal’s blessing because it can be just as difficult for students when teachers are absent. But, Principal Brent Toalson was so gracious in understanding my unique request to take time off. He agreed with what I strongly believe: life is short and it’s important to seize the day when opportunities come.

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Confession: I’m a little nervous about leaving my classroom for two weeks.

Truth: I have no reason to feel nervous because I have an amazing substitute teacher, Karen Kay, a retired business teacher and my former department chair, who will step in and do everything perfectly (I think she’s probably an Enneagram One, too.)  When my mother-in-law passed away two years ago at the beginning of the school year, Karen taught the first week of classes for me. It was the best start of a school year my students ever had!

So CARPE DIEM!! I’m off to Rome to attend the Fourth International Congress for Benedictine Oblates. The conference is hosted every four years for Benedictine oblates, novices and oblate directors from around the world.

Oblates are ordinary people who want to live as a monk in the world. Affiliated with a specific monastery (for me, that is Christ the King Priory in Schuyler, Nebraska), oblates strive to become holy in their everyday life, in their family and their workplace. Oblates promise to live a prayerful life according to the Rule of St. Benedict.

The Congress theme, A Way Forward – The Benedictine Community in Movement, will provide encouragement for oblates to be peacemakers in a broken world, sharing hospitality in the face of war, terrorism, refugee crises and religious fanaticism, and to be stewards of an abused planet as challenged and inspired by Pope Francis in his encyclical “Laudato Si”. Surrounded by chaos, idolized entertainment, digital noise, and consumerism, oblates desire a life of silence, contemplation, and simplicity.  We hope to answer the question: How can we as oblates create and contribute to communities around us – in our oblate groups and chapters, in our families and neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our own monasteries of oblation and in society as a whole?

Oblates desire to be change agents in their own communities – together finding a new way forward. It sounds like a daunting task, a tall order, and very serious business. But as an oblate, I have hope that each of us can do our part to encourage peace. Continue reading “Rome: Confessions, Truths and Carpe Diem!”

Lord, You Know Me: Friendships and Loneliness

A new blog post from Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, that honors both friendship, which God touches, and loneliness, which can only be filled with God. It captures the essence of the book Anam Cara, by John O’Donohue, which I treasure. He writes, “You should never belong to something that is outside yourself…(it is) important to find a balance in your belonging.”

He refers to the friendship of God, who is with us from the beginning as our “secret companion”, our truest friend. Christ is our true companion, nearer to us than any other. There is a danger to become too attached to our friendships, but we must not forget the Source of all friendships, our friendship in Christ. It is too easy to forget that God is our great love, our best friend.

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Lord, You Know Me

It is wonderful to have a friend who knows you well, with whom you have walked for many years. With whom you can share everything; who knows your story. With whom a conversation does not start at zero, you can just jump into it. To have a person who understands and who knows you, is a great gift of God.

However, sometimes not even a friend can reach my heart. This is an odd experience. Sometimes we are just left with ourselves, left alone. We cannot find a partner that adequately responds to our feelings, our story, our thoughts, situation or needs. But these moments that can be filled with darkness and sadness can also turn into a very precious experience. The situation breaks us open to realize that our loneliness is not an accident, but the reflection of our deepest call as human beings that goes beyond what another human being can grasp or understand. We realize that our loneliness touches the dimension of God; it is a result of the fact that we are immediate to God. This is the monk’s moment. The term monk stems from the Greek word “monachos” which means “single, solitary”.

Through God’s grace, we are able in these moments of aloneness to talk to Christ or to God and find his ear. And his response is always exactly what we need. We realize: HE understands, HE knows. His presence resonates with everything I utter and express. I feel understood, appreciated, loved. I feel liked by him as by a good friend. But even better, and in a perfect way. Nothing is missing.  Read More at WildeMonk >>

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Gather Together

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When we see problems, we want solutions. When there is chaos, we desire peace. As over-thinking humans, we think that our incessant thinking will bring us to our desired goal. And the sooner, the better. There is no time to wait around for peace, to slowly work through issues or to wait for answers to present themselves. We want peace and we want it now. But is this God’s way?  Fr. Mauritius shares,

“There are some words in our prayers that I just love. Words such as “gather together”; we monks chant them regularly in a hymn. These words resonate with my longing for unity and peace. In these times when our countries and our world seem to be more torn than ever, this longing is even stronger. It moves me to strive for unity and collaboration, in our small worlds, in our communities, in our families, and in the teams in which we work. When we live and work together as one, things flow better and we are happier and more successful.

However, one time while praying the hymn, I paid closer attention. It says, that all things are gathered together in Christ. Both the original Greek and Latin have a term that comprise the word “head” (recapitulare). The gathering happens in Christ, who is the head. He does the gathering together. This immediately gave me relief. I cannot do it. He will do it. He will gather us all. But, how does he do it?”  Read more at WildeMonk.  

The Gospels: The Story of Jesus

God does so much and asks so little

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The past several days I have read all four Gospels of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, AND John. And not just the miracles or the well-known parables, but from beginning to end; every chapter, every verse. And for each of the Gospels, I’ve also read a chapter in my textbook, The New Testament by Stephen L. Harris, for a class I’m taking at Creighton University. Each chapter comments on key topics, themes, author, date and place of composition, various sources used, the intended audience and interpretations.

I don’t have the words yet for all that I’ve learned, but that’s also why I’m procrastinating. I need to find some words (very soon) to write an 1800 word paper, due in 48 hours, responding to this prompt: Explain the story of the life of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospel of John, and compare it to either Matthew or Luke and how this might relate to ministry today.

I trust the words will come, but this first. Here goes….

Surprisingly (to me) each of the four Gospels share a unique portrayal of Jesus, his life, death, resurrection, and ultimate purpose of all of the above. Ninety percent of the content in the Gospel of John is not in the other three synoptic Gospels. Who knew?Continue reading God does so much and asks so little

Luke vs. John: An 1800ish word paper

the wordA few of you asked to read the paper…and now that it is graded (94%), I feel confident enough to share the-just-shy-of-1800-words that I wrote.  I would love to hear what you think, whether you have ever read all four Gospels in their entirety, and what resonates most with your spirituality.

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Word Count: 1794

Each of the Gospels contributes to an understanding of who Jesus is. The Gospel of Luke shares Jesus as bringing a universal faith under the direction of the Spirit; John focuses on the power and divinity of Jesus to confer salvation and immortality (Harris 110, 189). The themes, characters, teachings and post-resurrection interpretations for each of the gospels support these unique aspects of Jesus. The relationship between John and Luke could be stated: the Johannine Jesus shows who God is while Luke shows people how to be God-like in their lives.  Read all 1800ish words here.  

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