Greetings from the 4th World Congress of Benedictine Oblates at Fraterna Domus in Rome, Italy!
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.
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).
We control the direction that we are moving—we are in charge of moving forward as we are moved by others and invited into the movements of the Holy Spirit. Thomas concludes with this idea: Change and stillness are often seen as opposites, but they are related and dependent on each other. “Be still and know that we are moved by the Spirit.”
Throughout the first days, we experience prayer in many languages including French, German, English, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Our different languages are a reminder of the diverse cultures we come from. We meet in small groups that are quite diverse. My group includes members from Belgium, France, the Ivory Coast in Africa, Poland, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Texas and Nebraska in the United States, and Korea. There are more people in my group that speak French than English; I am in the minority of my group and must (patiently) wait for a translation. Communication is slow, whether it is in prayer, for larger group addresses and announcements, or small group discussions, but every effort is made to be inclusive of all cultures and representative of many languages. United in our Benedictine spirituality, I see the amazing effort by conference planners to ensure that everyone hears the message preferably via headphones with real-time translators but also promised as a follow-up to the conference. The amount of work this takes is incredible.
Our new Abbott Primate Gregory Polan of Conception Abbey in Missouri, elected in 2016, celebrates our opening Mass and provides a welcome to our group. His opening prayer for us is that we “love as he loves and live as he taught.” He asks us to question the relationship we have with our monastery, to ponder what it really means and how it moves us into a deeper relationship with God and others. He challenges us to consider our behavior, that what we say and do speaks volumes, that our actions must be rooted in God. He encourages us to invite young people into our monasteries, not to “fill choir stalls” but as an invitation from Jesus, “Come and see.” Spiritual friendship is a sacrament of God’s love, he stated, with God at the center of the relationship where each becomes closer to God. Being an oblate is a special friendship with our monastery in which we share similar goals, values, and hopes. Our movement forward is a movement towards eternity. This is the vision that lies in front of us.
The monastery invites us “to listen with the ear of the heart.” Abbott Primate Gregory reminds us that the Holy Spirit prays within us and we must listen to that small voice of divine contact, searching out the will of God in all parts of our life. The monastery encourages our movement forward in our relationship with Christ and in taking Benedictine spirituality out into the world.
The third day we become more acquainted with our small group workshop with the theme, “Oblate Life Around The World.” We work together as a team to create a collage using images to capture the changing landscape of monasticism. Thirteen small groups have a dozen or so members, with an assigned facilitator. We discuss various topics: communication and social media, the work that oblates can participate in to serve their communities, and how to experience stability when monastic communities are shrinking and disappearing. There are no easy answers, but I sense the individual commitment to the promises of stability, conversation morum, and obedience, the foundations of Benedictine life in the monastery and the world.
To be continued (links for Parts 2, 3 and 4 below). Blessings from Rome, Jodi Gehr OSB Oblate
Part 3 including Judith Valente’s article from Global Sisters Report, a project of National Catholic Reporter.