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.
“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.
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:
- Remember that each age is a dream that is dying and a new dream coming to life. To give life meaning, it has to go beyond ourselves.
- The purpose of a charism is to share it, to give it away, to move it quickly, not to hold it ourselves or to hoard it.
- Life is the world’s greatest spiritual director. We need to learn the language of the life we live and listen to the wisdom of others. No spiritual book is as great as a spiritual act.
- Seekers re-energize a tradition. Oblates give new life, new depth and stretch the monastic community. To be an oblate is to be a carrier, not just a consumer, of Benedictine spirituality. We are all meant to be messengers and makers. We are to take the monastic heart into the world of chaos.
She ended with: “Once upon a time a disciple asked the holy one, “Holy One, what is the difference between knowledge and enlightenment?” And the holy one said, “When you have knowledge, you use a torch to illuminate the way. When you are enlightened, you become the torch to lead the way.”
Where do you come from? You come from the heart of the spirit.
Who are you? You are monastic gifts given by God for today.
Why do you exist? To embody and extend the charisms or gifts of the spirit long embedded in the great monastic traditions in new and even richer ways.
What must you do? One thing, and one thing only: to become, like the great monastics before you, the blazing, flaming, searing torch to others that you are really meant to be.
Finally, the truth is that the call to wisdom, to witness and to oneness in community is common to us both: oblate and monastic alike and the call must be heard. We must make it happen. May you, I, our monasteries and our oblate programs everywhere companion one another, listen to one another’s wisdom and so become even stronger parts of the tradition—both of them—than they could ever be alone.”
~Sr. Joan Chittister
Excerpt from her Keynote Speech during the 4th World Congress of Benedictine Oblates, Nov 4-10, 2017 at Fraterna Domus-Sacrofano, Rome.
Meeting Sr. Joan was a dream-come-true for me. In a few different conversations, we shared what we love about of our favorite monks, Fr. Thomas and Fr. Mauritius, she asked how I liked her most recent book, Radical Spirit (which I LOVE!) and we shared some of our experiences of St. Benedict Center. I felt I could have talked with her forever, a real soul sister. I hope our paths cross again one day.
“Humility tells us that life is not all about us…Our role is to do our part, to do our best, to trust the path. Our part is to become everything we are meant to be and so to make the world a better place because we have been here.” – Joan Chittister, Radical Spirit
I thought I might finish my reflections on the Congress in two parts, but it is not to be. I find there are not just many days and experiences, but many feelings, that I am still unpacking from the Congress and the trip to Rome. Part 3 coming soon….
Jodi Gehr, OSB obl