St. Benedict is pretty special to me for a few reasons.
First, we share a birthday. I have to admit that I was pretty disappointed when I first discovered this. My parents had given me an illustrated book of the “Lives of the Saints” to commemorate my Confirmation. As any nine-year-old would do, I immediately looked to see who the saint was for July 11, my birthday. Perhaps Elizabeth or Mary, Theresa or Christine (my confirmation name) would be my special saint. A lovely woman saint with a beautiful name—I had hoped.
Instead, I beheld an illustration of a man with a dark hood, a scary-looking bird, some sort of walking cane, and an unusual name that I had only associated with Benedict Arnold, a famous American traitor.
July 11, St. Benedict, Abbot, it said.
I had never heard of this saint and surely did not know what an Abbot was. Through the years, I returned to these pages about St. Benedict often, thinking that I should have some connection with this man, my patron saint.
Fast forward 26 years. I am married with a seven-year-old daughter, a high school teacher, and a club sponsor. I live a full and busy life, but have a deep desire for silence and prayer. I respond to an advertisement in our local newspaper for a silent contemplative prayer retreat and discover an oasis of peace called the St. Benedict Center in Schuyler, Nebraska.
And then I remember St. Benedict. My saint.
I have learned a lot about St. Benedict and Benedictine spirituality since then. I’ve been to dozens of workshops and retreats at St. Benedict Center, made my Final Oblation to become a Benedictine Oblate of Christ the King Priory, and have gone on three Benedictine pilgrimages to Europe.
Now I know that sharing the same birthday as St. Benedict is the best (birthday) gift I could receive.
I have learned that St. Benedict made the ultimate pilgrimage when he left his life as a student in Rome, frustrated with the political environment and the behavior of his classmates, to spend three years in solitude in a cave near Subiaco.
I understand this desire for solitude, to retreat. This desire is what tugged at my heart when I discovered St. Benedict Center in 2002. Eventually, St. Benedict founded the Abbey of Montecassino, writing the Rule of St. Benedict. But, as with all pilgrimages, it didn’t happen overnight or easily. Benedict became famous and was sought out as a monastery leader. But he was also resented and despised, and his monks even tried to kill him off. Benedict was surely on an inner and outer pilgrimage.
Becoming a Benedictine Oblate in 2013 has been an integral part of my spiritual journey. Oblates desire to live as a monk in the world, seeking God by striving to become holy in their everyday life, in their family and their workplace. Oblates are associated with a monastic community (for me that is Christ the King Priory in Schuyler, Nebraska), offering their lives to God through prayer and service. Faithfully participating in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church, Oblates promise to practice a prayerful life in their particular denomination. Oblates make three promises–stability, obedience, and conversion of life.
Fr. Mauritius Wilde gave the homily for my Final Oblation, explaining the promises an oblate makes:
“You want to give your life to God today – in a special way. Becoming an Oblate means: offering one’s life to God… The first way of being a Benedictine oblate is: keep the question open. Let the question bug you. The longing for eternal life…
God wants us to start with our spiritual journey in this world with the talents and skills he has given us. We don’t have to do extraordinary things. We can start with our own experience. You dear Oblates start as Grandmother, Grandfather, Deacon, Pastor, teacher, mother. Stick to what you have got: this is the vow of stability.
While staying faithful and stable be ready and open for new ways to see the world. Be open to being converted over and over again. So that conversion becomes a habit. This habit is called: conversatio (conversion of life.) The second vow.
Thirdly: Listen. This is the first word of the Rule of St. Benedict. Listen. Listen presupposes silence. “If only you would heed the voice of the LORD, your God” did we hear today in Deuteronomy. Be obedient to what God wants you to do or to let go. You still want to have it more concrete. What does an Oblate do? What is his life about? If you ask so: Pray! Prayer is number one in the life of a Benedictine. And prayer should play an important role in your life, too. This seems to be the most challenging part. How do I integrate prayer, praying of the office, Lectio Divina, reading of the rule into my life?
Again, no uniform answer possible. Because each of you is different. Has different obligations, different daily schedules. Take comfort from the monks. They all look the same, in their habit. Uniform. But I am sure, you have figured out how different they are in their characters, in their gifts. Each of us has to find his/her very own way to follow Christ. The Rule of St. Benedict gives us the framework.”
“A pilgrimage is an intentional journey into the experience of unknowing and discomfort for the sake of stripping away preconceived expectations. We grow closer to God beyond our own imagination and ideas.” The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within, Christine Valters Paintner
I thank God for Benedict’s pilgrimage, for his journey of the soul, that his Rule was written down for countless people to learn from, even 1500 years later. I am thankful for my own pilgrimage as a Benedictine Oblate.
who made the Abbot Saint Benedict
an outstanding master in the school of divine service,
grant, we pray, that, putting nothing before love of you,
we may hasten with a loving heart in the way of your commands.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Happy Feast Day of St. Benedict!!
Photo: Montecassino Abbey, the site where St. Benedict penned his Rule.
To learn more about St. Benedict, listen to The Life of St. Benedict –The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde O.S.B. There are several podcasts that reflect on the life of St. Benedict by using the biography penned by St. Gregory the Great. The first episode looks at the pivotal discernment he made as a young man to pursue the religious life. The aspect of detachment from our earthly family in favor of our Heavenly Father is explored by Fr. Mauritius.
Also, read Benedictine inspired blog posts from Fr. Mauritius Wilde, OSB at WildeMonk.net; follow Being Benedictine on Facebook, and/or subscribe to the Being Benedictine blog to receive emails when new posts are made.