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The Benedictine Oblate Guide: Embracing a Monastic Spirit in Everyday Life

Welcome to a journey into the heart of a centuries-old spiritual tradition. The term “Benedictine Oblate” might evoke images of cloistered monastic life, but the reality is both richer and more accessible. A Benedictine Oblate is a layperson – someone who lives in the secular world, not in a monastery – who has made a commitment to live by the principles of the Rule of St. Benedict in their daily life. This commitment involves embracing a spirituality deeply rooted in balance, community, and the search for God through prayer, work, and contemplative practices. While Oblates are closely affiliated with a Benedictine monastery, their calling is to apply monastic wisdom to the complexities of everyday life, whether in family, work, or community engagements.

In today’s fast-paced, often fragmented world, the ancient wisdom of Benedictine spirituality offers a refreshing counterpoint. Its principles – such as living a balanced life, embracing community, and seeking spiritual depth in everyday activities – resonate profoundly with contemporary seekers of a meaningful and grounded existence. The Rule of St. Benedict, with its emphasis on moderation, mindfulness, and the dignity of work, provides timeless guidance that can help navigate the challenges of modern living. By integrating these principles into their lives, Benedictine Oblates demonstrate that a centuries-old monastic tradition can offer relevant, practical pathways for spiritual growth and fulfillment in the 21st century.

Historical Context of Benedictine Oblates

Origins of Benedictine Monasticism

To understand the role of a Benedictine Oblate, it’s essential to journey back to the roots of Benedictine monasticism. This journey takes us to the early 6th century, to a man named Benedict of Nursia. Benedict, seeking a life of prayer and solitude, retreated to a cave in Subiaco, Italy. His devotion and wisdom soon attracted followers, leading to the establishment of twelve monasteries in the region.

The pivotal moment came when Benedict moved to Monte Cassino, where he wrote the “Rule of St. Benedict” – a guiding document that would become the cornerstone of Western monasticism. This Rule, characterized by its moderation and emphasis on community life, prayer, and work (‘ora et labora’), laid the foundation for an entirely new spiritual movement.

Evolution of the Oblate Role in the Benedictine Tradition

Initially, the concept of an ‘oblate’ didn’t exist in the way we understand it today. The early monastic communities were primarily composed of monks who lived within the monastery walls. However, as the influence of Benedictine spirituality grew, so did the desire of laypeople to associate themselves with this monastic way of life.

By the medieval period, the term ‘oblate’ began to take shape. Initially, it referred to children offered by their parents to the monastery for education and potentially to join the monastic life. Over time, the concept evolved. By the 11th and 12th centuries, the term began to include lay adults who, while living outside the monastery, sought to incorporate the principles of the Rule of St. Benedict into their daily lives. These lay individuals made a commitment to live according to Benedictine spirituality while remaining engaged in their secular responsibilities.

Influential Figures in the Development of Oblates

Several key figures played a pivotal role in shaping the oblate movement within the Benedictine tradition. St. Frances of Rome, a noblewoman of the 15th century, is a noteworthy example. While living a lay life, she founded a community of oblates committed to Benedictine spirituality. Her life exemplified how one could live out Benedictine values of prayer, work, and service in the context of family and societal obligations.

Another significant figure is Dom Prosper Guéranger, a 19th-century French Benedictine who revived the monastic life in France after the French Revolution. He encouraged lay participation in the monastic life, seeing it as a way to deepen the spiritual life of the Church. His work laid the groundwork for a renewed understanding of the oblate vocation as a bridge between the monastic community and the wider world.

Through these historical developments, the role of the Benedictine Oblate has become a unique and vital part of the Church’s spiritual landscape. It offers a way for laypeople to deeply engage with monastic spirituality, enriching their own lives and the lives of those in their communities.

The Rule of St. Benedict and Its Application for Oblates

Benedictine Spirituality: St. Benedict writing his Rule.
St. Benedict of Nursia writing his rule, by Herman Nigg (1926). Georges Jansoone, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Overview of the Rule of St. Benedict

The Rule of St. Benedict, written in the 6th century, is a foundational text for Western monasticism. It outlines a framework for monastic life centered on the search for God through community living, prayer, and work. Characterized by its emphasis on moderation, the Rule provides guidelines for daily life in a monastery, covering aspects from communal prayer and private reading to manual labor and communal meals.

At the heart of the Rule is the call to seek God in all things and live a balanced life. St. Benedict’s wisdom lies in his understanding of human nature and his allowance for flexibility within the structure, making the Rule as relevant today as it was in his time.

Key Principles: Ora et Labora, Stability, Conversion of Life

The Rule of St. Benedict is anchored in several key principles, notably “ora et labora” (pray and work), stability, and conversion of life.

  1. Ora et Labora: This principle encapsulates the Benedictine ethos of balancing prayer and work. Prayer is not limited to formal liturgy but extends to personal meditation and reflection. Work, whether manual or intellectual, is seen as a form of worship, a way to participate in God’s creation.
  2. Stability: This refers to the commitment to a particular community and way of life. It emphasizes perseverance, fidelity, and the deepening of relationships within a community.
  3. Conversion of Life: This principle is about ongoing spiritual growth and transformation. It involves a continuous effort to align one’s life more closely with God’s will, embracing a journey of self-improvement and humility.

Adapting Monastic Practices for Lay Life

For Benedictine Oblates, these principles are not just ideals but a roadmap for daily living. Adapting these monastic practices to lay life involves:

  1. Integrating Prayer and Work: Oblates strive to find a balance between their professional, familial, and spiritual responsibilities. They might set aside specific times for prayer and reflection, or find ways to turn everyday activities into opportunities for mindfulness and connection with God.
  2. Embracing Stability: While laypersons cannot live within a monastery, they can cultivate stability by committing to their family, community, and faith life. This might involve active participation in their parish, building strong family relationships, or engaging in local service.
  3. Pursuing Conversion of Life: Oblates are called to a lifelong journey of spiritual growth. This might involve regular participation in sacraments, ongoing spiritual reading, retreats, and seeking spiritual guidance.

In essence, being an Oblate means applying the spirit of the Rule of St. Benedict in one’s everyday life, adapting its ancient wisdom to contemporary contexts. It’s about seeking God in the ordinary, embracing a life of balance and continuous spiritual growth.

The Spiritual Journey of a Benedictine Oblate

The Process of Becoming an Oblate

Embarking on the journey to become a Benedictine Oblate is both a spiritual quest and a commitment. It typically begins with a period of discernment, where an individual feels drawn to the Benedictine way of life. This phase involves learning about the Rule of St. Benedict, the history of the Order, and the specific expectations and practices of Oblates.

After this initial exploration, the individual may contact a Benedictine monastery or community to express their interest. Many communities offer an ‘Oblate novitiate’ period, which is a time of formal study and engagement with the community’s life and spirituality. During this period, the aspiring Oblate deepens their understanding of Benedictine values and practices, often under the guidance of a monk or nun.

The specifics of this initial period depends on the monastery; for instance, my monastery in Brasília requires one year as a “postulant” to study the Catholic Catechism. After this first year, the candidate become a “novice” – this stage is where I curretly am -, and must spend another year studying the Rule of St. Benedict.

The culmination of this journey is the formal oblation – a ceremony where the individual makes a commitment to live according to the principles of the Rule of St. Benedict in their daily life. This commitment, while solemn and binding in a spiritual sense, does not impose the same obligations as monastic vows. Oblates remain laypersons, continuing their family, professional, and societal responsibilities.

Daily Life and Spiritual Practices

Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina. Photo-Monique, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The daily life of a Benedictine Oblate is marked by a conscious effort to integrate the values and practices of Benedictine spirituality into everyday activities. This integration manifests in various ways:

  1. Prayer and Lectio Divina: Oblates often set aside specific times for prayer, both communal (if possible) and individual. Lectio Divina, a traditional Benedictine practice of prayerful reading of the Scriptures, is a common spiritual exercise. It involves reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation, helping the Oblate to listen deeply to God’s word.
  2. Work as Worship: In the spirit of ‘ora et labora’, Oblates view their professional and domestic work as an extension of their spirituality. They strive to perform their duties with diligence, integrity, and a sense of service.
  3. Balance and Moderation: Following the Rule’s emphasis on moderation, Oblates try to maintain a healthy balance between work, prayer, rest, and recreation. This balance is seen as essential for holistic spiritual health.

The Role of Community and Solitude

Community and solitude hold significant places in the life of a Benedictine Oblate. Community life, whether with family, in the workplace, or in the church, provides opportunities for living out Benedictine values like hospitality, service, and communal prayer. Oblates often maintain a connection with the monastery or community through visits, retreats, and participation in liturgical celebrations.

Solitude, on the other hand, is equally important. It offers a space for reflection, personal prayer, and deeper communion with God. Oblates find times of solitude essential for recharging and deepening their spiritual life, following the example of St. Benedict himself, who sought God in the quiet of his cave at Subiaco.

The spiritual journey of a Benedictine Oblate is a dynamic interplay of engagement and retreat, community and solitude, active service, and contemplative prayer. It’s a pathway to experiencing God in all aspects of life, rooted in ancient wisdom but vibrantly relevant in today’s world.

Monastic Virtues in the Modern World

The timeless virtues of monastic life have profound relevance in our fast-paced, modern world. Benedictine Oblates embody these virtues, bringing a unique perspective to contemporary challenges.

Balance of Prayer, Work, and Study

One of the hallmarks of Benedictine spirituality is the balance between prayer, work, and study. This triad forms a holistic approach to living a spiritually fulfilling life.

  1. Prayer: For Oblates, prayer is not just a ritual but a way of life. It involves regular participation in the Liturgy of the Hours, personal prayer, and moments of reflection throughout the day. This constant conversation with God helps to center and orient all other activities.
  2. Work: Work, in the Benedictine sense, is more than just a job or career. It’s an act of participating in God’s creation and serving others. Oblates approach their professional and domestic responsibilities with a sense of purpose and dedication, seeing their labor as a form of prayer and offering to God.
  3. Study: Study, especially of the Scriptures and spiritual texts, is key to an Oblate’s life. It’s through study that Oblates deepen their understanding of faith and integrate spiritual wisdom into their daily decisions and interactions.

Embracing Hospitality and Humility

Hospitality and humility are central virtues in the Benedictine tradition, offering a counter-cultural message in today’s world.

  1. Hospitality: Benedictine hospitality is about more than just welcoming guests; it’s an attitude of openness and love towards all. Oblates strive to be welcoming in their personal and professional lives, seeing Christ in everyone they meet.
  2. Humility: Humility, for Benedictines, is about recognizing one’s limitations and dependence on God. Oblates practice humility by being open to learning, admitting mistakes, and serving others selflessly.

Promoting Peace and Mindfulness in a Busy World

In a world often marked by stress and conflict, the Benedictine commitment to peace and mindfulness offers a refreshing alternative.

  1. Peace: Benedictines have long been advocates for peace. Oblates contribute to this tradition by promoting reconciliation and understanding in their communities and in the wider world.
  2. Mindfulness: Mindfulness, in the Benedictine sense, is about being fully present and aware of God’s presence in all moments. Oblates practice this by being attentive in their interactions, work, and prayer, cultivating an inner peace that radiates outward.

Living out monastic virtues in the modern world involves a conscious effort to integrate prayer, work, and study into daily life, and to approach all interactions with hospitality, humility, peace, and mindfulness. These practices not only enrich the Oblate’s life but also have a transformative effect on the world around them.

Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality: Collective gardening
Collective gardening.SA, The Green Ark- Bostanie, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Ecclesial Role of Benedictine Oblates

Benedictine Oblates play a crucial role in bridging monastic spirituality with the wider church and society. Their unique position allows them to extend the reach of monastic values beyond the cloister.

Supporting the Monastic Community

Oblates actively support the monastic community, though they live outside its physical confines. This support manifests in various ways:

  1. Prayer and Spiritual Solidarity: Oblates contribute to the spiritual strength of the community through their prayers and participation in spiritual practices aligned with the monastery.
  2. Material and Volunteer Support: Many Oblates assist with the practical and financial needs of the monastery, whether through donations, volunteering, or promoting the monastery’s work and products.
  3. Promoting Monastic Values: By embodying monastic principles in their daily lives, Oblates help to spread the values and teachings of the Benedictine tradition, thus enhancing its visibility and relevance.

Engaging with the Wider Church and Society

Benedictine Oblates also have a significant role in the broader Church and society:

  1. Living Witnesses: As laypeople committed to monastic values, Oblates serve as living witnesses to the gospel and the Benedictine charism in their families, workplaces, and communities.
  2. Catalysts for Spiritual Renewal: Oblates often initiate or participate in spiritual and educational programs in their parishes and communities, acting as catalysts for spiritual growth and renewal.
  3. Agents of Peace and Reconciliation: In line with Benedictine values, Oblates often engage in works of peace, reconciliation, and social justice, reflecting the monastic commitment to building a more just and compassionate society.

Examples of Oblates’ Contributions to Church and Community

The impact of Oblates can be seen in various concrete contributions:

  1. Educational Initiatives: Many Oblates are involved in educational roles, bringing Benedictine values into schools, colleges, and adult education programs.
  2. Social Outreach: Oblates often engage in social outreach programs, such as feeding the homeless, supporting refugees, and other acts of charity and social justice.
  3. Spiritual Direction and Retreat Leadership: Some Oblates offer spiritual direction, lead retreats, or organize prayer groups, fostering spiritual growth in their communities.

Through these roles, Benedictine Oblates significantly contribute to the vitality of the monastic community and the broader Church. Their lives serve as a bridge between the cloistered and secular worlds, bringing the richness of monastic spirituality to a wide range of contexts.

Challenges and Rewards of Being a Benedictine Oblate

The path of a Benedictine Oblate, while deeply fulfilling, comes with its own set of challenges and rewards. It’s a journey marked by the effort to integrate monastic ideals into everyday life.

Balancing Monastic Ideals with Secular Responsibilities

One of the primary challenges faced by Oblates is maintaining the delicate balance between their commitment to monastic values and their secular responsibilities. This balancing act involves:

  1. Time Management: Juggling the demands of work, family, and spiritual practices can be challenging. Oblates often have to be creative in integrating prayer and contemplation into a busy schedule.
  2. Living Counterculturally: Upholding Benedictine values such as simplicity, humility, and contemplation can be counter to societal norms that emphasize material success, individualism, and constant activity.
  3. Ongoing Discernment: Oblates continually discern how best to live out their commitment in the changing circumstances of life. This process requires constant reflection and adjustment.

Personal Growth and Transformation

Despite these challenges, being an Oblate offers profound rewards:

  1. Deepened Spiritual Life: Regular engagement with prayer, meditation, and monastic practices deepens one’s relationship with God, leading to greater inner peace and spiritual fulfillment.
  2. Community and Belonging: Connection with a monastic community provides a sense of belonging and support. This fellowship is a source of strength and encouragement.
  3. Holistic Living: The Benedictine emphasis on balance promotes a more holistic approach to life, fostering physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Resources and Guidance for Prospective Oblates

Sculpture of Sacred Heart of Jesus. Monument at Benedictine College, Atchison
sculpture of Sacred Heart of Jesus. Monument at Benedictine College, Atchison. August simon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

For those feeling called to explore the path of a Benedictine Oblate, a wealth of resources and guidance is available to aid in this spiritual journey.

Finding a Benedictine Community

The first step towards becoming an Oblate is connecting with a Benedictine community. This can be done by:

  1. Online Directories: Many Benedictine communities are listed in online directories; visit, particularly, the International Benedictine Web Portal. These can be a starting point for locating a monastery or abbey nearby.
  2. Visiting Monasteries: Visiting various monasteries can provide a tangible sense of the community’s spirit and lifestyle. Most monasteries welcome visitors and offer guest accommodations.
  3. Contacting Oblate Directors: Most Benedictine communities have an Oblate director who can provide information about the Oblate program and guide in the discernment process.

Books, Websites, and Retreats for Further Exploration

There are numerous resources for those wishing to delve deeper into Benedictine spirituality:

  1. Books: Classic texts like “The Rule of St. Benedict” and commentaries by modern spiritual writers offer valuable insights. Books on Benedictine spirituality, monastic history, and the lives of Benedictine saints are also beneficial.
  2. Websites and Online Forums: Many Benedictine communities have websites with resources for Oblates. Online forums and social media groups can also provide support and connection with a global Oblate community.
  3. Retreats and Workshops: Participating in retreats or workshops at Benedictine monasteries can be a profound way to experience monastic life and practices firsthand.

Advice for Those Considering the Oblate Path

Embarking on the path of a Benedictine Oblate is a significant spiritual decision. Here are some pieces of advice for those considering this journey:

  1. Take Time for Discernment: It’s important to spend time in prayer and reflection, discerning whether this path aligns with your spiritual needs and life circumstances.
  2. Seek Guidance: Spiritual direction from a knowledgeable person, ideally a Benedictine monk or nun, can be invaluable in understanding the implications of becoming an Oblate.
  3. Engage with Community: Try to participate in community activities, such as prayer services or group discussions, to gain a deeper understanding of Benedictine life.
  4. Start Practicing: Begin integrating aspects of Benedictine spirituality, such as the Liturgy of the Hours or Lectio Divina, into your daily routine to experience the rhythm of monastic spirituality.
  5. Be Patient: The journey to becoming an Oblate is a gradual process. It’s important to be patient with yourself and allow your spiritual life to unfold naturally.

The path to becoming a Benedictine Oblate is enriched by a variety of resources and guided by thoughtful discernment and engagement with the monastic community. For those drawn to this spiritual way, the journey offers a deep and fulfilling integration of monastic wisdom into everyday life.


Recap of the Significance of Being a Benedictine Oblate

As we come to the conclusion of our exploration into the life of a Benedictine Oblate, it’s clear that this path offers a unique and profound way to deepen one’s spiritual journey. Being an Oblate is about more than just adhering to a set of practices; it’s about embracing a way of life that balances prayer, work, and community. It’s a commitment to living out the timeless wisdom of the Rule of St. Benedict in the modern world, integrating monastic virtues into every aspect of daily life.

Benedictine Oblates are called to be beacons of peace, humility, and hospitality in a world that often values competition, pride, and exclusivity. They carry the spirit of the monastery into their families, workplaces, and communities, enriching those spaces with a contemplative and service-oriented approach to life.

Invitation to Explore Further

For those who feel a calling or curiosity towards the Benedictine Oblate way of life, the journey is as rewarding as it is challenging. It’s an invitation to grow in faith, live in community, and transform the mundane into the sacred. Whether through visiting a monastery, engaging with the rich literature on Benedictine spirituality, or participating in a retreat, the path to becoming an Oblate is open and accessible.

As Benedictines have always known, the search for God is a lifelong journey, one that is continually unfolding and deepening. The Oblate path offers a unique roadmap for this journey, grounded in centuries of monastic wisdom but fully alive in the challenges and opportunities of the present.

In closing, whether you are deeply interested in becoming an Oblate or simply seeking to incorporate elements of Benedictine spirituality into your life, the journey is sure to be transformative. It’s an invitation to live more mindfully, more prayerfully, and in greater harmony with yourself, others, and God.

Frequently Asked Questions about Benedictine Oblates

The life and role of a Benedictine Oblate often spark curiosity and questions. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions, aimed at clarifying common queries and misconceptions.

  1. What exactly is a Benedictine Oblate?
    An Oblate is a layperson who commits to living the principles of the Rule of St. Benedict in their daily life. While not a monk or nun, an Oblate seeks to embody Benedictine spirituality outside the monastery.
  2. Do Oblates live at the monastery?
    No, Oblates do not live in the monastery. They live their everyday lives in the world, often with families and secular jobs, integrating monastic principles into their daily routines.
  3. Is being an Oblate a lifelong commitment?
    Yes, becoming an Oblate is typically seen as a lifelong commitment. However, it is also understood that life circumstances can change, and the commitment is flexible to accommodate this.
  4. Can anyone become a Benedictine Oblate?
    Generally, yes. The path of an Oblate is open to any layperson who feels drawn to Benedictine spirituality and is willing to commit to living according to the Rule of St. Benedict.
  5. Do Oblates follow a specific daily routine?
    While there is no prescribed daily routine for all Oblates, they are encouraged to incorporate prayer, meditation, and reading into their daily life, along with their work and family responsibilities.
  6. How do Oblates balance their spiritual practices with busy lives?
    Oblates often find creative ways to integrate prayer and contemplation into their daily activities. This might include setting aside specific times for prayer, engaging in short meditative practices throughout the day, or approaching their work and interactions with mindfulness and intention.
  7. What support do Oblates receive from the monastic community?
    Oblates typically maintain a connection with a monastic community, receiving spiritual guidance, participating in community events, and sometimes engaging in retreats or workshops offered by the monastery.
  8. Are there specific prayers or rituals Oblates must perform?
    While there are no mandatory prayers or rituals, Oblates are encouraged to participate in the Liturgy of the Hours, Lectio Divina, and other Benedictine practices according to their individual circumstances.
  9. Can Oblates be married and have families?
    Absolutely. Many Oblates are married and have families. They strive to live out Benedictine values within their family life, creating a home environment that reflects principles like stability, hospitality, and prayerful living.
  10. How does one officially become an Oblate?
    The process typically involves a period of formation and discernment, guided by a monastery or Oblate director, culminating in a formal oblation ceremony where the individual commits to living as an Oblate.