As monasteries became more established the circumstances arose where parents would offer their children to monasteries. Whether in the hope of a better life for their children, or perhaps hopeful of some divine reward or enhanced social status, these children would be oblatus (Latin) or ‘offered’.
When the offered children reached an appropriate age they would be given the choice of remaining in the monastery or leaving. Some would remain and yet, for some reason, not take the vows of a monk. Others would leave and still maintain contact with the community they had left. They did this, perhaps, because they felt they were still a part of the monastic community that had supported them. In time this way of living with monks (whether physically and/or spiritually) became formalised and named as being an ‘oblate’. Eventually people did not need to be reared in a monastery to become an oblate. A more general resonance and association with a monastery was enough.
And let everything be so barred that the boy [sic] remain in no uncertainty, which might deceive and ruin him (which God forbid) – a pass we have learned by experience.
As poor and noble parents alike approached monasteries with their children, it was important for these monasteries to preserve a system of rank based on entry date rather than social status. With differing social status would come differing expectations and values. Chapter 59 helps to protect a monastic culture of equality from the dangers of inequality. A monastic culture is a contemplative one that aims to imbue the monastic with ‘God-vision’. The challenge in the time of Benedict, as now, was to grow in seeing life and people as God sees life and people.
And how does God see? The Christian testimony is that the nature, the identity, of this God is best described as love. ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love’ (1John4:8). God sees as love. The Rule of Benedict goes to great lengths to preserve both a culture of love and the opportunity for community members to benefit equally from living in this culture. This begs the question what are we, today, in the different cultures we live in doing to preserve, promote, and live in, love?
If left as just a word love can mean different things to different people. The genius of the Rule is in its attempt to provide people with an experience of God as love. In this the Rule is a mystical guide into the communal experience of the essence of divine and human life. Its intent and spirit challenges us today to find and commit to people and ways that promote this experience of divine love. Our hearts long for this love, so much so, that we often attempt the creation of this love ourselves. The Rule preserves the Christian and human reality that love cannot be made, nor can it be experienced in isolation.
Love is a relational and communal reality that we can personally participate in and experience together. Our daily relating can bear witness to this. We are experiencing something of divine love in life if we, deep down, sense something or someone uncreated and mysteriously with us and loving us as we go about the ordinary business of daily relationship.
Prayer is aimed at helping us to see and consciously live in this love life with us in each moment. This is why the monastic community is a praying community. This is also why The World Community for Christian Meditation places so much emphasis on a growing fidelity to the twice daily meditation practice. Creation is saturated in divine love, as are we (as part of this Creation). A prayer life solid enough in loving community and our contemplative roots can help us see and live in this loving reality.
…they should wrap the petition and the boy’s [sic] hand in the altar cloth and offer him in this way.
Whatever the time, place, and motivation, in the seeking of God there come communal moments and ceremonies of commitment to this seeking. This can happen as people marry, in baptism and the renewal of baptismal promises, at ordination, profession, confirmation, and in becoming an oblate. Each day, in fact, could have a moment in it when we re-commit ourselves to the seeking of divine love – a simple daily thing done that is our way of wrapping a hand in the altar cloth. In these rituals we give ourselves to a daily living into the glory of God in a way that cannot be understood with just our thinking. Ritual is a full body, heart and head commitment to growing in love.
To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfil by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2Thes1:11-12).
Christian and Benedictine spirituality is about the decrease of ego and the increase of a life revealing and glorifying God as divine love. Even more so than ora et labora (prayer and work), a Benedictine Christian lives so that “in all things God may be glorified” (Chapter 57 of the Rule).
This is Benedictine spirituality in a nutshell: that in all things God may be glorified, that in every activity God’s praise may be sung. This is indeed a holistic spirituality. (1)
(1) Wil Derkse ‘Listening and Responding: Benedictine Spirituality in Non-monastic Contexts’ in Logos (Summer 2000, 195).