Oblation Scheduled

God willing, I will make my final oblation to St. Meinrad’s Monastery on June 4, 2022 at the Archabbey Church in Indiana.

What? What is all this?

St. Meinrad’s is a Benedictine Monastery. St. Benedict was a 6th-century monk who wrote a new rule for living a monastic life. He wasn’t the first monk, but his Rule of St. Benedict helped spur a new era of monasticism which transformed the Church and world of his day. Over the centuries, monks have continued to live under his Rule. As St. Benedict’s Rule itself says it is only a beginning and allowing the Rule to be executed in a way that makes sense given the circumstances, which has led to some monks wanting to “go back to the basics” a couple of times. As such, the Benedictine family includes “Benedictines” (OSB), “Cistercians” (OCist), “Trappists” (OCSO, of great beer lore), and so on.

Monks? But, you’re married with kids?

The Benedictine tradition is most known by the professed monks (or nuns)—men or women who live celibate lives in community at a monastery. Some perform various ministry in the world, others are cloistered (that is, live generally isolated from the broader world). Benedictines lift up ora et labora, or “prayer and work”, and so these monastics orient their lives toward prayer, in particular, the liturgical prayer of Liturgy of the Hours and lectio divina (holy reading) and work—this is why some Trappists make beer, some monks do woodworking, some sell food things. Work, when is good and lifted up to God, can be a holy effort and it is good to work to provide for one’s existence.

I’m not going into a monastery and becoming what you’re picturing. There is, also, a tradition of “oblates”—people who offer themselves. Oblation and oblates come from the Latin oblātus, a form of offero, meaning “to give”. In St. Benedict’s day, this originally meant children offered to the monastery—someone giving their first-born to God was taken very literally sometimes! That went out of practice pretty soon thereafter. After about a century, there were age limits put in place and they were free to leave. The oblate would have to opt into profession later.

Over the centuries, this evolved to lay people who committed themselves to the monastery and now typically means secular oblates. These oblates continue to live their regular life, wherever they are with their families, in their typical professions.

So… what?

As a secular oblate, I make three public and solemn promises (not vows) to a monastery:

  1. Stability of Heart: A commitment to the specific monastery of St. Meinrad’s.
  2. Fidelity to the Spirit of Monastic Life: Basically, do my best to be a monastic in the world. Balance, prayer, and whatnot.
  3. Obedience to the Will of God: Continue to grow and discern God’s will through spiritual direction, prayer, and failthfulness to the Catholic faith.

Practically, there are five practices that oblates at St. Meinrad agree to as part of executing this:

  1. Pray the Liturgy of the Hours. This whole thing is about balancing the secular life with the spirit of monastic life, so I’m not bound to pray the whole thing. But something.
  2. Read from the Rule of St. Benedict daily.
  3. Practice lectio divina daily. A reflective, meditative method of reading Scripture or other religious text.
  4. Participate frequently in Mass, reception of the Eucharist, and in Reconcilation (e.g. Confession).
  5. Be attentive to God’s presence in ordinary, daily life.

Commitment to a specific monastery?

This is something that is a bit different than a lot of lay orders. Oblates are similar to “third order” (lay Fransicians, Lay Dominicans, etc), though technically different, as there’s only one Rule for Benedictines.

Additionally, Benedictines aren’t one religious order, like the Dominicans or Jesuits or one of those. Each monastery is autonomous (with some exception of smaller/newer monasteries that are still dependent on their founding, or “parent”, monastery). While monasteries do group together in loose associations and, altogether, are associated with the Benedictine Confederation, at the end of the day, each house is independent.

Either as a monk or as an oblate, we are stable to a particular place. As an oblate, even if move next door to another monastery, I’m still an oblate of St. Meinrad’s. I can “transfer my stability” to another monastery, but that’s a big thing. Think like a diocesan priest transferring to a different diocese. You can do it, but it isn’t supposed to be easy or common.

Archabbey? What’s that?

St. Meinrad’s is an archabbey. In practice, this doesn’t really mean all that much—the abbot is titled “archabbot”. St. Meinrad was named as one of two archabbeys in the United States as a nod and honor for how far St. Meinrad’s monks spread the monastic tradition in the U.S. I’ve read that there are 11 archabbeys worldwide, but I haven’t personally found an official source for that.

What’s left?

I still have a couple last things before this upcoming thing is official. 1. I still need to formally request acceptance from the archabbot. 2. I need to come up with three names to take in religious life, of which I’ll be given one. I never even took a confirmation saint, so this is a bigger challenge than I expected it to be.

The Work Speaks For Itself

As part of my personal development toward being a Benedictine oblate, I'm reading an edition of the Rule of St. Benedict with commentary to make it applicable to fathers, but I am considerably amazed how often the Rule is applicable to my work at Automattic.

For example, St. Benedict, in telling the qualities of an abbot, touches on preconceived biases and provides a solid rule for me to follow as a team lead.

Let him make no distinction of persons in the monastery.
Let him not love one more than another,
unless it be one whom he finds better
in good works or in obedience.
Let him not advance one of noble birth
ahead of one who was formerly a slave,
unless there be some other reasonable ground for it.

Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 2

Within the context of a monastery, this section demands that an abbot treat everyone equally and let that person's work speak for itself. At work, this is a reminder of the same. No matter if I get along better or worse with someone in particular or if a person has a good or bad reputation, a leader must treat everyone with equal footing. Any judgements of a person should be limited to a judgement of their actual work.

This sounds obvious and easy, but it is just as easy to get swept up enjoying the company of a particular employee and find yourself letting him or her off the hook for missing a performance benchmark unjustly or being annoyed with an employee for something minor and silly and let that influence you on their next evaluation.

While there are few people of noble birth or former slaves in our midst, we can promote or demote people in my minds by judging them based on their background, not their portfolio—"they went to Yale so they would be well-suited for this". Quite often, we do this without thinking about it, which therein lies the rub.

In leadership, whether that is of a household, of a monastery, or of a corporate team, some of our most damaging actions take place only because we aren't fully thinking through our preconceived biases.