The latest issue of the British Roman Catholic weekly magazine The Tablet quotes me reciting the expectations of Benedictine oblates of Saint Meinrad Archabbey.
It's part of a good article by James Roberts on the marked increase in oblates even as vocations to professed monastic life have decreased.
Here's my whole response to Mr Roberts' e-mailed interview questions:
How was your calling discerned?
It began as a curiosity I had about oblates after I found out our parish choir director was one yet was not a nun. After living at Saint Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana for two weeks taking a Gregorian chant course, I inquired further and found out one didn't even need to be a Roman Catholic to become an oblate. I took my growing fascination and excitement about the idea as a calling to become a Benedictine oblate of Saint Meinrad Archabbey.
What is your faith tradition?
I am an Anglo-Catholic, belonging to the Episcopal Church (Ascension parish, Chicago). I was Roman Catholic from baptism as an infant until I was received as an Anglican by the Bishop of Michigan in 1986.
How demanding is the commitment?
The commitment is gentle but does ask us to take on Benedictine values and live the Rule of St Benedict as we are able in our life circumstances. One can take it all very seriously indeed and live a very monastic discipline, or one can simply incorporate the basic principles. In particular, the archabbey's oblates are expected to pray daily the Divine Office at least mornings and evenings, read from the Rule of St Benedict daily, practice lectio divina (meditative Bible reading) daily, receive Communion and make our confession regularly, and be attentive to God's presence in daily life. These are under the general promises (not vows) of stability, obedience, and conversion of life.
What are its effects (positive & negative) on family and work life?
I find that being an oblate gives me a structure and support system for living out a Christian life in a particular way, and it connects me to a Christian community of monks that I can feel a part of even though I'm not a professed monk. There's a mutuality of prayer and support between the monks and oblates, and the oblates form local communities in some areas (mainly in Indiana) that meet monthly. WhenI go on a diet, I cannot just plan to eat less and take more exercise; I need more structure than that. It's similar with spiritual life: being an oblate gives me a framework for being Christian.
Are you aware of many members who have gone on to become full members of an order?
No, I really haven't heard of many examples of this among the SaintMeinrad oblate community, although I'm sure it has happened. Most oblates are not on a path toward professed monastic life.
Please provide examples of how the Rule of St. Benedict is put into practice outside the monastery.
In the workplace, the Rule provides excellent advice on leadership in the chapters about "the sort of man the abbot should be." It asks for mutual respect and obedience but also loving flexibility, and it enjoins all to listen to new members and the young, as they may have been sent to the organization to contribute important points of view and skills.
From your perspective, are Oblate vocations growing?
I believe oblate vocations are growing as more people find out about the possibility of being oblates. And more monastic communities are seeing oblate programs as ways to develop networks of support "in theworld," to keep people aware of the possibility of monastic life as a calling, and to share the fruits of their own commitment to that life with those who cannot leave the world and enter a monastery but find much that is spiritually edifying in the lives of monks and nuns in community.
Do monasteries seek out Oblates, or do most people find their way (get in touch out of the blue, or other ways?)
I haven't seen monasteries mounting large campaigns to get more oblates, but most communities with oblate programs make information available through brochures, Web sites, and availability of their oblate directors. I think most people find out about oblates by meeting one, or by making a retreat in a monastery and inquiring about how one might be able to live a more Benedictine life short of entering the monastery as a monk.
What kinds of people pursue this calling? Walks of life, background?
Really all kinds of people, walks of life, and backgrounds. I would say that oblates on average might be a bit more contemplative, or quieter, in temperament, than others, but that may not even be true. I'm sure there are Christians who find nothing useful or attractive about monastic-style spirituality, but there are all types of people among those who do. Some people lead very extroverted, fast-paced lives and find monastic practices an essential balance to that. For others like me, monastic prayer and practice fit right in with our introverted nature.
Various Faith traditions?
There are oblates from every Christian tradition. I know Roman Catholic, Episcopalian/Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian,Congregational, and even Baptist oblates.
How does being an Oblate help one's private spirituality?
It helps motivate private spirituality, such as daily prayer, to know that one is praying along with a community. We receive some materials that help us pray similar prayers to those of the monks. We can pray the same psalms or pray at the same times that they do. Being an oblate provides us with tools to help feel part of a community even as we are alone. Other connections, such as being part of a parish, do that as well, but being an oblate expands that idea of community and gives an ecumenical flavor to it.
How much of the commitment is social?
If one lives near other oblates and there is an oblate chapter nearby, there can be a very large social dimension. This is also true if one can get to the monastery often and meet the monks and other oblates. There are retreats and seminars to help with this. Others of us are rather isolated, and we are connected by receiving a newsletter, exchanging e-mails (I moderate an online forum for Saint Meinrad oblates), and occasionally making retreats.