Oblate Formation Program
In addition to the monks and nuns who live their lives according to the Rule of St. Benedict, thousands of laypeople have also sought to apply the wisdom of the Rule to their lives. Many such people have sought out oblate formation programs like this one in order to apply Benedictine principles to their spiritual lives and to develop lasting, formal bonds with a monastic community.
The Oblates of the Community of St. Mary, Southern Province, make up an auxiliary body of the Community. Oblates live as lay extensions of the Community. Our Oblates serve the Community by broadening its ministry and representing it in places and ways that the Community desires. They live in the world, following an interpretation of the Benedictine Rule and the values it expresses that is consistent with their life situation. Women and men who feel that they may be called to become Oblates should start the process by speaking with the Sister-in-Charge.
Benedictine values are often associated with two Benedictine mottos: Deus Solus, “God alone,” and ora et labora, prayer and work. God is our aim, and, with St. Benedict and St. Mary as helpful guides, we move toward God along a spiritual path that is a very incarnational and practical in theological terms. Our Oblates address the world and grow in their relationship with God and all that God loves through prayer, study of the Benedictine Rule, lectio divina, work, and community. Like the Sisters, Oblates should always “prefer the work of God”by reciting the divine office, communally when possible, and by participating in the Eucharist. They also bind themselves to the Community by their promises to live out a life of conversion and obedience to the Rule. Their lives should witness to their commitment by maintaining an appropriate love in all their relationships, and by living lifestyles that are characterized by stability, balance, and simplicity. They should also use their skills and interest to perform good works wherever they live, as St. Benedict encouraged us in Chapter 4 of the Rule, the “tools of good works.” In all these ways, Oblates seek to follow and be at one with Christ and their neighbor, thereby participating in Christ’s efforts to reconcile the world to God.
Oblates may be baptized members of any Christian denomination who the Chapter of the Community has admitted and approved. Oblates, as an auxiliary body, has no governing power within the Community and has no legal claim on the Community’s resources, financial or otherwise. However, from time to time, the Sister-in-Charge may ask certain members to assume some authority with the Oblate group on the Community’s behalf.
Individuals who would like to test a call to become an Oblate should:
- Be 21 years of age or older
- Not be an Oblate member of another traditional monastic order or a member of a Christian community
- Have an interview with the Sister-in-Charge to explore their sense of call
- Complete an application for membership
This formation program is a means of exploring how oblates-in-training may discern their calling and apply the wisdom of the Rule to their personal circumstances in a purposeful manner. No decision on candidacy can be made until all of formation requirements are met and a background check has been made on the applicant. (If the applicant has recently had a background check made, a written statement of the result may suffice.) Incomplete applications may be deferred until the next year. The Community of St. Mary, Southern Province, reserves the right to deny admission to any applicant without specific cause.
Overview of The Formation Process
The process for life commitment as an Oblate of the Community of St. Mary’s, Southern Province, takes at least two years. Candidates accepted into the formation program journey through levels of discernment and training.
A. Year One: At this stage, new members explore and live into Oblate commitment. The purpose of this period is to help the candidate discern if God is truly calling her/him to this special partnership with the Community. In so doing, they must search the depths of their desire and willingness to live a life in the world that is structured by the values of the Benedictine Rule as mediated through the Community. The Sister-in-Charge, or her appointee, will help the candidate in that exploration and discernment.
At the end of the first year, the candidate must write the Sister-in-Charge in order to begin Year Two. For the candidate to begin Year Two his/her request requires the approval of the Sister-in-Charge and, if another mentor was appointed, of the mentor. If the candidate decides not to move forward to Year Two, the candidate must communicate that fact as soon as possible. Likewise, if the candidate’s request is denied, the reasons for that decision must be discussed with the candidate and, if appropriate, remedial solutions explored. The decision of the Sister-in-Charge is final in such a situation.
B. Year Two:
The purpose of Year Two is to build and strengthen the member’s sense of vocation and understanding of Benedictine values and the Community’s specific values, history, mission and needs. This formation will better prepare the Oblate-in Training to represent and/or serve the Community in the future. It is also to further test the member’s intentions and capability to live the life of an Oblate in the world. Either the Sister-in-Charge or her Appointee of her choosing shall mentor the Oblate-in-Training through this stage. Oblates-in-Training do not change their names, but they do receive a medal to mark their new commitment at a public service of the Community at which other Oblates can be present.
Year Two Formation
This stage is similar to the novitiate in our Community. One begins to take on the life of an Oblate, intending to make a final commitment, but also further testing whether of not this commitment is appropriate. Religious often use the expression “threefold vow”- conveying their life experience of the vows ultimately merging into one. They form a lifestyle. Benedict gives us the starting point of such a life in his opening prologue of the Rule: “Listen, my child.” ” listen,” – obsculta, not merely audite, listen deeply. ” listen with the ear of your heart. This is advice for my father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.” Benedict is teaching the neophyte that obedience is the path to a holy life.
Obedience is more about listening deeply to the will of God for our lives than it is about following a list of rules. But in saying that we are to listen with the ear of your heart, Benedict is saying that we must listen with all that we are, listen with all of our senses to everything in life. Creation itself has much to teach us along with human beings, for the Holy Spirit works through them all , and the Holy Spirit’s ultimate aim is to unite us with God and with each other, with all of creation, keeping ourselves in right perspective with all that God loves. Such an assignment is not as easy as it may seem. We are too desirous of hearing what we want to hear, what we’re used to hearing. We were born into a wounded, broken world, already infected by sin. Sin has given us myopic vision, impaired hearing, insensitivity to our surroundings, to the feelings of others. This situation was not our fault, not are doing. We were born into the world, already being affected by the sins of previous generations. These sins have affected our genes, what we are made of, and influence where we start our journey in faith. Some people prefer the Celtic notion that a child is born into the world as perfect as can be , but that metaphor or image was only good before the “fall.” After we left Eden, there was an imbalance in creation and that imbalance has effected everything. Over the generations some of that imbalance has been healed; other aspects have worsened. We spend our lives trying to regain our original being, made in God’s image, made for union with God. As Russian orthodox say, we spend our lives clearing away the imperfections on that image, trying to see more clearly, attempting to feel as God feels, and to love as God loves. This journey with God is sustained and carried by listening, obsculta, listening with the ear of the heart.
Goals and Expectations of the Formation Process
The formation program has two goals:
1. To help each candidate discern whether or not he or she is called to be an oblate, 2. To provide training and practice to aid each oblate in living out that calling as auxiliary members of the Community of St. Mary, Southern Province.
Commitment is essential, and one’s ability to commit to such a structured life is a part of one’s discernment of this call. The syllabus is intended to help the oblate-in-training to learn how to live out that calling in relationship with the Community and as monastics in the world. The Rule of St. Benedict, as understood and lived by the Southern Province of the Community of St. Mary, serves a guide and sourcebook for training in Benedictine spirituality, values, and observances. Ultimately, through prayer, study, and practice, each oblate must develop his or her rule of life, based on this formation experience and one’s own life situation. Though minor elements of one’s rule of life may be modified over time, this formation will train the oblate in the essential elements necessary for any oblate’s life and ministry.
1. Persons completing formation will be better able to discern their true calling.
2. By the integration of Scripture, spiritual disciplines, and the Rule, they will find that Benedictine Life is the source and foundation of all (s)he does.
3. The Oblate will develop a concrete and spiritual understanding that Benedictine Values are key to living out one’s Baptismal vows.
4. The Oblate will develop a deep understanding that life‐long daily prayer and contemplation, study, reading of the Rule,and regular reading of the Customary,By-Laws, and Constitution of the forms the core of Benedictine life for Oblates of this Community.
As a member works through the Oblate Formation process, (s)he will:
•Demonstrate, by daily practice, that the Divine Office is a foundation of his/her prayer life.
•Demonstrate, by daily practice, that he/she understands the four levels of Lectio Divina, and that it is a foundational element of meditative prayer.
•Demonstrate a deep understanding of the relationship between Benedictine values and Baptismal vows.
•Demonstrate a deep seated application of Benedictine Values in his or her life and work.
•Demonstrate a detailed spiritual understanding of The Rule of St. Benedict.
•Demonstrate his/her understanding of the Customary, By-Laws, andthe Constitution.
•Discern that Oblate life is a call and write a petition to the Sister-in-Charge, describing his/her call and requesting to make that commitment formal.
Tasks related to Oblate Formation
During Year One:
1.Begin the daily discipline of saying the Divine Office.
2.Begin the daily discipline of Lectio Divina and meditation.
3.Read assigned books and write a reflection paper on each.
4.Read a section of the Customary anda section either of the Constitution or the By-laws daily.
5.Complete weekly reports and send them in to the Sister-in-Charge monthly.
6.Complete the Year One Project.
Sign the petition to begin Year Two and submit it to the Sister-in-Charge.
Methods of Measurement:
This is a program designed to enhance the religious life experience you have and any religious education you may have participated in. It is structured so that over time, your previous knowledge as a Christian is transformed by integrating and understanding your baptismal vows through the lens of Benedictine spirituality. Your mentor will look for changes in your spirituality, rule of life, and your centeredness on Christ as expressed in your reports, reflections and work sheets. There will be a mutual review process before each annual meeting of Oblates and Oblates-in-Training before the annual retreat. In addition, the Sister-in-Charge will determine, using the reporting system, if all requirements and objectives are being met. So, by comparing current work with earlier work, it will be possible to evaluate changes in your spiritual life.
Communications is the key, if there are things you don’t understand, if you are struggling with scheduling of your prayer or study time, or if the work seems just too hard, contact your Sister-in-Charge and stay in contact as you work through it. She is there to support you. “Giving up” may be an indication that Benedictine Life is really not your spiritual call, at least at this time in your life. That is OK, but please to talk about it with the Sister-in-Charge.
Reporting Expectations: The candidates should strive to explain in their reports and reflections not only what was discovered or learned, but also the impact upon their religious life and what they think about it. This cannot be done with a simple phrase or even in one or two sentences. The process is critical to the evaluation of a candidate’s growth in understanding the Rule, the spirituality, values, and Benedictine life one is choosing to undertake. Here are some general guidelines:
.a) Weekly/monthly reports – Sections that require a member to write responses/reactions should be a 4‐5 sentence paragraph at a minimum.
.b) Reading reflection papers should be 2‐4 pages, describing the candidate’s reaction to the book, how (s)he was challenged by the author and how his/her spiritual/Benedictine life has been affected.
.c) Reflection on the Rule of Benedict weekly worksheets should be a 1‐3 paragraph reflection on the segment of the Rule studied and how (s)he will respond (not how they ought to, or should respond). 1 or two sentences are not enough to meet the spirit nor the intent of this activity. The prayer should be written, and support what they reflected upon.
We encourage you to write clearly and concisely about what you have learned, how you feel about what you learned and how new insights have affected your relationship with God and with other people.
Outline of the Formation Program
Expectations: What the Candidate can expect from His/Her mentor:
•The role of Mentor is above all things a position of servanthood.
•The Mentor is to recognize above all his/her own fragile nature.
•The Mentor needs to recognize his/her own limitations, not pressing beyond the threshold of her/his own knowledge and experience.
•The Mentor is one who leads by example, never asking anyone to do more than she/he is willing to do themselves.
•The Mentor is above all a person who recognizes the loving, compassionate and forgiving nature of God, and willingness to share those attributes with his/her charges.
•The Mentor will have a good understanding of the formation process.
•The Mentor will be ready to address and answer questions related to each person’s formation and the formation process.
•The Mentor will learn and understand the religious experience and education of each of his/ her charges, and work with each of them to adapt the formation program to maximize the benefit from the program for each of his/her charges.
•The Mentor will make themselves available to their charges via US mail, email, fax, and telephone.
•The Mentor will establish “office hours” during the week when the charge can call him/her to discuss immediate concerns or questions.
•The Mentor will take a proactive role in establishing and maintaining communication.
•The Mentor will review each report, reflection papers, worksheet, and project submitted by each of his/her charges, and respond in a timely manner, so as not to frustrate their charges.
•The Mentor will respond to their charges in a supportive way, encouraging and guiding them in their journey.
Expectations: What the Formation Mentor can expect from His/Her Candidate:
•The Candidate is to be spiritually and intellectually open to the new practices, discipline and educational opportunities offered by the Community.
•The Candidate is to recognize above all his/her own fragile nature.
•The Candidate needs to understand that Formation is a practice in living the vows of
Following instructions and sending reports on time is a form of Obedience.
Keeping the schedule of the Day Planner is a form of Stability.
Reporting new insights and how God has revealed Himself leads to Conversion of Life.
•The Candidate should expect guidance on the formation process.
•The Candidate should expect that questions and concerns will be addressed in a timely manner, baring emergency.
•The Candidate will share his/her religious experience and education to assist the Formation Mentor in planning the Candidate’s formation.
•The Candidate and the Mentor will work together planning the semesters work and once the plan is mutually agreed to, the Candidate will follow the plan.
•Recognizing that the Mentor will make themselves available to their charges via US mail, email, fax, and telephone, the Candidate will communicate with the Mentor regularly.
•The Candidate will take advantage of the Mentor’s telephone office hours.
•In all cases, the Candidate shall call or contact the Mentor by Priority e‐mail of any spiritual crises or other emergencies as soon as possible.
•The Candidate will submit all reports, reflection papers, worksheets, and projects regularly and on time.