The let that novice brother cast himself down at the feet of all, that they may pray for him; and from that day let him be counted in the brotherhood. If he hath any property, let him first either dispose of it to the poor or bestow it on the monastery by a formal donation, reserving nothing for himself as indeed he should know that from that day onward he will no longer have power even over his own body.
Let him, therefore, be divested at once in the oratory of the garments with which he is clothed, and be vested in the garb of the monastery. But let the clothes of which he was divested by laid by in the wardrobe to be preserved, that, if on the devil's suasion he should ever consent to leave the monastery (which God forbid) he be then stripped of his monastic habit and cast out. But let him not receive the document of his profession which the Abbot took from the altar, but let it be preserved in the monastery.” Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 18.
This portion of the rule was read to us during our first day of our annual Oblate retreat. It describes the entry of a monk, not an Oblate to a monastery. I should note since the Rule has never been enforced literally, you won’t see too many strip teases in the oratory. I also note Oblates, like monks do sign a letter of intent, on the altar, and leave it there in the care of God and the Abbey.
Lot’s of things pop out at me from this section of the Rule, but the very last sentence hit me the hardest. Even if a monk or an oblate chooses to leave a monastery, something is left behind. In this case it is the original request the novice wrote asking to be admitted to the community. I have a feeling Benedict intended the presence of such a note, kept safely behind the abbey’s walls, might be a tether drawing the former novice back to the community.
On reflecting on this reading, I realized there are many congregations where I have left some of my self behind; something that connects me to them no matter how far I wander in other places. In the very first church I ever attended, there is a prayer room containing a small pew, a kneeling pad, and the most awful illuminated picture of Jesus I have ever seen. But there is a sense of the divine in that room and I feel drawn back there after years have passed.
There have been other congregations where I was a member, and where I felt the formation of this permanent tie. Even though the congregation itself may no longer exist, the tie remains. I have also felt the tie in some congregations where I have served as a pastor. Regrettably there are also ones where the tie is completely absent.
The strongest tie to me is my tie to St. Benedict’s Abbey. My original Oblation, the one I signed on the altar, is still there. But the connection goes deeper still. I feel connected through the rhythm of prayer and work, by the offering of Benedictine hospitality, by the love of the monks and oblates for God, and for so many reasons I cannot count them all. I have a sense this connection will be with me for eternity; drawing me always back to my spiritual home.
If you are looking for a place to worship, or if you’re desperately trying to find something permanent that matters in this fast paced and too often frenetic world, check out a church of Jesus Christ. But look for one where something of yourself seems to be left behind. If you don't find it at first keep one looking! It'sWhen you find that place, the place you’re drawn back again and again, you will have found your spiritual home. Don’t put off looking for it. If my own experience is any guide, you won’t find peace until you have found this place; this place where something of you remains forever. My prayer is that you will find it and embrace it soon.
In Christ’s Peace,
Brother Oscar Romeo, Obl OSB