Conversion to the Monastic Life

Last week we took a look at the promise or vow of stability which all Benedictines make. Today we will take a look at “Conversatio Morum” or “Conversion to the Monastic Life”.

The promise of Conversatio Morum flows out of the promise of Stability. As stability has bound us to a particular community, conversatio morum binds us to a particular way of life. The monastic way of living first begins with a monastic way of thinking. Although oblates do not typically live within the monastic confines we are called to live out the monastic life in a different way. This does not mean that we are called to be little monks or nuns in the world, but we are called to bring monastic values into the places we find ourselves in.

Conversion to the Monastic Life calls us to see life, people and events through a different lens. Instead of simply seeing work as drudgery, we are asked to see it as building up the Kingdom of God. Instead of seeing superiors as an annoyance we are asked to listen for the voice of God. In a disposable society we are called upon to treat the kitchen utensils as something sacred (RB, 31) Workacholics are reminded that “nothing is to be preferred to the work of God” (RB, 43) and community life takes precedence over individuality.

For most of our lives we have been formed in the ways of the world. The promise of Conversatio Morum calls us to take a different look at created things and the situations God places us in. It calls us to see with sacramental eyes as we search for God in the ordinary and mundane. The world would have us see the negative and banal yet Conversatio Morum leads us to see God’s grace in every moment of life.

After we begin to experience a conversion in our way of thinking we are inevitably lead to change our habits. We begin to see Christ in every one we meet. The “useless and ordinary” become means of serving God and others. Prayer is not simply confined to a moment in the day but extends through all our thoughts and actions.

The tools which lead us to fulfill our promise of Conversion to the Monastic Life are those traditions laid out in our monastic communities and the Rule – Liturgy of the Hours, fasting, lectio divina, hospitality, etc… In practicing these “monastic habits” day in and day out we will begin to form a different mindset which leads us to become more “monastic” in our daily lives. If it seems as though this is simply living out the Gospel in all its fullness, you are correct. Benedictine life is a life of striving to bring the Gospel message in a radical way into the ordinary and mundane moments of our existence. Conversatio Morum is the way in which we strive to do that.

Stability as Your Guide

“When he is to be received, he comes before the whole community in the oratory and promises stability, fidelity to monastic life, and obedience.” Rule of Benedict, 58

Stability, fidelity to monastic life and obedience. These are the three promises an oblate makes when he gives himself over to God. These promises make up the foundation of how one lives their vocation out as a Benedictine oblate. But what exactly does it mean? What exactly does living out the promises look like in the daily life of an oblate?

Living ones vocation out as a Benedictine oblate can take on many different forms. The way in which I strive to live out my vocation can be quite different from others even within my own monastic family. The Rule of St. Benedict allows for such diversity and is one of the reasons why it has lasted for over 1,500 years. In the next few posts I intend to speak on the three promises of stability, fidelity to monastic life and obedience and how I strive to live them out as an oblate.

The promise of stability stands in stark contrast to a society which seeks pleasure and fulfillment in quick fixes and happiness that is just a click away. Stability, the first of the promises made by any Benedictine, requires us to plant our roots in the community we find ourselves in, whether at home, work, or society in general. Stability is the promise that forces us to look at our surroundings and strive to see God there. It asks us to look for God in the here and now and not in some distant future where we think all shall be better.

At times we may find ourselves being irritated with those who surround us. We may find the way things are done to not be in our liking or taste and we may very well find ourselves being challenged by those we are called to love. Our gut reaction is to flee because this is the path of least resistance. This allows us to not have to get into the thick of things and face them as they are. The promise of stability shows us that God has placed us with these people, in these situations, and challenges us to grow in love. We are not called to change the world to our own wishes and needs but to love in the midst of all trials.

Stability also asks me to continue on the journey when I find the monotony a bit to much. I reminds me that I should not look for external excitements which might stimulate my desires at the moment but will produce very little fruit. It calls me to stick with the path I have chosen and to reap the benefits of the Benedictine life which has been lived out by thousands before me.

And in the life of an oblate stability also requires me to have a greater focus on my family, whether it be in single or married life. Those God has chosen to place before me are those which will help me to grown in love. Committing myself to a greater acceptance of who they are and who they are not will allow me to grow to love them as God loves them. When the going gets tough, as it inevitably does in life, I am called to stick it out and work through the difficulties that present themselves simply because in the end I recognize that the challenges of life and of others will lead me to a greater acceptance and love for all human life.

In a time in which people and places are disposable, stability asks me to see them how God sees them – as gifts which call me to holiness. It might not be easy but that’s not the point. Nothing worth having in life is ever easy.

Although it can seem constraining at first, stability is actually quite liberating. It takes away the need to look elsewhere for happiness and reminds me that it is to be found exactly where I am at and with the people God has chosen to place in my life.

Making the Rule Personal

The Rule of St. Benedict is the foundation or guide which aids us in living out our vocation as Benedictine Oblates. The beauty of the Rule is that it can be adapted to different times and places and provides the opportunity to have different expressions of Benedictine life.

As an oblate I certainly cannot follow the Rule as monks or nuns do but I can strive to implement it as best I can in my circumstances of life. Both the Rule and St. Meinrad Archabbey have given me the foundation as to how I can best live out my life as an oblate but I came to see that a personal rule was needed. This personal oblate rule would better help me to put into practice how I want to live out my vocation as an oblate. It is more of a guide on how to live out the spirit of the Benedictine vocation in my circumstances of life.

Although I believe that this be a working document and will take a little more time to complete, I also believe that it is a good start. I have debated on whether or not to share it here but have come to the decision to do so simply because it allows me to put it out there in the Benedictine online universe of the web and obtain feedback from others who are also striving to live out their vocations as Benedictine oblates. I also hope that in some small way it might be able to promote in others the desire to live out their lives under the Rule of St. Benedict.

In following the example of our Holy Father St. Benedict, I have tried to make sure that there is nothing too harsh in this rule. It is my hope and prayer that it will allow me to put into practice the guiding principles of the Benedictine way of life. I look forward to any suggestions and experiences other oblates may have on how they are striving to live out their vocations. Sharing this with the community is part of the process of being a Benedictine. In doing so I only hope that my life can be more enriched through the experiences of others.

Rule of Life

• Liturgy of the Hours

– Lauds, Vespers, Compline, Office of BVM Saturday morning

• Rule of Benedict

– Read daily and study more in depth when possible

• Lectio Divina

– Daily

• Sacraments

– Mass: as often as possible

– Confession: at least twice a month

• Presence of God

– Strive to be in Gods presence always, pray before beginning work and after, practice contemplative prayer

– See God in others, especially the sick and the poor

• Fasting

– Abstain from meat and snacking on Wednesdays and Fridays. Bread and liquids only on Ash Wednesday & Good Friday.

• Devotions

– Office of the Dead for each monk who has died

– Divine Mercy Chaplet and Devotion

– Mary’s Fiat Office from the Little Office of the BVM replaces Saturday Lauds

– Eucharistic Adoration: at least once a month

• Monastic Practices

– Monthly Hermit Day

– Annual retreat with review of how I am living the Oblate way of life

– Renewal of Oblate Promises: January 16th (Anniversary of Oblation), March 21st (Transitus of St. Benedict), July 11th (Feast of St. Benedict), November 21st (Presentation of Mary)

– Find a confessor/spiritual director

– Discern an apostolate

– Silence: stop using cell phone and all electronic devices after 6pm. Decrease television use and strive to use speech for only good. Proper attention should be given to conversations that are unnecessary or deemed inappropriate.

– Hospitality: to receive all guests as Christ, whether at home, work or in society.